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About Aaron May

This is a short biography

End-Of-The-Year DigiMag: Top 10 Controversies

TOP 10 CONTROVERSIES

1. New Orleans Saints Bounty Scandal–This controversy has had more twists and turns than a weekly soap opera or pro wrestling show. The Saints coaching staff were accused of paying players to injure opponents, and in turn the team was fined $500,000, head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the season, New Orleans General Manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for eight games, assistant head coach Joe Vitt was suspended for six games and former defensive coordinator Greg Williams, who was charged with running the scheme, was suspended indefinitely. Saints’ players Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith, and Scott Fujita were all suspended for different lengths (Vilma for the season), but the NFLPA appealed the suspensions. After a lengthy appeals process that eventually led to former commissioner Paul Tagliabue making the final decision, all of the players suspensions were reversed because Tagliabue ruled that the players should have been fined, not suspended.

2. Replacement Refs–Only the NFL could survive two major controversies and see little to no effect on the perception of the league. The NFL went five weeks with replacement referees, as the regulars were in labor dispute. Each week there were moments of bad calls, missed rulings, and overall futility among the replacements, and it all came to a head with a blown call in a Monday Night Football game on national television. With the last play of the game, the replacement refs ruled that the Seahawks scored a touchdown, on a play that likely should have been ruled an interception, giving the Seahawks a win against the Packers. More public outcry ensued, and the NFL quickly reached an agreement with the regular refs in time for the weekly Thursday night game.

3. NHL Lockout–The NHL and its players have not been able to reach a labor agreement, and it’s very possible that an entire NHL season will be cancelled for the second time in the last decade. If there are no games and no money to be shared among players and owners, what is there left to negotiate?

4. Lance Armstrong–Lance Armstrong was stripped of all of his cycling accomplishments because of the doping investigation led by the United States Anti-Doping Agency. He is banned from cycling forever, and because of the mess Lance resigned as director of the Lance Armstrong Foundation and major sponsors dropped Armstrong, including Nike, RadioShack and Oakley.

5. Infield Fly Rule–In the first ever National League wild card playoff game, an umpire’s ruling led to a 19-minute delay while fans at Turner Field littered the field with beer cans, water bottles, and foam tomahawks. Down 6-3 in the eighth inning and with one out, Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons hit a blooper that landed in the middle of the outfield in between Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday and shortstop Pete Kozma. This allowed the bases to be loaded with the go-ahead run, slugger Brian McCann, at the plate. At least that’s what Braves fans thought. Umpire Sam Holbrook decided that the shortstop had been “camped” under the pop up and applied the infield fly rule, which meant Simmons was out, despite the fact that the ball was halfway into the outfield. Most baseball analysts said they had never seen an infield fly rule called that deep into the outfield. The Braves lost the game, and because of the nature of a one-game playoff, many fans will blame the umpire for ruining Chipper Jones’ last postseason.

6. Oscar Pistorius–South African runner Oscar Pistorius, one of the best runners in the Paralympics, won his fight to compete against able-bodied runners. Back in 2008, the International Association of Athletics Federations ruled that Pistorius’ “Cheetah” prosthetic blades were considered a technical aid, based on a study by German professor Gert-Peter Brueggemann that the IAAF and Pistorius had endorsed, and therefore was in violation of the rules and gave Pistorious an advantage over able-bodied runners. This meant Pistorius could not compete in the 2008 Summer Olympics. But in May of 2008, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that not enough scientific information was known to prove that the “Cheetah” blades gave Pistorius a competitive advantage and, therefore, cleared him to compete against able-bodied athletes. The IAAF agreed that same day and accepted the decision. Even though Pistorius didn’t make the 2008 South African team, he did make the 2012 team for the London Olympics and became the first double-amputee to complete in the Olympics.

7. Tanking in Badminton–Yes, there was tanking in badminton. Eight Chinese badminton players were tossed out of the Olympics after it was discovered that the competitors were purposely losing in the qualifying rounds in order to get a better draw once they started playing for real.

8. Flop Fines–Flopping has long been a perceived problem in the NBA. Those who do it call it an art form (see Shane Battier, Reggie Miller, Vlade Divac, etc.). Those who don’t like it, say it kills the integrity of the game. NBA Commissioner David Stern agreed with the latter, and instead of holding referees responsible for missing the call, he decided to start making flopping a fineable offense. Each offense gains a higher fine, and if you flop too much, you could be suspended. (It would be kind of nice if we could fine our politicians when they do this.)

9. French low blow–Another Olympic controversy occurred in a basketball game against France and Spain. In the basketball quarterfinals, after the game had been decided, French forward Nicolas Batum (also a member of the Portland Trailblazers) punched Spanish guard Juan Carlos Navarro below the midsection. Batum was not ejected from the game and showed no remorse after the game, saying, “I wanted to give him a good reason to flop.” When asked if the low blow showed the Olympic spirit, Batum accused Spain of throwing a game in pool play in order to avoid the United States until the gold medal game by saying, “Do you think if you lost a game on purpose, that’s the Olympic spirit?” Batum eventually apologized through Twitter, though never face-to-face to the man he punched.

10. Tim Tebow/Mark Sanchez–This really isn’t a true controversy, but the amount of media coverage devoted to the quarterback situation with the New York Jets would have made you think it was. There was daily speculation all season on whether or not Tim Tebow would replace Mark Sanchez as starting quarterback of the New York Jets, and head coach Rex Ryan had to address it at nearly every press conference. Sanchez played poorly all season and the Jets’ offense was putrid, but once New York was eliminated from the playoffs, Sanchez was replaced with…Greg McElroy not Tebow. Making everyone wonder why the Jets ever traded for Tebow in the first place.

By Aaron May

This was published in the December 2012 DigiMay. Aaron May is a staff writer at Sports Spectrum magazine.

End-Of-The-Year DigiMag: Top 10 Upsets

TOP 10 UPSETS

1. Lehigh beats Duke (NCAA basketball)–Duke, a perennial powerhouse loaded with talent such as Austin Rivers (10th pick in 2012 NBA Draft), Seth Curry and the Plumlee brothers, Miles (26th pick in NBA Draft in 2012) and Mason, lost in the first round to a school not considered a threat. Led by C.J. McCollum’s 30 points, No. 15 seed Lehigh (No. 87 RPI) won 75-70 against No. 2 seed Duke (7 RPI) in one of the most stunning upsets of the 2012 NCAA tournament.

2. Texas A&M beats No. 1 Alabama (NCAA football)–Texas A&M stunned Alabama, 29-24, on Nov. 10. In the previous week, Alabama made a miraculous comeback at LSU, but they came home to a tougher challenge: Johnny Manziel. He passed for 253 yards, rushed for 92 and scored two touchdowns, torching Alabama’s vaunted defense to end a 13-game Alabama winning streak and almost spoiling the Crimson Tide’s national title hopes. The upset propelled Manziel to win the Heisman Trophy, becoming the first freshman to do so.

3. New York Giants beat Green Bay Packers (NFL)–Green Bay looked unstoppable last season, losing just one game in the regular season while outscoring opponents by 201 points. But Eli Manning and the New York Giants came to Lambeau Field and did what the Packers do to other teams as Manning passed for 330 yards and three touchdowns, winning 37-20 in one of the more unexpected blowouts you will ever see.

