About Aaron May

This is a short biography

Training Table — MLB Playoffs (Week 3)

Monday

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Genesis 1:26; 31a

The Origins of Life

The origins of baseball are a little tricky. There were many games prior to baseball that involved a ball and bat-like object that came from folk games in England, like cricket and something called “stoolball.” But no one knows exactly when and where the specific game of baseball was created.

So in the early 1900‘s Albert Spalding (yes, that Spalding) led something called the Mills Commission. It included many former big leaguers and baseball men who were charged with finding out the origins of baseball. When the Mills Commission published their report, they claimed that longtime military man Abner Doubleday invented the word “baseball,” designed the diamond, indicated fielders’ positions, and wrote the rules in 1839, in Cooperstown, NY. However, their main source was a letter written by Abner Graves, who wrote that letter when he was five years old, and at the time the commission talked to him, was elderly and had spent time in a mental institution.

Doubleday himself never claimed to have invented baseball and there has never been any other evidence to support that he did. No one is really sure how the game of baseball became baseball, but it did, and we play it today. Like baseball, people have often wondered how we came into existence. There are big bang theories, origins of species and many other ideas, but unlike baseball, Christians know that there is no mystery about our origins. God told us in the Bible that He created us, in His image, and it was very good.

— Aaron May, Sports Spectrum

Tuesday

“Pray without ceasing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NASB)

Praying Consistently

There have been many great moments in baseball’s history. One of my favorites is from the 1975 World Series. The Red Sox were facing elimination in Game 6 against the Reds. In the bottom of the twelfth, with the game tied, Red Sox’ catcher Carlton Fisk came to the plate. Fisk hit a long fly ball towards left that sailed high above the Green Monster yet close to the foul pole. As the ball was in the air, Fisk frantically waved his arms toward fair territory, wishing, hoping and praying that the ball stayed fair for a home run. It did, and the Red Sox lived on to play Game 7.

In desperate times in our lives, we are quick to frantically wave our arms at God in prayer. But oftentimes, we don’t pray when things are going okay. We leave God out of our daily lives. But God wants to be involved every step of the way. The Bible says that we are to “pray without ceasing.” So our prayer life should be no different if it’s the first game of the regular season, or the last game of the playoffs.

— Aaron May, Sports Spectrum

Wednesday

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

It Ain’t Over Until It’s Over

Yankees legend and colorful personality Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” And that’s just how the 2011 World Series between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals went.

The Rangers had dominant closer Neftali Feliz on the mound in the bottom of the ninth during Game 6. Feliz was one strike away from ending the series, but David Freese hit a two-run, game-tying triple. In the top of the 10th, Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton hit a two-run homer to put the Rangers back in the lead and have another chance at clinching the series. But the Cardinals came back again! This time, Lance Berkman hit a two-strike two-out single that brought the tying run in. In the bottom of the 11th, David Freese hit a walk-off homer to send the series to Game 7.

The Rangers were one strike away from winning their first championship on two separate occasions that night, but the Cardinals continued to fight and clinched their 11th World Series Championship in Game 7. Whatever is going on with you and God, whether you’re backsliding, struggling with a sin, or have yet to trust Christ as your Savior, it’s not too late to follow Him. As long as you still have breath, it ain’t over until it’s over.

— Aaron May, Sports Spectrum

Thursday

“Immediately a rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, “Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” And he began to weep.” Mark 14:72

Sid Bream was out!

Game 7 of the NLCS. The Pirates entered the bottom of the ninth with a 2-0 lead against the Braves with a World Series birth in their grasp. But the Braves scored a run and eventually had the bases loaded for Francisco Cabrera. Cabrera singled to left, scoring the runner at third. Pirates outfielder Barry Bonds grabbed the ball and made a strong throw towards home plate to try and throw out the slow-footed former Pirate Sid Bream, who was trying to score from second. The throw was late. Bream was safe. The Pirates went home, lost Bonds to free agency, and then lost for 20 straight seasons.

But the biggest part of this story for me is not that the Pirates lost, or how the team has been since that moment, but how one particular Pirate fan acts towards that game.

In a word: denial.

My friend is probably the biggest Pirate fan you can find in North Carolina. And despite the many different camera angles, replays, and photos that show Sid Bream sliding safely into home, to this day, he still insists that Sid Bream was out.

Much like my delusional friend denies the correct call of the umpire, Peter denied knowing Jesus. In our own personal lives, we may never get into the exact situation Peter did and deny our Savior, but often times we can deny Him by our actions. Be mindful of how you think and act daily; you could turn into a delusional Pirates fan.

— Aaron May, Sports Spectrum

Friday

“Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain? Do the skies themselves send down showers? No, it is you, Lord our God.  Therefore our hope is in you, for you are the one who does all this.” Jeremiah 14:22

Hope in the Lord

Game 2 of the 2008 National League Division Series. The Philadelphia Phillies were up 1-0 in the series against the Milwaukee Brewers. Milwaukee hoped ace CC Sabathia would have a shut-down performance to even the series. He was 11-2 with a minuscule 1.65 ERA since being acquired from Cleveland midseason. Brett Myers was the Phillies starter—but he changed the course of the game with his bat.

With a runner on and the score tied at one, Myers came up to bat in the bottom of the second and promptly went into an 0-2 hole. Not surprising, considering he hit just .069 that season. An easy out, right? But then something amazing happened. Myers started fouling off pitches and taking balls. The crowd went into a frenzy and cheered louder with each pitch. He worked a nine-pitch walk out of Sabathia. Even though the at-bat started out poorly, he battled back and remained patient. Until the third strike, there was still hope for something good to happen.

Sabathia was clearly rattled. He walked the next batter and then gave up a grand slam to Shane Victorino. The Phillies won 5-2, went on to win the NLDS and of course, the World Series.

Much like Myers, there are times in our lives when things look bleak, be it a circumstance in our own life, our country in an election year, or an 0-2 count. But we always have hope in the Lord.

— Aaron May, Sports Spectrum

Weekender

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5

Going Long

Read Matthew 5:5 and meditate on what it says about people who are meek (or humble). What does it say for those people, who care little for fame or glory, and who strive to do things despite not receiving much or any attention?

“Conversations” with Luke Smallbone from for KING & COUNTRY

Luke Smallbone, right. Brother Joel, left

This edition of Sports Spectrum “Conversations” features someone from the world of music, Luke Smallbone, from the band for KING & COUNTRY. The band is composed of Luke and his brother Joel, who actually went by Joel and Luke before settling on for KING & COUNTRY as a band name. “For king and country!” was a battle cry uttered by English soldiers during war and the guys liked how that could apply to their music, which is for their King (Jesus) and country (people). A few of their songs that you may have heard include: “The Proof of Your Love,” “Busted Heart (Hold On To Me)” or “Light It Up.”

Luke comes from a large and musically gifted family (Rebecca St. James is his sister), who moved from Australia to Nashville, Tenn., when he was young. He joined us to talk about music, the NBA, his own hoop dreams that were shattered by injury, how God presented him with a new dream, and why Christians should make the best and most inspired art. To hear the full interview, click the link to the podcast below, as Luke talks about sports and the band’s upcoming tour.

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SPORTS SPECTRUM: You come from a musical family, and your guys traveled a lot, but basketball became a big passion of yours.
Luke Smallbone: All of us brothers were real close. We just played sports like crazy. It was probably one of our favorite things to do. And in high school, We were still traveling and I played quite a bit of basketball and I told my parents my junior year that the last two years, I’m really gonna focus on basketball and just see what happens. You know I really wanted to try and go to the next level.

I had gone through training camp, I was feeling great, and the first game of basketball I played my junior year of high school, I had a great first quarter and I was thinking to  myself, “Man, I’ve put the work in and it’s paying off.” And everything was great. And then in the second quarter I made a cut trying to get a rebound and I tore my ACL. And after that, it was kind of what I had spent most of my time doing, and really what I put a lot of my value in honestly.

Through that time I had a conversation with my mother and I said, “Mom, I don’t know what I’m going to do now. This is really what I had planned for me.”

And she told me something. She said, “I really believe that God told me, that by the time you graduate high school, there’s gonna be one thing left for you at the end of the tunnel.”

And sure enough, when I was about to graduate high school, my brother Joel came to me and said, “What do you think about doing some writing and some work in music and demoing up a few songs and see where it goes?”

