Friday, September 29, 2017

Road Trip Journal - College Football

One of the methods I have used to capture memories, to gather details, and to learn is to journal. For several seasons, in years past, I would journal all my interactions with a team, and at the end of the season I’d print the journal and give it to the head coach for his review.

People will occasionally ask me, “What is a typical weekend like for you?” For the purposes of this week’s note, I decided to journal this past week’s experience with Saluki Football as we traveled to play the University of Memphis in Tennessee. The journal of those days follows. I hope it is some value to you.

I attended practices on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, speaking with coaches and players while observing the drills.

Friday – The usual Friday walk through was at 8:45 this morning and it was followed by breakfast at 10:00. The three buses of players, coaches, and athletic trainers departed at 11:00. A couple of hours down the road, we stopped at a truck stop in the Missouri boot heel for sandwiches and Gatorade. As we rode the bus, I read a book, wrote some tweets, did some thinking, and did some more reading. As we crossed the Mississippi River bridge we picked up a police escort with seven motorcycles and two cars. They led our buses to weave around and through city traffic on the way to the stadium. We arrived at the Liberty Bowl and did a simple walk around to see the field, the locker room, and other facilities we would need for tomorrow’s game. We bumped into four former Saluki Football players from around 10 years ago and had a great chat with each.

We re-boarded the buses for the trip to our hotel. We arrived at the Hilton Memphis, picked up our key cards and I went to my room. I took some time to relax until it was time for the 5:00 dinner. I reminded some players to remove their caps and asked them to lower the volume of their voices. The head coach asked me to bless dinner and I prayed. We enjoyed the team dinner as I sat with our director of football operations, strength coaches, a graduate assistant, the cornerbacks coach, and the head coach. The dinner was followed by a team meeting at 5:45, and position group meetings followed that. I returned to my room to relax and went to bed early.

Saturday – I was up at 5:30, made coffee in the room, sent text messages and tweets as I do each morning from the Proverbs, from Heart of a Champion, and from Corazon de un Campeo’n. I checked on some Southern Illinois high school football scores, and went to the coffee shop for better coffee. At 8:00 another former player and a former coach texted us that they were in the lobby. I talked with Jason Emert and his wife, and with Coach Larry Warner for a while. I went to the 9:00 staff meeting where they analyzed last night’s agenda and timing. The coaches see opportunities for us to make plays against a very good Memphis team tonight. They discussed ways to protect our players from today’s heat and potential fatigue by going to the field a little later in the day. After the meeting wrapped up, I walked across the hall for breakfast, scheduled for 9:30. Fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, bacon, turkey bacon, hash browns, pancakes, and spaghetti with meat sauce were on the buffet. During breakfast I chatted with a couple of coaches and Alicia Hill, the head coach’s wife.

After breakfast, I returned to my room to prepare for the day. I was shaved, showered, and dressed way too early. I did some reading and watched some early college football. I finalized my plans for this afternoon’s chapel and gathered all my gear. At around 1:30 I checked out of my room and went to the banquet room to prepare for chapel. I laid out the chapel handouts on each table at each place setting.

At around 2:30 my three invited guests arrived for chapel and I introduced them to the coaches. John Goode, Mark Gagliano, and Brodie Gruver were each former football players at SIU and are now dear friends. After special team reminders from four different assistant coaches were completed, Coach Hill addressed the team, clarifying our goal for the day – Win the game. After he finished, he gave me the floor and I launched into the chapel.
o   Introductory thoughts on this theme – “Be a Man – A Man Loves Deeply.”
o   I introduced Brodie Gruver for the opening prayer. He is a man who loves deeply.
o   I then introduced Mark Gagliano and John Goode, both former Saluki Football players and both All-Americans. Both are men who love deeply.
o   I then introduced Withney Simon, Saluki Linebacker #42, the young man who was most often mentioned by his coaches and team captains as a man who loves deeply. I asked his teammates to tell me when and how they observed Withney to be a man who loves deeply. We heard several excellent responses from the team.
o   I then asked Withney to return to his seat and I spoke of Jesus being the best possible example of a man who loves deeply and quoted John 15:13. I spoke of how Jesus used this language to challenge His teammates, and then demonstrated His love by dying in their place the following day. I said that sacrifice is the stuff of loving deeply, and that would be key to today’s contest.
o   I finished the chapel with prayer.

Pregame meal followed chapel and it included salad, fruit, spaghetti and meat sauce, baked potatoes, and baked chicken breasts. It was all very well done. After the meal, we had some time to relax. I went to the bus while the team had some final position reminders. At 4:30 we were all aboard the buses and we followed our police escort to the Liberty Bowl. I walked around the field, prayed, chatted with coaches, and then had a great talk with Braxton Brady. He and I met several years ago at a Champaign, IL church’s men’s event. Between sessions in that event, we discovered we were each serving as team chaplains. We have stayed in touch ever since. He has grown his volunteer chaplain role into a full-time staff position as the player relations director for Memphis Football. He is serving well and faithfully.

After more waiting, I helped Coach Flyger identify key players from the opponents. The warm up period continued and I made my way to the locker room, located the countdown clock inside and helped coaches with time to kickoff reminders. We called the players together in the locker room at seven minutes to kickoff, the head coach did a brief talk and then all the coaches and players knelt and held hands to say the Lord’s prayer. We left the tunnel for the field at three minutes to kickoff.

We scored on our first possession, and then prompted Memphis to a three and out on theirs. We led 17 to 14 at the half. They dominated the third quarter, and a kickoff return for a touchdown after we had just drawn within three points really hurt us. We competed strongly, right to the final play of the game, but lost 44-31. Through the game and across the 24 seasons of serving with this program, I have accumulated a number of tasks.
o   I am the “get back coach.” I work to keep the coaches and players in their proper places, so as to not interfere with the officials’ movements on the sidelines.
o   I call up various special teams units, according to down and distance situations.
o   I carry a bottle of water to coaches, officials, and the chain gang on the sidelines during timeouts, quarter breaks, etc.
o   I carry and mark changes on a special teams depth chart, and communicate with the trainers, to help the coaches know who is available for each of those units.
o   I keep the scoreboard game clock on my wrist watch during pregame and half time so as to keep the coaching staff on time for their responsibilities.
o   In encourage, challenge, pray, shout, jump and down, gesture broadly, and otherwise serve the coaching staff and team.

After the game, back in the locker room, the head coach talked of the pain of the loss, but focused on the task ahead, eight straight weeks of Missouri Valley Football Conference games. We have the University of Northern Iowa next week at our place. We all knelt to say the Lord’s Prayer. I spoke to a couple dozen players at their lockers and then went back to the field to speak to a few friends who were still there. I cut the tape from one of our captain’s ankles, picked up a box of Chick Fil-A and a bottle of water for dinner, and ate it on the bus.

We drove away from the Liberty Bowl, again with a police escort, near 11:30 pm. We arrived in Carbondale just before 3:00 am. By 3:15, Sharon and I had chased a stowaway cat from our home. After the feline expulsion, we finally went to bed, hopefully to rest well. Now, four days later, we are still dealing with the foul odor the cat left for us.

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