Saturday, March 22, 2014

Return of the Role Model

According to experts on aging, the people who have the happiest (and longest) lives, or have lives that are happier longer, are those who see a yearly cycle of planting a seed, tending to it as it turns into a hardy plant, and then harvesting it.  Farmers, for example, have long had the longest, most satisfying lives.  Now, however, it seems that teachers may have taken the place of farmers.  Why not?  Each fall the teacher receives a new packet of student seeds, and each year he/she plants and tends to those seeds until harvest time in the spring when he/she moves those students/seeds on to the next grade.

Those of us who have spent much time in the fraternity of high school football coaches, definitely understand the hit and miss dynamics of coaching at this level.  Sometimes you have some great talent, but no depth.   In other years, you may be blessed with thirty-three or forty-four kids, all of whom could possibly start for you. But you have no speed.  In another year, you might have enough speed, but the kids are size-challenged, singing, “Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho! It’s off to work we go!”  This sung as they file out the door one by one letting Snow White kiss them on their increasingly bald foreheads.

So, what do you do when you have, not a group of kids, but one, one who stands out like a beacon from the rest, stands out enough that Notre Dame, one of the greatest schools in our nation, athletically and academically, came calling with an offer of a full scholarship.  This student athlete is, of course, KeiVarae Russell from Mariner High School.  Last Wednesday, I had the opportunity to share dinner with KeiVarae, Glenn Smith, Long-time fixture at Mariner sporting events, and John Ondriezek, the one head coach who will do everything he can to get a player into college.  KeiVarae gives thanks every day for Coach O, who kept after him over and over and over and over pushing him to apply for a Pell Grant.  That Pell Grant, KeiVarae says now, is a lifesaver.

There was another running back from Mariner who went another direction.  He blames Coach O for the fact that the colleges didn’t come running.  While KeiVarae was carrying a 3.9 GPA, this guy was sliding by with a 1.9 GPA.  Case closed.  Shut up!   Colleges didn’t show up, because he gave them no reason to do so. 
KeiVarae came home on Spring Break and spent much of the time in the weight room with kids from middle school.  He is not only a good role model, he chooses good role models.  One of the Notre Dame assistants was a lower round draftee.  He told KeiVarae that he had been a fifth-round draft choice.  For a contract, he received the league minimum, which is $350,000.  He saved half of it for three years, put it in a bank with 4% compounded interest and had enough to start off in life with over a half million dollars.  The NFL is always searching for cover corners.  One of his coaches puts KeiVarae in the top seven in the nation.  He is an intelligent, grounded young man who will do well in his chosen profession.  Jim Olsen

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Sanity of C.C. Football

 In this posting, Jim writes about the lack of opportunities for graduated high school players to continue their gridiron dream.  In the final paragraph, he talks about some of the players that he has worked with at Mariner High School that have found a way to continue to chase this dream.  The Northwest Junior College Football League (NWJCFL) has provided this opportunity for them and others.  Here's a list that Coach Dennis provided of a few who have earned the chance to keep playing after playing in the NWJCFL:

"Here are the players that have moved on, either on scholarship or as walk on players.
Bobby Barnes DB/KR (2011) made the Central Washington Wildcats as a walk on after the 2011 season and has been on the roster the past two seasons. He is entering his junior year eligibility wise in 2014 but is a senior academically.
Achilles Wynn WR (2011, 2012) made the Idaho Vandals as a walk on and will be eligible to play in the 2014 season.
Julian Willis RB (2011, 2012) made the Idaho State Bengals as a walk on and will be eligible to play in the 2014 season.
Preston Landon CB (2012, 2013) has been offered a scholarship by Malone University (Ohio), Lincoln (Pennsylvania) and Kentucky Christian.
Ryan Lacoste WR (2013) was offered and accepted a scholarship from Mayville State (North Dakota).
Steven Allen Jr CB (2013, 2014) has been offered a scholarship by Chadron State (Nebraska) for the 2015 season and will return for his second season with the Red Raiders.
Jermaine Jackson WR (2013, 2014) has been offered a scholarship by Clark-Atlanta University but is planning on returning to the Red Raiders in 2014 to work on getting some Division 1 looks."

Yes, Little Johnny, it’s true.  In another place and time, strong and healthy young lads who had used their High school football eligibility and had graduated, could enroll in a local community college and turn out for that college’s football team.  In their infinite wisdom, the powers that controlled C.C. athletics in the state at the time might have engaged in a conversation that went something like this:

Faculty Spokesperson:  Most of you know me only as being the head of the English Department, but I was quite an impressive young athlete in my formative years on my middle-school bowling team.  Bowling, now there is an athletic endeavor.  When your team is relying on you to win the game in the last frame by picking up a near-impossible 7-10 split, then you know how to perform under pressure.  And, you don’t have to have a big stadium to play in.  I bet those stadiums cost ten to fifteen thousand dollars apiece.   And, what about all that equipment the players use just to play the game.  I bet it costs forty to fifty dollars just to pay for the uniform for one of the kids.  That’s just one kid, and you must have twenty or thirty kids on a team.  Do you realize how many books we can bring into our library for that kind of money?