And the ironic thing about that is that we haven’t stopped doing that since. The brokenheartedness of tearing that ACL brought me to where we are today.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: Since you grew up in a musical family, did your musical talent just naturally develop?
Luke Smallbone: Yeah it really did. I was always, growing up, singing. I never had any training or anything, but I always knew how to harmonize from a young age. I guess something just clicked with singing and things, but I never really put a whole lot of thought into it; it was just always something that I could do. The joke was when I was younger, their reason why they wanted me to sing is that I could always sing the girls’ parts with my sister. I still, to this day, can sing relatively high and it’s kinda funny how, yeah, I guess I kind of just grew up singing in the shower like everybody else did.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: Now do you also play instruments as well?
Luke Smallbone: We’re kind of an interesting band. There’s not really a main instrument that we (use), both Joel and I are primarily singers, but I grew up playing a lot of drums and so we use a ton of percussion on stage. Joel plays the piano, and this instrument called a harmonium that we play. We kind of just do a bunch of different, eclectic things on stage. So it looks like we’re playing a ton of different things, but we don’t really have just one main thing that we necessarily glue ourselves to.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: Back to basketball real quick, had you picked out a school that you had really wanted to go to, or a dream school or anything like that?
Luke Smallbone: No, you know, I played for a really small Christian school and what I realized with that team that I was playing with was that I really had to be scoring about 25 points a game to be able to get any attention. But it was very possible, you know. I had a team that was really built that year. I mean, I remember my coach saying, “Hey, this is your year.” We had a good point guard. We were really primed to have an inside out kind of game. I’ll never forget my coach’s face when I tore my ACL. He (laughs) knew something was really wrong and I think he saw, not that I was the be-all end-all, but  anytime you see a player that you know is one of your main ingredients for that season go down, for a coach, that’s a hard thing. And I was really planning on my junior year, trying to see what was available and see what was going to happen from there.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: Was there a guy in the NBA that you patterned your game after?
Luke Smallbone: Not necessarily, the guys that I liked, you know. I’m a Los Angeles Lakers fan. Back in the past few years, I was a big fan of Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom. Some of these guys who are not necessarily the Kobe Bryants of the league but I loved the way that they played the game. They were very aggressive and they knew their role and did it well. I’m also a big Pau Gasol fan. If there was a guy that I played most similar (to), I was a little bit like Pau Gasol. You know, not too rough and tumbly inside, could take a jump shot and was probably a lot quicker inside. That was probably the guy I played most like.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: And after high school, you guys formed the band. Are you the primary songwriter, or do you guys do it together?
Luke Smallbone: We always write, pretty much, all of the songs together. I think on the last album, there was one song that (Joel) wrote without me and there was one song that I wrote without him. Joel and I have really become kind of the iron-sharpens-iron team. His talents are very different from mine and my talents are very different from his. And so I think when we’re working together, we function as one solid member of society, or really, creatively.  We do really try to focus on working together as much as possible because we do understand there’s a strength in that.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: And what’s that songwriting process like from start to finish?
Luke Smallbone: We usually always write with one other person. So usually there’s three of us. And the other person is usually more of an instrumentalist. We typically start out with a melody, I may, I’m a melody guy, so I’ll come in with a little bit of a melody or lyric idea or Joel might. You know, we kind of toss it around the room to see if it’s got any legs going anywhere. You know, we really do try and get all of the melodies and everything worked out before we really move on to the lyrics and refine it and finish off the rest of the song.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: And if you get writer’s block you can always call up your sister, right?
Luke Smallbone: (Laughs) You know, we have written a couple of songs with her over the years. That’s always been a lot of fun.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: Now, I wanted to ask you about your song called “Light it Up.” You wrote this for a friend, correct?
Luke Smallbone: Yeah, you know, we had a friend of ours that struggled with depression. And we were sitting around in our writer’s room and really just felt that we should really write a song for him. And so, we were out in LA, and we wrote the song, and we came back to Nashville, and we played it for him. And we just wanted to see how he would respond. And we didn’t expect the response. He was like, “Man, that’s my favorite song that you guys have ever written!” And he’s a musician as well, so he had heard all of our stuff. And we were like, “Oh, wow!”

Well, we were kind of scared to tell him that it was about him. We weren’t really sure how that was going to go over. But weeks went by and eventually, we were like, “We’ve got to tell him this song is about him.” So he came in and we said, “Hey man. We just want to let you know, ‘Light it Up’ was written for you. And it was written about you.” And once again we didn’t get the response we thought. We thought he’d go “Aw man. That’s one of my favorite songs. That’s awesome!” But he, just kind of listened and then walked out of the room. And we were like, “I hope we didn’t offend him by writing a song about him or whatever.” And we thought that was it. But twenty minutes later he gave us a call and said, “Thank you so much for writing that song for me. It gives me hope, it encourages me.”

And I think, through that time, you know, we’ve always understood the power of music, but when it happens in a way like that, it gives you kind of a new sense of what it can do in somebody’s life. Especially when it’s a personal friend. And I think the other thing we’ve realized is that when you merge the power of the Gospel, with a great melody and a great song, there’s something, it’s like double the power. And something incredibly amazing takes place when you do that.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: Yeah, I’ve always felt like Christian music should be the best.
Luke Smallbone: Man, you are preaching to the choir on that. You have no idea. In my mind, us as Christians should be making the best art, whether it’s a painting, an artist of whatever type, it really should be the most inspired and most amazing.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: What are long term goals for you and your brother for for KING & COUNTRY?
Luke Smallbone: I think that remains to be seen. I think we’re just flattered that things are working out the way that they are. You kind of pinch yourself at times. One of the things that we talk about, you hit on it earlier, you know, Christians should be the best at their craft. We really feel as long as we’re making music, as long as we’re in the arts, we’re going to do everything in our power to make the most outstanding, the most statement making music and art that we can. Because we really feel like, the Scriptures talk about, with your time, do your best. Do everything, do your best unto the Lord.

And so you know, as far as the future, I think with trying to do your best at everything, the reason why we want to do that is because we want to impact people for Christ. And that’s where true hope is found. That’s where being away from home and working as hard as what it requires, that’s the only time it makes sense. If we’re doing this for ourselves, I’ll go do something else. Because there’s other things that are easier, there’s other things that have us be home a little bit more. But doing your very best unto the Lord and doing it for the Lord is the reason why we do music. And our hope is that if it’s three years, if it’s six years, ten, fifteen years that we do this, that will always remain the goal and always remain the vision.

Getting to know Luke 

Favorite Bible Verse
Matthew 11:28 – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Favorite Bible Character (other than Jesus)
I’m probably gonna go with Peter on that. Just because he was probably like us in a lot of ways where he was making a lot of mistakes but Jesus still loved him a lot.

Favorite thing to do to pass time on the road
Typically I’m probably reading ESPN.com, catching up on all of my sports news. I check that probably 20 times a day, unfortunately.

What sports do you follow?
I’m really a sports geek. I follow it all. The only sport that I probably don’t follow that well is the NHL. I didn’t grow up with it that much, so I’m not that familiar with it. So basketball, football, baseball to a lesser extent, but I still follow it quite a lot. The Olympics. When the Olympics was on, that was amazing.

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“Conversations” with Turner Gill

Turner Gill Courtesy: Liberty University, Joel Coleman

This edition of Sports Spectrum Conversations features the head football coach at Liberty University, Turner Gill. Coach Gill is in his first season coaching the Flames and previously coached at Kansas and Buffalo. Coach talked to us about his playing career at Nebraska and in the CFL, his minor league baseball career, the differences between coaching at public and Christian universities, and how God prepared him to be a head coach and leader. Coach Gill also shares his memories of his mother, who passed away just a few weeks ago, and how she always encouraged him in his faith. The Q&A is a “best of’ the interview, so to hear more from Coach Gill, including on if he thinks there can ever be another two-sport star, listen to the full audio podcast below.

