Wednesday, February 23, 2011

PREPARATION IS KEY: Advice for Pursuing that College Football Scholarship

In this article, Jim offers advise to young players who dream of playing football beyond high school. In his more than 35 years of experience working with young football players, he has seen many kids with all-world talent waste it all by not preparing early.

What does it take for a high school football player to make himself a college recruiting prospect. Seriously, there are countless huge, quick kids and fast and talented kids in high school who never get a sniff of a scholarship offer. Why is that? We have reported at length on the talented in-state duo of Zach Banner of Lakes and KeiVarae Russell of Mariner and have tried to keep readers abreast of their status. It seems that Banner has been touted as the best junior class line prospect in the nation. Since he is also a D1-type basketball player, that may be the direction he ends up going. Even more intriguing is the possibility of his playing both sports in college. It doesn't happen that often these days, primarily because the time demands for D1 athletes is profound. Tony Gonzales, the K.C. Chief's All-Universe tight end may have been the last of this breed. However, if anyone could do it, Zach would be the guy.
Russell has been garnering interest from across the country from the SEC to the Pac-12 and universities in between. The latest to show interest is Notre Dame, the most storied college football program in the nation. He, like Zach is only a junior, so he has an entire senior season ahead of him to add to his impressive resume. These two may show exactly what a young kid, say an eighth-grader, must do in order to be one of those who are sought after. Following are a few suggestions, in no particular order, to increase your visibility and desirability.

First, take care of your academic status. You must have a 2.0 GPA to be eligible to play in high school (It is amazing when you see how many good high school athletes cannot make this minimal standard). What kind of GPA will get you recognized at the collegiate level? Zach and KeiVarae are both in the 3.9 to 4.0 GPA range, which would get them recognized whether they played football or not. Most high school kids might find that too daunting, but you can carry a 3.0 or better GPA. It takes work, hard work and doing that work continually. And, you have to start immediately. You can't wait until your junior year and then say, "Maybe I better start working on my math and science. Start now.

The second item that the prospective football recruit needs to do is get involved. Run for office. Join clubs. Put yourself into leadership situations. Colleges like to see that their incoming freshman students are well-rounded. Besides, you might meet an entirely different group of people with different mindsets who will present you with a whole new range of learning experiences.

The third item is one that cannot be over-emphasized. Do everything you can to make yourself bigger, faster, and stronger. Many kids talk a good workout, but actually doing one is an entirely different thing. And, do your workouts with teammates; it forces you to do better then you might do without them there. Even lifting can be competitive in a way, you and your friends against a goal. It builds unity. I've done a running program for over twenty-five years, and I have heard a lot of kids excuse themselves by saying, "I jog a couple of miles every day, so I don't need a program". There are two problems with that. The most obvious is that since we can't see you doing that, we have to rely on your word that you are indeed running the distances you say you are. Have kids ever deceived us? Ooohhh, let me count the ways...and times. Besides, I have said, "Why jog? When is the last time you jogged on the field during a play? The game of football is played with the idea of going from one point to another quickly...that is best accomplished through running." I've seen kids who have argued that they lift weights at home or in a gym with their uncle, father, grandpa, or cousin twice-removed. Let's explain this again, LIFT WITH YOUR TEAMMATES!!!!!

I worked with a couple of kids last winter, the previously-mentioned Russell and the extremely-competitive Gabe Dye. We would meet in the dead of winter after school, after all the teams had been selected and were in the gyms practicing. At times, on good days, there were fourteen guys working out. On bitterly cold days, with the wind blowing sleet into the face, there would be two...every day...every time...KeiVarae and Gabe. Winners are forged through times like this.

The fourth thing I would say is to work at cultivating a culture of humility. I have heard countless eighth-graders puffing themselves up, and telling everyone within hearing distance exactly how awesome they are. Excuse me, buddy, you haven't done anything yet. I don't care how many touchdowns you scored in your Little League program What you have done to this point has zero relationship to your success from this point on. The great ones are humble. The pretenders brag. Your fellow students will like or dislike football based largely upon how you football players treat them in the classrooms, the hallways, the cafeteria, and in the mall.

