Yesterday, I was reading The Hawks Nest blog on the Asbury Park Press website and I came across their report on a recent event held at the MAC. The event was called MAC Madness and it was a chance for the men’s and women’s basketball teams to interact with the students and other fans. According to the report on the blog, new head men’s basketball coach King Rice said that he wants the students to be at the home games “all the time so I’m going out to meet the students. I feel if they know who I am they’ll want to come and support us.”
Well, Coach Rice is right and it’s nice to see a head men’s basketball coach at Monmouth who is willing to get out there and mingle with the student body and the local fans. The rest of the article on The Hawks Nest is pretty good so I encourage you to read it by clicking on the link above. The other quote in the article that stood out to me was one from men’s basketball player Jesse Steele. In the article, Steele is quoted as saying: “We’re trying to change our attitude. I guess from last year we had the attitude like we were better than everyone. This year we’re just trying to show everyone we’re just like everyone else.” The article goes into how this change in attitude is a mandate by Coach Rice.
As a fan of Monmouth basketball and an alumnus of the university this is a mandate that I wholeheartedly agree with and support in every possible way.
In fact, reading Steele’s comment reminded me of my undergraduate years at Monmouth and two particularly interesting occurrences during my time on campus. The first was during my Freshman year of college. As a preface to this story, I should note that I was heavily recruited by Monmouth to play football there. In fact, their scout (a coach that is no longer employed by the university) came up to visit my high school on two separate occasions to see me and one of my teammates play. And, if I can toot my own horn for split second, I was a pretty damn good, Group IV high school football player.
Yet, when it came down to whether or not I wanted to play football at the college level, I initially decided against it. To sum up my mindset from that period of my life, I knew that I didn’t have the right build to make it to the NFL, so I didn’t think it was worth the excessive amount of time that I would likely put into the practices and being a part of the team at the college level. In hindsight, I think that this was one of the best decisions that I ever made in my academic/athletic life, but that’s another story for another time.
Anyway, reading Steele’s comment reminded me of a bizarre experience that I had in the weight room when I was a Freshman in college. The old weight room on campus was shared among the athletes and the students, so since I wasn’t a member of any of the sports teams I would sometimes workout when the athletes were just beginning or just ending their time in the gym. I’ll never forget the first time that I went into that weight room because I was lifting heavier weights in a more powerful, explosive manner than many of the football players who were in there. I wasn’t looking to be a big guy or a tough guy – I was just doing what I was taught in high school when I was an all-star, championship level football player who happened to play for a New Jersey Football Hall of Fame head coach that taught my teammates and I a phenomenal, collegiate level workout.
The looks I got from those football players were deadly. They hated everything about me and the fact that I was using certain machines that regular students typically didn’t use and lifting heavier weights than regular students typically lifted. Looking back, it really was a comical scene. This was my first experience with the unearned elitism that some Monmouth athletes had on campus.
Which brings me to the second story that came rumbling up from the depths of my memory after reading The Hawks Nest blog article. This story takes place in my senior year at Monmouth when those same football players who didn’t like me a few years earlier had romped and stomped their way to a phenomenal 2 win and 8 loss season. That’s right – those elitist guys who didn’t like the non-player lifting heavier weights than them turned out to be a pretty crappy football team. Big surprise.
I understand that football teams sometimes have their off years or their rebuilding years and that’s totally fine. In fact, it’s a good coaching strategy if executed correctly. However, what totally shocked me about this particular 2 – 8 team was the arrogance that the players had both on and off campus. These guys would walk around campus like they were Gods among men. They would go to the local bar and be rowdy and commanding at night on the same days that they would get toppled by lesser opponents. It was like they were living in their own dream world where they were contending for the Rose Bowl (which isn’t even possible since, at the time, Monmouth was part of the old Division 1AA group)!
What makes the second story so much funnier (to me) than the first story is a little fact that I learned between my freshman and senior years at Monmouth. The little fact that I learned was that many – if not most – of the football players on the Monmouth squad were kids who I played against in high school! And when I say that I played against them, I mean that my high school football team and I beat those guys up and down the field. Sure, when I was a senior in college those days of my football superiority were 4, 5, and 6 years behind me. There’s no question about that at all! Yet, I found it funny that these kids who had been second string players in high school (i.e. some of them couldn’t even earn a starting position on their high school teams) could walk around with such arrogance while they were losing games left and right.
I guess it made sense, though, right? You take a bunch of second string players who never really had a chance to shine in the spotlight when they were in high school and you put them out there – together – in college and they’re bound to reinforce one another’s insecurities about being accepted and recognized as the cool, big men on campus. In reality, though, much more than 70% of the campus didn’t even know who these student athletes were. And those students who did know the football players had little to no respect for them due to their ridiculous attitude problem.
Of course, this was a decade ago. These days, I’ve had the great opportunity to actually teach some of the current and recent graduates from the Monmouth football program and I am constantly impressed by the caliber of young man in that program today versus ten years ago. From what I’ve seen as the guy standing in the front of the room versus the guy sitting in the back of the room – today’s team is comprised of respectful young men who are focused and aware. I had one incident where a football player fell asleep during one of my early morning classes. I had a grownup conversation with the kid after class where I told him that I had no problem failing him (or anyone else in the class) and that if he wanted to go to sleep during class time, he might as well stay at home because I wasn’t giving him credit for showing up. I also told him that I had no problem reaching out to his coaches to discuss why he was asleep in my class. Well, not only did that kid turn it around and become engaged in the class conversations, but he was one of the higher scorers on the final exam, too.
Here’s hoping that the attitude adjustment that Coach Rice demands and Jesse Steele alludes to above is actually taking place. It’ll make for a healthier student body and a healthier student body will lead to greater support during home basketball games.
Can’t ask for much more than that, right?