Recruiting Season

Disclaimer:  I don’t know exactly what I’m talking about here.  I am simply an observer, as I am with many things in life.  I take it all in and form an opinion, then I write about it.  But in the household where I reside, I pick up on a lot of things having to do with football, whether I really want to or not.  Living in this household I have seen and heard many things over the years.  Some I may share, and some I will not.  I’ve seen the good, bad and ugly of recruiting this year.  With all of that said, this is my take.

After the regular season come the playoffs, after the playoffs come the holidays, and right around the new year recruiting season comes into full swing.  I’m asked by friends if I’m relieved when football season is over.  Yes, in some ways it can be a relief, but in many ways it is just the beginning.  Recruiters come knocking.  They come to the school and to the homes of players.  They call on the weekends and at night while my family is trying to have dinner, or when The Coach and I are attempting to have an evening out.  Many of them think that The Coach will sway a player one way or another.  While The Coach can give advice when asked, he normally tries to stay neutral and is much more level-headed than I would be if I were in his shoes.  When The Coach arrives home at night, he tells me about all of the college coaches who have called or sent texts and the recruiters who have met with him that day.  Many times his whole day is spent with recruiters.  It is part of his job, but since he is also the Athletic Director, his job isn’t done, and he spends time between recruiters working on eligibility and working other sporting events at the school.  Sometimes the recruiters even attend the other sporting events to see athletes in action and meet various young people who may be of interest to them in the future.  He’s asked whether or not he has players who could be assets to the university or college.  He has to be honest.  While some players are tremendously talented on the field, many aren’t working as hard as they should in the classroom.

This year loads of colleges have come calling,  because of four-star rated Dax Hollifield.  He’s the kind of player every college wants because he’s simply a great kid.  I’ve watched him grow up.  He works hard both on and off the field, and is truly humble and pleasant to be around.  Stanford is interested in Dax, and a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet David Shaw, their head coach.  I’m not immediately impressed by anyone just because they are a fancy schmancy football coach.  But after meeting Coach Shaw, I was impressed.  That meeting inspired me to watch his Ted Talk about how football can save the world.  Now, I’m not a total believer in that statement, but after years of watching my husband and other great men coach, and learning more about the game of football than I ever wanted to learn,  I truly see value in the game.  In his talk, Coach Shaw explains how Stanford looks for intelligent and academically strong athletes.  They don’t simply wish to be a great school for academics or a great school who wins championships.  Schools don’t have to be one or the other, they can be both.  Coach Shaw explains how Stanford is paving the way for higher education to have greatness on the field and in the classroom in order to create young people who are valuable in a variety of areas and go on to help make the world a better place.  Young people who wish to be recruited have to catch on to this idea.

After the past few months, I find myself imagining what it must be like for high school athletes. There’s a whole plethora of message boards, forums, dot-coms, and recruiting analysts who have something called Crystal Ball Predictions, and it makes me nauseated  to think about the pressure these young people and their families experience. Some are noticed by everyone because of their outward, stand out athletic ability.  On film, they put on a show.   Recruiters know exactly what they are looking for, or do they?  How would it be to feel wanted by everyone?  Fought over constantly?  Some student-athletes know, but others who are talented won’t know.  They have to fight to be noticed.  How can they do that?  Is it worth it for a kid who dreams of playing in college or in the NFL?

According to a little digging and curiosity, I found that about a quarter of the athletes in the NFL weren’t ranked at all or recruited as a high school player.  Here are excerpts from two different articles I found on unranked players:

“Also impressive is that 19 players were rated as 2-star prospects or not rated at all, meaning nearly one-quarter of the players at the top of the league in 2016 brushed off the lack of belief in them by talent evaluators and grinded all the way to NFL greatness.”

Ben Kercheval, CBS Sports Writer

“This is often the most interesting category. These are the players that came out of nowhere and transformed themselves into NFL players. Most did so as a walk-on or playing at a Division II school or smaller.