Your teachers can be your greatest allies. Treat them well. There may come a time when you need a letter of support or recommendation, a letter that may mean the difference between acceptance or rejection. They will help you gladly.

Of course, all of this is predicated on the fact that you have the talent to play at that level. Do you have that talent? Who knows? Only time will tell. Remember this: THE PERSON WHO WORKS THE HARDEST THE LONGEST, GOES THE FARTHEST! Jim Olsen

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Who's the Best?

We have had a surprising number of people contact us concerning the things we have written and the video we have shown of KeiVarae Russell asking us to explain why we rate him so highly. The letter writers definitely have backgrounds in the history of Mariner High School because they mentioned a number of ex-Marauder running backs, including Amon Gordon who has spent a decade toiling in the trenches of a number of NFL defensive lines. Amon was a 6'3", 245 pound runaway freight train at fullback in his junior year when Mariner played Capital for the 3A state title. Where, the writers asked, would you place KeiVarae in the list of great Mariner running backs from years gone by.

First, how does one judge a running back? When I first became aware of the game of football, my running back heroes were the gymnastic Jon Arnett of the L.A. Rams (that's right, Los Angeles Rams) and Hurrying Hugh McElhenney of the San Francisco Forty-niners (and the university of Washington) who eventually lost the tendons and cartilage in his knees due to the extreme cuts he was able make. Then came the great Jim Brown and Ernie Davis followed by Barry Sanders, Gale Sayers, Earl Campbell, and Larry Czonka (who was supposedly the only player in the history of the NFL to get a fifteen-yard personal-foul penalty...while he was carrying the ball). All of these men were great runners, and no two ran alike. Which one was the best? I dunno. You see, running backs are like painters whose canvas is the football field. Also, like musicians, singers, and poets, they are creative individuals and each creates in his own way.

One of the letter-writers asked if I thought that if other players had gotten the ball as much as KeiVarae they would have gotten all the ink? Would they be getting the publicity? The answer to this is The kid is a 4.0 student, which led Princeton to ask about him. He has already been offered by Stanford (Mariner grads who went to Stanford to play football include Riall and Teyo Johnson, Amon Gordon, and Sean Scheller). A kid who met KaiVarae at a leadership camp (where he was voted outstanding camper) left a message that read "I met KeiVarae at Leadership camp. Great guy!" And in an obvious plea for KeiVarae to stay in Washington he wrote "Stay in state- family."

KeiVarae was voted Junior Class president by his peers. He is doing all the little things to get to the next level. He turned out for swimming, for gosh sakes, because he wanted to improve his endurance. I can't think of another kid who would do that. Did others have the talent to get this far? There have been some excellent running backs before him including Jason and Jarvis-the Terry twins, Martavius Burkhalter, Draper Young-Neal, Darius Washington (who had all the talent in the world) and Michael Young. My good friend and co-coach Glenn Smith said, when we were talking while Glenn was in Russia, "This kid can't be better than Michael Young". When Glenn returned and Michael Young walked by one afternoon, Glenn asked him. "Coach Olsen said that this KeiVarae kid is better than you were. That can't be true, can it?" Mike said, "You know, I was pretty good, I really was...but KeiVarae is better".

You know, that high number of carries is a double-edged sword: KeiVarae got those yards in part because he was the main rusher in a Wing-T offense. The fullback is the one that makes that offense go, but he is also running into the teeth of defenses that are geared to stop the Wing-T. Deception is the key, but if the defense isn't fooled, the fullback is going to get lit up. Long-striding runners like KeiVarae would seem to be especially vulnerable. A runner with a wider base (Bellevue's stable of running backs) can take a shot, bounce sideways, and keep moving. It is more difficult for the long-striders to do so. But, KeiVarae kept moving the chains. If you will look at his highlight films, you will see that even when he is being tackled, he is moving forward, initiating the contact. Obviously, when he gets into space, great things happen.