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SPORTS SPECTRUM: You had a great playing career playing QB at Nebraska, what was it like to playing for those fans?
Coach Gill: Well it’s outstanding, they’re tremendous fans. They love their football team, they love athletics, not just the football team. They love their athletics programs around there, but the activities there are really football. There’s no pro sports teams that they support, and the financial things all go to that one university. I shouldn’t say only one, there are other universities of course that are supported, but it’ great to be part of that.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: After college, you chose to play in the CFL over the NFL, what went into that decision?
Coach Gill: Well part of that was, unfortunately at that particular time, I was too short, so the NFL was saying I would be a receiver or defensive back and I wanted to have the opportunity to play quarterback. So therefore, I really thought at that time, a guy by the name of Warren Moon had played in the CFL, and the year I was leaving, he went to the NFL. So I wanted to model that. As to say, “I’m gonna go play in the CFL to show people in the NFL I can throw the football and have the ability to do those things.” And hopefully later on, have the opportunity to come back and play. That was really one of the main reasons. I really wanted to play quarterback.

Coach Gill on gameday Courtesy: Liberty University, Joel Coleman

SPORTS SPECTRUM: You were a two-sport star, and after concussions knocked you out of the CFL, you played baseball in the Cleveland Indians organization, what was your experience like in the minor leagues?
Coach Gill: Well, it was different. You have a lot of idle time. I guess when I say that, there’s a lot more idle time during the day, you’re traveling day and night and morning, and you’re staying in a lot of hotels and motels. So it’s a different lifestyle as far as that goes.

I love baseball, baseball was my first love out of high school, I got drafted in the second round  by the White Sox. The late Bill Veck, the owner of the White Sox, came and chatted with me and we were about $20,000 short. If they gave me 20,000 more, my career as an athlete, would have been different than it ended up being.

But I love both sports. And unfortunately, the doctors were not going to release me to play football because of my concussions, but they released me to play baseball and I got the opportunity to contact some organizations to see if they were interested. It was the Mets, Padres and Indians that were the three that we ended up negotiating with and talking with. I felt the Cleveland Indians would be the best opportunity for me to move up the fastest. I thought that was the best fit for me at that particular time.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: After baseball, You’ve taken quite the journey in coaching, on the coaching staff at Nebraska, North Texas, SMU, back to Nebraska, spent a season with the Packers, before getting hired at Buffalo as a head coach in 2006. How did all of these experiences prepare you to be a head coach?
Coach Gill: Well as we know, God, everything He does, for each and everyone of our lives, is preparing us for the next step, which we don’t know what that next step, or what God has for us. As I look back at my life now, I really see that. That you may go through things that are good, and things that have a little adversity. And now that question is how are you gonna respond to all those things that prepares you for the next step. So, it all helped educate me. And God puts people in our lives to help you grow. And we ignore those things some times. It’s right in front of us and it’s stated, but we ignore it. Intuition, God gives us, in our hearts and our minds and our soul, but we just don’t realize it.

In ’85 I accepted Christ. One of my friends that I knew in Nebraska and also when I played in Montreal, that kinda helped put things in a lot better perspective, he helped me accept Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. And that helped me through the opportunities that I had. To look at it with joy, peace and comfort, knowing that I had a purpose in life. I had to understand my purpose and how I was wired. I was wired to teach the game of football and teach people about Jesus Christ and then to keep doing it in the right way. (To) change this profession, and change college football in a way that would be gratifying to God to help marriages and to help men to help them understand what their purpose is in life. Because those two areas in our society, and really three, spiritually, and being a father or husband and doing those things, those are so crucial according to God. And those things are kinda getting warped, another word is off-balance. If you don’t have the spiritual part of your life in the coaching profession, in any profession, it’s tough to handle that.

The football team plays their annual spring game on April 21, 2012. Courtesy: Liberty University, Gabe Hernandez

So for me, being a head football coach, God was teaching me that when I became a head football coach, “Make sure that your doing things to help marriages, don’t do things that are going to decrease the relationship with man and woman because of the time commitments.” And that’s any job, but definitely in the coaching profession. It is time consuming, and it is something that you have to be on top of in making time to spend with your spouse, your wife. And also trying to teach these young men what their purpose is.

In our society, according to God, what is each man’s purpose? Not just to go play football but it’s to prepare these young men to be, number one, men that love God, and men that know how to be the leader in the home and know how to treat women. So all of those things are what God has put on my heart and that’s my purpose as a coach, but really more as a man. That’s just what I do, I coach. But I’m a man of God trying to follow Christ and His teaching. And this job that he’s given me as being a coach is to help marriages, and to help young men know their purpose.

SPORTS SPECTRUM: What’s it like being the coach at such an overtly Christian university where Christ is at the forefront?
Coach Gill: You don’t have to be in a politically correct, the church and state, and all of those things of that nature. I understood the church and state, I knew I had to do some things in a certain way but there were times when God told me to state what I needed to state and to state scriptures or to preach the Gospel or to share how to get to know Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior. So people knew about it, I didn’t hide it when I interviewed with people and in some cases, maybe I didn’t get those jobs because of that and that’s fine. But I had to speak up because God said if you’re ashamed of Him, he will be ashamed of you when you have to come right to (Him) on (our) knees at some point and time in our lives until death.

Liberty University's new head football coach announces his 2012 signing class on February 1, 2012. Courtesy: Liberty University, Joel Coleman

SPORTS SPECTRUM: Your mom recently passed away, tell us a little bit about your mother and what she  meant to you…
Coach Gill: Yes, September 2nd. She was truly an authentic, genuine follower of Christ. Whenever you talk to people who know my mom, it was always from a spiritual side. She was always quoting scriptures. She was always referring to, “Is that honoring God?” That was one of her famous lines.

My mom was always a servant. She always did things for others. She never really did  things for herself, and I’m talking about just the simplest things of just buying herself new clothes. She just stayed basic, she said, “I’m here to serve my kids. I’m here to serve my husband. And I’m here to serve God. That’s my purpose here on earth.” And so she lived it. And I saw it every day.

I always remember those things, when I went away for college, she was always sending scriptures. As people (in college), we always say, “Mom, Dad, send us money.” The famous line that we all say as 18-22 year-old kids, but my mom always sent a scripture. Sometimes I read it, sometimes I didn’t. But I always remembered that that was what she always stood for, is that, God, Jesus Christ, was always first. And that’s what I’m always going to take with me. I miss her. As far as being able to write me some notes, but I still have some of those things, I still have a couple of those available that remind me of those things. But I’m excited because I know I’m going to see her again. This is just the beginning of life as far as I’m concerned and I can’t wait to see her again.

Getting to know Coach Gill

Favorite Bible Verse 

Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

Favorite Bible Story

It’s probably just like a lot of people, the David and Goliath (story). It’s such a great reference in football in some cases where maybe you’re an underdog, so you always kind of refer to that and how God’s going to give you the strength, and the belief and the faith that you have to have as you go into a situation like David went into with Goliath. So that story is probably one of my favorites because I use it quite a bit with football, being a coach.

You played QB, do you have a favorite QB to watch in the NFL now?

I’d probably just be Payton Manning.

What about growing up?

Roger Staubach

Favorite Baseball Player

A guy by the name of Roberto Clemente. He played with a fervent love for the game, passion for the game. I was only 8 or 9 but I can remember number 21 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Any hobbies outside of football?

A hobby is really spending time with my family. I spend time with my two daughters and family and doing things with them and enjoying that time because it’s valuable, so valuable.

But if I really did something from an individual side, it’s probably just playing golf.

For more from Coach Gill, listen to the audio podcast below.

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Old School — Why the Nats are making a mistake

Much ado has been made about the Nationals shutting down ace Stephen Strasburg in the middle of a pennant race, so I figured I would go ahead and give my own two cents. In case you haven’t heard, the Nationals have said all season they were going to be very careful this season with Strasburg because he is coming off of Tommy John surgery. The plan was to limit him to 160-180 innings, much like they did last season with Jordan Zimmerman. This Saturday, the Nationals shut down Strasburg. having pitched 159.1 innings and finishing 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA, and 197 strikeouts.

Perhaps the Nationals believe he can’t get hurt when he’s not on the field, so his future will be safe.

Well, unless he plays pickup basketball. Aaron Boone

Or carries deer meat up stairs. Clint Barmes

Or sneezes. Sammy Sosa

Or stays in a hotel in New York. Chipper Jones

A dangerous activity if Randall Simon is around.

Or runs in the sausage race in Milwaukee. Guido, The Italian Sausage

Or tries to celebrate a teammate’s perfect game. Aubrey Huff

Or tries to put on socks. Jonathan Lucroy

Or tries to jump on a trampoline. Joba Chamberlain

Or gets on a plane. Keenan Thompson

I think you get the point, but the bottom line is this:

This was a bad decision by Nationals management.

