Specialization. There's nothing worse an athlete can do to themselves. Nowadays it's popular to play just 1 sport year round, and I'm here to tell you that if you want to be the best that you can be at the sport you love the most, then you need to play at least two sports until you get to college.
I'm the perfect example of this. Not a lot of people know this, but after my freshman year of football at McCallie I was ready to hang it up. Everybody that knows me, knows that football was not going to pay for my college. I'm a baseball player. I always have been. My first word was "ball" (pretty positive that I was referring to a baseball). Baseball has, and always will be, my first love. It captivated me as a little boy, and it was all I thought about. I remember distinctly when I was eight years old having my uniform on seven hours before the game, even though it was monsooning outside and it was supposed to rain like that for the rest of the day. My boyhood idol was none other than Derek Jeter. For those of you that don't know, I named my dog after him. I say all these things to give you a background into my life before football, and to tell you that my proudest moment as an athlete didn't even come on the baseball diamond. How is that even possible, you ask? Well, let me tell you:
It was my junior year and we were in the first round of the playoffs. It was a cold Nashville evening, and the smell of burgers on the grill was in the air. We were 3-7 at the time and we had lost 7 STRAIGHT games in a row. Most people, including myself, thought that this was going to be the last night of football for the Blue Tornado. I was back receiving punts before the game when I got this feeling that something wild and crazy was going to happen that night. The last time I got that feeling on a football field was when I broke my arm in half in the 7th grade, so I wasn't too excited about that feeling coming back 4 years later. We were playing Father Ryan and they had just whooped us two weeks prior to this rematch. I believe the score was like 34-12. It wasn't even close. However, that was the night that I made the switch from RB to WR towards the end of the game and played really well. Well enough to get me the start the next week against a very good MBA team. My first game at WR I had 9 receptions for 182 yards and 2 TD's. One of those TD's was an 80-yard TD catch that put us up 6 points with about 4 minutes to go in the game. We ended up losing, but I'll never forget that game for as long as I live because football is not who I am, and I played so much better than I thought I was capable of playing. It challenged me. It made me better. Anyways, back to Father Ryan and the first round of the playoffs.
Not even 10 plays into the game, and about halfway through the first quarter, our starting QB goes down and is out for the game. It was a huge blow to us. I'm sure we all thought in our mind, "Man, this is it. There's no way we can win now." We put in the backup QB who was a senior and he really struggled. He was our last option...or so I thought.
Towards the halfway mark of the 2nd quarter I'm standing on the sidelines watching our defense play their guts out and Coach Potter walks up to me and ask, "Hey, if we needed you to go in at QB do you think that you can do it?" My immediate response is "Yes sir, I'll do whatever it is that you need me to do." I was the backup QB my sophomore season and never touched the field until, ironically, the first round of the playoffs against St. Benedict only because we were blowing them out. So, I hadn't taken a snap at QB in exactly one year. I know you're thinking "What the heck is Coach Potter thinking?". But, Coach Potter knew me and he knew that I knew the offense almost as well as he did.
Here's a little side story. Coach Simpson, who was the WR coach that year for McCallie, text my dad and told him that I was going in at QB. Dad laughs, thinks he's kidding and doesn't respond to the text. Moments later he sees me run out on to the field and line up behind the center in the shotgun formation. Immediately dad becomes sick and has to go to the bathroom. As a baseball coach, this was his worst nightmare.
Anyways, I end up going in and on the first play I fumble the ball on a handoff to our RB. What a great start! However I didn't let this phase me. I shake the rust off and 2 plays later I'm running down the sideline for a 45 yard gain. It was our first sign of life from the offense all night. We end up punting and for the rest of the night, except for 1 play where I literally threw the ball as far as I could and prayed to God that somebody ran under it, we only ran rushing plays. My speed has always been the best part about me, so we weren't going to win the game with my arm.