4. Norfolk State beats Missouri (NCAA basketball)–Missouri can thank Duke for this upset not being remembered that well. Like Duke, Missouri was a No. 2 seed (No. 12 RPI), which lost to a No. 15 seed, Norfolk State (117 RPI). Norfolk State, led by Kyle O’Quinn’s 26 points, 14 rebounds, and two blocked shots, edged Mizzou, 86-84. Missouri had a chance to win at the end, but Phil Pressey’s desperation three did not fall. Unfortunately, this upset was overshadowed by Lehigh beating Duke, as they played later that day in prime time.

5. Baylor beats No. 1 Kansas State (NCAA football)–When Alabama lost its No. 1 ranking after falling to Texas A&M, Kansas State was left in the driver’s seat to make the BCS national title game. All that was left was to beat unranked Baylor and unranked Texas. But Kansas State was blown out at Baylor, 52-24, ending its championship hopes and Colin Klein’s Heisman campaign.

6. Philadelphia 76ers beat Chicago Bulls in first round (NBA)–The eighth seeded 76ers upset the top seeded Bulls in six games in the opening round of the NBA playoffs. The upsetting thing about this upset was that Derrick Rose, the NBA’s 2011 MVP, was injured in the fourth quarter of Game 1 while the Bulls had a commanding lead. Rose was lost for the rest of the postseason and the Bulls were lost without him, losing all but one more game the rest of the way.

7. Chaminade beats Texas (NCAA  basketball)–A Division II team beat a Division I powerhouse. Texas, which has one of the largest recruiting budgets in college basketball, let a team that gets on TV just once a year, walk all over it, as the Longhonrs fell to Chaminade, 86-73.

8. Butler beats No. 1 Indiana (NCAA basketball)–In a Hoosier state classic, walk-on Alex Barlow hit the winning shot in overtime to help Brad Stevens’ squad knock off in-state rival and No. 1 ranked Indiana, 88-86. Butler provided a little March Madness in the month of December.

9. Ohio beats Michigan (NCAA basketball)–Ohio was a No. 13 seed and Michigan was a No. 4 seed, but that didn’t faze the “other” team from Ohio, as the Bobcats were led by D.J. Cooper’s 21 points. Ohio hung on for a 65-60 victory, and then advanced to the Sweet 16 before losing to North Carolina in overtime.

10. New York Giants beat New England Patriots (NFL)–Once again, Eli Manning and the Giants were underdogs against Tom Brady and the Patriots in a Super Bowl. And once again, Manning led a late drive to help the Giants pull the upset. We really shouldn’t have been surprised, but we were anyway.

By Aaron May

This was published in the December 2012 DigiMag. Aaron May is a staff writer at Sports Spectrum magazine.

Old School — Looking forward to 2013

With 2012 completed, let’s look forward to 2013. There are many topics to think about and many questions to be answered, so let’s get to it.

BCS National Title — On Jan. 7, Notre Dame will play Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. Notre Dame has the No. 1 rated defense in college football, giving up just 10.3 points per game, but Alabama’s defense is No. 2, giving up 10.7 points per game. I expect a low-scoring game. If Alabama wins, it will be its third national title in the past four years, and the seventh consecutive title by a SEC team. Can Notre Dame stop the SEC’s run on the BCS?

Super Bowl — The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots look to be headed toward a showdown in the AFC Championship game, and the NFC looks up for grabs. Atlanta has a record that suggests that it is the cream of the crop, but they haven’t dominated. San Francisco switched quarterbacks mid-season and Green Bay has trouble keeping teams from scoring. And then there was the muddled NFC East, which included the Cowboys, Redskins, and Giants battling it out to see which one represented the division.

Giantism — Giants won two of the sporting world’s biggest prizes in 2012: the World Series (San Francisco) and the Super Bowl (New York). (And WWE’s 7-foot, 500-pound “Big Show,” once named “The Giant,” also became World Heavyweight Champion, for what it’s worth). Can Giants repeat in 2013?

Spring Training — Spring training gives hope to sad people known as Cubs, Astros and Royals fans. Theoretically, because everyone starts with a 0-0 record, any team has a chance to put together a magical World Series winning season, even the hapless (or hopeless) Cubbies.

Angels in the Outfield — With the Los Angeles Angels signing slugger Josh Hamilton, the Angels have people thinking of the greatest 3-4 hitters of all-time. Duos like Maris-Mantle, Ruth-Gehrig, Mays-McCovey, etc. The Angels lineup will include Hamilton and Albert Pujols, hitting 3 and 4, with Rookie of the Year/MVP runner-up Mike Trout leading off. The Angels will score a lot of runs, but the question seems to be, how many records can their offense break?

March Madness — Duke and Indiana have been early favorites to reach the Final Four, but you never know what can happen in March. We saw a preview of this when Butler beat No. 1 Indiana in overtime a few weeks ago. It will be fun, as always, to see which team will become the next Cinderella and which team will get its “one shining moment.”

Wrestlemania 29 — Who will face the Undertaker at Wrestlemania? (Sorry, that one’s probably just for me.

Heat Repeat — The story this summer will be if LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will be able to make it a repeat.

Wild West — The NBA’s Western Conference could be a free-for-all this summer. The Lakers were everyone’s preseason favorite, but have been a mess in the first two months. The Thunder traded away James Harden in training camp and you have to wonder if they will regret it. We assume the Spurs are too old, the Warriors are too young, and the Grizzlies are the Hawks of the West (great in regular season, awful in postseason). Maybe it will be the “other” team from L.A., the Clippers, who can completely shed the whole “laughing stock of the league” label they’ve always had with a Finals appearance. As long as Will Smith doesn’t write another song about the Wild West, it should be a fun postseason.

162 = 1 — Major League Baseball seems intent on staying with the one-game, wild card playoff structure; instead of moving to a three-game series like many players would like to see. Baseball plays a regular season of 162 games, and then tells wild card teams they have one game to prove their worth. Doesn’t really seem fair does it? Business-wise though, the one-game playoffs were huge for TV ratings, outdrawing the division series. Despite record attendance figures, declining TV ratings have been a problem for baseball in the past few years, so anything that helps them trend up will be a good thing in Commissioner Bud Selig’s eyes. After the infield fly debacle in Atlanta in 2012, baseball needs these games devoid of controversy in 2013 or people will see it as a sham, tune out and go back to watching Duck Dynasty.

#FreeTebow — Where will Tim Tebow wind up? And will he actually play? Or will we continue to have the most popular backup quarterback since Doug Flutie roaming the sidelines? This is the most important story of all for 2013! Okay, maybe not, but Skip Bayless sure makes it seem that way.

2013 Football — It seems kind of odd to start looking ahead to next year’s football season when this one’s not over yet, but this column is about 2013. It’s impossible to predict which team will make next year’s Cotton Bowl, but there are a few questions to ponder for next season: Can Cam Newton break his sophomore slump? Can RGIII, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson avoid one? Will the Saints rebound from their scandal-filled 2012? How much longer will Peyton Manning and Tom Brady play? Will “Johnny Football” lead Texas A&M to championship heights? Will the SEC continue to dominate NCAA football? Will this crazy conference expansion continue? Will the NCAA become one giant conference of 130 teams? Will Roger Goodell end football by deeming the sport too dangerous to play? Will “Girl Meets World” be as good as “Boy Meets World”? And will we finally find out how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop?

