Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Game We Love

I was sitting here watching the funeral of slain UCONN Football player Jasper Howard. I realize some may think it is in poor taste or weird but there is nothing like a good ole fashion homegoing celebration. Not a funeral but a celebration of life. It is clear watching speaker after speaker talk about the man they refer to as Jazz was a tremendous young man, who had lots of people who supported him to maximize opportunities to put himself in a position to better himself and his family.

I am reminded that the game I love and was fortunate enough to play while merely a game is a ticket out for so many kids. To hear the coaches and mentors talk about the phone calls they get each week from Thad Lewis, Chris Chancellor, half of the Miami football team and so on, I was struck that football the game I love so much, a game I love to pontificate about, travel far awide to be a spectator is a true means to an ends for 1000s of kids not only in south Florida but throughout the nation. Football is used as a tool to teach discipline, instill confidence, to teach accountability and prepare for an opportunity for a way out for a chance at a better life. A scholarship to UCONN for Jasper Howard represented an opportunity that otherwise was not going to be available to him. I feel slightly ashamed as I watch this service knowing I did not have an ounce of the adversity Jasper and many other student athletes faced and almost walked away from an opportunity to earn a college degree. The point is not about what I did . The point for me is that as mad I get sometimes at this play or player or situation, I am reminded in many cases football is a means, a way out, an opportunity for a young man to better himself and his family.

I hear people talk about well I am not going to give another nickel to IPTAY, Hurricane Club, the Georgia Tech Athletic Fund, Seminole Club etc because they are not happy with the direction of the program, they are not winning enough, they do not like the coach but when you do that you are not impacting the Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator, Defensive Coordinator or Athletic Director. You impacting the opportunities for kids like Jasper Howard, Warrick Dunn, CJ Spiller, Jacory Harris, Clinton Portis, Sean Taylor, Demarius Thomas, Chris Chancellor from a chance for success. I know there are plenty of guys who have not gone on to the NFL and made milliions. It stands even more true for guy who will earn a degree, get a job and serve as as example not only to his family and future generations but to his community. It is truly amazing the impact of one person doing the right thing, taking advantage of opportunities can have on people.

One of my favorite players from when I was at Clemson was Chad Jasmin. Chad is from Vacherie, LA outside of New Orleans. Chad was about as Louisiana as you could get. I could hardly understand Chad when came to the equipment room and needed something. The thing about Chad is was he was from a small rural high school where he did not have access to the many of us enjoyed at our respective high schools. Chad was a Prop 48 kid. You have to sit out your first year and you essential have 3 years to play unless you finish in four years and the NCAA will grant a 4th year of eligibility. I remember standing outside after practice it seemed like Chad was on the discipline list everyday for class stuff and I remember Coach Burns who was the Running Backs coach standing out there, telling him he was not going to give up on him and that he was going to go to class and graduate because Coach Burns had told his mother that he was going to take care of him. Long story short Chad finished and four years and as a senior scored 4 TDs against South Carolina in a game Clemson won 63-17. It goes beyond the 63-17 win. Today Chad is has a job, is working and being productive. There are countless other stories out there of kids who used the game of football, basketball, track, etc. as a means to get an opportunity to get away from turmoil and uncertainty.

I will continue to love talking football, I will continue to wear my passion for my team on my sleeve, I will continue to be on the verge of breakdowns as games get tight but I will pause and realize that many of these kids who don the jerseys of our respective schools, they are playing for an opportunity, whether that is in the NFL or working towards a degree and going onto a career in the public or private sector. When you get mad and say I am not going to give another red cent to my school, remember that you are not impacting a coaching staff or athletic director you are impacting the ability of kids like Jasper Howard who need a chance , kids who depend on people like us to merely sacrifice a little to give them a chance. A chance of being where many of us are and beyond.