The Arizona Cardinals first round pick, Haason Reddick, is a perfect example. He walked on at Temple as a defensive back and eventually blossomed into a force at defensive end leading the nation in tackles for loss as a senior.

Wisconsin offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk is another example of unranked to first rounder. He started his career at the Division III level at UW-Stevens Point before transferring to Wisconsin and transforming into an All-American. Now, he’s a member of the New Orleans Saints.

New Orleans Saints second round pick Gerald Everett signed with Bethune-Cookman (Florida) out of high school, while Chicago Bears second round pick Adam Shaheen was plucked out of Ashland University (Ohio).”

Chris Hummer, 247 Sports

Some young athletes are going to have to work to make connections because they will never be officially recruited.  Head coaches aren’t able to make every athlete look like a star.  Even when head coaches recommend players, it never comes down to the word of the coach.  Young men must learn to advocate for themselves, but how?  One of the ways they can help their chances of playing at the college level and possibly receiving scholarships is hard work on and off the field, meeting and talking with college coaches, attending camps, and making college visits.  My friend and coworker, Omar Porter, recently started producing videos and podcasts to help young athletes learn to market themselves as worthy student-athletes and find college programs where they would like to play.

Click here to check it out:  https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D9JLVMxrJPYk&h=ATOsxQfNEL_gK29LXy_YCHdJ5Rdp83uGZl1iRljMg239R4fO-YL7_VHVNi6QDGKBfeDZXHHccIlPJHlgYtSlWtIheEqAwSPNHcuN4cMK974zGTKKQ3unJ42XKA&s=1&enc=AZMkszW8EPy_dy6lRd9xI9aXzUT9nXdURxVhMcak5At9VW5Od96w_dEsKiz-z_Gqg88

In only a few days young men from all over the country will sign a commitment to one school or another.  The hard work of athletes, families, coaches, and teachers will pay off.  May they all follow their hearts and find that the dreams that they have for themselves are greater than they ever imagined, and for those who don’t sign but still have hopes of playing at the college level, may those young men not give up on their dreams but perhaps find another road that takes them where they want to go.

Dear Anonymous,

I’m sure The Coach isn’t the first to receive an anonymous letter telling him all of his faults and how he should have coached last Friday night’s game, and I’m sure he won’t be the last head coach to receive such a letter.  On behalf of all the people who put themselves out there in life, for all of the men who take their life and use it for the betterment of their community by coaching high school football, literally for pennies in the state of North Carolina, for all of those men who spend more time on the field than they do with their family,  only to have faceless and nameless people call them out, degrade them, or criticize them, I want to write a letter to you, Anonymous.

Dear Anonymous,

You see, I have no problem at all with people expressing their thoughts and feelings in the form of words.  I have done it myself at times in the heat of the moment, spouting off my feelings when I was angry or hurt, or thought of a better way in which I saw that things could have been done, but the difference between you and I, Anonymous, is that I signed my work.

Some people have guts.  Some people are the kind of people who may not be our favorite people, but we know they will be honest and upfront with us.  They come to us, yes, to our face, in person, or write us a note, and sign it with their real name, and tell us what’s up.

Last Friday night, I was as angry as any other person who watched that game.  I said some words to The Coach right after the game about how I thought things should have been done, then got up on Saturday morning and talked with him about some other things that I had thought of during the night.  You see, I didn’t get to see The Coach come home since I went to bed at 1:30 after waiting up for him.  He and the other coaches were at the field house watching film and working until 3:30am.  Where were you then Anonymous? Probably sleeping.

Late Friday night I had to apologize to two friends I was rude to at the game, because I was so worked up, and said some things and some words I shouldn’t have said.  I take responsibility for my words.  Fortunately, they understood and forgave my blatant honesty and rudeness, and we are still friends.  We can say things to each other that are honest, and real, and be okay with it and move on.  Maybe you should take a lesson, Anonymous, and learn to do so as well.