So many questions!

By Aaron May

Aaron May is a staff writer and videographer for Sports Spectrum. This column was published in the December 2012 Sports Spectrum DigiMag. 

 

“Conversations” with Mark Richt

Courtesy: University of Georgia

This edition of Sports Spectrum “Conversations” features the head football coach from Georgia, Mark Richt. Coach Richt has been in charge of the Georgia football program since 2001 and has a 117-39 record, 5 SEC Eastern division titles and 2 SEC Championships. Coach Richt joins us to talk about his faith in Christ, leading young men, missionary work, “Old Man Football,” and one of his big hobbies, bowling. He also has a pretty impressive ability to quote scripture word for word. I didn’t have a ton of time with the coach so this time so the Q&A section is most of the interview, but to hear it straight from the coach’s mouth, listen to the full audio podcast below.

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SPORTS SPECTRUM: You’ve been coaching for most of your adult life (many years at Florida State, a season ECU, Georgia since 2001) When did you first know you wanted to be a football coach? 
Coach Richt: Well, when I couldn’t play anymore. You know, usually in football you get hurt or somebody says you’re not good enough to play anymore, so that happened to me just like most anybody else. It just happened sooner with me. But I still loved the game and I loved the strategy of it and the competition. I didn’t know if I could get that same kind of vibe or that same kind of adrenaline as a coach but it didn’t take long to realize that it could happen. And then you know years into it, I’ve learned that the relationships with these young players that you’re involved with are as important and even more important at times than the wins and losses.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: Along those lines, when did you first know you wanted to become a Christian?
Coach Richt: Well, the situation happened back in college with a college roommate who became a believer and (he) actually turned out to be my summer school roommate. I had different roommates in the fall. And I saw a huge difference in this guy. I saw him go from kind of a wild guy with not much peace in his life, to a guy that had really had calmed down, had this peace about him that was very attractive to me.

Courtesy: University of Georgia

And so as he was telling me what had happened and how he had become a born-again believer in Jesus Christ and started to show me some things in the Bible and some of the reasons for why he did what he did and that became attractive to me to the point of where I thought maybe that was my time. But then it got close to the school year coming and I had my other roommates that would probably not understand what I did or why I did it and I started to worry more about what they thought than what God thought. I was worried about wanting to still want what I wanted and I was also thinking “Gosh if I became, if I said I was a Christian and still sinned I’d become a hypocrite and all that.” And I didn’t understand grace. So, you know, some years down the road, some seeds were planted, I didn’t become a Christian then, but some seeds got planted in my life.

And then by age 26 at Florida State after the death of an offensive lineman at Florida State, Coach (Bobby) Bowden was speaking to the team. I was there as a graduate assistant coach and he was talking about Pablo Lopez who had passed away and he said, “Men, you guys are 18-22 years old, you think you’re gonna live forever and just like Pablo used to sit in that chair there, now he’s gone. Men if that was you last night, do you know where you’d spend eternity?” And I was like “Wow!” I’m in the back of the room thinking “I know where I’m going and it’s not a good spot.” And all of those memories back from my college roommate that one summer came back to me and I knew that it was my time. So the next day I went to see Coach Bowden and prayed to receive Christ in his office.

Coach Richt talks strategy with QB Aaron Murray – Courtesy: Univ. of Georgia

SPORTS SPECTRUM: How has your faith shaped you into being a head football coach and leader of men?
Coach Richt: Well, I think everybody has a belief system. Everybody believes in something and so whatever you believe in whatever you have faith in shapes you period. What kind of a husband you are, what kind of father, what kind of a coach, what kind of a… whatever it is you do. I think it shapes how you live your life. I really, I can’t say I can separate my vocational life from my spiritual life. I don’t think that’s possible for me.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: So, how do you balance the demanding life of a football coach in the SEC with family life at home?
Coach Richt: Colossians 3:23 says: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily unto the Lord, rather than men.” So I think that’s what you do. I mean, whatever you do, you do your work heartily and you do the best you can and unto the Lord, rather than just doing it for your boss or for man. And I think that this kind of carries over not only at work but home as well, but I’ve got a wonderful life who loves me and loves the Lord and my kids know that every minute I have free, I want to be with them. And even though I’m very busy and they understand that, they also know when I do have free time and what I wanna do with it. And I think that speaks volumes to your family as to what you are doing with the time that you do have.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: You and your wife took a mission trip to Honduras last year, tell us a little bit about that.
Coach Richt: Well we’ve been there a couple of times. I think it was my third trip and I know my wife Katharyn, she loves mission trips period. We went there this last time with World Vision. We wanted to see how they operate because we knew we wanted to get involved. I had read a book called The Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Sterns who is the president and CEO of World Vision America. And it just touched me and we wanted to do something. We wanted to get involved. So we spent some time with them and they showed us how they take these communities from scratch and build them up to the point that they can take over on their own – the poorest of the poor. In that country World Vision is helping in the name of Christ. It was pretty awesome.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: Is that something you are thinking about doing after football?
Coach Richt: You know, I don’t know, we’ll see. I think we’re on a mission field in America. I mean every business office in America, every university in America is a mission field in my mind, so you know I think we’re doing, hopefully being obedient to what God wants us to do right now.

Coach Richt talking to the coach of the rival Florida Gators, Will Muschamp – Courtesy: Univ. of Georgia

SPORTS SPECTRUM: What are the Dawgs goals for this season?
Coach Richt: Well, we want to win the Eastern division, because if you win the east, you get to play for the SEC Championship, and if you win that, you got a chance to play for the National Championship so that’s our goal, but when you break it down in its simplest form it’s to win every game. And that’s something that our seniors wanted to talk about more than even winning the East. They say, “Hey coach, let’s just try to win them all and see what happens.” So that’s our focus, one at a time, and hopefully we’ll take care of business this week (Georgia plays Florida Atlantic).

SPORTS SPECTRUM: And I guess you guys will be doing it with “Old Man Football” right?
Coach Richt: Well you know, a little bit of “Old Man Football” ain’t so bad.

Coach Richt’s Favorites

Favorite Bible Verse?

Colossians 3:23 that I mentioned a little bit ago is one that’s kinda meant to me a lot of the years, there’s no doubt about that. Jeremiah 17 verses 7 and 8 are pretty powerful for me as well:

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord
And whose trust is the Lord.
“For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit.”

Bible Character (other than Jesus)?

Well you know, Moses was a pretty interesting guy. I could relate in some way when Moses was asked by God to free his people from Egypt and Moses was like, “Well, who am I to do this?” And God said, “I will certainly be with you.” I was able to relate to that a little bit when I first took this head (coaching) job at Georgia or even when I first became the offensive coordinator at East Carolina. I mean there’s jobs that are just bigger than you are able to handle. “God, why me? I’m just not really capable.” And He’s like, you know, “I will be with you.” That gives you comfort.

Who was Favorite QB growing up?

Joe Namath. Without a doubt.

Do you have a favorite in the NFL now?

Well I’d have to say Matt Stafford. He’s our guy, he’s a Georgia boy. Absolutely.

Any hobbies outside of football?

Bowling. That’s my game. Used to be racquetball but I can’t move around much anymore. Bowling is the last competitive thing that I could do physically and have the shot at still being pretty good.