The most important thing about all of this is that universities are into recruiting character as much as talent. That is one of the reasons that schools from the SEC to the Pac-12 are anxiously awaiting his choice of schools. But, more than anything, I want to spotlight good kids who are doing the right things in school and on the field. If you have someone that you believe needs attention, we would love to hear from you. We will do our best to give that kid the attention he deserves. Jim Olsen

Friday, February 11, 2011

Craig Mulligan--A Special Person

In our last post, Jim introduced you to Kenzi Mostefa, who is scheduled to play next season with the South Sound team of the NWJCFL. In this post, we introduce you to Craig Mulligan, a player with a dream, a dream to play football as long as he can and then to remain involved in the game. As you will see from his responses below, Craig is a special young man. We had heard about him from others when we made our way down last month to watch South Sound's combine and we weren't disappointed when we spoke with him. He is someone that we will continue to watch as he undertakes his football career in the NWJCFL and, hopefully, beyond.

1. Name, age, place of birth?

My name is Craig Mulligan, I’m 24, and I was born in Fresno, California and raised in a little town on the outskirts of Fresno, called Sanger.

2. School(s) attended?

Sanger High School

3. When, how and how old were you when you were first introduced to football? Did you like the game at first? How about in High School?

I was introduced to football when I was adopted by the Mulligan family after spending four years in the foster care system. Every Sunday my brother, my father and I would watch the 49ers on the TV. I was fortunate enough to catch the tail end of Steve Young’s career. My first game I attended was a preseason game in which the 49ers played against the Rams, when the 49ers home stadium was still called Candlestick Park. Ricky Watters and Merton Hanks were my favorite players then. I grew up playing against my brother and his friends, all of whom were around 7 years older than I was. It was fun! I was constantly under-estimated and took advantage of that often. I liked the game, the way a child enjoys day to day activities. It wasn’t as important to me then as it is now.

The first time I ever put pads on was 7th grade. I had no idea what position I wanted to play, so I took the one position for which there was no competition: Tight End. We lost every single game we played that year. My 8th grade year I played RB, and my team ended up winning Area Championship.

In high school, I didn’t take the sport seriously. I played the game, because I had played the game. I enjoyed it yes, but I wasn’t of the mindset to fully appreciate it. It wasn’t until I had grown a little older and a little wiser that I finally understood what the game was all about.

What position(s) did you play in High School?

My freshman year I played RB, after my success at the 8th grade level. I had a few good games, running for approximately 100 yards on a handful of carries. My freshman team went undefeated playing against highly competitive teams. My sophomore year I started at CB and received a good deal of playing time at WR. My sophomore year was tough for me in terms of sports. I ran cross country in addition to playing football. I would practice and play in the football games, and for cross country I would just show up and run, still placing with competitive times.

My junior year was the year that I was introduced to every position on the field. Coach Spzor would toss me an offensive playbook and tell me to learn all the run plays for FB. Next week I’d score two touchdowns and average over 6 yards per carry. One week he wanted me to learn SS. He told me to memorize the coverage’s, and use my speed to shut down both anything over the middle and the teams RB. I ended that game with a forced fumble and an interception.

In addition to those positions, I also played my usual position of CB, I also played FS, and back to WR. The play they designated for me at WR was Fresno, a streak call. At RB my call was DragonFly, a rocket motion sweep out of the Wing-T.

You didn't play football your final year of high school. Tell us why?

There were a few reasons. The primary reason was an injury I suffered during wrestling the previous year. It was against the 5th ranked wrestler in one of the most competitive conferences in the state. When he tried a switch, my shoulder locked then popped. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had torn my rotator cuff. I ended up winning the match, but had to withdraw from the tournament.

The other reason was that I didn’t understand what my coach wanted from me. I didn’t have a lot of confidence playing in team sports; I always performed better in individual competitions. I felt as though I was a “gimmick” player. I didn’t have a set identity in the offense or the defense, and because I was younger than everyone else (I had previously skipped a grade due to my academics) I didn’t take the game as seriously as I should have.