Father Ryan fumbles the ball inside there 30 and we grind it out all the way down to the 2 yard line where it becomes 4 & goal. We ran a play called "East Pro Tight 58 Give" all the way from the 30 and it worked right until we got down to the goal line. We chose to run the same play again expect we added an extra blocker. However, I channel my inner Peyton Manning and decided that I'm not going to tell anybody that I'm going to pull it. I say hut, put the ball in our RB's stomach, and pull it out of his gut. Nobody has a clue that I have the ball and I walk into the endzone untouched.
We end up losing the lead and we're down 12-7 with about 3 minutes to go in the 4th quarter. I'm disappointed because it looks like Father Ryan is going to run the clock out, and our season will be over. However, Father Ryan's RB proceeds to fumble the ball inside their own 30 again. What play do you think we run all the way down to the goal line? You guessed it, East Pro Tight 58 Give. We get down there and it's 4th & goal again with 30 seconds on the clock. I, once again, pull the ball without telling anybody, except this time a guy is there waiting for me at the goal line. The season is on the line, time is running out, the game comes down to this one play and a guy who hasn't taken a snap all year is seconds away from becoming the hero or the disappointment.
You couldn't write a story book ending better than this. It comes down to who wants it more. You or the guy across from you. Man to man. Mono e mono. All those mornings I got up at 6:00 AM to workout, all those nights I spent watching film, all those practices where I thought I was going to die all came down to this one moment. Did I outwork the guy standing on that goal line, did he study film more than I did, did he lift more than I did, did he do something more that I didn't do? I was either going to reap the success of hard work or feel the agony of failure and have to look my teammates in the eyes knowing that what I did wasn't good enough. Our whole season was going to be judged by this one play and the ball was in my hands. What I did the week before didn't matter. It all came down to this and as an athlete this is what we all live for. Everybody wants to be in that moment, but when that moment comes, will you be ready? Did you do everything you can to win that moment? A Navy Seal once said "Under pressure, you don't rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training."
To finish the story, I think about meeting him head on and try to run over him, but who am I kidding, I'm not running over anybody. I've never done that my entire life. So, I do what I do best, I fake like I'm going to the inside and run to the outside and he falls down. I run into the endzone, once again, untouched. We run a two point play and I throw the ball to Matthew Brock on a misdirection play and he catches it. We go up 15-12 with about 20 seconds left. They get a good return, run one play, get within field goal range, and the kicker misses wide left. Ball game. The Blue Tornado escape with a 15-12 victory.
Had I quit going into my sophomore year, I would have never been able to experience this. We didn't win a state championship that year in football and we didn't finish with a winning record. But, that moment, that play, that game, prepared me for the biggest baseball game of my life later on that year. We were in the Final Four against our hated rival, Baylor, and the winner advanced to the State Championship Game. I knew that I was ready. I was prepared. The score was 3-2 and with the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on 1st with 1 out. The ball was hit to our second baseman, he threw it to me as I was coming across the bag to turn two and again I had the ball in my hands at the end of the game. The moment was all too familiar to me. There was no doubt in my mind what was about to happen. I knew the game was over and I hadn't even thrown the ball yet. As an athlete, we're all born for these moments and we're all judged by how we respond to them. We turned two, the game was over, and we went on to win the first State Title for McCallie since the bicentennial year of 1976.
I've won a State Championship in baseball and I've never made it past the second round in football. But, as an athlete, the Father Ryan game is my proudest moment. You may think I'm crazy, but you see, baseball is my thing. It's what I do. Football was not. It gave me a different way to compete. It challenged me more than baseball ever has. Part of who I am today is because of the lessons that football taught me. If I had never played football, I would be missing a huge chunk of me. I can't thank Coach Potter and his football staff at McCallie enough. They helped me become a man out there on Pete Potter Field. I'm forever grateful for the memories I made playing football. I wouldn't trade them for a multi-million dollar signing bonus in baseball any day of the week. Think about this post the next time your kid says he/she wants to play just one sport. The lessons he/she can learn outside of just one sport will impact who they become as men and as women.
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