Yes, pitchers are at a risk of injury after surgery and wear and tear on an arm through a long season, but shutting him down isn’t a guarantee he won’t get hurt. Especially when fear of injury is due to some magical innings limit, as if his arm will immediate detonate the moment he takes the mound in the fourth inning of a late September start. Last time I checked, not all innings were created equal. What if his 160th inning is only three pitches long? Will his arm still fall off? Innings can be as few as three pitches, but they can also last an hour. The amount of effort that goes into an inning as a pitcher is highly variable and thus an insufficient way to determine possible fatigue and injury risk.

What is puzzling about this decision is that there wasn’t any medical testing on Strasburg’s arm to see if it was becoming at risk for injury. They didn’t test him for any muscle problems, reduced flexibility or any other objective measurements. The decision is purely speculative based on the number of innings.

Former Cy Young pitcher and current ESPN analyst, Orel Hershiser, believes the Nationals should have run his arm through tests in Spring Training and checked him throughout the year.

“I think in Spring Training you take objective measurements on internal and external rotation, on supination and pronation of the elbow, flexibility of the wrist and hand strength and you have those objective bench marks that you can then make objective decisions on whether the arm is fatiguing or is in trouble,” Hershiser told ESPN. ”And those are the first warning signs that when you can’t recover your start to start that you don’t come back, you’re side works are harder, your flexibility is not coming back, you get a muscle spasm that all of the sudden other muscles are gonna have to overwork. So this is just being done on a landmark of just innings, not complete objective data and I think the Nationals have made a mistake.

Orel's bobblehead thinks it's a mistake too.

“I think they’re trying to do the prudent thing to keep him healthy but you cannot predict health in baseball. Pitchers are all scheduled for surgery at some point. Pitchers are all at risk. And if he has a real healthy arm right now and his body is healthy, and you’re just shutting him down, that’s a very hard thing for anybody to take and even his teammates and the whole organization, so it’s a risky decision. It’s a prudent decision, but it’s a risky decision.”

All of this of course would not be such a big deal if the Nationals were a .500 team looking toward next season, but they aren’t. They are in first place in the National League East and hold the best record in all of baseball.

Atlanta Braves catcher David Ross, who plays on the Nationals’ rival, told AJC.com that he believes the Nationals put Strasburg in a bad position.

“It puts everybody–there’s not one person that it doesn’t put in a bad position, in my opinion,” Ross said. “All his teammates, I’m sure, want him to be pitching. I’m sure his manager wants him to be pitching. And I’m sure he wants to be pitching. You don’t hear much from him; he doesn’t say much. But I don’t see how you could not want to go into the postseason.

“You listen to guys like [St. Louis pitcher Chris] Carpenter and those guys saying, he wouldn’t trade having success this year for what he did last year.

“Even though probably affected him, he pushed himself really hard, he wouldn’t trade that for anything,” Ross said. “That says a lot about how much it means to pitch well in the postseason and win a World Series.”

And that is the problem with this whole thing. The Nationals aren’t necessarily going to be good again next year. Look at the Diamondbacks this season. Mostly the same roster from last year, but different results. They were the NL West Champs in 2011, but out of contention this year. The Expos/Nationals franchise has never been to a World Series. A World Series championship opportunity doesn’t come around often, and this team has a chance.

Pitchers are always susceptible to arm injuries, like Hershiser said. Throwing a ball overhanded is not a normal movement for a human arm. Strasburg is just as at risk to get hurt throwing the 50th pitch of a game in April in 2013 as he is throwing the final pitch winning the National League pennant in 2012.

Washington is shutting down a guy who is currently healthy, and in the process, they are hurting their chances to win their first championship ever.

Oh, so you want my solution? If you really have to limit his innings, why not move him to the bullpen as the set-up man for closer Tyler Clippard and institute a no back-to-back appearance rule for the rest of the season? There are 22 games left on the Nationals schedule. He could pitch every other day at one inning each and move his innings pitched total to 170.1.  That gives you 10 more innings within the 180 frame to work with in the playoffs. Considering Strasburg can blow people away with a 100 MPH fastball, he would be great weapon to have in the bullpen during a playoff run.

I know it’s different moving from starter to reliever, but elite talents can make those adjustments and pitch at any time. John Smoltz, Dennis Eckersly and Curt Schilling all did it a different times in their career to accommodate injuries and did it well. And Strasburg is a proven elite talent.

It’s just sad to see management take the ball out of Strasburg’s hands when he wants to pitch, especially since he’s currently healthy. It’s probably difficult to take in the locker room knowing you won’t have your best pitcher on the mound when a lot is one the line. It’s probably maddening to be a Nats fan. And it’s sad that we will be talking about this decision no matter the outcome of the playoffs for Washington.

By Aaron May

Aaron May is a staff writer and videographer for Sports Spectrum. You can catch his weekly columns on college football, college basketball, and Major League Baseball, depending on the season, each week at sportsspectrum.com. Follow Aaron on Twitter-@pplcallmeblue or email him at aaron@sportsspectrum.com.

Old School — Predicting college football in 2012

It may be hard to believe, but college football is back. Tonight, South Carolina and Vanderbilt will open up the 2012 season, and it’s a season sure to be filled with many storylines. But before we look at the upcoming season, let’s look back at what’s happened in the offseason:

- Penn State loses 112 wins and receives a four-year bowl ban from NCAA sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

- Ohio State is banned from postseason play this season.

- Matt Barkley spurns the NFL Draft in order to come back to Southern Cal to try and help the Trojans win a national championship.

- A four-team playoff will start in 2014, which means we will soon be rid of this crazy way to decide a national champion.

- LSU’s Heisman trophy candidate, Tyrann Mathieu, was suspended from the team and will not return this season.

The offseason was filled with more negative than positive, but hopefully we can put the focus on the game itself. The positive news we did get this offseason was the decision to add playoffs to college football. It’s great that there will be more of a chance for champions to be decided on the field instead of being decided by computers and polls. I hope that we eventually get the field expanded to 8 or even 16 teams, then all doubt will be erased.

Playoffs are still a ways away, so let’s focus on this season. Prediction time!

ACC Champ

Clemson

Outside of three big debacles for games (blowout losses to South Carolina, N.C. State and West Virginia), the Tigers had an outstanding season, winning the ACC Championship with a young nucleus of players like Sammy Watkins and Tahj Boyd. I expect more of the same from Clemson. If they learn from last season’s losses, it could be the school’s best season since winning the national championship in 1981.

Most often uttered phrase this season

This could be Clemson’s year!

Big 12 Champ

Oklahoma

Landry Jones could be in the NFL this year, but he chose one more year of riding the Sooner Schooner. For that, Coach Stoops should feel pretty good heading into the season with a veteran quarterback. The Big 12 gets a little tougher this year, however, because TCU and West Virginia are in the conference. But something tells me none of the Big 12 originals will want a new team to take the conference by storm, and I think Oklahoma will be the leader on that forefront.

Big East Champ

Temple

Why not? The Big East will likely have a champ from Idaho next season (Boise St.), so why not just pick a team at random. Regular frontrunner West Virginia is gone and though Cincinnati has won the Big East a few times in the recent past, the standings seem to flip over every year making the Big East almost impossible to predict. It just seems that whoever gets hot during conference play ends up with the Orange bowl bid, even when they haven’t won that many games overall.

Most Overused Name As A Pun (ala Jeremy Lin)

Brady Hoke – Hoke-a-mania

Big Ten Champ

Michigan

Brady Hoke put Michigan on the fast track to regaining Big Ten dominance last year and with college football’s most exciting player, senior Denard Robinson, there is no reason to think they can’t win the conference. Especially since Penn State and Ohio State have all of their NCAA sanctions and problems.

Charlotte 49ers first practice: Courtesy: @Charlotte49ers

Conference USA Champ

Charlotte

Okay, okay, I’m getting ahead of myself here, but my hometown university, the Charlotte 49ers, started football practice this week – for the first time since…ever. The Niners will begin playing FCS level football for two seasons in 2013 and 2014 before joining Conference USA at the FBS level in 2015. Charlotte will be making the jump to the FBS level quicker than any university has. So there’s some history for you. Oh, I guess Houston will win the conference this year, but in 2015, watch out America!

