In a past life, I was a decent athlete. In high school in Memphis, I played football, hoops and baseball and was fortunate enough to play on some pretty darn good teams. My senior year, we were a top four football team, we won the state title in basketball and finished as the runners-up in the state baseball tournament. But, when choosing a college to attend, I realized that I really needed to focus on only one sport if I hoped to continue some sort of athletic career.
As a 6'1" small forward who couldn't shoot, I knew my basketball days were over and I never really developed a strong baseball career. Obviously, if I were to continue playing, it would be on the gridiron.
My high school team didn't throw the ball a great deal, making my marketability as a quarterback pretty limited. But, I was steadfast in my determination to play the position somewhere. And, as a realization that my football career would most probably not result in an NFL stint and multiple millions in signing bonuses, I began searching for a school that offered a great education and could afford me the chance to prolong my time in the huddle.
While attending my younger brother's eighth-grade football game, I was engaged in conversation by the father of one of my brother's teammates. Mr. Kelly was a shaggy-haired, bearded, earthy type who used to occasionally drive his kids to school in his beat-up VW bug. He was also an artist, and not the sort of guy you'd automatically choose to receive advice on where to play football in college. But, Mr. Kelly (J.D., as he preferred) suggested that I send a highlight tape and an application to the University of Dayton.
Being born and raised in Memphis, and growing up in the midst of SEC football and Memphis State athletics, Ohio -- even southern Ohio -- was not on my prospective list of places to go to college. But, J.D. painted a vivid picture of the little, urban, Marianist university, and soon thereafter, I packaged up a VHS tape of a couple of high school games and sent it to the UD Flyers' football coaches.
Within a few days, I received a phone call from Coach Chamberlin. Coach C was the defensive coordinator for UD, seemed like a good guy and, more importantly to me, seemed very interested in me becoming a Flyer. His enthusiasm and passion were contagious, and I soon found myself contacting a good friend -- named Carl -- who lived in the Cincinnati area to see if he'd allow me to spend the night at his house while I was up in Ohio for the recruiting visit. Carl told me he was being recruited by UD and planned on visiting the University on the same weekend. Suddenly, it seemed like fate.
Carl and I visited the University, met with the Flyers' head coach, Mike Kelly, and instantly fell in love with the gritty city, the comfortable campus and the prospective of suiting up for the UD football team. Where do I sign, Coach?
Three years later, I was the quarterback for the Flyers in the Division III Championship Game in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl. We played the Dutchmen from Union College, a powerhouse offensive team from the northeast who also featured a punishing defense. The game ended up becoming a slugfest and points were hard to come by for both teams. Somehow, some way, we got the best of them, and I managed to flop into the end-zone on a couple of short runs to help us secure a 17-7 win and the national championship.
During my senior year in 1990, we savaged our regular-season opponents to a 10-0 record and a No. 1 seed in the D-III playoffs. After knocking off perennial powerhouse Augustana in the first round, my football career came to an unexpected end on a dreary day and a muddy field in Allegheny, Pa.
While I was crushed by the loss, I was thankful for the opportunity to play for Coach Kelly, to be surrounded by outstanding and extremely-talented teammates and to enjoy such incredible success on the field. In the four years at UD, our teams posted a total record of 44-6-1 and made the national playoffs each season. I quarterbacked the team to 25 wins and enjoyed every waking second of my time for the Flyers.
I also got a great education and to this day, I'm proud to be a Flyer. This past weekend, the University bestowed on me an unbelievable honor by inducting me into their Athletic Hall of Fame. I'm still overwhelmed by this and not sure I've fully digested what has happened. And, to think, all of this occurred as a result of a chance conversation with a skinny artist in Memphis. J.D. passed away soon after I left Memphis for Dayton, so I never really got to thank him for his wonderful advice. But, his nephew -- and my former head coach -- inducted me into the Hall this weekend, and told the same story I've just shared to those in attendance.
Fate led me to be a Flyer. And, I'm so grateful.