I’ve previously mentioned people who have had a positive effect on my life, but I’ve left out the most important one until right now, my mother. After my freshman season in high school, we had a number of spots open for starters. I didn’t think there was any chance that I could start., because I was around 6’ or 6’1” at the time and weighing in at about 210lbs. There were guys that were 6’6” 310lbs in front of me. I wasn’t even working out, until she heard of evening weightlifting sessions at my high school. There was a coach that was in the gym, monday through friday from 5-7. Every single day she drove me to and from the gym. She asked questions about protein shakes and vitamins. I remember a specific morning, I came downstairs for breakfast and she made a homemade protein shake with peanut butter, bananas, and some other stuff in it. She forced me to drink it despite the taste being less than satisfactory. Why? Because she knew it was good for me and would make me stronger and a better football player.
My mother had more determination and drive for me to be a better player than I did. Over time, I began to learn all of the things she intended for me and from that, I took the reigns and didn’t require any more motivation. She taught my a invaluable lesson that I intend to teach my own children when they are ready; whatever you do, in whatever field, make sure you do it with nothing less than 100% effort, or else you’re wasting your time.
The next year she met another football parent, a good friend by the name of Brian Hyde who was into strength training, he told her, “Nancy, give me just two weeks with your son and you’ll see an amazing difference.” Well, he beat the living crap out of me in that gym. I remember falling down the stairs once because my legs were so sore from his leg workout. I did, see a big difference in only two weeks, that’s when the desire really began to wake.
Every single thing I’ve ever done in regards to football, every single accolade, award, bowl or combine invite I have received, I owe to her. She is the reason why in December of 2007 I found myself sitting across the table with a coach from Stony Brook. After discussing college football, plans, grades he gave Erik Frund and I football programs for last year and said he would head back to New York and may be in touch. Before returning to class, I secluded myself to a bathroom upstairs and read that program from front to back. I started to ponder about how interesting it would be to only live a 45min train ride from Manhattan. However, after speaking with us, the stony brook coach never got back in touch.
This was just the beginning, after returning back to school in january once and sometimes twice a day a coach would arrive for a visit and discuss my intentions about playing football, and more so for their institutions. Mostly colleges of below the division 1-A or FBS level. Then my phone started ringing with coaches from colleges as well. CalU, Clarion, Allegheny, Bucknell, Georgetown, IUP, and many more. Things were starting to get hectic, my mother was receiving calls with invitations to visit as well. There was limited time and I had to pick which colleges we’d visit before signing day which was February 6th. I remember one evening my mother was on the phone with a scout sitting in the dining room. This scout must have come across my highlight tape on Youtube or been one of the many scouts I handed out dvds to at a metro Index combine earlier the year before. Suddenly, my mothers eyes bulged out and she dropped the phone. Quickly, she picked it up and ran into the kitchen while apologizing to the scout for the disruption. I knew something caught her attention so I got up and followed her. I noticed she grabbed a napkin and began writing on it with a pen. She concluded her phone conversation and hung up the phone. She turned to me and said, “Pack some clothes, you’re going on a visit Saturday.” I stepped forward and saw what she wrote down on the napkin, the only thing written was,
Ok, so we’re not messing around anymore, lets go on these visits. We couldn’t have picked a worse time to visit this particular college up in Erie, Pennsylvania. It’s January and there was about 3 feet of snow on the ground with the temperature around 20 degrees. As soon as I got there I got a bad vibe and I didn’t want to spend the night, but they insisted that I do, they must have believed that sleeping in a 60 year old dorm room with plumbing coming out of the walls and ceiling would be a motivator for me. The next day I was glad to be on the highway out of there. Even with a loaded scholarship offer like that, it didn’t exactly make sense that really didn’t want to go there. But that was one of many, I spent the night at a number of universities and met many different coaches. I even had some coaches drive all the way out to my house, some promised my mother I would start as soon as I would arrive on campus. However, I needed to follow my gut, I was approaching signing day and I still didn’t have a clear choice, that was when my mother received a call.
Robert Morris? I have literally never heard of Robert Morris at all, so I simply did a google search for them. I skimmed over their athletics page and start to look at their football program. I noticed that it’s division 1-AA, so this is a bigger league than CalU, the school my brother attended and the school I had an initial interest in. I browsed their roster and my eyes bugged out. I saw players that played my position that were 6’ 8” 320lbs, I thought that if I went here, I’d be eaten alive. We went of the visit anyway, but this wouldn’t be an overnight visit.
It was martin luther king day, it was -5F outside and we made the long hour and a half drive up to Moon Township. In the football office we met a Coach Benzel, he was probably the most laid back of all the coaches I met. We started touring the new football facility, I noticed there were lacrosse players practicing on the field. I said, “Oh cool, lacrosse.” Coach Benzel replied back, “Oh yeah, cool if you’re gay.” That second I immediately appreciated Coach Benzel. Many coaches really try to win you over by any means necessary, they’re almost like political campaigners. They try to say anything that would motivate you to come to that college over all the others. Coach Benzel didn’t try and blow smoke up my butt, he was an honest straight shooter.
For example, some coaches were just plain pathetic. One particular day in high school around 8 players including myself were taken out of class and were sitting in the meeting room at the office. This short bald coach from a “certain” university was passing out media guides to all of us pressing that their university was a step above the rest and how the football team was revered as one of the best programs in all of division II. The University of Phoenix was less of a joke than this school. In contrast to Coach Benzel, I didn’t like this coach’s blatant haughty dishonesty. “Do you think you’ve got what it takes to be one of us?” The coach asked, “We will only take the best.” I was irritated as he started to boast about the “impressive” academics and large list of programs. I counted, and according to their program they had 12 majors and many were general programs or small variations of a management major. The coach picked me out and asked me what major I intend to pursue in college. I replied back with the most ridiculous major I could think of, “Cryptography and Government Intelligence.” The coach replied back, “Our university would be perfect for you. In fact, our university would be perfect for all of you.” I had to resist laughing,
It was almost signing day and I was at a crossroads, so many people told me to enjoy these months of colleges vying for me to play for them. People want me, how could I not enjoy it? I hated these few months, I almost didn’t care what college I went to I just wanted it over. However, I couldn’t brush off this life altering decision so I needed some friendly guidance. The saturday night before signing day I visited my good friend Brian Hyde and discussed the various offers and options I had. His advice, as well as the prayer and meditation that weekend all guided me to one place, Moon Township.
After church that sunday I needed some alone time to finalize my decision, so I went and saw a movie by myself. After the movie, I was sitting in my car in the parking lot and flipping open my Motorola RAZR. I dialed Coach Benzel’s number and told him I’d like to sign to Robert Morris, he said he’ll overnight the papers to me. That tuesday was signing day, I signed, was interviewed by a paper, and it was finally all over.
Feels good to have another season to get prepared for, better get to it.
To be continued.