Notre Dame’s record

8-4

The Fighting Irish will have an above-average year, which will be below average in Irish fans’ minds, who are all delusional and have minds stuck in the Lou Holtz era. I do think head coach Brian Kelly will put together a special season with Notre Dame at some point, but not this year.

When the Big Six Conferences look ahead to basketball season

Big East – As soon as the nets are cut down in the NCAA Final.

ACC – After the first week, when non-conference play goes horribly.

Pac-12 – About halfway through October, when USC has beaten opponents so badly the rest of the teams in the conference give up hope.

Big Ten – Right after Thanksgiving dinner, when they realize there are no more Big Ten games left except bowl games against the SEC.

Big 12 - Right after the BCS Selection show, and they see that the SEC got both BCS Title game bids.

SEC - Only in Kentucky

MAC Champ

Ohio

The Ohio Bobcats went to the Sweet 16 this past year in hoops, so I’m thinking the magic will rub off onto the football team and they will win the right to play in a pizza bowl.

Mountain West Champ

Boise State

I wanted to pick another team here since I know the Broncos lost their greatest quarterback of all time in Kellen Moore, but I just couldn’t. Chris Peterson is too good of a coach to let his team have a letdown season, and the Broncos were winning tons of games before Moore. Remember Jared Zabransky, who quarterbacked Boise State in their epic win against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl? People thought Boise State wouldn’t be able to continue winning without that guy, but they replaced him with Moore. So who’s to say that new quarterback Joe Southwick can’t be a suitable replacement?

Fight song you’ll be sick of by Week 3

Fight On – USC

Pac-12 Champ

USC

Lane Kiffin may seem like a guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing from time to time, but he sure knows how to get great players. I think USC can go undefeated this year in PAC-12 play as Oregon could fall back after losing Darron Thomas to the NFL Draft (and he didn’t even get drafted). I can’t see any other serious contenders after Oregon, so if USC can take care of them they’ll be fine.

SEC Champions

Georgia

Quarterback Aaron Murray may be the best quarterback in the SEC, and I always feel that if you have a great quarterback these days, you have a great team. Georgia will end the SEC West’s dominance and beat Alabama in the SEC Championship.

Sun Belt Champ

Western Kentucky

I have to be honest, this pick is just a stab in the dark. Does the Sun Belt even have a TV deal?

WAC Champ

Louisiana Tech

This will likely be the final year of the WAC, as many of its members are headed elsewhere. Look for Terry Bradshaw’s old school to win the last WAC football crown.

Heisman Trophy Winner

Matt Barkley, USC QB

Barkley came back for one reason only, to lead USC to a national chamiponship, and if he plays like he’s capable, he should put up Heisman-type numbers.

Coach of the year

Mark Richt, Georgia

Coach Richt gets a lot of flack for supposedly underachieving, but I think he will finally take the Bulldogs to the promised land and into the BCS title game this year. Navigating through an SEC schedule is always tough, but I feel like this is Richt’s year.

If the four-team playoff started this year

1. USC

2. Georgia

3. Oklahoma

4. Alabama

Snubbed

Michigan, Oregon, Clemson

Even though this won’t happen this year, it sure is fun to know that a playoff is no longer a fantasy but a reality. I have a feeling that the SEC will manage to get two of its teams into this four-team playoff pretty often though. Which could mean that all of the other conference presidents will decide there needs to be a few more spots.

BCS Title Game

USC vs. Georgia

Will it be the SEC’s 4,000th straight BCS Championship, or will somebody else finally get the job done? I say it’s someone else’s turn.

Final Score: 30-24 Trojans

Games to watch

Thursday August 30

#9 South Carolina at Vanderbilt – It may not look like a pretty matchup on paper, but it’s the first game of the season. You have to watch!

Friday August 31

#24 Boise St. at #13 Michigan St. – Both of these programs lost senior leaders at quarterback. It will be interesting to see which team was better prepared for the future.

Tennessee at NC State (at Georgia Dome in Atlanta) – Many experts thought Tennessee could be a surprise in the SEC this year, but the Volunteers will face much tougher teams in conference play than N.C. State. If they struggle against the Wolfpack, they will definitely struggle in conference play.

Saturday September 1

#14 Clemson at Auburn (at Georgia Dome in Atlanta) – If it really is Clemson’s year, it would help to start out beating a quality opponent from the SEC.

#8 Michigan at #2 Alabama – This is the MUST WATCH GAME of the WEEK. Two preseason top 10 teams. The best defense in the nation against the most explosive offensive player in the nation in Michigan’s Denard Robinson. If you don’t watch this one, you’re not a football fan. Period.

By Aaron May

Aaron May is a staff writer and videographer for Sports Spectrum. You can catch his weekly columns on college football, college basketball, and Major League Baseball, depending on the season, each week at sportsspectrum.com. Follow Aaron on Twitter-@pplcallmeblue or email him at aaron@sportsspectrum.com.

“Conversations” with AJ Styles

Courtesy: TNA Wrestling

This edition of Sports Spectrum “Conversations” features the man who many people call the face of TNA Wrestling (Thursdays 8 ET SPIKE TV), the “Phenomenal” AJ Styles. Styles (born Allen Neal Jones) is a TNA Grand Slam champion, which means he’s held every championship there is to hold in the company, and is one of the most exciting wrestlers in all of pro wrestling today. Styles joins us to talk about his wrestling career, how he became a Christian, what it’s like be a Christian in the pro wrestling industry, why Tim Tebow can’t take his shirt off in public, his love for Christian hip-hop, and the Super Mario Bros. The Q&A section is a “best of” from the interview, so to hear more about AJ, listen to the full interview below. Enjoy!

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SPORTS SPECTRUM: Many people got into wrestling by either going to a show or watching Hulk Hogan on TV; how were you first introduced to pro wrestling?
AJ STYLES: Growing up in the south, we didn’t have Hulk Hogan, we didn’t watch a lot of that. We had Georgia Championship Wrestling. I remember watching a little of that as a kid but we didn’t always have the best reception as a kid on the TV, so I didn’t watch a lot of it…I watched it, you know, in the late 90’s, just like everyone else, and enjoyed it. I think everybody in the late 90’s and early 2000’s enjoyed it, so I kinda tried it myself.

SPORTS SPECTRUMSo when did that moment come, when did you decide, “I’m going to do this, I’m going to make wrestling my career”?
AJ STYLES: A couple of friends of mine took me to a training school where they were going to get trained and I said, “Well, I went with you. I might as well get in there and try it for myself.” And as soon as I got in there I knew that this was something I could do.

SPORTS SPECTRUMYou spent some time in WCW before it closed; talk about early in your wrestling career.
AJ STYLES: I got signed with WCW. I was with them, I think, for about five whole months before they went under and it was a heartbreaker for me. I had finally made it and was given an opportunity to make a little bit of money and it kind of fell out from under me. So I had to go back to the independents, and I was determined to make it somewhere and by then there was only one company so it was really hard…I got invited to a WWE camp, went there, and got offered a developmental deal, turned it down and about two months later TNA started up and my life changed for sure.

SPORTS SPECTRUMSo how did you become a member of the TNA roster?
AJ STYLES:: There was a company going around the world, called World Wrestling All Stars and a bunch of talent was on there, when Eddie Guerrero wasn’t with WWE, he was there, Jerry Lynn was there, just a lot of awesome wrestlers were there, and Jeff Jarrett was, of course, there. And in those matches I had with Jerry Lynn doing World Wrestling All Stars, you know we would just have a great match and Jeff Jarrett (the founder of TNA Wrestling) would talk to me about TNA and starting up a new company. And I’m pretty sure I was the first guy ever signed by TNA.

SPORTS SPECTRUMSo you’re a TNA Original and the first guy ever signed by TNA?
AJ STYLES: I’m pretty sure, I would have to ask Jeff about that, but it doesn’t get any more original than AJ Styles.

Styles flies high above longtime nemesis Christopher Daniels Courtesy: TNA Wrestling

SPORTS SPECTRUMAnd how long has it been in TNA now, 10 years?
AJ STYLES:: 10 years. Absolutely. 10 short years. 10 years seems long to a lot of people, but for a wrestling company, we’re still babies in the wrestling industry.