You are giving the gift of scholarships, you are gift of learning centers, you are giving the gift of opportunity. I will close with this, I know many of you are already involved or have been involved with giving back to your community not merely with your dollars but taking time to invest in a young person who does not have the advantages many of us enjoy. Some of the people reading the email have come from less than ideal situations but because people along the way invested in their time and wisdom they have achieved things that would otherwise not been available to them. It is my hope that we will take the opportunity from time to time to invest in others and your community not for recognition but because none of us are where we are today without a helping hand or a word of encouragement a long the way. It is not all about football itself because these kids had to come to realize they had to meet at least some minimums to have access to a collegiate scholarship. I hope we can take the time to invest in others because that is the way we are going to lift people up not Uncle Sam. I hope we will that we will take time to give back, reflect on our blessings and find ways where we can invest in the growth and development of others.

Friday, August 7, 2009

When I am going to learn?

Let me preface this by saying I was not a psych major in college. In fact I have never taken a psych class in my life so you will have to excuse me as I delve into this diatribe.

As I get older, the excitement of the fall does something to my soul that is only matched by a relationship with Christ. I don't know what it is about the beginning of August that prompts a subtle but noticeable attitude change. The anticipation of a new season is a like a spring revival, while nature prepares itself for the doldrums of winter, I am hitting my stride.

For those of us who are cult-like followers of our respective teams we race home to get practice reports, hear interviews and seek whatever insider information we can about our team's status. For much of my life there was no scout, rivals or WCCP to get Clemson Football 365. It was Phil Steele and Athlon to get the low down on our teams and conference.

Growing up with my friend Buseman, we would spend hours analyzing, dissecting our teams and while he had a much better team than I did I always found a way for Clemson to go undefeated and play for a national title. A lot of that can be blamed on youthful idealism, but he can attest, I routinely would attempt to justify Clemson's claim on the National Title. For 17 years he has humored me as I weathered this yearly death march to disappointment.

As my wisdom grew with time and life experience, I found the need to be more realistic in my assessment of Clemson football. I look back on teams of yester-year and realize, we were not that good. Yet year after year, I convinced myself this is the year, my Tigers do something special. Lets just say that I am still waiting for my ship to come in...

That all being said, over the years there have been numerous great games, memorable wins, heartbreaking losses, what could have beens, special time spent with family and friends that play a large role in this addiction that I suffer from.

I know the issues at QB, I know the questions regarding the depth on the offensive line, I am aware of the absence of a go to guy at receiver, I know we are razor thin at linebacker, I know we will be extremely young at the free safety spot and I know there are questions regarding the kicking game. You know what? After three days of practice in shorts, I find myself thinking, could this be the year it all comes together! I find myself looking at the schedule trying to figure out well if this and this happens, and this guy steps up, we could be really good and I could find myself in Dolphin Stadium in early January.

Why at 30 years old and with the results that my team has rendered over the last 18 years do I do it to myself? What is wrong with me that I keep relapsing like an addict thinking, this is the year it all falls into place. I know psychologists have some type of fancy theory that would accurately diagnosis me and maybe there is a pill out there that would prevent me from having these moments of weakness to save myself and those who love me as I ride emotional roller coaster that is Clemson Football.

I am not alone in my suffering. If you are honest with yourself at one point since the schedules came out, you have been trying to figure out how your team could end up in Pasadena on January 7. Or maybe you are not as out of control as I am and you are rationalizing a trip to the conference championship game and a spot in a BCS bowl?

What makes so many people do this like clock work year after year? For me it is the desire to be in the stands that last game of the year. It is desire to for at least one year not to be the office whipping boy being forced to answer the, "What happened?" questions. I want that one moment in time, I want to swell with pride knowing that my team has reached the pinnacle. Does that make me crazy? Probably because it is highly unlikely that Clemson will find its way to the National Title game. I think there is a better chance of Barack Obama being removed from office for having a fraudulent birth certificate than Clemson playing for a National Title. Heck I need to worry about getting to Tampa first.

I cannot explain my undying and cultish devotion to Clemson Football. I cannot explain why I feel that some how all of the issues facing our team will some how magically go away. Why do I believe a guy who has only ever been a receivers coach will lead our program to heights yet unseen? Many will say, snap out of it, why do you do this to yourself? I say to my family, friends and those who do understand that this yearly ritual is what makes college football so special for so many people. It is what makes the banter between fans and alums of different schools interesting. It is the anticipation of what lies ahead that feeds our hunger for a game we cherish.