So I focused on other things instead. I withdrew from football, and I withdrew from wrestling. My wrestling coach was not happy. I had lettered since my freshman year and had been a captain since my sophomore year. I focused solely on Track and Field that year. I also enjoyed immense success in Forensics and Debate.

6. Have you played other sports? What were they?

I ran track, cross country, I wrestled and played football in high school.

7. What do you get from football that other sports don't offer?

Then I didn’t understand what the point of football really was. Now, it’s different. When I put my pads on my shoulders, they’re heavy. It’s as if the world has been placed on my back; I’m carrying the hopes and dreams of so many more people than myself. Everyone that has coached me has a vested interest in my success. Those that support me have placed their hopes on my efforts. How could I walk onto that field and think it’s just a game? It’s a battle of attrition, a contest of wills, a chance to do something that you absolutely love to the fullest. Not everyone can say that.

Scott Miller. That name resonates with me more than anybody else’s. He was a natural talent, 6-2, 245 lbs, strength to match, and the speed to deceive. We used to work out together while deployed to Iraq, we’d play in the intramural football games, and we’d tell each other that we’d make it back to the states and play football together. I made it. He didn’t. The day he died, it hit me hard: the knowledge that he would never again wear a pair of pads, he’d never don a helmet, he would never get a chance to play the game that he loved. Even more so, it was difficult to imagine that he would never again see his family, that a war would be all that defined his life. I’m playing because of him and for him. I’m doing what Miller could not; live my life to the fullest.

8. What is your wildest dream in football?

My wildest dream in football is honestly to be in or around the game for as long as I’m able to. I want to play until my body can’t play anymore. When that happens I want to coach until I can no longer stand on the field.

9. Have you been injured playing football?

I’ve only aggravated old injuries, in particular my shoulder. Thankfully I’ve been fortunate enough to not suffer any new injuries.

10. What have you been doing since graduating from high school?

Since I graduated from high school, I joined the service and went to basic training at Ft. Benning in Georgia. I then reported to my unit at Ft. Lewis Wa. I had decided to join the Infantry and defend the country that had given so much to me. I completed an extended combat in tour in Iraq, traveling from Mosul, to Baghdad and finally to Baqubah I got out of the army in May of this year, putting me at almost 5 and a half years in the service. Now I serve in the National Guard, and will be retraining to be as combat engineer, a member of an elite sapper unit.

11. Did your years in military prepare you to play football at this level? How?

My years in the military have helped me grow and mature to the level that is necessary to be successful at the college level. It has instilled in me the drive needed to form an indomitable spirit. My role as a leader within the army’s structure has taught me how to be a leader, how to take care of those that surround you. It showed me how the bonds you form with those around you can strengthen the individual and in turn the team.

12. You had a mentor in the military who saw your talent and encouraged you to try to play JC football. Explain his involvement in your decision to do so.

Ha! The first time I met Sergeant Adam Pickens, he saw me playing football. I was throwing to a bunch of the guys from the unit who were standing 50-60 yards down the field. I remember the first words he spoke to me: “You can throw like that?! What the hell are you doing in the army?!” He was a baseball player himself, but throughout our entire tenure together he supported me in football. While we were deployed, he would constantly talk to me about my goals, and we’d go over a game plan to reach them. When we both found out about the adult amateur leagues back home, he taped the newspaper article to the top of my bunk, and told me to leave him tickets to my first game.

When he found out about the JC football league coming to town, he brought it to my attention immediately. Unfortunately I still had a few more months left in the service. Pickens began researching teams to play for that wouldn’t require a massive investment in terms of time. He finally landed me a spot on the Puget Sound Pirates. When my orders came down to Stop Loss me and deploy me again to Iraq, Pickens fought to have them rescinded. His input and tenacity led to the situation that I am in today. If it wasn’t for Pickens, I wouldn’t be afforded this opportunity. I have everything to be thankful for, and because of that, I have to work twice as hard. Pickens constantly believed in me. He taught me what it was to be a leader, and he is someone upon which I may always rely.