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NCAA Men’s Basketball Closeup: Aaron Craft

It’s Saturday, March 31, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana—the host site of the Final Four. Ohio State is playing Kansas, and the winner will advance to the NCAA Championship game. Ohio State is down 64-61 and Aaron Craft is heading to the free throw line for a one-and-one. There are only 2.9 seconds left. Craft makes the first, but will need to miss the second and hope that he or one of his teammates can get the rebound and a put-back to tie the game. Craft throws the ball towards the rim and actually gets the rebound himself! But he leaves early; the whistles blow. A lane violation. Kansas ball. Ohio State once lead the game by 13, but when the final horn sounded, they had lost by two.

“In the moment, it’s really frustrating, really angry, especially when it’s just one possession, any thing can change the game,” Craft says.

But Craft already had a different perspective than most. Just the previous weekend, Craft’s brother, Brandon, deployed for Afghanistan for the Army on the same day Craft and his teammates had the Elite Eight game against Syracuse. The Buckeyes went on to win that game and advance to the Final Four, but his brother’s deployment that day helped Aaron remember that life wasn’t all about winning and losing basketball games.

“It just put things into perspective,” Craft explains. We’re playing a game that seems like it means a lot. My brother, and there’s so many other people out there that are fighting for something that is a lot bigger than just playing basketball.”

And that Final Four loss to Kansas wasn’t such a great disappointment as it seemed in the moment. “Looking back, we were one of the last four teams in America playing college basketball and that’s something to be proud of and something we were really fortunate to be a part of,” Craft says.

Heading into his junior season, Craft has become one of Ohio State’s main stars and might be the most recognizable guy on campus that doesn’t play football. “It’s weird, to be honest,” he says. “I don’t know. It’s something that just kind of creeps up on you. And I remember coming here freshman year and making fun of John (Diebler) because everyone recognized him and knew who he was. And now it’s kind of come to me and my other teammates.”

But what has kept Craft grounded through all of the pressures and emotions that come with Ohio State athletics and having a brother overseas, is his faith in God and involvement in Athletes in Action.

“I came to Ohio State and was really close to John Diebler and he introduced me to Athletes in Action,” he says. “Monday nights, student athletes lead a Bible study, which is really cool hearing from one of your peers. And then Wednesday nights are weekly meetings for anyone who wants to come out. We average around 100 people, which is awesome…It keeps me grounded and humbled amidst all the things that we have to do for basketball.”

Craft is frequently asked to be a guest speaker at Athletes in Action meetings and often uses the story of the rich young ruler, who asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life. “I get to emcee every once and a while, which is really cool, too,” he says. “For whatever reason, people want to listen to me talk. I don’t know if they’ll feel the same way after I’m done, but it’s always great to be able to do that and share just how God worked in my life to get me to the point that I am right now.”

Even with everything he has on his plate to worry about, Craft, a nutrition major, still manages to find enough time for his schoolwork. He was a first team Academic All-American last season. “I enjoy school,” he says. “I would say I’m somewhat of a nerd. So that definitely helps.”

As the new 2012-13 season rapidly approaches, Ohio State is expected to be a contender for the Big Ten championship and make a deep run into the tournament. Both pre-season polls (AP, Coaches) have them ranked fourth overall. But they will do so without last year’s leading scorer and rebounder, Jared Sullinger, who now plays in the NBA for the Boston Celtics. The Buckeyes will likely need a little more scoring and playmaking out of it’s starting point guard.

Despite all the expectations and pressure that media and fans will cast on him and his teammates this season, Craft feels that God is teaching him to simply have fun with the game of basketball.

“He’s probably teaching me to believe in Him and believe in myself—to not try and push too much,” Craft says. “With the season coming up and with new things happening and expectations and all that, it’s really easy to get caught up in trying to force things and try and rush things and get outside of what I am and what I’m supposed to be doing. So just slowing down and relaxing and having fun playing the game of basketball, because that’s what it’s for in the long run.”

What a novel concept. Having fun while playing a game. Keeps things in perspective doesn’t it?

By Aaron May

This story was published in the All-Basketball, October 2012 DigiMag.

MLB Closeup – R.A. Dickey

R.A. Dickey’s career has taken more dips and dives than a knuckleball, which is exactly what has stabilized his stay with the New York Mets at age 37

The knuckleball. It dips and dives, darts and drops, and is the most unpredictable pitch in baseball. It seemingly takes a wild journey before reaching its destination to the plate. No one knows exactly where it will go. The batter doesn’t, the fielder doesn’t, even the catcher, and most importantly the pitcher, aren’t exactly sure where the ball will land.

It’s so tough to tame that there is just one active major league knuckleballer: R.A. Dickey.

For Dickey, though, the pitch accurately describes his career.

It was 2005, and Dickey had already been in baseball with the Texas Rangers for nine years and had yet to grab a solid major league roster spot. He started to realize his baseball career had stalled.

“I understood that what I had to offer wasn’t going to allow me to be a consistent major league pitcher,” he says.

Dickey was using a knuckler as one of his secondary pitches, but his pitching coach at the time, Orel Hershiser, pushed him to use it full-time.

So he did. But it wasn’t easy. And it took a lot of help from God.

“I had to unlearn things that I had learned in my previous 20 years of throwing a baseball,” Dickey tells Sports Spectrum. “I had to unlearn in an effort to relearn the proper mechanics of throwing a knuckleball. That was a really trying time; God was helping me to endure and persevere. I had a lot of self-doubt. I made a lot of bad decisions as far as what I put my time into.”

For four years, Dickey went up and down between the AAA and major league clubs of Texas, Milwaukee, Seattle, and Minnesota trying to master the knuckleball with varied success.

But in 2010, after being called up from AAA Buffalo in May, Dickey got an opportunity with the New York Mets, and this time pitched at career-high levels; going 11-9 with a 2.84 ERA (seventh in the National League).

After the season, the Mets signed him to a two-year major league deal, solidifying a spot on a major league ball club.

At age 36, R.A. Dickey, who was born in Nashville, Tenn., and played for the University of Tennessee, had finally gotten his baseball career on track.

And in 2011, he spent his first full season without a trip to the minors, posting a staff-best 3.28 ERA and logging a team-high 208.2 innings for the Mets.

This season, he’s off to a 5-1 start. It’s possible the All-Star game could be on his horizon. Not too bad for a journeyman knuckleballer.

“It’s been a real journey for me and it’s coincided with my journey as a knuckleballer starting in 2005,” he says. “…as an adult, from ages 32-36, I feel like I’ve really matured. God’s really grown me up in a lot of ways. He’s really impressed a lot of time and energy in helping me to feel loved and worthy and that’s been a big difference maker for me as far as my professional career has gone.”

Knuckleballers have been known for pitching well into their 40s; Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm retired five days from his 50th birthday! Which begs the question, how long will he continue playing?

“I feel like my body will be able to endure into my 40s, however, this game has demanded a lot of me and my family,” Dickey says. “If God calls me away from baseball tomorrow, I would gladly walk away knowing that He has given me an incredible story to tell and an incredible journey where He has taught me so many different things. But He still continues to make me hungry to compete and make me passionate to pursue a craft that’s very hard. It’s a very specialized thing and He’s given me a passion to try to cultivate that craft.”

 By Aaron May
This story was published in the Sports Spectrum Summer 2012 DigiMag.

