Novemeber 10, 2010
I just want to start by saying thank you so much for all the kind words from those who have read and enjoyed my blog. I never imagined that anyone other than my parents would actually read this, so to hear from all of you who have spoken or emailed kind workds, it is more than humbling and greatly appreciated.
This week's blog comes after a disappointing loss at home Saturday to then-ranked No. 7 Wofford College. Coach Ayers and his players certainly have a really good football team, but we had chances to win the game as well that we just could not capitalize upon. We also caught a few bad breaks along the way that were, perhaps, a bit out of our control. However, we are now gearing up to head up to Chattanooga this weekend to take on yet another tough SoCon opponent, as we do each and every week. The events of this past weekend tagged onto what was already starting as, and certainly will continue to be, a tough week for me physically and in the classroom and are what inspired this week's entry on my blog. It deals with what may be the most important lesson that is learned from playing football. That lesson is how to deal with adversity.
I have mentioned multiple times throughout my blog entries that football is not an easy game to play. The grind of the offseason, spring training and especially the actual season takes its toll on everyone involved - physically, emotionally and mentally. It starts in the winter with 6:00 a.m. workouts in the freezing cold, sleet and snow, where we are pushed to the limit in all three aforementioned areas. We are tested as men to see if we can overcome the fatigue and elements and push overselves to the fullest speed in the worst conditions possible. This continues into the heat and monotony of spring practice and extends to the brutal heat and physical strain of summer workouts until the actual season arrives. In season, it is tough to find motivation to work each day after an extremely tough previous workout or practice. All of this work culminates in the fall, when we strap on the pads each week and use all of these lessons in toughness - both mentally and physically - on the playing field and in the classroom. So many times I have been asked, "Is it worth it? Is it worth dealing with sickness, fatigue, injury, and frustration to wear that Samford jersey on the field each Saturday?" I have always answered: until someone can feel the love I have for the game or the emotions I feel on Saturdays, they will never understand. I was born to play this game. There was no other option.
As my football career nears its end and the real world comes knocking on my door, my answer is beginning to change though. I am still addicted to the game of football and the emotions that it brings as much as I ever was, but I am realizing what football has taught me that I will carry with me. That is to never ever slow down, never ever fail to give your all, never ever quit.
Adversity is something that will never go away. While what can be deemed as adversity is relative to everyone, it is something that all of us will deal with at some point in our lives. I have accepted the fact that some days are just going to be rotten. My car may break down (I speak from experience that this is adversity), my ceiling may fall through with a leak or something catastrophic may strike myself or someone near and dear to me, but we cannot just lie down and accept defeat. I may have spoken a few times on this blog about my high school football experience. We lost 39 games in a row between my eighth grade year and the end of my junior year. Each spring, we would hire a new coach and start spring with a positive attitude ready to win. We would start with nearly 100 kids coming out for football, but once it got hot, we would drop to 85. Once we finished preseason, we had 65. Once we lost our first three games, we had 50, and once we reached 0-8 and 0-39 cumulatively my junior season, we were dressing-out right at 40 kids for a 6A football game. Nonetheless, the 40 that had the guts, determination and heart to stick it out experienced something they will never forget when we defeated the No. 3 ranked team in the state one Thursday night. Sure, there were plenty of bad days. There were plenty of tears shed. I wanted to quit plenty of times, but on that Thursday night in October, it was all worth it.
This lesson in hard knocks continued when I got to Samford with shoulder surgery, losses and a frustrating lack of playing time. At times my grades would look as though they were going to suffer, and people would tell me to quit or to just stop trying so hard just as so many had done in my high school. They didn't understand. I have learned through football that I cannot physically or mentally bring myself to quit. I cannot physically or mentally bring myself to give anything but my all. That is the most important lesson I have learned.
As a male, I feel comfortable speaking for my entire gender in saying that one of our favorite things to hear is when someone tells us, "You are a grown man," or even, "You're a real man." This is our reward for doing things such as lifting a lot of weight, pushing through pain, or knocking someone around. I have learned in my football experiences that while all of these things are great, those are not what make a man. What makes a man is waking up each and every day, taking the good with the bad, working as hard as possible and taking pride in what you do no matter the adversity or obstacle you may meet. This could be practicing football despite knowing you will not start on Saturday, making a living for your family when your job is not going great, or taking care of your family, loving them and working on relationships as hard as you possibly can.