SPORTS SPECTRUMWhen did you become a Christian?
AJ STYLES:: In ‘93 I went to a judgement house… I went to a church and they basically tell a story, and you go from room to room, and they tell a story about how some kids will go to heaven and some will go to hell and you get to experience that with them. And we went through this play and it was pretty dramatic, you know, and I remember at the end, I was with a bunch of my friends and they took us into a room and they said if anybody wants to accept Christ, here’s your’e opportunity. Everybody bowed their heads and everybody said a little prayer with us and they said, “If you said that little prayer, raise your hand, and just stay with us for a couple of minutes and we’ll talk to you about it.” So, of course, I raised my hand and I thought, “Well shoot, my friends are all going to stay behind because we’re all in the same boat.” I was the only one. I was the only one who raised his hand and accepted Christ, and it was a weird moment because I couldn’t believe that they didn’t wanna accept Christ.

But at the same time it was a great moment for me, and I was convicted and made up excuses immediately, you know, of why it was okay to date this girl and do this stuff with this girl because of love and whatever, but for me… but that’s when my testimony really starts, because I asked God to save me, and that was exactly what he was going to do, no matter what pain I had to go through to understand what he went though for me. From breaking up with a girlfriend to going to jail, it was just chaos there for a little bit until I met the right person to say, “Hey why don’t you come to church with me?” And I met a guy, our youth pastor, just an awesome, awesome man… and I believe that it’s one thing to get saved. It’s another for someone to show you how to be a man of Christ… He showed me how to be a man of God. And I’m still working on it, still doing my best. But I’m so thankful and blessed that he was in my life to just be an example for me.

SPORTS SPECTRUMDo you find it tough being a Christian in the pro wrestling world?
AJ STYLES: Not really. I mean there are things that go on that I’m not proud of in this crazy business. But I’ve made friends, and I’m not ashamed of Jesus Christ; everybody knows that, they don’t bother me about that, they don’t ask me to do stupid things, they don’t try to encourage me to do things that they know I’m not going to do anyway, but they have a lot of respect for who I am, and that I’m sticking to what I believe. And that’s something in itself is just trying to be the man I’ve said I’m going to be. And it’s easier said than done, but I do my best.

Sometimes I think I’m the worst player on God’s team but, you know, I just get out there and just try. Just try to make that prayer, be that Christian man that God has called me to be. Just be that guy, even if it’s just for a little bit for someone to see. You never know what someone is going to see. You gotta always be alert and pay attention to what’s going on around you that you don’t make the mistake of causing someone else to stumble…

You’re not perfect. That’s something that society forgets, they think we call ourselves Christians because we think we’re perfect but that’s the complete opposite; we’re sinners and we know it. We stink at life! So we need someone to help us out with it that we can call on and to change us and to forgive us more than anything. And God’s done exactly that.

SPORTS SPECTRUMYou take a lot of high risks in the ring, is there ever any fear?
AJ STYLES: I’ve gotten that question a lot. There is fear, but not when it’s go-time. When it’s time to do it, if I hesitate, that’s when you get hurt. You’ll never se me hesitate. I’m gonna go all or nothing.

SPORTS SPECTRUMGRITS does your theme song, how did that come about?
AJ STYLES: We were down at Universal a few years ago and I was speaking… it was a whole giant Christian event. It was awesome! GRITS was there performing, I was there talking, and I was like, I gotta meet these guys. I had been listening to them for so long. And it turned out that they were friends with Jeff Jarrett… and we just got to talking and got them to do some entrance music for me and it’s awesome! It’s one of the best that I think that I’ve had.

SPORTS SPECTRUMAre you a big Christian hip-hop listener?
AJ STYLES: I am actually, ridiculously love Christian rap. It’s ridiculous, it really is; it’s bad. I have an addiction. That whole 116 Clique, with Trip Lee, Lecrae, all those guys, Tedashii, I can’t get enough of it.

AJ’s Favorites

Favorite current video game?
NCAA 13 Football. I’m one of those guys who will play that and play Madden and have my college guys go up to play Madden.

Favorite old school video game?
My favorite old school video game, it’s more sentimental, so its probably not the best game, but its sentimental to me because my dad got the last one at the store. And it was Super Mario Bros. 2. And yes, I know that it wasn’t a Mario game but then they decided to make it a Mario game at the last minute, but I thought it was cool, and it was the second Mario game.

Favorite Bible verse?
Romans 1:16… Lecrae preaches that on everything, that’s his deal. So that’s been on my brain recently, not being ashamed of being a follower or Christ.

Favorite Bible character?
I think David, you know David and Goliath, I remember looking through my mom’s old Bible and having the picture of David swinging that sling and hitting Goliath and that’s something in my head that I’ll never forget, (kid voice) “This kid has killed this giant, took a sword and cut off his head, that’s awesome, yeah, that’s a warrior.” I think that David might be my favorite.

Listen to the full interview below, including his thoughts about Tim Tebow, wrestling Chris Jericho, the movie “The Wizard”, and if he’s sick of wrestling longtime nemesis Christopher Daniels.

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Matt Barkley – Eyes Forward

All eyes in the sports world were on Southern California last fall when USC football coach Pete Carroll named Matt Barkley starting quarterback.

The story dominated headlines for weeks. Why? Because Barkley was the first true freshman to start in the history of the storied program—the same program that has produced NFL quarterbacks Carson Palmer, Matt Leinhart and Mark Sanchez.

Carroll told the media last fall, “We have a quarterback that’s unusual. He’s so far ahead of the curve, that it’s hard to predict what he’s going to be able to do.” From the outside looking in, it’s easy to see why Barkley is extraordinary. But when you meet him in person, it’s even easier to understand how a freshman stepped in and took the reigns of the Trojan offense. He’s so calm, cool and collected he may as well have ice water running through his veins.

The Southern California native has been compared to Joe Montana, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady—and is lauded for his perfect throwing motion and a mental make-up that’s off the charts. So what does he think about all the hooplah?

“It’s pretty crazy and cool to think about,” he says. “I try to keep it all in perspective though, because I could have done a lot better last season. There’s always something to improve on, whether it’s the little things or the overall record of the team.

Looking back at that first game against San Jose State, some of the crazy wins we had, and a lot of the experiences I had, it was all pretty neat.” The story brings to mind a metaphor in the Old Testament, when the prophet Samuel anointed Jesse’s youngest son, David, to lead Israel. But Barkley hardly lets his age define him. “I always think of 1 Timothy 4:12, which simply reminds me, ‘Don’t let anyone look down on you because you’re young,’” he explains.

Barkley (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) clearly carries himself as a man much older than his 19 years. It’s that level-headed maturity and natural leadership instinct that made the transition from high school to college so seamless. But it hasn’t been without its challenges, which is why his faith in Christ Plays such an integral part of his day-today life, especially when it’s a life lived in the spotlight.

“You definitely can’t do it alone,” he admits.

“I don’t consider it pressure, it’s more of dealing with all the attention, and what people make the USC quarterback out to be. My family has been great at keeping me grounded, and my close friends keep me accountable. Also, it helps to have a daily schedule of talking to God and getting in the Word.” One of those friends who keeps him accountable is his cousin, Robbie Boyer, a sophomore receiver for the Trojans. “He’s my best friend and my roommate,” says Barkley. And with their history on the field together, the duo likely anticipates each others’ moves pretty easily, right? “Oh yeah,” he adds with a smile. Barkley, who threw for 2,735 yards and 15 touchdowns his first season, has certainly found his calling taking snaps from center.

“I love everything about [quarterbacking].

It’s one of those things where, when I was playing baseball I was a pitcher, when I was in soccer I played center forward, and when it came to football, I’ve always wanted to be the quarterback. And not for the attention.

I like knowing what’s going on. It has attracted me since I was a little kid and had a John Elway poster on my wall.” And for Barkley, USC is the perfect place to be. “It’s close to home, which means my family can come to my games, and my dad even comes to my practices sometimes,” he says. “The spirit and tradition of the school is pretty cool— the band, the students, and the support of the football program— it unifies the school. And you can’t complain about the weather here in SoCal.” This past spring, he helped start a Bible study with some of his teammates, and the highlight of the semester took place when they joined up with a few other Bible studies on campus for a worship night. “We met up with some members of the band and the song girls, and my cousin and I helped lead worship. It was pretty cool because a lot of us didn’t know each other before that night.” (Barkley played guitar on his church worship band all through junior high and high school).

Having a core group of believers to help encourage each other is pivotal as a college student facing the usual pressures and temptations at a secular university.