I am obviously using figures that have nothing to do with reality, and I chose to use someone from an English department to illustrate a point for a couple of reasons:  The first of those reasons is that I taught English in public schools for thirty-seven years.  The second reason is that I have heard people in department meetings make the same type of inane comparisons.   All forms of athletics are not the same.  Every year hundreds of millions of people world-wide gather in front of TV sets to watch American football being played at the highest possible level in the Super Bowl.   These hundreds of millions of people seem to instinctively understand that football is a singular game.  It does not really compare to any other.  Virtually every hit on a football field generates enough force to kill both of the participants if they were not wearing the requisite helmets, padding, and uniforms.  Those hits are the very reason that thousands of young men play the game of football.  They learn to hit and get hit and then get back up and do it again.  And, that is exactly what a young guy learns from this game that no other game can teach.

That brings us back to community college football and why we witnessed its temporary hiatus.  When a young man is bitten by the football bug, he wants to keep playing this unique game.   Title IX probably has something to do with its demise at the community college level, in the state of Washington at least. Whoever was responsible, the pro-CC football crowd never put together a valid enough or strong enough argument for keeping the program.  At least, that was the case BT (Before Tim…Dennis) and BN (Before Nick…Clovsky) offensive and defensive masterminds of the Red Raiders respectively.  We have followed this league since its inception and we will do whatever we can to help ensure its success.  Kids in our state need this program.  At a time when fewer and fewer of our young men are going into college, we need to open more doors, not build more roadblocks.  A number of “Big” young men from Mariner High School have been opening holes for RRRB’s (Red Raider Running Backs) and may end up at four-year schools still working toward their degrees.  Martin Martinez has been carrying a 3.5 GPA at Everett Community College.  He stands 6’5 and weighs in the neighborhood of 350 pounds.  Hector Ruiz is also 6’5” and weighs upward of 315 pounds.  The smallest of the group is Derek Meyers who is an excellent pulling guard and is the runt of the group at 6’3” and 275 pounds.  If you have an opportunity to catch the Red Raiders in action, you will be giving yourselves a real treat.  Jim Olsen

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Junior College Football is Still Alive in Washington

High School Cover 2 has covered the attempt to bring Junior College football back to the state of Washington since 2010 when the plan was in its infancy.   There have been a lot of changes in those four years.  Teams have come and gone and teams and player requirements have changed, but the basic tenet has remained.  The league exists to provide opportunities for recent high school graduates who would like to continue to play football.  Many of them have the requisite size, speed and talent to compete at a higher level; but, for a myriad of reasons like late development, poor grades, or simply being overlooked, that did not happen.  These are the athletes that the Northwest Junior College Football League (NWJCFL) wants to attract.

Because we hadn’t been following the NWJCFL for the past couple of years, Jim and I jumped at the chance to reacquaint ourselves with the league when Everett Red Raiders Head Coach Tim Dennis contacted us about meeting with him and his defensive coordinator, Nick Clovsky.  It piqued our interest so we traveled to Lake Stevens for an update.

First, we covered the recent success the Red Raiders team has had lately.  They’ve started to attract players from out of state, for example.  They finished the 2013 season with an 8-1 record, winning all their league games and losing only to Linfield College.  The future for this team is bright and they are planning on adding more games against Junior College heavyweights in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico in the years to come.

The league, according to Tim and Nick, is also starting to turn the corner after a few difficult years.  The unsuccessful programs and those not willing or able to comply with strict National Junior College guidelines and standards have been mostly weeded out.  What remains is a core group devoted to helping young men improve by providing them a way to pursue their dream of playing football at a higher level.  Other teams may not all be as successful as the Everett team has become, but they are on the right path.

Sometimes it is useful to go back to the beginning when reporting on the machinations of a scheme like this that started with such lofty goals.  For us, the beginning came in February of 2010 when we read an article reporting that the league had just been created.  Intrigued, we contacted the league director, Kory Hill and requested an interview.  If you would like to read that interview, you can do so by clicking here.  Kory and others created the league with the best of intentions.  Because of differences of opinion, Kory stepped away from the program for a couple of years.  He’s back now, once again leading the league as Director with a new board dedicated to improving the league.  There will continue to be stumbling blocks along the way as the NWJCFL moves forward, but the future is much brighter than it was just a couple of years ago.  It is, in our opinion, an important idea that needs to succeed.  Some teams have now been granted 501c3 exemptions, for example, allowing them tax free status and easing their financial burden.  Still, positive publicity is the primary need.  Community Colleges need to assist college athletes meet academic requirements; high school coaches need to point out to players with potential who need further seasoning in the classroom or on the field the possibility of playing at the JC level; and media outlets need to keep the league on their radar.

In a further article on the NWJCFL, Jim is planning to report on some of the players who have gone on to play at a higher level and on some of the athletes he knows who are or were in the league.  Dick Kalla