This game we all love has taught us all many things. It has taught us about passion, desire, work ethic, mental and physical toughness, perseverance and a love of the game and other people. It has shown us how to be real men and not to quit, no matter what. We were born to be that way. We have no other option.
Novemeber 2, 2010
Our football team was riding high after the game Saturday and Sunday as it is obviously quite a feat to go to Statesboro and get a win. As we celebrated in the locker room and on the bus going home Saturday, I couldn't help but think about the ride to Statesboro. We watched Kenny Chesney's documentary "Boys of Fall" on the bus Friday afternoon, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has been involved with the game of football at any point in their life. However, one particular clip from the documentary was stuck in my head as I watched my teammates laughing and joking with each other. It is towards the end when Bill Curry, the current head coach at Georgia State, former Alabama head coach and ESPN color commentator, discusses what he calls the "miracle of team". I don't want to steal any of Bill's thunder for those who have not seen it, but he basically talks about how rare it is that two young men of differing race, religion, socioeconomic background and life experience in general can come together as teammates and brothers. He talks about how they sweat in the same color workout shirt and bleed into the same color jersey. They soon realize that their sweat doesn't smell much different and the blood is the same color. They are no longer teammates. They have become brothers. As I looked around the locker room, I saw neither race nor religion. I didn't see rich kids and poor kids or star athletes and role players. I saw a locker room full of brothers, and it hit me in that moment how special those bonds really are. It hit me in that moment that Coach Curry was absolutely right. I loved and trusted the men around me just like I love and trust my own brother, and that is something that makes football special and something only athletes can understand.
I spoke in my last post about memories and how memories made while playing football can and will last forever. What I forgot to mention is that what lasts as long as the memories made playing football are the relationships made. Once a man stops becoming just a teammate and becomes a brother, he is that forever. I still see guys that I played in high school with when I go home and randomly around Birmingham, and we never fail to hug, catch up on each other's lives, and have extensive talks about the "good ole days" that are only five years in the past. (If you haven't noticed, being a fifth year senior surrounded by freshman in the locker room and sophomores in my classes has me feeling a little dated.) That is because building and becoming a football team is not easy. Football teams are not built in air conditioned rooms with kind words being spoken in a soft tone of voice. Football teams are built in the sweltering July and August heat with players being pushed to the point of no return and tremendous pressure being placed on you individually and on your unit to perform as a whole. Football teams are built with tough love because toughness breeds toughness. Once you have looked another man in the eye and said, "We may be about to die, but we are going to do it together," you have built a bond that cannot be broken. I know without a shadow of a doubt that the bonds that I have built with my teammates will last as long as I do because we have gone through all of that together. It is a rare and special feat that few people will ever be able to experience knowing that 80 men have your back no matter the situation or the cost. In three weeks, my football experience will be over, but I will carry with me those friendships and that brotherhood wherever I go as long as I live.
John 15:13 in the New International Version of the Bible states, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." My teammates are my best friends. I love all of them, and I would make that sacrifice for any one of them. I know that I would because I have confidence that they would make that same sacrifice for me. That is a bond that cannot be broken. That is a bond that is worth every drop of sweat, every drop of blood, and every tear shed. That is a bond that lasts a lifetime.
Remember my "No Pain, No Gain" post from 2 weeks ago?
This week's post comes after a quite uneventful weekend as far as Samford football is concerned as it was our bye week. We were able to get a great week of practice in while starting the game plan for a huge conference matchup on the road against Georgia Southern (Oct. 31), and we were also able to rest and heal some of our key players who have been nicked up or injured for the past couple of weeks. We had Friday and Saturday off, so I was able to spend the weekend in Knoxville with my girlfriend and her family, who were more than gracious hosts. They were even kind enough to let a kid from South Alabama, also known as The Wiregrass for my fellow residents of L.A. (Lower Alabama), who grew up partial to Alabama football, use their season tickets (great tickets) to the Tennessee - Alabama game at Neyland Stadium. I was giddy getting to go to this game, not because of who was playing but to see 103,000 people rocking inside of that monolith of a stadium. I have always heard how cool it was, and I believed it; however, nothing could prepare me for what happened when I walked through the portal.