Old School – Ten college basketball questions to be answered…

What will the 2012-13 college basketball season bring? Here are ten questions to be answered in college basketball this season.

1. Is this the year of the Hoosier?

The Hoosiers haven’t been a national favorite since Bob Knight was head coach. The IU fanbase has gone through many down years, bad hires, and NCAA sanctions, but head coach Tom Crean has the Hoosiers poised for a championship run this year. They have a national player of the year candidate in Cody Zeller, a good supporting cast around him and the No. 1 ranking in just about every preseason poll in the country.

2. Can Coach Calipari do it again?

Last season, Kentucky’s head coach, John Calipari, molded a group of mostly freshmen into NCAA Champions. Now, it certainly didn’t hurt that one of the freshmen was shot-blocking machine Anthony Davis, who made it near impossibly to drive into the lane on the Kentucky defense. But it was an outstanding coaching job nonetheless.

The big question for Calipari now, is if last season was just right place, right time, right bracket, or if he has set the new championship mold for college basketball.

3. Will Bob Knight say Kentucky’s name?

Last season, while working as a college basketball analyst for ESPN, legendary coach Bob Knight refused to call Kentucky by its name, simply referring to them when he had to as the “team from the SEC.” This year, Knight has been scheduled to work SEC games on Thursday nights on ESPN, and though he will not do Kentucky home games, he will call a few games when they are on the road. It will be interesting to see if Knight finally caves, or decides to call them the “visitors” or the “road team,” or the “team in blue.”

4. Can NC State win the ACC?

Since the 2002-03 season, either Duke or North Carolina have won at least a share of the ACC regular season title. With North Carolina in rebuilding mode and Duke losing Austin Rivers to the NBA Draft, NC State may have the best chance any one has had in years of ending this streak.

5. How good can the Buckeyes be without Jared Sullinger?

Well, a lot of times last year when Sullinger was hurt, the Buckeyes looked better without him. There were also times when they struggled to put away downright mediocre teams like South Carolina. Without a back to the basket player, the Buckeyes will have to rely more on point guard Aaron Craft’s playmaking skills, Deshaun Thomas’ mid-range game and overall team play.

6. Is the A-10 becoming a basketball powerhouse?

The Atlantic 10 is a conference that gets largely ignored in the national conversation despite being a multi-bid conference for many years in a row now. Maybe the lack of attention is due to Xavier being the only team out of the conference to advance into the second weekend, but the A-10 can no longer be ignored. VCU and Butler joined the conference this year, and both bring to the table recent Final Four appearances to go along with Xavier’s almost perennial Sweet Sixteen appearances.

Temple has also been very good in the A-10 (though they leave for the Big East next season) under coach Fran Dunphy, making the tournament the past five seasons, and figure to be a contender for the conference crown. But another team from Philadelphia, Saint Joseph’s, has been picked to actually win the conference. On paper, there are five teams that are used to, or are projected to be, playing in the NCAA tournament. The A-10 is definitely poised to make a lot of noise in 2012-13.

7. Who will be the next breakout star?

Seemingly every year, a player people have never heard of will emerge as a National Player of the Year candidate and show the ability to carry his team deep into the NCAA tournament. In the past it has been guys like Adam Morrison with Gonzaga, or Stephen Curry with Davidson. Last season, Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan and Creighton’s Doug McDermott emerged from obscurity. Who will come out of nowhere this season?

8. Will basketball be revived in the Pac-12?

The Pac-12 was dangerously close to being a one-bid conference last year, as California received the only at-large bid—and it was in the opening play-in round! Powerhouses like UCLA and Arizona had disappointing years, and great programs out west came out of the West Coast or Mountain West conferences. UCLA and Arizona should be back considering their top-rated recruiting classes, but will any other teams in the conference step up?

9. Who’s the next George Mason?

Last year, Ohio made a Sweet Sixteen run and teams like Murray State and Creighton came close to getting past the first weekend. So what mid-major can bust everyone’s brackets this season? Interestingly enough, these three teams return a lot of the main cast from last season, but here’s a team that might be overlooked: the Drexel Dragons. Drexel went 27-6 last year before losing the CAA tournament final to VCU, who are no longer in the conference to dash their tourney hopes.

10. How will Syracuse and Pitt do in their last year in the Big East?

This will be the final year in the Big East for Syracuse and Pittsburgh as they both join ACC next season. Pitt is coming off of a disappointing year, wining just five conference games after winning the Big East the previous season. Coach Jamie Dixon has had a lot of success at Pitt, but school officials and boosters will certainly want to have positive momentum heading into the ACC and there will be a lot of pressure on Dixon to turn it around.

Syracuse is coming off of a year where they only lost one conference game, easily winning the Big East title. Syracuse has been in the Big East since its inception, and they would love to leave it as champions.

By Aaron May

Aaron May is a staff writer and videographer for Sports Spectrum. This column was published in the All-Basketball, October 2012 DigiMag.

 

“Conversations” with Aaron Craft

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SPORTS SPECTRUM: Talk a little about your faith story and how you became a Christian.
Aaron Craft: I had friend in high school that invited me to a bible study in junior high school, from there I started going to church with the girlfriend that I still have and from there I came to Ohio State and was really close to John Diebler and he introduced me to Athletes in Action and that’s kind of how, I’ve gotten to the point that I am now.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: You’re involved with Athletes in Action on Campus, tell us a little about that.
Aaron Craft: Yeah, it’s awesome. I actually live with two guys that I met through Athletes in Action right now and we just have a lot of fun. Monday nights, student athletes lead a Bible study, which is really cool hearing from one of your peers. And then Wednesday nights are weekly meetings for anyone who wants to come out. We average around 100 people, which is awesome. I get to emcee every once and a while, which is really cool, too. So it’s just a lot of fun. And it keeps me grounded and humbled amidst all the things that we have to do for basketball.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: Compare playing basketball in front of 20,000 people to emceeing an event and sharing something personal like your faith in front of a smaller crowd.
Aaron Craft: I’ve spoken quite a bit about my faith and other things (and) I’ve had some other opportunities since I’ve gotten here to OSU, and the success I’ve been able to have, for whatever reason, people want to listen to me talk. I don’t know if they’ll feel the same way after I’m done, but its always great to be able to do that and share just how God worked in my life to get me to the point that I am right now, it’s at times a little more nerve-wracking than playing basketball, just because I’ve been playing basketball for, I don’t know, 18 years now, just with the experience that comes with it, but  I do enjoy it a lot.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: Ohio State made it to the Final Four last year, before losing to Kansas, and this season you lose Jared Sullinger, what do you think you guys can do this year?
Aaron Craft: Year to year, expectations don’t change.  Coach (Thad Matta) does a great job of bringing in great players that can compete and play at the same level as those that end up leaving. So, all we know right now is we can focus on ourselves. There’s no great teams in October, so we’re taking it one game at a time, but at the same token, just keeping the bigger goal in mind, and that’s playing in March and playing in April.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: And how difficult was it dealing with the loss to Kansas last season?
Aaron Craft: In the moment, it’s really frustrating, really angry, especially when it’s just one possession, any thing can change the game. But I mean, looking back, we were one of the last four teams in America playing college basketball and that’s something to be proud of and something we were really fortunate to be a part of.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: Your brother is in the Army and was deployed to Afghanistan last year during the NCAA tournament. How hard was is to deal with at the time?
Aaron Craft: It was crazy. He didn’t want me thinking about it, he just wanted me to go out there and play my game. After the game was over, I knew that he knew that we were able to go to the Final Four, so that helped a lot. It just put things into perspective. We’re playing a game that seems like it means a lot. My brother, and there’s so many other people out there that are fighting for something that is a lot bigger than just playing basketball.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: You were an Academic All American last year, how are you able to balance basketball and schoolwork?
Aaron Craft: We definitely get a lot of help here. Anytime you need anything, as long as you’re willing to ask questions and search for the help, they’ll give it to you, which is amazing. I mean, I enjoy school, I would say I’m somewhat of a nerd so that definitely helps with performing well academically.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: Talk about being a big man on campus and dealing with being recognized and the temptations that can come along with that.
Aaron Craft: It’s weird, to be honest. I don’t know. It’s something that just kind of creeps up on you. And I remember coming here freshman year and making fun of John (Diebler) because everyone recognized him and knew who he was and now it’s kind of come to me and my other teammates. It’s just something that’s interesting that you just have to find a way to deal with. The biggest thing that helps me obviously is Athletes in Action and living with a group of guys that are kind of fighting the same fight I am and trying to live a way that I’m trying to live. And that helps a lot. Just to be surrounded by people that want the same things I do.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: And is it tough making it to church during basketball season?
Aaron Craft: It depends. Most of the time we get there just about every Sunday, but sometimes we may have practice during the middle of the day or things like that. There are definitely lot of options. There’s a church here that goes in the evenings, so that’s very helpful.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: What is God teaching you right now?
Aaron Craft: He’s probably teaching me, to believe in Him, and believe in myself, to not try and push too much. With the season coming up and with new things happening and expectations and all that, it’s really easy to get caught up in trying to force things and try and rush things and get outside of what I am and what I’m supposed to be doing. So just slowing down and relaxing and having fun playing the game of basketball, because that’s what it’s for in the long run.