13. Would you be attending college if not for this chance to play football?

To be honest, I probably would have not have gone to college if it were not for this league. I most likely would have continued to play in the amateur leagues, which lack the guidance and focus and structure that makes the North West Junior College Football League so crucial to the youth today. I would have either re-enlisted in the military or gone to work in a heavy labor industry.

When I first graduated high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t really play any sports past high school; I was 17 years old, weighing only 160 lbs. I wasn’t exactly a prospect. So I became lost in the shuffle, lost interest and eventually dropped out of school to join the service.

14. You are 24 so you only have one year to play in the NWJCFL. Is it your hope to catch the eye of a four year school and continue to play the game?

I do hope to continue playing at a higher level. However to do that, I need to work harder than I ever have. Since the middle of December I have been logging in miles and hills -- be there rain or snow. Now that school has started, I’m also lifting in the gym.

However if I don’t get an offer to play at a four year, I have other options as well. The goal is to play, regardless of the program, regardless of the location. I love this game too much to sit back and wonder what would have happened if I had run those stairs one more time, or gone to the gym a little more often.

15. What are your plans if no one recruits you after you one year?

I can continue working out and walk on to a program which is definitely an option. I’m spreading my net, and trying to catch everything I possibly can. I have a limited window, so I need to start exploring as many options as I can.

16. What are your favorite football team(s), college and/or pro?

My favorite college team is Fresno State University, home of the Bulldogs! Although I have a healthy respect for many other programs as well. I believe that Joe Paterno’s program at Penn State is the epitome of college football. It is everything that I believe the game should be about. On the NFL side, I fell in love with the San Francisco 49ers ever since I knew what football was.

17. What kind of music do you like and who is your favorite artist/group?

I like alternative music. I tend to gravitate towards bands like the Gin Blossoms and Tonic. In Iraq, the two artists that really got me through the sleepless nights were Dave Matthews and Jack Johnson.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The French Connection

As those of you who read our blog at least semi-regularly must know, we have taken a great interest in the well-being of a possible return to junior-college football in the Northwest. We now have a league, the NWJCFL, that, although it is not recognized by any of the schools they represent, are doing what the schools ought to be doing, getting young men into colleges. A young man has to be taking classes in a community college in order to be illegible to play. How badly do these guys want to play football? Badly enough that they will buy their own gear, pay a healthy fee, and sometimes drive prodigious distances for the opportunity to suit up and hit someone wearing a different color of jersey...a clean, healthy release of tension, anxiety, and frustration. Badly enough that someone like Kenzi Mostefai would travel all the way from France just to play this uniquely American game. When Dick and I attended the South Sound Combine a month ago, we were given access to the players. One of the first young men I approached turned out to be a story in himself. Since he spoke English so well, except for a slight accent that I couldn't quite place, I would have sworn that he was American. I was impressed with his approachability, his thoughtful answers, and, of course, his size. He is not huge (6'1" and 255-260), but he is solid and responded with an iron grip when we shook hands (His coach Joe Stinson said that his motor never runs down. Sideline to sideline, he gets after people. He was made to play football, and football was made to be played by guys like this.). We talked for awhile, and then I got his email address and when I got home, sent him a few questions. Here are his answers, which I have taken the liberty to touch up for clarity's sake. Written English, as most of my ex-students will attest, is significantly different from spoken English, and it is much more difficult:

1. Name, age, place of birth?

My name is Kenzi, Mostefai. I am 19 years old, I am from Algiers, Algeria (North Afriqua)

2. School(s) attended?

I studied English Literature in Paris, France, and then I came here to study English.

3. When and how were you first introduced to football?

I heard about an American-football league in France. In 2007 I played for the Meteores of Fortenay-sous-Bois for three years. That is when football became more like a drug...I had to play it.

4. Have you played other sports?

I played other sports as well as football: soccer for six years, basketball for two years, Thai boxing for five months, judo and karate.