I respect the opinions of others, but when you take to social media and hide behind your computer to call someone out in front of the world, or send anonymous letters to someone’s home, taking measures to make sure it is typed and not handwritten, (Oh my, do we know you that well to know your handwriting, Anonymous?)  Then that tells me just how big of a coward you truly are.

In your letter, you call out a couple of the coaches for their lack of involvement and ability.  If you are such a fantastic analyst of football and coaching, then truly, you should get yourself out there and volunteer your time and talents like several of our coaches do.  You see, my husband and all of the other coaches on the Shelby staff have a gift.  They have the ability to work with young men, inspire young men, and coach teams to greatness.  The put their faces, names, and families in the line of fire each and every week, as they get out there and coach in front of “fans” like yourself who like to pick apart and find fault with what they are doing.  It’s easy to see what’s wrong from way up there in the stands.  The field is a different place indeed.  It has a completely different perspective.  If you are truly so gifted, why aren’t you putting yourself out there, and helping coach the team?  Oh, that’s right.  You’re a coward.

Don’t, for a second, think you know what goes on in a coach’s life, or household.  Perhaps you, Anonymous, have a perfect life, with plenty of spare time on your hands.  Well, coaches don’t have that luxury.  Our coaches are dealing with plenty of real-life problems each and every week.  They don’t simply appear and get to put every second of their energy into a bunch of players who have it all together.  Sometimes they are busy making the very best out of bad situations.  It is easy to criticize what you don’t understand.   The coaches go home to households where things aren’t perfect either.  They have kids who get sick or hurt,  kids who need help with homework, parents who are sick or having surgery, laundry, yard work, busted pipes, garage doors that need repair, wives who need some attention, babies on the way, new babies crying in the night, houses for sale, and so much more.  Could you balance all that life throws at you, and coach a team to four straight state championships?  I challenge you to do so, Anonymous.  I challenge you to even try.   But, you will never be the kind of man my husband is.  You will never be the kind of man that any high school football coach is because you are too chicken shit to even put your name on a letter.  You mentioned that The Coach has “an air” about him.  He is borderline arrogant at times, but he has to be to do what he does.  He has confidence in himself, his assistant coaches, and his players.  I hope that someday you will find your confidence, Anonymous.

In closing, I want to recommend you find a positive and productive hobby, Anonymous, instead of picking apart people who are actually getting out there and putting their time and energy into helping young men to be successful.  Best wishes for the future.  Next time you want to say something, feel free to write me a letter.  Just be sure to sign it.

Most sincerely,

Catherine M. Ware

 

Rivals

“Don’t matter what they throw at us.  Only angry people win football games.”

Darrell Royal

Who are we without our rivals?  In football, the very best rivalries are often between schools which are close in proximity (like Clemson and South Carolina), and have a deep tradition and history of playing against each other (like Auburn and Alabama).  Here in the south it’s a bit like a family argument, and everybody takes sides.

In Cleveland County,  proximity and tradition hold true for all four of our high schools.  I attended Kings Mountain High School just on the other side of Buffalo Creek, so naturally I hated Shelby.  The Coach attended Shelby, so he was a Golden Lion all along.   When I started dating The Coach, I couldn’t even bring myself to cheer for The Golden Lions for the first few games.  He finally told me, “If we’re going to date and be serious, then I need you to pull for my team”.  I did, begrudgingly at first, but I’ve come to love his Golden Lion team and the fans.

The weeks when we play our rivals, The Coach tends to stay up later than normal watching film and working on his strategy.  I may get in trouble later for saying that, but it’s true.  It pushes him to do his best to outsmart that other team, since a year’s worth of bragging rights are at stake.  But I think it’s more than that.  Rivals in Cleveland County are serious.  They produce a brotherly animosity.  We can all be friends, unless we’re playing against each other.

I liken our county rivalries to a little competition The Coach and I sometimes have.  Occasionally, we sit down to play a friendly game of checkers.  It begins innocently enough at the kitchen table with some cold beverages in hand.  Laughter mingles with conversation, and we start off in an easygoing way with our game.  But…The Coach is masterful with strategy, the tide begins to turn, and suddenly I find myself playing to win.  I’m not terribly competitive, so it’s a bit foreign to me to have these feelings of wanting to smash him like a bug over a simple game of checkers.

