This is a very special blog for me to write, and at the same time it’s a real odd one. In May, I turned 41, and now that it is a month later, I have officially lived longer than my own father. My dad passed almost thirty years ago around 1 month after his 41st birthday from cancer, and with me passing this strange milestone, it’s a great time to reflect on my life, and to thank the men who played an enormous role in it.
You see when my dad passed, I was at about the worst age to handle it. I was a 6th grader. 6th graders in general are that really weird age between elementary age children and preteens. There is tons of stuff going on in their heads, and they are still starting to handle adversity. To make matters harder, it was only my second year in the school group that I was with. My parents had made sure that they moved me to a better area with better schools only a year prior which was wholeheartedly the right decision, but at the time it made all of those events in my life even tougher. It’s really hard when you move away from the friends you grew up with, and you have to make a whole new group.
That time in my life was tough. It would have been understandable if I came through it with all kinds of emotional issues, but my mom was determined to not let that happen. She handled that time better than anyone could have imagined helping me and my sister put one foot in front of the other and keep on living, and one of the most important things she ever did for me was make sure I had strong, positive, male role models in my life. They almost always came in the form of coaches.
Talking about this group of men who helped shape the person I am today has to start with Mack Cobb. Mack is somewhat of a legend around the Pope Football program, and I know for a fact there are hundreds of stories about him that are similar. I actually started playing football in 5th grade, and by time I got to 6th it was time for me to move into the Pope Junior program. I can only imagine how nervous my mom was about this transition, but Mack instantly put her at ease. His way of making sure that every kid felt a part of the team, teaching life lessons, and just being a father figure made an impact on so many. I will never ever forget the Spring practice that I went through when my dad was dying. The fact that Mack took care of me during that time and let me have that release made all the difference in the world. It’s still one of the best sets of practices I ever had. This man meant so much to me that I even invited him to my wedding party (I got married in Colorado) almost 15 years after he was my coach.
There were tons of others in the Pope Junior program as well. All of the dads of other players who were coaches at the time continued to look out for me all the way through High School. People like Frank Brennan, Keith Logue, Rod Sawyer, and many others took it it upon themselves to provide a sense of normalcy for me. Honestly, the one thing I will never forget from my Dad’s funeral was walking down the aisle after the casket and seeing Frank and Roscoe in the center of it. I have never told them how much that meant to me, but seeing two people who I knew were there for me has stuck with me for the almost 30 years.
As I moved into high school, that mentor group changed, but it still came in the form of coaches. Talking about my high school coaches, it always has to start with my wrestling coach, Jim Haskin. Jim was really young when he came over to Pope having only coached a few years in a nearby county. I also hated wrestling when I first met him after two terrible years of experience in middle school. His personality and excitement won me over though, and the experience with him was forever life changing. He was like my older brother that looked out for me and made sure I went down the right path. I could not have asked for anymore from him. I shared so many ups and downs with him and both of us can still tell those stories today. In fact, I was even a high school wrestling coach for a while which I would have called impossible entering high school. When I think about positive influences and mentors in my life, there has been no one more influential than Jim.
Wrestling wasn’t my only sport though, and there were so many other coaches along the way that helped me get to where I am. It even includes another Pope legend, Jeff Rowland. I never played Jeff’s number 1 sport (he is a Georgia Baseball legend), but like many coaches when he first got to Pope he coached many. He was actually my freshman football coach (and helped me learn a whole lot about perseverance that year), and coached me early on in wrestling. My athletic career would have not been the same without him and some of my fondest memories are the fives he would always give me in the warm up lines when I was finally starting on the Varsity Football Team.
I also had a whole host of football coaches that shaped me in some way. Butch Burden is the first that comes to mind and he taught me both toughness and resilience. I think almost every guy needs that one coach that yells at you like no other, but you also know would give you the shirt off his back if needed. Butch was that for me. He was the offensive coordinator and I played offensive line. That means if I had any screw ups I for sure heard about them. I could not take it personally. I had to be tough, and I can see those instances where I need that continue to come in my life. He also was the one that called in a favor and had the college I went to look at me. He means more than he probably knows.
Others like the late Steve Sparks and Brett Hubinger kept me down the path I wanted to go and continued to push me. Steve was the head coach but he was also my position coach, and I just felt a sense of confidence with his belief in me. Brett was never my position coach but he played my position and he always took a liking to me. He was the one who would take me aside and give me pointers and also pushed me in the weight room. Both men contributed to that work ethic that I have today.
What is interesting to reflect on here is that in some ways all of these men stepped in for me when I needed that father figure. They taught me those life lessons, and they helped keep me on a straight path. I even see some of their lessons come back in my interactions with my own son and what I am trying to teach him. I am lucky enough to call these men friends, mentors, and so much more, and as I have progressed in my life god keeps putting those father figures in my way like my father in law Alan Welp. I know my dad had a hand in that too.