5. What do you get from football that other sports don't offer?

The game of football has given me an inner peace, a place to direct my anger. It has given me a new lifestyle, real happiness, a stronger mind, and a second family.

6. What is your goal in football?

I would like to play the game as much as possible and, if possible, be a professional.

7. What is your wildest dream in football?

My dream would be to play in college and then for the Philadelphia Eagles.

8. Have you been injured?

I have had a knee injury, but it wasn't a big deal.

9. What has been the most difficult transition in coming from France to playing a truly American game like football?

I came her because I wanted the experience of an American player.

10. What has surprised you the most so far, both on and off the field?

What has impressed me most is the weird Evergreen State University students and on the field the intensity of the players.

11. What players on your own team are the most difficult to play against?

The player who has impressed me most is on my team. His name is Josh, and he is big and fast. He is also an excellent offensive lineman.

12. Who is the best player you have ever played with or against?

This guy named Brison is the best player I have ever played against. He is our linebacker; he's got talent, and he puts his heart into everything he does on the field.

13. What is the best team you have played against?

All the teams I have played against are good teams.

14. Do you have a favorite college or NFL team?

My favorite college team is the Oregon Ducks and my favorite professional team is the Philadelphia Eagles.

This kid would help any four-year school immediately. Obviously, he is not intimidated by challenges, emotionally he is solid as a rock as he is physically. Hopefully, he will get that chance. Jim Olsen

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Gender Gap in American Colleges and How Football Can Help Close It

Because we had earlier reported on the demise of the Northwest Community College Football League (NWCCFL) only to later discover that the league had apparently been resurrected with new management and a new team as the Northwest Junior College Football League (NWJCFL), Jim and I motored down to Evergreen State College on January 22nd to watch the South Sound team's combine workout and to judge for ourselves if the league was still alive and kicking. We are pleased to announce that Junior College football still has a breath of life and plans are ongoing to expand and become more relevant in the years to come. During the combine, we spoke with a couple of the players who have unique stories and, as Jim says below, will report on why they have decided to hook up with the NWJCFL. For Jim, the trip to Evergreen brought back old issues he has thought about since JC football was eliminated in Washington state. He writes about them below:

The big panic in colleges these days is the widened gender gap between the enrollment's of women and men. With women commanding 57% of college admissions in 2005, the gap is increasing, and while some schools are wringing their hands trying to figure out what to do, other schools, fifty of them in the past ten years, have instituted or re-instituted football. While possibly well-meaning bureaucrats in the state of Washington saw fit to eliminate the state's storied junior college football program, and Western Washington University's president Shepard, head firmly implanted into an unnamed orifice, destroyed a hundred-year tradition, other people nation-wide have seen the light.

In an article in the New York Times, Jo Ann Boyle, president of Seton Hill University, a 123 year-old former women's college, made the most compelling argument for narrowing the gender gap that I have ever read. "When you recruit a halfback, you get a few of his male friends, and maybe his sister and her boyfriend. I could have started a new major of study, hired a few high-powered professors, and we may gave gotten twenty-five new students for that. And, I couldn't have counted on that major to be popular fifteen years from now. Instead, I started a football team, brought in hundreds of paying students, added a vibrant piece to our campus, and broadened our recognition factor. And in the long history of American education, one thing you can count on is football's longevity. Football is here to stay."

While we can do little about the vanishing football options at four-year colleges in the Pacific Northwest, we can do something about the state of junior college football in the area. We can continue to promote the six-team league. The NWJCFL has just expanded into Everett and we believe that it is in the best interest of our state, our communities, our colleges, and our kids to keep it and help it grow. If you or anyone you know is between 18 and 24 and is interested in playing for the new Everett team, the coach can be contacted at the following address: ( FYI: The other five NWJCFL teams are: Columbia Basin, Yakima Valley, South Sound, Green River and Tacoma.

In our next posting, we will be talking to a couple of young men and sharing stories of their journeys to junior college football in the state of Washington. The stories are indeed interesting. Jim Olsen