Now believe me when I say I have walked out of many portals into many football stadiums in my life both to watch and to play. These portals range from running out of one in front of 80,000+ fans this year at Florida State, to walking onto fields with my dad to watch my older brother play in high school in front of a few hundred fans, but the experience I had Saturday surpassed all of them. It wasn't because I was so marveled at the monstrosity of the press towers or the upper deck, and it wasn't because I was taken aback by the noise level or made nauseous by the tint of orange that seemed to swallow me whole. It was because when I walked out of that portal, I had a mini-flashback of every football memory that still exists in my mind after all these years. I am not by any means an openly sensitive person nor am I one to take frequent sentimental trips down memory lane, but Saturday night made me realize that there could be only one topic for my blog this week. It is what football is really all about: memories.
See, football is the most popular religion in the South whether we want to admit it or not. The diehard college student/fan or football fan spends more time on message boards and radio call in shows slamming the coach, praising the new freshmen and begging for more passes to the tight end than they do in the classroom and library combined. Somewhere in the middle of all of this media madness, we have lost a concept that is essential to the game of football. It's a game. It's something that we play for fun. Kids play with their buddies in the parking lots dreaming of wearing their team's colors one day whether it is a huge college or a tiny high school. Football is a game that teaches us lessons that will last a lifetime, it makes lots of money for lots of people, and it gives us relationships that we can treasure forever, but when it is all said and done, it is a game. The memories we make while playing that game are what make it so special. As I walked out of the portal to our seats Saturday night, engulfed by the atmosphere, my mind was flooded with countless memories from my football experiences.
I remembered my first ever football game in middle school in Rip Hewes where the high schools played on a Tuesday afternoon. We wore our jerseys to school, got out of class early to eat an Arby's sandwich, and played so early in the afternoon that we could still smell the bread baking at the Sara Lee bakery when the wind blew just right. I remembered my first start in high school as a sophomore and being so nervous that I nearly vomited at the pep rally. I recalled snapping my high school's 39 game losing streak against the # 3 team in the state on a Thursday night and having an impromptu dance in the gym where we laughed and cried until 2 a.m. I remembered crying all the way home from my last high school game ever. I remembered taking the field for my first college snap at Georgia Tech and being welcomed to college football by a few guys who play on Sundays now. I remembered my high school fight song, my college alma mater, blood that was shed, sweat that was poured and tears that were cried. It all hit me at once and I got chills from my head to my toes. In that moment I realized that those memories are what make the game we love so special.
One of my teachers that I respect the most, recently asked our class to name the last 5 Nobel Prize winners. We got 2. He asked a class with three football players, four baseball players and a few track athletes to name the last 5 World Series winners, Super Bowl champs and 100 meter dash champs in order. We still aren't sure if we got them right. Trophies are great, but they fade. We all work our entire life to make a name for ourselves, but eventually the greatest feats are forgotten. In all of the fanfare that has developed around football on all levels from trying to get a college scholarship to going to the combine to try to get drafted, we forget that while our playing days and game days are numbered, our memories will last forever both as players and fans. Few will remember what the record of the 2010 Samford Bulldogs, the 2005 Northview Cougars or the 2000 Girard Rebels was in 2030, but we will never forget the memories made with those teammates that we call our brothers over the last twelve years.
Football is a life-changing game, but it is just that, a game. So this week, as you get ready to call a radio show or post on a message board devoting your free time to discuss the validity of a 19 year old's starting position just remember, we are just kids out there trying to make memories and trying to smell that bread baking for as long as we can.
I am really interested to hear the readers' (if there are any) thoughts and opinions on my blog, and any suggestions or ideas for future posts would be gladly accepted. Please send any of these comments to me here. Thanks for reading.
October 18, 2010
One of the things that the SoCon asked me to do with this blog was give an inside look into the life of a collegiate football player, so I figured I would shed some light on one of the most misunderstood issues in the game of football: playing through pain. I'm currently dealing with ankle injuries, and all of us having nagging knee, shoulder or back pain from years past. After each practice and game, my parents also want to know how it feels. My response is always the same because the answer never changes: It hurts. When asked if I am going to try to play, the answer also is constant: Yes sir.
For those that have played the game of football or any other contact or collision sport at any level, this is no big deal. We understand the importance of the old cliché "No Pain, No Gain." for to us, it's true. No one has ever gained a yard or made a tackle from the sidelines without pads on, so we push through the pain. There are others however, such as my mother, (and probably yours too) who think that this is the definition of absurdity. They operate under the maternal principle that no pain...is good. My father is an athletic trainer who understands the mentality of people playing through pain but is far from an advocate of such. My mother has probably seen and been to more football games than you and I combined. She understands offense, defense, and special teams, but she can never fully understand why two grown men would run full speed into one another, cause and receive pain, and get back up and do it again.
