The Life Of My Football Life

My life has been guided by a sport that I fell in love with from the moment I first played on the playground. Football has been my medium for learning life’s most critical skills. The football field is a place to develop interpersonal skills, overcome challenges, to express yourself, to earn confidence, develop pride, display your dedication, and to simply have fun with your friends. Even as a coach, I seek football as an outlet to continually develop these virtues in my personal life. Football is my entertainment, my education, my job, my interactions & network, my livelihood, & my way of life. I couldn’t be more thankful that the sport chose me as much as I chose it, and that I have the opportunity make a game my profession.

My passion for the sport developed well before I knew it could pay for my future education or qualify as an occupation. Growing up, I can remember playing at recess, PE class, after school, in our neighborhood backyards, at the park, even in the house—anywhere I could. In my hometown, a core group of kids two years older than me played pick-up games daily throughout the summer. Of course, these games often turned from touch to tackle. I learned to be tough and was forced to raise my level of play to hang with older kids. If there were not friends around, I’d play by myself on our yard, manning every position on the field. While pretending to be my favorite NFL players, I would spin past and jump over imaginary defenders; I would throw passes into the air like a quarterback and then run and jump to catch them as the wide receiver. I participated in local Punt, Pass, & Kick and similar events from the time I was in kindergarten—only after having practiced the skills for hours and hours in the yard. In 4th grade, I became a team manger for our high school team and was able to consume even more football on the sidelines at practices and games.

Off the field, I read books and magazines about my favorite teams and players; I watched every game I could on TV, listening to the announcers, learning the rules and history of the game. Like most kids, I also loved video games. I would be embarrassed to know the amount of hours I spent playing Madden and the NCAA football games—creating players, teams, and growing dynasties season after season. In addition to learning the X’s and O’s through the actual gameplay, users were able to go through other aspects such as creating playbooks, recruiting prospects, constructing rosters, dealing with salary caps, mini-camp drills, and so much more. Although I’d hate to admit how much time I wasted doing so, the experience only fed my growing desire and knowledge for the game.

Finally, in 7th grade, I could play! Junior high football was my first opportunity to put the pads on and play real games with coaches, a scoreboard, and referees. I participated in 5 different sports throughout middle school but still found time to attend football camps hosted by local schools and colleges. As I transitioned into high school, I was fortunate to see a lot of varsity & JV playing time as an underclassman due to being from a small town with not many kids out for football. I again faced the challenge of competing against older and more mature players—I experienced my fair share of picking myself up off the turf and trying again the next play. I was also introduced to weight training throughout the offseason and continued to attend camps.

The tables turned when I became an upperclassman; my hard work was beginning to pay-off on the field and opportunities beyond high school started to present themselves. I began visiting colleges, learning about the recruiting process, and trying to decide where I wanted to continue my football career and education. Ultimately, I chose the University of Iowa because they were the first school to recruit me—plain and simple. The decision made certain that football would be at the forefront of my everyday life for the next 4 years. I couldn’t think of anything better.

During my time at Iowa, I got a first hand look at big time football: offensive & defensive schemes, special teams, practice plans, off-season training, game-week & scout team preparations, football operations, and more. I spent time at six different positions on offense & defense, picking up tips from several different coaches on the field and in film rooms. Although I never made significant contributions on Saturdays during my career, I exited Iowa’s program with an incredible wealth of football knowledge and acumen. I knew I needed to do something with it in order to stay involved in something that was so engrained in my life.

Most ex-players turn to coaching to fill this void. I was no different and was fortunate enough to find an opportunity in Iowa City to get involved with youth football. What started as a small effort to teach the game to kids turned into a driving desire to impact the future of the sport. I’ve grown to enjoy coaching more than I did playing—something I didn’t think was possible until I saw the impact a coach can have.

Football remains a constant focal point in my life, as indicated by my Twitter feed, the TV I watch, radio I listen to, and news I consume. I jokingly label Saturdays & Sundays during the season to be my ‘continuing education’ days so I can watch every game, but mostly keep track of fantasy stats. My work, play, professional network & friends are all tied to football. I often wonder what life would be like without football playing such a prominent role. I think about the other interests I’d have time to pursue, but it’s a wrestling match that football always wins. From the time I was a kid, my dreams were always framed by the sport, and I feel so fortunate to continue chasing those dreams. I feel that I’ve always been at my personal best on a football field, either as a player or a coach. Football is my life.