Getting to know Aaron

Music you listen to before games

I don’t have anything specific. I do like to listen to any Christian contemporary music, or some Christian rap to get your mind in the right place. that always helps.

Any favorite artists?

Chris Tomlin’s my guy, Brandon Heath, MercyMe those guys. And in Christian rap, Lecrae, Trip Lee, KD and those guys.

Hobbies outside of basketball

Wow, not a ton. Athletes in Action is the biggest thing that I do outside of basketball. I read on occasion, but not nearly enough. And that’d be about it.

Favorite story from the Bible

I would say the story of the rich young ruler in the gospels when he goes up and asks Jesus, “What do you have to do to get eternal life?”  I really like that, I use that sometimes when I speak because I find some parallels between me and that rich young ruler in a sense.

Do you miss playing football any? You were a big time player in high school…

I was alright. I had some fun. I miss it sometimes, definitely being on campus here at Ohio State. I mean we’re a football school and it’s awesome to see how crazy these people get for a football game. No matter who we’re playing. At times I miss it, but how can I complain? I’m playing basketball at one of the best universities in the country, so you try to keep that in mind.

Favorite PG to watch in the NBA

I like to watch them all. Chris Paul and Steve Nash are probably two of my favorite. And Mike Conley, I have, kind of, a personal relationship with him since he comes back in the summer. It’s great to see those guys and see how they perform out there.

Have you ever thought about growing your hair out like Steve Nash?

Can’t do it. I’ve had the same haircut since I was a freshman in high school. And my girlfriend actually does it, or my mom, and it’s a money saver.

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“Conversations” with Ryan Mathews

Courtesy: Ryan Mathews

This edition of Sports Spectrum “Conversations” features Ryan Mathews, an outfielder in the Oakland Athletics organization. This past spring, Mathews hit 17 HRs and helped his teammates at NC State advance to the Super-Regionals of the NCAA baseball tournament. Ryan joins us to talk about his faith, his NCAA tournament experience, getting drafted, and what life is like in the minor leagues. To hear the full interview, including Ryan’s thoughts on the A’s playoff run, if he’s ever faced a pitcher who throws as hard as Justin Verlander, and how he shares the Gospel though Twitter, click the link to the podcast or subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

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SPORTS SPECTRUM: You played baseball at NC State. Talk about your experience there.
Ryan Mathews: You know, I actually got the opportunity to transfer to NC State after already going through a couple of colleges before that, and it just ended up being the right fit after I had already transferred a couple of times. I was really able to see how Raleigh, North Carolina and NC State was where God wanted me to be. I just really experienced a lot of change in my life as a player and as a person through coming to NC State.

Courtesy: NC State

SPORTS SPECTRUM: You guys made it to the super regionals. Is baseball fun when the pressure is on in playoff scenarios, or does it get more nerve-wracking?
Ryan Mathews: To me, and it’s probably different for every guy, but to me, I mean, I just really enjoy it. The more fans, the more pressure that’s there, to me personally, I get a lot of enjoyment out of that. When all of the pressure is on the line and you’re playing for something that matters, playing in the regionals, the super regionals, where if you lose you’re out, that’s   where I get the most fun out of playing the game.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: What was that moment like when you beat Vanderbilt to advance to the super regionals?
Ryan Mathews: That was unreal. I can’t even put it into words to describe that whole scenario. I think the coolest thing about that whole game and scenario about being able to come back and beat Vanderbilt was after the fact that we did it, in the locker room, I heard probably from anywhere from at least 8-10 guys say, “God did that. God answered my prayers.” I was hearing guys that I didn’t even know they prayed or believed in God say, “God answered our prayers,” or “God won that game.” It was just a comeback that I think everybody knew you know that there was a higher power involved, at least on our side. I think that was the coolest thing to just hear guys recognize, in the heat of the moment, after they won a championship, how there was a bigger picture.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: Tell us a little bit about your faith story and how you became a Christian.
Ryan Mathews: I would have said I was a Christian my whole life. I grew up going to church, always said I was a Christian, but really lived a life completely opposite of what you would think a Christian would be. And it wasn’t until I got to NC State to where my life really changed. I got involved in a Bible study through Athletes in Action and actually got a chance to go play in Alaska with Athletes in Action, which was a summer trip that really just taught everyone what it meant to be a follower of Christ; as well as it was a summer baseball league. At the end of that summer, I got baptized in a river in Alaska and it just really changed my life and turned it around. That’s when I would say that I was saved and really started following the Lord.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: From then on, how can you be an effective witness for Christ in a baseball clubhouse?
Ryan Mathews: It changed so much for me; honestly, it just changed my world around. My life really went from where baseball was the center of my life and God was just a very very small part of it, to completely the other way around. To where God was now the center of my life and baseball became a small part of it. It still took up most of my time, but priority wise, baseball became something I could use for God verses God becoming something I could use for baseball.