I scan the black and red squares, and study my moves methodically before taking my finger off the checker to finalize my spot on the board.  I force myself to think one, two, three moves ahead to see what opportunities I might be providing for him.  The Coach likes to harass me with trash talk during the match.  He is used to this feeling of competition and heated rivalry.  As for me, it becomes a stressful experience.  By the end of the game I’m ready to draw blood.  I’ve nicknamed these battles “Checker Death Matches” for their intensity.  I can’t stand to lose to him.

I have become a much better checker player by playing these little games with The Coach, much better than I really even care to be at checkers.  What is it with these checker matches?  Why do I change into this person who becomes so focused and calculating, unnerved and belligerent?  Of course I want to win, but more than that, I think I want the respect of my opponent who is clearly better than I am at the game. I think too that I need that sense of accomplishment, of being better than I’ve been before. That’s possibly what all rivalries truly are, a need for respect and acknowledgement of effort (pride and bragging rights are a pretty nice bonus). When it comes down to it, our rivals make us better. They make us work harder than we would without them. To play against a worthy opponent drives us forward and strengthens our resolve.

Rivals aren’t simply reserved for sports, in reality they are everywhere, and each of us face our own rivals daily.  Some of us choose to take them on, and we become better people for it.  We face them in a difficult boss or competitive coworker, a dream that takes our all, a sickness, a goal we keep fighting to reach, a loved one with an addiction, an assignment that seems too much for us to handle, or a team who truly wants to beat us.  Rivals make us stronger than we would ever be on our own.  We hate them, but perhaps we should be thankful for them.  They can make us better people and better teams if we choose not to let them crush our spirits.  They may defeat us momentarily but if we consistently make the decision to get back up to fight another day, they can help make us great.  They will give us a sense of accomplishment, and when we defeat our rivals….we feel invincible if even for a season.

I feel grateful, and I think The Coach might say the same, that we have the teams in our county who fight the good fight. We might hate each other on the field, but afterward the brotherhood continues. The Coach talks on the phone with the other county coaches frequently.  They are friends.  I’ve overheard bits and pieces of conversations, and they all seem to share a deep respect for one another as coaches and people. Personally, I don’t think we would have four state championships if not for those teams we play each year from our own county, those rivals who challenge us to be better, and to play and coach and cheer our hearts out.

Lessons From Football

A quote by Norman Cousins stood out to me this week.  “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”

Life can be so wearying at times.  This week has been especially hard for our little community.  There has been a heaviness in the air that makes me fidget, and gives me sleepless hours of turning and tossing in the middle of the night.  It has felt like having lead in your shoes, and an anvil sitting smack in the middle of your soul.

How do you take a loss and make it a win?  There are so many lessons I have learned from football over the years.  Lessons that may not be obvious on the surface, but are there when you peel back the layers of a  game more complicated than it appears to be.  I have come to love this game in a way that I never thought possible.  It is a metaphor for life.

This week we experienced a loss in our community.  I’m not just talking about the loss of a very beloved officer for the Shelby Police Department.  I am also talking about the loss of a father, a husband, a friend of many, and a community member.  And….I am also talking about the loss of another father to children who also live in our community.  A young man who has become the victim of his choices.  Can we really look at one without looking at the other?  In the eyes of God, they are equally important.  There are two men who were lost to us.  The children of these men are truly the ones who bear the brunt of this loss.

On Tuesday afternoon I took my little girl in her pink fluttery ballet costume down the street from where she takes her dance lessons.  We were busy counting the blue ribbons around the court square and down the block when we found ourselves looking at the car that was covered in flowers and surrounded by candles.  I explained to the little girl what was going on.  We had been praying for him and his family after we heard the news on Saturday.  “My heart just hurts Mommy,” she said with her tiny voice crackling under the weight of her tears.  She’s like me in that way, but The Coach can be like that too.  It was so hard to hold her little hand and know that my little girl will be lifted into the air by her daddy after Friday night’s game, but Officer Brackeen’s little girl will never be lifted into the air by her daddy again.  At least not in this life.  I choked on tears, and hid behind my sunglasses as we walked around the car looking at all the gifts and flowers that lay on the black and white vehicle that a hero once drove.  It was important for her to see it.