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A Nod To Wrestling

A Nod To Wrestling

To put it simply— Wrestling is exactly what youth football players should be doing during the football offseason. I was a dedicated wrestler for 15 years and recall how much that sport impacted my path from Walnut, Iowa to the University of Iowa.

I was in an Iowa State dorm one night attending summer wrestling camp with some junior high buddies. Football was always my first love, but I had wrestled (and played basketball) since kindergarten and was approaching the 9th grade decision between the mat or the court. With football on my mind, I knew I needed to wrestle. If your kid loves football as much as I did, he should wrestle too. Here’s why:

Requirements Of Wrestling.

Strength. Endurance. Leverage. Balance. Hand-fighting. Takedowns.

Dedication. Hard Work. Toughness. Discipline. Guts.

Read those again…

The physical and psychological demands of the sport apply directly to the football field. The wrestling mat provides more opportunities for up close & personal combat with a guy that you’re trying to physically dominate, just as you would attempt to do on the gridiron. As a result, participation in wrestling is especially helpful for young linemen—the fundamentals to succeed on the mat and in the trenches go hand-in-hand. Mentally, it’s a sport that teaches boys the things they’ll need to know to become men some day.

Football Coaches Recruit Wrestlers

The story I’m told is that Iowa wrestling coach Jim Zalesky noticed a 215-pound sophomore wrestling for Atlantic at the 2003 Iowa high school state wrestling tournament. He thought my body type and ability suited a football player and reportedly notified Coach Ferentz’s office. I’ve never confirmed the story, but soon after Iowa’s great OL coach Reese Morgan started visiting my school on his recruiting trips.

I would run into a lot of my future Hawkeye teammates on the wrestling mat. My bracket that sophomore year contained Mike Humpal (2x State Champion) & Matt Kroul—Matt & I both won state championships at different weights the following season, warming up together in the basement of The Barn (Vets Auditorium). There were more ex-grapplers in the locker room in Iowa City—state champions from Iowa, Illinois, New Jersey, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania.

Football coaches know the value and makeup of a wrestler. They know the physical and mental requirements to compete and how closely those apply in football. It’s no coincidence that football players who wrestle wind up on college recruiting radars.

If you need more convincing, check out the article and coach quotes below.

Wrestling Can Help Make Football Safer

This is my belief. Wrestling bridges a gap between flag football and tackle. A wrestler learns to feel the strength and weight of an opponent. He learns to take an opponent from his feet to the ground in a controlled manner, how to get inside hand control in a tie up, and to keep his head up—a foundation of USA Football’s Heads Up Movement. Wrestling requires incredible endurance, strength, and other physical traits that could lead to safer football play in youth. It acts as a natural transition into contact sports.

 

If you want to improve your football skills, wrestle. Doing so will raise your level of physicality and your give you a big mental edge. Being a multi-sport athlete is critical toward developing into an elite athlete in any sport. Wrestling and football compliment each other as well as any two sports. And if you live in Iowa, I don’t need to explain to you the importance and level of wrestling in our state. There’s no better opportunity to improve your football game in the offseason than to wrestle.

 

Extras:

Ohio State Football: Work on mat can be edge on line

Why Wrestle

Football recruits boast successful wrestling background

Woodbury Central’s Paulsen, an Iowa football recruit, thrives on wrestling mat

“I draft wrestlers because they are tough. I have never had a problem with a wrestler.” –Joe Gibbs, Hall of Fame football coach

“I would have all of my offensive linemen wrestle if I could.”-John Madden, Hall of Fame football coach

“Wrestlers make coaching football easy. They have balance, coordination, and as a coaching staff, we know they’re tough.” –Tom Osborne, College Hall of Fame football coach-University of Nebraska

“I have never seen a good wrestler turn out to be a bad football player.” – Kirk Ferentz, National & 2x Conference Coach of the Year, University of Iowa

Notable NFL players who wrestled: JJ Watt, Ray Lewis, Bo Jackson, Teddy Bruschi, Warren Sapp, Bruce Smith , & many, many more.

Recruiting Tips

HIGH SCHOOL PLAYERS— getting a college football team to look at you may not be as difficult as you imagine. Sure, you need to be a heck of a player for them to seriously recruit you and consider offering a scholarship, but you need to make yourself a recruit-able athlete before that will happen. Here are some tips to get on recruiting radars and pursue scholarships from the schools of your dreams.

