Aug. 5, 2011
Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, I was a college football junkie. My Mom attended the University of Iowa and raised as an Iowa fan, I used to run around my backyard in a Tim Dwight No. 6 Iowa jersey. Being in the Chicago-land area, I also attended several Northwestern games during the days of Steve Schnur, Darnell Autry, D'wayne Bates and a certain linebacker who is here with us today. In high school, I twice attended Purdue's Quarterback Camp, dreaming of one day playing for the school known as the "Cradle of Quarterbacks."
Coming out of high school, however, I was not a decorated recruit. As a result, I found myself one month from signing day with only two scholarship offers, both from schools in the Mid-American Conference. While I mulled over the decision of which of these two schools to attend, I received a call from Coach Dantonio at Michigan State. He said they were interested in recruiting me. About three weeks later, I received a scholarship offer from the Spartans, and my college decision suddenly became much clearer. An opportunity to compete in the Big Ten conference was one I could not pass up. With this being the only Big Ten offer I had even a chance of receiving, I made sure to commit to Coach Dantonio before he changed his mind.
As I now head into my final season at Michigan State, I've taken some time to reflect upon what has already occurred in a very fast and very full four years since I first arrived in East Lansing. I'm sure many of my peers who are up here with me have done likewise.
If I were to categorize my experiences while being a part of the Big Ten, I would place much of what comes to mind under the heading . . . "PRIVILEGE." It has been a privilege to play football in the Big Ten . . .
-- It has been a privilege to play college football and to do so in the greatest conference in the country. While many children dream of playing college football, relatively few have the opportunity. To be living that dream is a privilege.
-- It has been a privilege to play home games in Spartan Stadium, in front of the fans that make up the Spartan Nation, who live and die, figuratively speaking, based on our team's performance each Saturday in the fall. I'm sure the experience of my peers playing at the other 11 schools is no different.
-- It has been a privilege to go to places like Happy Valley, and play a team coached by a man who embodies what it means to have a calling in life . . . and who proves that you can have success with integrity.
-- It has been a privilege to play in games that are televised all over the country and to then come home and catch the highlights afterward. While we all dreamt of playing on TV one day, to actually be doing it is an honor.
-- It is a privilege to be covered by all sorts of media people, who make their living by following what we do . . . on the field, off the field, in season and out of season.
-- It has been an incredible privilege to have the opportunity to speak to young people: children, middle school and high school students, as well as high school athletes, in assemblies, chapels, graduations, and other assorted gatherings, due to the platform of playing football in the Big Ten.
-- It's been a privilege to hear these kids' questions . . . Like the grade school boy who wanted to know if I wished I were as good as Denard Robinson. I told him, yes . . . but then added . . . "I've heard Denard's only wish is that he could run like me. " The boy looked back at me a little confused, understandably.
-- It's been a privilege to be sought out by young fans, looking for an autograph on a picture or a scrap piece of paper. It's very humbling . . . yet a privilege nonetheless.
-- It's been a privilege to be a member of a team . . . to come together with a hundred other guys, and to work to accomplish something that none of us could accomplish on our own. The memories of Saturdays in the fall, as well as the early morning workouts in January and February will remain with each one of us for the rest of our lives . . . as will the relationships that have been built between us.
-- I see it as a privilege to have spent the past four years in an environment where life lessons are learned on a daily basis that will no doubt be put to use in the years to come.
As I said in the beginning . . . It's been a privilege.
And it's here, in this place of privilege, where perhaps danger lies. I have been taught that human nature is such that the "place of privilege" most often and most naturally leads to "a sense of entitlement" . . . the notion that I deserve to be treated as special, because I am privileged.
The truth is . . . privilege should never lead to entitlement. I've been raised and taught to believe that privilege should lead to responsibility; in fact, to greater responsibility. The Bible says in Luke 12:48: "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."
-- Being a college football player in today's culture is a privilege . . . a privilege that brings much responsibility.
-- We, as players, have a responsibility to give our all for fans who spend hard earned money to watch us play.
-- We have a responsibility to represent the name on the front of our jerseys, on and off the field, in such that a way that our fellow students, faculty, administrators and alumni have good reason to say . . . He's one of ours.
-- We have a responsibility to represent the name on the back of our jerseys in such a way that our parents, brothers, sisters, and family members have good reason to say . . . He's one of us.
-- We have a responsibility to work hard in the classroom, as good stewards of the education that has been given to many of us free of charge.
-- We have a responsibility to treat, with respect, the people who cover us in the media.
-- We have a responsibility to use the platform we've been given to provide a true example of what it means to be a young man to those 10- and 12-year-old boys who see us as bigger than life. I know this to be true, because just a few short years ago, I was one of those 12-year-old boys . . . and I remember well how I looked up to the players whose position, by God's grace, I'm standing in today.
-- We have a responsibility to develop and use our God-given talents to their fullest potential and to do so in a way that honors God and benefits others. I don't believe it's too far-fetched to think that we as college football players could make a significant positive difference in the youth culture of America, simply by embracing the responsibilities that accompany our place of privilege.
We could redefine "what is cool" for young people.
We could set a new standard for how to treat others.
We could embody what it means to be a person of integrity.
We could show to young people that excellence in the classroom is a worthy pursuit.
We could show that it's more important to do what is right, than to do what feels right.
While I believe we as players, do not deserve the platform we have been given . . . we have it nonetheless. It comes with the territory of being a college football player in the Big Ten.
May we as players have wisdom to handle this privilege and the courage to fulfill the responsibility we've been given.
Thank you and GO GREEN!