Courtesy NC State

SPORTS SPECTRUM: Baseball’s schedule makes it really tough to be at church on Sundays. How do you make time for God during the baseball season?
Ryan Mathews: Well I was blessed to have other believers in Christ on my team at NC State and when I was in college, we’d try to find a church service that was early enough to go to, but we really couldn’t find one that we’d make it to. So guys would come over to my apartment, we’d hook up the computer to the TV, they’d bring breakfast over and we would just eat our breakfast before we went to the field and we would watch the church service on the TV which was really cool you know to be able to do that with other guys and just continue to grow even in the midst of a busy season schedule. It made a huge impact for all of us because we’ve all felt the effects of not being able to have fellowship and missing church throughout a long season that can weigh on you spiritually.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: After the season was over, you were drafted in the 27th round this year. What was that like?
Ryan Mathews: It was awesome. That had been a dream for me since I was a little kid and started playing baseball. Just having that come true, you know, I really can’t describe it. It’s an overwhelming feeling. I never thought that it would happen but when it did, it was just kind of, “All Glory to God,” because I never saw that really coming through after the last couple of years.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: And what went on that day? Were you sitting by the phone? Watching MLB.com? What were the moments that led up to that?
Ryan Mathews: I talked to some teams, and I thought I was actually gonna go a lot earlier than I did. So when the draft first started, I was watching it really close and watching every pick, and was pretty nervous about it. After the first two days, it got past the 15th round, and and I was just like, “I’ve got to give this up to God and just trust Him with it.” I actually stopped watching. Somebody else actually told me I got drafted. I wasn’t even the first one to know.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: So how long did it take before the team actually let you know that they drafted you?
Ryan Mathews: They actually called my coach before they called me. My coach came up to me and said, “You just got drafted.” It was shortly after that when they called me.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: How was your transition gone from being in college and playing ball to being a professional ballplayer?
Ryan Mathews: It’s definitely a transition. Obviously, it’s a job once you become a professional. So it’s a lot more work-like atmosphere. Obviously, still the main overall goal is to be the best player you can be and win. But it’s a lot more work-like. You know, that transition, I think was a lot easier for me being a college player verse some of these guys coming out of high school. I could definitely see how it’s easier for me opposed to some of the younger guys who might not have experienced a long college season.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: The minor league experience is seemingly all about getting to the big leagues, do guys care as much about winning at that level?
Ryan Mathews: You do. It definitely takes some away, but honestly, I think that some people, at any level they’re at, like to put themselves first. And honestly, deep down, I think a lot of people would say their own personal success is more important than the overall team success. I don’t know if many people would admit that. But I think that’s the case at a lot of levels which, I think it’s really a great platform just for Christianity and Christians just for the ability to show selflessness at all levels, not just professional. I think it’s increased even more since it becomes a job, but just that huge difference between when you see a guy who’s just out for himself and when you see a guy who’s out for all the other guys on the team.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: A lot of ballplayers will give themselves a certain amount of time before they give up the big league dream to go home start a family or new career. Are you giving yourself a timetable of how long you’ll play in the minors?
Ryan Mathews: I’m really not. I’m just so happy and blessed I got the opportunity to play. I really just enjoy the opportunity to just share the Gospel with guys out there in the minor leagues. I really look at it as an opportunity just to live in a place where not everybody can go. Just to be there is a really great experience to just share the good news and share Jesus in a place that I think really needs it. There’s a lot of guys that don’t know the Lord and aren’t Christians, and I feel like as long as I’m able to keep playing baseball, I love playing baseball, but as along as I’m able to be there and be in that place and try and be a light and be a friend to those guys out there, you know, I would keep doing it.

Getting to know Ryan

Favorite MLB team growing up

Growing up, the Braves were my favorite team. They were probably the only team I was able to watch on TV, they were always on TBS and I’m from Florida. They were actually my first Major League game in person, too. I grew up liking Chipper and the Braves.

Favorite MLB player

Growing up, my favorite player had to be “The Kid,” Ken Griffey Jr. Just watching him play, I don’t know, he just had so much fun when he played. He always had a smile on his face and just the catches he would make, that was really my inspiration growing up.

Favorite music to listen to

I like to listen to Lecrae and Tenth Avenue North. Pretty wide genre from Christian rap to  Tenth Avenue North, but those are my two favorite bands. And I gotta support my boy, Scotty McCreery. I went and saw him in concert recently. For country he’d definitely be my favorite.

Hobbies outside of baseball

I like to play golf. I’m not that good at it. I enjoy doing it though. Usually that’s how I spend time with my dad, when I’m not playing baseball.

For the rest of the interview, click the podcast link below:

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From the Archives – Trent Dilfer

Trent Dilfer spent 13 years in the NFL and played on five different teams. He was a Pro Bowler (1997), a Super Bowl champion (XXXV), and Bart Starr Man of the Year Award winner (2002). Dilfer now spends his time as an NFL Analyst on ESPN. We ran this story on Dilfer back in the November 1998 issue of Sports Spectrum…

The Counsel of Trent

It’s the third day of training camp. Trent Dilfer has just endured the day’s final two hours of practice in the Florida sun. He’s tired, the sun has scorched his head, and he misses his wife and two children, who are out of town. He doesn’t complain. You won’t hear him do that. His withered blue eyes tell the story.

He smiles and looks sheepishly at a reporter as they sit in the University of Tampa cafeteria. “Can’t we always do this tomorrow? I’m just really tired, and I’d like to collect my thoughts and do this right.”

Dilfer, who in 1997 enjoyed his first Pro Bowl season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, realizes that just about every writer in the greater Tampa-St. Petersburg area, and many from across the country, wants to talk to him about the most anticipated season in franchise history.

He offers to do part of the interview then and there, but continue the rest of it another day—when he’s better rested and at a time when he promises he’ll be a better interview.

QB With a Heart 

The difference between Trent Dilfer and the average multimillion-dollar athlete is that he cares. He doesn’t tell you he won’t, he doesn’t tell you he can’t, and when something changes he asks, “Is that okay?” An unlikely response from a guy who makes more than $4 million a season and has the future of the NFL’s most resurgent franchise at his fingertips.

“The interviews aren’t that hard,” he says about his life as a football star. “Dealing with the kids and the autographs is not that hard. What’s difficult is dealing with the parents. The grownups are the people that really ruin it for us. They should understand what we’re going through in our busyness and our lifestyle, yet they continue to criticize us for not giving all of our free time to be with them and sign their autographs.”

Tired as he might be, Dilfer can still talk. And what he enjoys talking about most is his faith and the difference it makes in his life.

“Trent Dilfer has been saved by Jesus Christ,” he says. “And all of that other stuff really doesn’t matter. That’s where my value comes from, and that’s why I can handle being criticized in the media. That’s why I can handle people calling radio shows and lying about me. That’s why I can handle some of the adverse situations I face, and that’s why I can handle success.

“Throwing an interception does not change where I stand with God—it’s how I deal with the interception that counts. Winning a Super Bowl will not mean anything eternally—it’s how I deal with winning the Super Bowl that will make me the kind of person I am.”

It may sound as if Dilfer doesn’t care what people think, but he does. He cares what people—especially children—think. He’s already the center of attention, especially after last season’s franchise-record 21 touchdown passes, but being liked and accepted is something that’s important to him. It has been ever since he was a youngster.

Just listen to his mother. “When he was in high school and was probably a much better basketball player than a football player, the first time he was named Player of the Game, when they turned on the TV lights he was just like a natural,” says Marcie Lynch, who suffered through a divorce when Trent was just two years old. She married Frank Lynch three years later. “He’s always liked the limelight,” says Mom.

He grew up looking out for No. 1, but would do anything to become more popular. Dilfer was restless and although athletics brought him attention, he yearned for more. He was a self-described “show off.”