Takes No Talents (TNTs)- There are a lot of attributes that coaches look for in prospects— height, weight, speed, etc. But many of the initial things they want to know are character traits that take no talent to possess. Effort. Toughness. Heart. Resolve. Perseverance. The list could go on. Often, these are the qualities that end up determining who gets the scholarship offer when several prospects have similar abilities. In my experiences, the following are the first 3 things a coach wants to know about you before he cares how fast you run or how high you jump:

  1. Can you listen and follow directions? College coaches don’t want to be your parents. They will have an expectation that you already know how to be accountable, coachable, and that you apply the details of their instruction. Nothing drives a coach madder than when he asks you to run a route at 12 yards and you run it at 10½. Or when he coaches your teammate up on something and you step up and make the same mistake because you weren’t paying attention. Believe it or not, many incoming freshman struggle with this concept.
  2. Are you tough? College football is a man’s sport. You will get knocked down. You will fail. You will get yelled at. You will sweat, bleed, cry, and hurt. You still want in? You’ll have to prove it—everyday, on the field. Coaching staffs literally discuss the questions, ‘Is the guy tough, is he a football player?’ in their draft and recruiting meetings. One of the harshest criticisms a football player can receive is to hear that he’s soft. Coaches will always find room for tough football players on their team.
  3. Do you love football? We all love to win and score touchdowns; to high-five and hear the crowd roar. As your career progresses, those results are harder to come by at higher levels. Achieving success on those 13 Saturdays will be a direct by-product of what you do on the other 352 days of the year. Your commitment and dedication will be tested certainly on the field, but just as much with off the field distractions. By the way, you have 14 hours of class accompanied by homework and exams every week. Football isn’t just an after school season activity anymore—you have to make decisions everyday that impact your football career. Coaches will know how much you love football by your everyday effort on the field, and your decision making off of it.

Send your Tapes. You have to let recruiting coordinators know that you want to be recruited. Most schools recruit across a large portion of the country and cover hundreds of prospects every year. It’s easy to get missed. You have to put yourself on their radar, or better yet—on their desk and in front of their eyes. Send your games tapes directly to a program’s recruiting department. Notice I didn’t say ‘send a highlight tape’; coaches want to see how you play on every down— not a collection of the plays where you decided to play hard against the worst team in the conference, accompanied by music that will be muted anyway and flashy graphics used as makeup. Chances are, a graduate assistant will watch the film and if they think you’re worth a look, they’ll get your film in front of a position coach or someone that recruits your area. They’ll send you some mail to get you on their master recruiting database as a prospect.

Go to camp. Almost every college across the country, big and small, offers summer camps to high school players. These camps are staffed by the school’s coaching staffs and are a great chance for them to get an up-close look at some talent of the future. They want to see how you battle against someone better than you, how quickly you apply coaching, and the overall energy that you bring to the field. Summer camps are an extremely valuable way to improve your skills and expand your exposure to schools of your desire.

Take Care of Business In The Classroom, Community. College coaches talk to everyone— your coach, principal, teachers, coaches you played against, and even college coaches they recruit against. As much as they want to know about you on the field, they want to know as much about you off the field. Do you do participate in class & do your homework? How do you treat others at school? How much time do you spend in the weight room, with your girlfriend, or playing video games? When handing out scholarships, schools look for positive team captains, dedicated multi-sport athletes, focused honor students, and upstanding leaders within their schools and communities.

Don’t get caught up in the hype. Keep your head down and keep working hard. It’s great to get recruiting letters from a host of big-time schools, to read your name in the paper and online, and to be wooed and wined during recruiting visits. But not one of those things gets you a snap on Saturdays. Keep your focus on training and continually improving your game. You should never be as good as you want to be; if you are, you’ve prepared to be done playing.

Don’t worry about getting recruited until after your sophomore season. Schools don’t seriously consider a prospect until he’s gone through maturity and gotten snaps at the varsity level. Send your sophomore tapes and go to camps the summer before your junior and senior seasons. Let them know you want to be recruited, and then focus all your energy on improving the player and person they’re recruiting.

Bonus Tip: Not everyone has Division 1 talent, the ability to play in major conference, and only a few make it to the NFL. But many of us love football just as much as the guys who do make it, and there are countless opportunities to keep playing a game you love at smaller colleges across the country. You can receive full or at least partial scholarships to earn an education (especially if you’re a good student), and continue playing the greatest game in the world.

Once you have all the above covered, you’re off to a great start in getting recruited! Keep working hard to give yourself as many options as possible. Once you get a scholarship and pick your dream school, then the real work begins. Prepare yourself for it now!

UPDATE: The following article was published by USA Football with more insights and info on getting recruited.

Tips For Parents and Players on the College Recruitment Process