What am I to do?

by

I am in a bit of a tough spot. Washington and Lee, the University that I have worked for and called family for going on four years now is hosting Alma College this weekend in football. I attended Alma College (for five years actually) and played football for them. Come Saturday I have to make a decision. W&L, my new home, or Alma, my old home?

I have to admit that I was pretty excited to hear that Alma may get put on the schedule last spring. I had been emailing one of the Alma coaches, John Lewis, back and forth about open dates on the schedule for both us and them and just generally catching up. When it turned out that we had the same open week, he gave me a call and asked if I thought it would be a good matchup. I said “yeah, they will run the ball right at you all day, but I think Leister (offensive coordinator John Leister) could draw up a few things.” That, and I certainly felt it was a better matchup than, say, Juniata from a year ago.

I admit that my bravado when speaking of Alma’s ability to compete against the Generals was a little biased given my having played there, but also because my memory of Alma College Football was one of an incredibly explosive four-wide receiver, no huddle, shotgun offense that could score 40+ points at will. I was fortunate to have played my senior season with Josh Brehm at quarterback. The same Josh Brehm who would win the Gagliardi Trophy as the best player in all of NCAA Division III following our senior year. So, when asked about Alma Football, that is what I remember and there is no doubt in my mind that that version would have beaten this version of W&L.

While I don’t think that this year’s team is as talented as some of the ones that I played on, I do feel that Saturday’s engagement will be an entertaining one, and one that I am most definitely looking forward to.

But, when this Saturday rolls around, where do my allegiances lie? Do they lie with my current employer and the signer of my paycheck? Or with my former coaches, teammates and signer of my diploma? Surely I could not be chastised for choosing one over the other could…could I?

Wavering allegiances pop up all over sports. Some may remember the flap created over the sister of former Notre Dame quarterback, Laura, who was dating former Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk. Well, those two teams squared off in the Fiesta Bowl in 2006 and she wore a two-toned jersey. Half Notre Dame and half OSU. She caught some flack for not being able to chooses sides, but given that she ended up marrying Hawk, who can blame her. Brother, or husband? Not a position that I want to be in.

Just the other night on Monday Night Football a similar incident took shape. Former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick returned to the Georgia Dome, but this time as the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles. All of us remember the federal dog fighting charges and subsequent prison term for Vick. He was essentially fired by the Falcons (and rightly so) not long after signing a 10-year $130 million contract. Well, he returned to Atlanta to the dismay of many and the delight of many others. Vick, before his legal woes, had endeared himself as one of Atlanta’s most beloved athletes; a young, charismatic and supremely talented quarterback in a city that desperately needed a football hero of that magnitude. His legal woes polarized the community and while some have forgiven him for his transgressions and allowed him to return to the pedestal of beloved athlete, some have never forgiven him for what his actions did to the Atlanta franchise. Sure enough, at Monday night’s game the stands were littered with Vick’s No. 7 jersey. Some in the current Philly green, others still in the Falcon red. It was apparent, that while Vick had tarnished his standing among some Falcons fans, others could not look past the phenom that had been their quarterback for several years.

This coming weekend is not the first time that my allegiances have wavered. I grew up the BIGGEST Chicago Bulls fan. Michael Jordan was a god to me. When he retired, unretired, and began playing for the Washington Wizards, my 17-year old brain was severely confused. On the one hand, the greatest player to have ever played and a man that I had idolized as long as I could remember was playing. On the other hand, he was playing against MY team. What was I to do? I mean, my wall was plastered with images of No. 23, tongue fully out, rising above some helpless defender for one of his many highlight reel dunks. But now he was doing it in the wrong jersey. In the end, I forgave Michael for competing against my Bulls, understanding that sports is a business. But there was no way I was going to ever don a Wizards No. 23 jersey, that place on my back was reserved for a certain RED and BLACK jersey emblazoned with No. 23.

Back to this Saturday. I am truly torn. Alma’s head coach is a man named Jim Cole, a man that I have the most respect for short of maybe my father…even if he was quoted in the newspaper as saying “we never thought he could ever make a meaningful catch for us…” in reference to me. The way that he has run that team for the past 21 years is the way I feel athletics should be. I remember being treated like a man, but also being expected to act like one. I can still see him pacing the sidelines with his epic moustache (and it is a great moustache) talking about sudden change and inspiring his troops. The last time I spoke to him in person was during the spring of my final year of college. He always gets together with the seniors just prior to graduation to reminisce and wish us luck. I remember him asking me how I was such a devastating blocker (I was a pretty good “crackback” blocker and “earholed” my fair share of guys in college) despite weighing 190 pounds soaking wet. I told him that I just “knew”. I just knew where guys would be and how I could position myself to take advantage of their aggressiveness or momentum and allow our ball-carrier (usually a kid named Kyle Ryan) to continue downfield. He said that he could stand to have a few more guys like me and I was pretty flattered by that. I had gone from being a guy that saw limited playing time (and would never make a meaningful catch), to having knee surgery and missing a year, to being an integral part of an explosive offense and garnering All-MIAA honors as a senior, and now I was being “thanked” by my head coach. He didn’t actually say it, but by telling me that he wished he had more guys like me he was giving me the ultimate compliment. He may not remember saying it, but I do, and I will never forget that.

Same goes for the offensive coordinator, Leister. A bit of a loose cannon (he’s from Montana and still rocks a mullet) to say the least, he is also one of the most brilliant football people I have been around. I remember going into his office during camp when I as a junior and lamenting about some of the seniors (who were actually classmates of mine, but given my year off I was only a junior eligibility-wise) and their unwillingness to run hard on our Monday conditioning. I told him that I did not bust my ass back from knee surgery to be told to run slower to allow a slacker to look better. He told me to forget them (PG version) and keep doing what I was doing that my time would come. Sure enough it did and he reminded me of that meeting a year later when I was a senior and it was my turn to lead.

Add to the mix defensive coordinator John Lewis was the running backs coach at Alma while I was there. The receivers coach (Brian Zimmerman) was there while I was there, Kurt Faust (O-Line) was there, and three current coaches; Tyler Wellman, James Lang and Jimmy Thrubis were all teammates of mine. AND, current quarterback Jarrett Leister (coach’s son) and current defensive back Scotty Cole (also coach’s son) were ball boys on the sidelines and majority of practices. I have known those kids since they were like 15 -16 years old. The more and more I think about it. I think I may have to go sit on the opposing sidelines for this game. Or at the very least, wear some Alma gear with my W&L gear. So, if you see a spectator on Saturday that looks a little confused, its me (and maybe my dad) and know that I have given this a lot of thought…probably too much to be honest.

And, as a postscript, a big congratulations my boss Brian Laubscher and his wife Mindy, who welcomed their first child into the world on Sunday afternoon. Parker Burke Laubscher weighed in a 7 lbs 12 oz and both mother and child are reportedly doing fine.

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