It is a well-known (hopefully obvious) fact that the goal of football is to score more points than the other team. This is why coaches are paid millions of dollars to ensure that happens. The way the game is designed, achieving this goal requires hitting - with speed, intensity and as much force as players need to make the block or tackle. Each play is a battle between two men, gladiators if you will, trying to literally fell the opposition. Each block and tackle is the ultimate competition to see who is the bigger man, physically and mentally. This is the "why" to my mother'rs question. We would rather put ourselves through physical discomfort and pain than admit defeat on the scoreboard, but we will endure next to torture before we will lose the competition to see who the bigger man is that day and admit we are the lesser of the two.
We also play through pain because let's face it, it's cool. Go sit around the local coffeehouse, restaurant, bar or barber shop and listen to old men talk about their glory days when they were the young boys of fall playing football. They talk about wins, losses and battle wounds. The more years that pass, the story of the game winning run in '62 gets longer, the defense has more people on the field and the storyteller has a new injury every time he tells it. Much like old war veterans like to sit around and talk about battle scars, football veterans are fond of reliving the moments they got their own battle wounds.
Another reason we play through pain: Treatment. I've mentioned a few times how busy we stay during the week as student-athletes. We wake up, go, go and go until we're able to go back to bed. Naturally, the last thing we want to give up is sleep. I don't know about other schools, but I know that here at Samford, the only time that most of us can squeeze treatment into our schedule is first thing in the morning. This certainly helps trim the fat in terms of players trying to legitimately nurse injuries and those just hoping to get out of practice with a sore knee, hip or ankle. It helps fuel the fire keeping guys on the field and off of the training table solely in the name of sleep. Do we know the line between pain we can push through and pain that needs treatment? Absolutely. Do we push that line as far as humanly possible? You better believe it. Call us crazy, but this is not a game for the faint of heart.
At present, my team and I are a little down. I'm writing this on Sunday night (Oct. 17) between studying biochemistry and working on my increasingly-stressful medical school application with the increasingly-fast approaching deadline in November. We lost to Furman yesterday (Oct. 16) in a really physical game. We are grateful to have our bye week this week to heal up and make a push to end the season. We lost a few guys to injury after Western Carolina, but we have all stayed tight as a family despite the adversity we have faced. I have no doubt in my mind every time we take the field, my teammates will lay it on the line for each other, and that is a special feeling. I hope everyone has a great week. Good luck to everyone and stay healthy.
Until next time,
October 9, 2010
We are defined by our habits. We have been reminded of this fact by our parents, coaches, and teachers since we were all little tikes. We were told that everything we do each day, everything we think, and the words that come out of our mouth create an image that people see when they look at us. We have all heard the old cliché, "Actions speak louder than words", and we have heard the saying that, "Old clichés are old for a reason". Our actions, whether seen by others or not, is who we are, and that speaks much louder than anything we can say to defend those actions. This principle may be the most important in the life of a college football player.
From the first day we set foot on campus (which is hard for me to remember since it was half a decade ago), we started developing habits. Some of these habits were carried on from high school. Some of them may be acquired from friends or teammates. Some habits are newly developed. Some are positive and certainly some are negative, but whatever the case they quickly define us within our team, school, and community. Habits are our image, and just like Andre Agassi said in the old Canon camera commercial, "Image is Everything". In this new age of 24/7 media, ESPNU, ESPN3, and message boards/blogs, college football has become analogous to a bad reality show on VH1 or MTV at times.
Any mistake made by a student athlete, no matter the privacy involved, is spread like wild fire via message boards, Twitter, and countless other media outlets, much to the disappointment of the athletic department and embarrassment of the athlete's family. Many view this as unfair and crude. They argue that football players should be able to live their life like any other normal college student. However, while there may be some merit to letting kids be kids, the problem that I find with that argument is that we chose to live life as student-athletes. This life comes with unbelievable opportunity and privilege as well as increased exposure, and I see this exposure as an extra measure of accountability. Do I disagree with certain issues and the way they are handled on occasion? Absolutely. However, when an 18-year-old young man is treated like a prince about town and on campus, it's hard to argue with the extra little things that keep him in check.