In football whenever you have a loss things can go one of two ways.  Players can start blaming each other and pointing fingers.   The players turn against each other, fight in the locker room, and never recover the team mentality that it takes to win, or … the team rallies together.  They choose to learn from their loss.  They decide not to quit or stay defeated.  They look at the mistakes that were made, and figure out how to get stronger as a team.  The coaches encourage the players and build them up, or occasionally take some down a notch and help them get in touch with reality.  The players don’t let themselves get down mentally, they put forth more effort the following week.  They allow the loss to fuel their desire to be better and stronger.  Sometimes changes must be made.  They study film and make a new plan of action.  Never does the positive attitude of a winning team disappear for very long.  They believe they are winners above everything else.  Believing is more than half the battle.  How will they win again?  By believing, by working to find a middle ground, and by coming together as a team.  Blaming others, spiteful words, fights and constant judgement never create a winning team.  Players may not agree, but they work it out.  They find ways to play together even if they disagree.

In our little community we have had a great loss.  What will we do now?  I have heard words of hate this week, but I have especially heard words of hope.  Loss is tough.  We will overcome our loss with teamwork.  We have to get past our differences in thoughts and opinions right now. Sometimes we have to put the team before ourselves.   If you have ever played a sport, you know this to be true.  Yes, perhaps one side is right and the other is wrong, but a quote I began using with myself, as well as my children is, “It’s more important to be kind than it is to be right” (Anne Lamott).  This is a time when it’s more important to be kind.  I have heard lots of talk about forgiveness this week.  Forgiveness is supernatural for sure, but what can we do in our daily walk to make this community better, and to create healing?  There are so many questions.  There are some who are angry.  There is a division.  What do we do?  We take a lesson from football.  We work as a team.  We play as a team.  We win as a team.  #Shelbystrong.

Life After A Big Win

Most people who aren’t “football people” don’t really understand what life is like at my house.  I’m sure they imagine us sitting around after a big win soaking up all of the praise from the community and basking in the after glow of the recent accomplishment.  Feeling proud while laughing and talking over a big breakfast, and looking at pictures of our team on the front page of The Shelby Star (that’s our local paper).  The reality of a Saturday after a big win goes something like this…….

I wake up first.  I’m the mom and the wife, so I always wake up first unless I’m sick.  I make a HUGE pot of coffee.  Ironically, I’m the only one in the house who drinks coffee. The Coach prefers Diet Sundrop with loads of ice for him to crunch on.  But The Coach is still in the bed, so I don’t make him a Diet Sundrop.  I let out dogs and feed cats, and start a load of laundry.  I drink about 3 cups of coffee, and say some prayers since this is one of the only quiet times that I will have today.  The Coach and the kids usually stagger down in search of some food within the next hour or so.  Sometimes I have cooked breakfast, and sometimes there’s a bowl of cereal.  There’s plenty of morning breath and bad hair going on, so I head to the gym or the farmer’s market.  The Coach immediately checks his phone since he’s had about 20 text messages during the late night and early morning hours from parents, players, other coaches and members of our community.  He returns some messages and phone calls, then jumps in his truck to head to the high school while he does a radio interview around 9 over the phone with the local radio station.  He talks throughout the morning with other friends who are head coaches at various schools around the state.  I still haven’t talked with The Coach.  If I have, it has been a brief mishmashed conversation about the previous night’s game, while having my two sons talk over the top of me asking quick questions of their dad and reliving some of the more interesting plays from the game.