“There are so many opportunities to sway and go in a different direction than what God has planned for us,” Barkley states. “I think having a close group of Christian friends that have encouraged me to do the right thing, because it’s so easy to be influenced by certain things here, so staying grounded and standing up for what I believe is something I’ve definitely had to do. It’s been encouraging to have that opportunity to stand up like that. Especially with the profile and platform I have as the USC quarterback, I try to use it for God’s glory—whether it’s talking to a local reporter or saying something after a game on national television, and you can’t miss out on those opportunities.” And now, a season later, Barkley is still a big story, set to prove himself again at the helm for the Trojans. The offseason brought about a slew of changes, namely a new head coach in Lane Kiffin, and several other shifts in the coaching ranks.

“It’s kinda crazy, and you realize there are a lot of things outside of your control,” adds Barkley. “As a player you have to realize you’re not in control, there are going to be a lot of things outside your power that you have to submit to. I can’t control who’s coaching me. But it’s been great.

Coach Kiffin has come in, and there have been some changes in the program for the better.” The offseason also gave Barkley and the rest of the team a chance to make some changes, aiming to bring the national championship back to Southern California.

“Our team has had an attitude shift over the offseason, which is for the better, and character is something we’ve been working on together. Having four losses is unacceptable, so we’re eager to improve our record and win that championship.” When USC kicks off the 2010 season in Hawaii on September 2, be sure to look for No. 7. The Trojans’ future is looking golden.

Matt’s favorite things…

• Proverbs 3:5-6: “I’ll sometimes add that to signatures to remind me of what I’m doing.”

• The apostle Paul: “Not just for what he wrote but for what he went through.”

• Peyton Manning and Tom Brady: “They’re good examples for us younger quarterbacks to study so much film and work harder than anyone- and you can see that it pays off in the way they play.”

• Passion Worship: “I’m really into worship music right now.”

• Bands: Need to Breathe, Sanctus Real, Audio Adrenaline

• Food: Chick-fil-a

• Hobbies: Guitar

By Jenna Sampson

Old School — Making a baseball team out of Olympians

Since we’re in the middle of the summer Olympics, I thought I would do an Olympic-themed baseball column.

Baseball was removed as an Olympic sport in 2008, and this travesty must be brought to a little (David) Justice. So I thought it would be a good idea to build a baseball team out of this year’s Olympians. I have my own unique criteria and explanation for why each Olympian fits on the diamond.

Let’s play ball!

1. Dawn Harper - 2B

I would put Harper, a superb hurdler who finished second in the women’s 100-meter hurdles, at the top of the lineup so she can use her speed to get on base and get a few steals. But instead of sliding, she will revolutionize the game by hurdling over defenders. She also has plenty of speed to have the range to cover second base.

 

2. Justin Gatlin - CF

Gatlin finished third in the men’s 100 meters, netting a bronze medal, and was the fastest American. You have to have a lot of speed to cover the outfield. Gatlin has it. And by batting second behond Lolo Jones, they make a great hit-and-run combination. He was once caught using performance enhancing drugs, though, which means he’d never get enough Hall of Fame votes, as Mark McGwire can attest.

 

3. Andy Roddick - SS

Roddick is used to covering all sorts of ground while playing tennis. I think it would suit him well to play shortstop. He would have great range and wouldn’t have to face Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic doing it. And since he is great hitting a ball with a racket, he should be good at hitting a ball with a bat.

 

4. Kendrick Farris - DH

Farris is the strongest American on Team USA this year, as he is the only United States weightlifter. Theoretically, he would also have the most power with a baseball bat, which makes a perfect DH.


5. Kevin Love - 1B

You typically need a nice, big target at first base to throw to. So what’s a better target than a seven-footer? Love is always complimented for having soft hands, which means he can catch. So he should have no problem picking balls at first base.

 

6. Phil Dalhausser - LF

Dalhausser is 6-foot-9 and reminds me a lot of Brewers outfielder Corey Hart. Hart always puts up good numbers, a career .276 hitter who averages 20-25 home runs a season. So if he’s a clone of Hart, you can expect good things. And with Dalhausser’s height (he’s good at spiking volleyballs into the ground), he should be able to rob baseballs from going over the wall.


7. Cyrus Hostetler - RF

You typically need a strong arm to play right field, and also to throw the javelin. Considering qualifying hasn’t happened yet, and there are three Americans in the field, and I’m not sure who the best javelin thrower is, I chose Cyrus, because he has the coolest name.

 

8. Timothy Wang - 3B

It’s called the hot corner, so you need a guy with quick reactions. And Wang, the only male Team USA table tennis representative in London, has those. Though with the way the Chinese dominated table tennis, I probably should have picked one of them. But this is an American team I’m building…

 

9. Hope Solo - C

As a soccer goalie, she should have no trouble playing backstop, knocking down curveballs and sliders that fall in the dirt. She would also be a good catcher because she seems to be a bit of a know-it-all, much like catchers who think they control the game because they call the pitches. (Those signs are mere suggestions.)

 

Ryan Hall - Starting Pitcher

A starting pitcher needs to have a lot of stamina and endurance, and who better encompasses those qualities better than a marathon runner like Ryan Hall. If he can run for 2 hours and 26.2 miles, I think he could last 7 or 8 innings.

 

Kobe Bryant - Closer

There’s not a more clutch player in sports than Kobe Bryant; you want the ball in his hands when the game in on the line.

 

By Aaron May

Aaron May is a staff writer and videographer for Sports Spectrum. You can catch his weekly columns on college football, college basketball, and Major League Baseball, depending on the season, each week at sportsspectrum.com. Follow Aaron on Twitter-@pplcallmeblue or email him at aaron@sportsspectrum.com.

Old School — Watch college football instead

The pageantry, the rivalries, student sections, fight songs and traditions like running through the “T” at Tennessee or releasing the “War Eagle” at Auburn. Those are some of the traditions that make college football so great. What makes the NFL great? Read on to see what I have to say…

Taking the Field: The script “Ohio” and dotting the “i” at Ohio State, Howard’s Rock at Clemson, the “Sooner Schooner” in Oklahoma, the “Ramblin’ Wreck” at Georgia Tech, the buffalo at Colorado—so many schools have their own unique traditions in how the team is led onto the field—all while their school’s fight song is played by their marching band. In the NFL, teams may have one of those flimsy blow-up tunnels to run through while some AC/DC or Guns ‘N Roses plays over the PA system.

Atmosphere: The Oregon Ducks “O” chant is loud throughout four quarters and all their home games. Marching bands entertain during halftime (even when teams are out of the national title picture), school pride is always on the line, and fans and players always want to win. When you attend an NFL game you’ll hear pre-canned music, sit through long television timeouts even though players are ready for the next play, and see a wide range of halftime shows that can either be entertaining or an insult to how much you paid for your ticket.

Homecoming: In college football, there will be one game a year where alumni return to the school they graduated from. In the NFL, homecoming might mean a game where the team invites a couple of old players back to do the coin toss.

Rooting interest: NFL teams mostly reside in major U.S. cities, so if you don’t live in one of those places you probably don’t have as much rooting interest for a team that is hundreds of miles away. There are 120 teams in the FBS level of college football, and in all types of cities, large and small. Couple that with the rooting interest you have when you attend/attended a school and you’ll find alumni who will watch their college team no matter if they are sports fans or not.

Rivalries: The rivalries are so much better in college football. Many schools have been playing each other since the early 1900s. There are in-state rivalries (Stanford-Cal), border-war rivalries (Michigan-Ohio State), and sometimes just plain old hate rivalries (USC-Notre Dame). Sometimes, it doesn’t matter if both teams have winning records (Army-Navy). In the NFL, rivalries seem to change constantly. Too many of the rivalries in the NFL depend on whether or not both teams have winning records, which brings me to my next point…

Parity vs. Stability: The NFL is simply too unpredictable. Because of the salary cap, revenue sharing, roster turnover and injuries (Hi Peyton!), the NFL looks different every week and anyone could be a winner. Beating the Indianapolis Colts one year (2010) is impressive, beating them the next year (2011) is expected. The NFL makes it tough to have depth on a team, retain players, or sustain greatness. Not the case in college football. It will always be impressive when your team beats the USCs, the Alabamas, and the LSUs of the world.