In many ways, the accountability that comes from camera lenses and constantly-watching eyes can help mold our habits into a pattern that can enhance our opportunity to succeed. This accountability can encourage and even force a student athlete into wiser choices that lead to excellence on and off the field, which should be our ultimate goal. A pretty smart guy once said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit". Establish excellent habits, and excellence is sure to follow.
As far as the team and me, we are at the hotel somewhere in North Carolina as I am writing this waiting to play Western Carolina (Oct. 9). We had a good week of practice, and our team is itching to go after a tough loss to a very good Elon team last weekend (Oct. 2). Our team has really molded into the tighest group of guys I have ever been around, and I know that no matter the outcome tomorrow or the rest of the season, we will all have relationships that will last us for a lifetime. I will check back in next week hopefully with good news from tomorrow and a good outlook for next weekend. Until then, good luck and health to everyone out there and GO DOGS!
September 23, 2010
As this is the first entry in this blog, I figured I should begin with a quick introduction of who I am. My name is Cory Smith, and I am a fifth year (redshirt) senior football player at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. I am originally from Dothan, Ala., where I played as a Northview Cougar for four years before matriculating to the Magic City. I am a Sports Medicine/ Pre-Medicine major who is in the process of applying to medical school even as I write this.
At Samford, I have served as a backup on the offensive line as both a center and guard for the past four years, undoubtedly as one of the shortest O-lineman in school history at a measly six feet tall (if you give me an eighth of an inch). Off the field, I am involved all over the place on-campus, from contributing to the school paper as both a sports writer and columnist, to serving on both Samford's and the SoCon's Student Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC), and even conducting my own undergraduate human research project. I like to take part in other opportunities that come my way too.
I had the privilege to represent Samford this summer at the Student-Athlete Leadership Institute, a leadership retreat held annually by the SoCon, where I was able to share my own experiences as an involved/overextended (depending on who asks) student-athlete trying to maintain my balance with others doing the same thing throughout the conference. When asked by the SoCon to share an inside look at the life of a student-athlete through this blog, I jumped at the opportunity. I hope that through this blog I can give a closer look at both the demands and perks of life as a student-athlete in the Southern Conference. I also hope that I can perhaps pass along useful college living tips, some killer recipes, and hopefully a few easy laughs.
A Week in the Life of a Footballer
I thought it would be interesting to give a look inside what the week of an average football player like myself is like. Saturday is Game Day. Without fail, we have a full day of treatment, weights, meetings, and practice on Sunday. Sunday nights are usually devoted by most of the guys on the team to catching up on classwork from the previous week. Monday is our day off from football, but in no way does that make it a day off. My Monday this week started at 7 am to get to treatment for my ankle by 7:45. I then had class from 9:15 to 12:30, and I come in to watch film on that week's opponent for an hour before lunch. In past years, I'd usually have a science or math lab on Monday afternoons since we don't have practice, but since I am a senior (read: on my victory lap) I have taken all the labs there is to take. I now spend Monday afternoons catching up on schoolwork, sleep, and television. Tuesdays are super busy with treatment again at 7 am and class from 8:00am to 1:00pm. We then have football meetings, weights, and practice from 1:30-6:30 usually. Wednesday and Thursday are much like Tuesday with treatment, class, and practice taking up the entire day. We usually travel or meet on Fridays before we rock-and-roll again on Saturdays.
I know you are thinking that does not leave much free time for studying or anything else, and you are absolutely correct! This obviously means that since we don't have as much free time that we have to make certain sacrifices, and by sacrifice I mean that I may have to sacrifice a few points on my Nutrition test on Monday to watch East Bound and Down on Sunday nights. I'm kidding of course, but there are plenty of choices that have to be made to manage time. Usually its sleep and fun that is sacrificed to maintain grades on our schedule, but trust me when I say that it is totally worth it on Saturdays.
We are getting ready to host the #1 FCS team in the country, Appalachian State, this Saturday at our stadium, and we are putting in a good week of hard work to get ready. If you can't get up to play the best team in the country, you may be in the wrong profession. We have an awesome group of guys this year, and we are gonna give them our best shot. We are 2-1 so far after a big road win at Northwestern State and a great comeback win to open up at home over Newberry.
Our team has really come together since the beginning of camp, and it is really amazing to see how the older and younger guys have bonded to create such a tight group from top to bottom, but there will be more to come on that in the next post...in the meantime Go Dogs and God Bless! See you next week!
* Please note that the opinions and views expressed in student-athlete blogs on this site do not necessarily epresent the opinions and views of the Southern Conference.
More: Cory Smith