The Coach usually stays at the high school for a couple hours chatting in person or by phone with interested parties while checking on everything football and field related, and possibly mowing the practice field.  Meanwhile I’m back at home doing about 27 loads of laundry from the previous week that we neglected to do.  I’m scraping dried food from the kitchen countertops, sweeping up a combination of field grass and dog hair, scrubbing a few toilets, watering plants that are on their last leaf, making a grocery list, picking up random socks that have been left around the house, (we have a serious sock problem) and yelling at the kids to clean their rooms and get off their phones.  If you have ever seen Darren Knight’s Southern Mama on Youtube, you know what I’m talking about here!  If you haven’t, you should Google it now in order to develop a full understanding.  While it is a slight exaggeration, I will admit that even though I attempt to be a refined and educated southern lady, that side of me does come out occasionally. *Disclaimer-My mother once killed a skunk with a shovel, one of my great grandfathers ran moonshine, and as a child I lived on a dirt road.

The Coach rolls in around lunch time.  He’s handsome with a fresh hair cut.  He and I finally talk for a minute or two about what we want to do for dinner that night.  He declares which college games he will be watching that day, and either helps fold clothes or takes a nap.  He requires a nap since he was up until 2am recounting the game with the coaching staff, and cleaning up the field house…sort of.  He usually asks me some questions about the game.  This is fun for him since he sees what time I might have arrived at  the game.  I usually come in late, and try to slide in like a Ninja.  I don’t like people asking me unanswerable questions before the game like:  Are we going to win tonight?  I think sometimes people think I’m like a Magic 8 Ball when it comes to Shelby football.

We spend the rest of the afternoon in a mix of naps and laundry and college football games on every t.v. in the house.  I head to the grocery store and return with plenty of cold beverages and some kind of meat (if we didn’t already get it that morning at the farmer’s market or our local meat market) and The Coach has the grill ready for action.  He LOVES to grill.  He carefully puts some type of marinade or dry rub all over the meat, and we have drinks on the back porch while smoke billows out the top of the cooker and blows directly into our sweet neighbor’s yard.  She’s always trying to have a relaxing time on her screened porch, and I hate this for her because The Coach has the game on mute with Apple Radio playing Chris Stapleton in outdoor concert fashion.

We sit and admire the possibilities of our yard, and I watch the chimney sweeps flying overhead.  We might chat a little about the game from the night before, but we don’t focus on it or the win.  We talk more about the people who are involved.  We talk about the coaching staff and what a great job they did, and the things that are going on in their lives.  We love them.  We talk about the players.  The colleges that may be pursuing some, and  the struggles others are facing in their young lives that we can hardly imagine.  We love them.  We talk about our family and our parents and funny things the kids did.  We talk about our friends, and how they might drop by later or perhaps some fun we have planned with them later in the month.  As day makes its beautiful change into night we discuss our bat problem, and watch them greet the darkness as they flutter out of our attic in hopes that they eat all the menacing mosquitoes who attempt to make a meal of us as we sit on our back patio.  We laugh and talk, and sometimes it’s about football.  But mostly, it’s just about life and how our lives are interwoven with this whole football thing.  We talk about how we can be better coaches, parents and people.  Life with The Coach is busy.  The win is good, but it’s not what’s most important.  By this time there’s plenty of talk about next Friday night’s game.

Football is Love

Welcome to my blog about my football life with The Coach.  The Coach is my husband, Lance.  I married him thinking I could make him change some of his football-loving ways, but how dare I try.  Instead, football has changed me.  Football and I have had a love and hate relationship for the past 18 years.  My husband’s main goal in life when I first met him was to become a head football coach.  He achieved his dream, with lots of love and support from me, our very wonderful parents, our kids,  a few incredible head coaches who taught him everything they knew, and a wonderful coaching staff who has been a second family to us.   We live and teach school in the community where my husband grew up and where he now acts as Athletic Director and Head Football Coach for the Shelby Golden Lions.  Life isn’t always easy living in a small southern town where everyone knows your husband, but it’s good.  I want to share the things we’ve learned as a couple and family, but especially the lessons I’ve learned living with The Coach.