Trent says it was more about being liked than popular, but it’s a different story today. As far as his Buccaneer days are concerned, he says, he wants to be respected. “I want to do whatever it takes for them to achieve what we’re all trying to achieve, and that’s a championship. I don’t necessarily get caught up in whether they like me or not, because personalities conflict. But I want them to respect me and I want them to know I’m here for them. I really am. I will be selfless in order to win, if that’s what it takes. I’ll make the sacrifices, both personally and professionally to ensure our success as a football team.”

It’s a different perspective from the one he had as a rookie.

When Dilfer came into the league in 1994, coach Sam Wyche handed the Bucs’ top draft pick (sixth overall), the starting quarterback job over Craig Erickson early in his first year. Yet Erickson still had something that Dilfer wanted—the support of his teammates. Erickson’s demotion led the resentment in the locker room, not necessarily because Erickson was the better man for the job, but because the guys like Erickson. He had been known to buy drinks for the whole team and party all night.

Dilfer has learned that respect—not artificial friendship—is a better way to impress teammates.

Of Faith and the Family

Trent grew up in a Christian home and went to church, but although he played the game of being a Christian he didn’t allow matters of faith to influence his life until the summer before his sophomore year of college at Fresno State University. It was 1992, and Trent was at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp in Thousand Oaks, California, where he was a “huddle leader” for 10 underprivileged children. Even the camp leaders thought he was a Christian. At the camp, Trent ended up being the pupil instead of the teacher.

As he observed the other counselors, he was impressed with their love for Jesus Christ. He knew he didn’t have that love. “These guys just loved me to death,” he says. “I saw Christ through them.”

At that camp, where he had been brought in to be a counselor, Dilfer prayed a sincere prayer of faith, asking Jesus Christ to be his Savior. “I confessed everything to Him and made a decision to trust Him,” he says.

He returned home and told his mother that he’d had a change in his life.

“He lay on the sofa in the family room and cried,” says Lynch of her son. “He said he never really realized how much he had.”

Finally, he was experiencing real faith in Christ.

Trent’s life was changed in another way around that time as well. He had met and befriended Fresno State swimmer and classmate Cassandra Franzman before attending the FCA camp. Later, regular Bible study brought the couple together, and they married in July 1993. They’ve since added two more to the flock. Madeline was born in March 1996, and Trevin came along last November. Trent and Cass are expecting their third child in the spring.

“I want to raise kids that are blessings from God,” says Trent. “That’s the bottom line. That’s our goal as parents—to raise children who are blessings to God, who know Him personally, and who serve Him diligently throughout their life.

“The biggest people I want to be a witness to in my life are my kids. When they’re asked about their dad they can say, ‘Oh yeah, he played in the NFL,’ but I want them to say first, ‘He loves Jesus.’ That’s a great, great challenge.”

In the past, Trent and Cassandra’s Christian lifestyle kept Dilfer from being “one of the guys,” but now having the guys’ respect, and being a righteous man takes precedence.

He won’t change. He won’t go against his beliefs, but there’s still a big part of Trent that wants to be embraced by his teammates. He so much wanted to be accepted that in his second season he went with his teammates to a handful of bars, but he found himself feeling like a fish out of water. His prayer life, studying God’s Word, being discipled, and fellowship with other believers have helped him to achieve the consistency that is now so evident in his life.

“It’s hard, but I want to be real,” says Dilfer. “They all know where I stand and there are certain things I won’t compromise, but at the same I don’t mind being real.”

Football Fortunes

Since Trent was the son of a physical education teacher and coach, it would only seem natural that he would excel on the gridiron. As a pre-adolescent, he was a waterboy and ballboy for Aptos High School near Santa Cruz, California, where he understood the offense better than the quarterbacks.

“He was a student of every game he’s been involved in. He knew the offense better than my college quarterbacks,” says Frank Lynch, Dilfer’s mentor and stepfather, who coached both Aptos High and Cabrillo College, a community college in Aptos. “He and I used to banter back and forth about what to do in certain situations when we were watching games. He enjoys the mental part of the game and the logistics and dissecting the game.”

After a successful football career at Aptos High, where he was a two-time All-Conference selection in both basketball and football, Dilfer headed to one of the three schools that recruited him. Santa Clara and Northern Arizona also offered the four-sport letterman (golf, basketball, football, baseball) a scholarship, but Dilfer decided to play for the Bulldogs in the Western Athletic Conference.

At Fresno State, he got his first chance as a redshirt freshman when starting quarterback Mark Barsotti was injured. As expected, Dilfer was nervous, but he stepped in, started the final four games of the season, and helped his club to a berth in the California Raisin Bowl.

In Dilfer’s sophomore year, Fresno State was playing at San Diego State for the right to go to the Freedom Bowl. Fresno State led in the fourth quarter, but SDSU scored and took the lead with just 3 minutes left in the game. Dilfer drove the Bulldogs the length of the field before facing a fourth-and-goal on the 6-yard line with 10 seconds left. The sophomore then promptly tossed a perfect fade to Tydus Winans in the corner of the end zone for the winning score.

Former Fresno State teammate and current Buccaneer teammate Lorenzo Neal says, “In that play, he showed some leadership, and he showed poise as a sophomore and in a game of that magnitude, I was like, ‘Boy, this kid can play.’ To do that in that type of game and that type of environment you just say, ‘Hey, this guy’s arrived.’”

From there, Dilfer truly typified the excellence of execution. In 1993, his junior and final year of college, Dilfer set an NCAA record by throwing 318 passes without an interception. In just his second full season starting, he drew the interest of pro scouts by running the Bulldogs pro-style offense to perfection and throwing for 28 touchdowns with just four interceptions.

Dilfer’s first 2 years in the NFL weren’t so glorious. Doubts began to surface among some experts about his ability to get the job done in the big-time. But then along came Tony Dungy and the new “plan” the man brought to the team.

“We just wanted to build from the ground up,” Dungy says of his plan. “But there was a lot of foundation here. I just felt that if the guys believed in what we were trying to do, it would go well. We got some guys to believe that, and it’s starting to come.”

Dungy surprised Dilfer in their first year together by telling him that he would have to win the starting job in training camp, but that if he did he was their guy. He was the one they would stick with, win or lose. Dilfer respected that, and responded by recording career highs in passing yardage (2,859), completions (267), and attempts (482), even though the Bucs went 6-10.

Tampa Bay ended the 1996 season winning five of its last seven games, catapulting the Buccaneers and Dilfer into 1997, the most successful season in franchise history. The Bucs opened the season by winning their first five games, and the team went on to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. The end came in a disappointing 21-7 loss to the Green Bay Packers, but Tampa Bay showed it had arrived when a league-high eight players, including Dilfer, were named to the Pro Bowl.

The Pro Bowl selection followed a year that saw Dilfer start every game for the third consecutive season, connect on 217 of 286 passes for a career-best 56.2 completion percentage, and throw a team-record 152 passes without an interception.

He keeps the numbers, accolades, and life in perspective.

“I’ve learned some very valuable lessons through football. I’m at the point now where I’m excited about how I’m going to grow spiritually,” says Dilfer. “I’m excited because I know the Lord’s going to make me richer spiritually. I don’t know if He’s going to be through failure, I don’t know if He’s going to do it through success—but I know I’m going to grow.”

By Buddy Shacklette

This story was published in the November 1998 of Sports Spectrum.

Uncommon Challenge