Spread Offense vs. Pro Style Offense: I don’t know about you, but I like watching football games that have a lot of scoring. The spread offense has been running wild in college football the past decade score points in the 40s-50s most Saturdays. When is the last time you saw a team score 50 points in the NFL? (To be fair, though, LSU’s offense was pretty horrific in its BCS title game matchup against Alabama, who held the Tigers to 53 yards passing and 39 yards rushing. When was the last time we saw a team fail to score in the Super Bowl? The answer: never.)

Pros vs. Joes (Not the TV show that once starred John Rocker and Muggsy Bogues): In the NFL, we are constantly hearing about players holding out during training camp in order to get a million more dollars. In general, people don’t like whiney millionaires. In college football, it’s all about the love of the game, and pride for their school, because players aren’t getting paid (well, not as much).

Playoffs vs. BCS: The NFL playoffs include 12 of the 30 teams. The BCS includes two, though it will expand to four at the end of the 2014 season. Only the elite of the elite of the elite can play for a national championship in college, but in the NFL a 9-7 Giants team played in the Super Bowl after beating three teams in the playoffs. Talk about rewarding the mediocre.

Bowls: Wait a second, this is rewarding the mediocrity. Uh, let’s keep going.

Talent: Hmmm…Maybe I should use a Jedi mind trick on you here. (Waving hand) Eighteen to 22-year-olds with less experience are much better football players than 23 to 35-year-olds (I think that worked).

Saturday vs. Sunday: There is nothing better than watching college games all day on Saturday. It only happens once a week in the fall…er…well, I guess it does happen again the next day on Sunday. Hmmm…

Conclusion: Well, that wasn’t as convincing as I thought it would be. I guess we could just watch both and enjoy this great sport that has captivated young and old fans alike.

By Aaron May

Aaron May is a staff writer and videographer for Sports Spectrum. Print and digital subscribers, log in and view the issue here. You can catch his weekly columns on college football, college basketball, and Major League Baseball, depending on the season, each week at sportsspectrum.com.

Old School – Analyzing the MLB Trade Deadline (American League)

With the MLB trade deadline fast approaching (July 31, 4 p.m. EST), I thought it would be a good time to take a look at every team in baseball and see if they should be buyers or sellers and figure out what each team should do. Yesterday, we took a look at the National League. Today, it’s the American League’s turn.

Records/Stats shown were current as of Thursday afternoon.

Baltimore Orioles (51-47) 3rd AL East, 2.5 games back of a Wild Card spot

Mode: Call to Arms

What should they do?

The Orioles have had a surprising season, leading the AL East the first couple of months, but since then, they have come back down to earth. If they could add an arm to the starting rotation, maybe Matt Garza from the Cubs, they might find themselves competing in September for their first appearance in the playoffs since Cal Ripken Jr.

Boston Red Sox (49-50) 4th AL East, 5.0 games back of a Wild Card spot

Mode: Youth Movement

What should they do?

Trade some of the old guard who can bring in some prospects. The Sox are still in reasonable distance to get a Wild Card spot, but once they decided to trade Youkilis in favor of playing youngster Will Middlebrooks, they signaled that their youth movement was underway. Trading Josh Beckett would be a good idea, and they shouldn’t rule out trading Carl Crawford either. I don’t think we will see Big Papi go anywhere though. That would suck the life out of Red Sox fans.

Chicago White Sox (53-45) 1st AL Central (tie)

Mode: Buyers

What should they do?

The Sox have already traded for reliever Brett Meyers and third baseman Kevin Youkilis, so I’m not sure if they will make any more moves. Though since they have already made one deal with the other Sox (Red), they might as well see what the asking price is for some of their older talent, especially Josh Beckett.

Cleveland Indians (49-49) 3rd NL Central, 4.5 games back of a Wild Card spot

Mode: Flip a Coin

What should they do?

The Indians are right at .500 and within decent distance of a Wild Card spot. But, the pitching staff has been pretty poor outside of closer Chris Perez. And it’s hard to tell whether or not the Indians are a real contender this year. Derek Lowe may bring back some decent prospects from a team desperate for starting pitching. They should be open to many kinds of deals in the next week.

Detroit Tigers (53-45) 1st AL Central (tie)

Mode: Find Another Ace

What should they do?

The Tigers have talent on offense, in the bullpen, and in one starting pitcher, Justin Verlander. If they can trade for another top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher to go along with him, the Tigers will be deadly. I’m sure Tigers fans would love to see Zack Greinke in a Tigers uniform.

Kansas City Royals (41-56) 4th AL Central, 12.0 games back of a Wild Card spot

Mode: Remember the All-Star Game

What should they do?

Royals fans will always have the highlight of hosting the All-Star game and booing Robinson Cano. This team is young and has a lot of potential, but it won’t be realized this season. If they can get some decent prospects for older guys like Jeff Francoeur of Bruce Chen, they should take the deal.

Los Angeles Angels (54-45) 3rd NL West, 2nd AL Wild Card

Mode: Keep Fishin’

What should they do?

A Trout named Mike sparked their season turnaround as they are playing as well as they looked on paper in the preseason. If they could add a big arm to the bullpen, maybe take a chance that Heath Bell will pitch better being back in California, Angel fans can expect a playoff appearance.

Minnesota Twins (40-58) 4th NL East, 13.5 games back of a Wild Card spot

Mode: Move In The Fences

What should they do?

Joe Mauer has only hit 7 home runs at Target Field since it opened in 2010. Seriously, it’s time to move the fences in for the face of the franchise. It helped David Wright when the Mets moved their fences in, and it certainly could help Mr. Head and Shoulders.

New York Yankees (59-39) 1st AL East

Mode: Collect Every Superstar That’s Ever Played Baseball

What should they do?

They just got Ichiro! The Yankees have A-Rod, Jeter, CC, Pettitte, Mariano, Tex, Cano, Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez, Curtis Granderson and now Ichiro! I’m just waiting on them to sign up Ken Griffey Jr., Cal Ripken Jr., Tony Gwynn, the corpse of Babe Ruth and every other legendary baseball figure to be on their roster. The Yankees can make all of the moves they want for big superstar players, but it’s only brought one World Series title since 2000. So we’ll see if Ichiro was actually the missing piece.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODnVutu-xrk

Oakland Athletics (53-44) 2nd AL West, 1st AL Wild Card

Mode: Ride the Wave

What should they do?

The A’s have only lost two games the entire month of July. They are probably hoping this month never ends. You would think their momentum will fade at some point, but I think they will definitely have a good run at a Wild Card spot. This is a franchise that once won 20 games in a row. You can’t put anything past them. I think they should boost their offense by trading for some guys who were once too expensive to re-sign in the early 2000’s; Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi. The Giambino can provide some pop of the bench, and Damon could provide some speed, defense, and an interesting personality to the clubhouse. And while we’re at it, let’s get Miguel Tejada back on the A’s too.

Seattle Mariners (43-57) Last NL West, 11.5 games back of a Wild Card spot

Mode: Shop King Felix

What should they do?

Felix Hernandez is about the only reason to go see the Mariners play at Safeco field now that Ichiro is gone, but if there is a team that will tempt them will enough prospects that can make them a more complete ball club in the future, they should take it.

Tampa Bay Rays (51-47) 3rd AL East, 2.5 games back of a Wild Card spot

Mode: Grow Sideburns

What should they do?

They should all grow sideburns like Luke Scott. It can be the rallying point they need to make the playoffs. The Charlotte Hornets once all donned headbands to upset the Miami Heat in the 2000 NBA playoffs. Maybe sideburns are the key to the Rays season. They also just traded for “Tat-Man” Ryan Roberts, so maybe tattoos and sideburns…

Texas Rangers (58-39) 1st AL West

Mode: Focus

What should they do?

The Rangers are having another phenomenal regular season, with the second best record in the American League. Josh Hamilton will likely test free agency at the end of the year, so if reporters start asking questions about after the baseball season, the guys in the clubhouse can’t let it be a distraction. The Rangers have been to the World Series the past two seasons and lost. They can’t let any little thing turn them into the Buffalo Bills of baseball.

Toronto Blue Jays (48-49) Last AL East, 5.0 games back of a Wild Card spot

Mode: Swap divisions with someone

What should they do?

Every year the Blue Jays are competitive enough to hover around .500, but never make a strong run at the AL East division or even a Wild Card spot. At this point, they should negotiate a deal with Bud Selig to get them in another division. The Braves were once in the National League West. Maybe Toronto could go out there?

Uncommon Challenge