RSP Contributor David Igono pens a “one player, one play” dedication to betting on yourself when facing down a challenge.
“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the TRUE emperor, Marcus Aurelius.
Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”
The lines above represent a struggle. No matter what we strive to achieve in life, we find out that the person we have to conquer is ourselves. My first year of college football was challenging to say the least. I was red-shirted because I was raw. I was fairly athletic but I had trouble adjusting to the speed of thought to the game.
Just because you’re in Cover 3, for example, doesn’t mean you bail out to your third at the snap. It also took me awhile to understand little things like how to apply contact. I thought I was growing as a player until I had my exit meeting with my position coach at Northern Arizona University, a 1-AA/FCS school.
He looked me in the eyes and told me I wasn’t good enough to play D1 football and that I should go to D2 or junior college. And, oh by the way, I would have to fight for a roster spot if I came back in the fall. I looked him back in the eyes and thanked him for the opportunity and left his office quickly.
I remember calling my mom with angry tears.
“Mom, he lied to my face. I know for a fact I’m one of the best returning DBs on this roster.”
During that phone call, I decided I would do two things: A) prove my (former) coach wrong, no matter how long it took and B) compete every time I touched the field in practice, games or the weight room.
I took my position coach’s advice and went to junior college for two seasons. The junior college circuit is not for the faint of heart or the distracted athlete. Much like Maximus’ journey to Rome, the point isn’t just to perform.
Every game is a statement. Not of arrival. Not of skill. No, every play in every game was a Polaroid of a reckoning that would be complete and concise when it was finally carried out.
I will never forget the feeling I had of choosing to enroll at West Virginia University. Not just because the school was on the rise, but because I had lived out my very own Gladiator scene.
I’ve been going back and forth about what play I wanted to choose for this project all spring and much of the summer. I wanted to give offensive lineman some love (Walter Jones and Orlando Pace). Then I wanted to go off the grid and talk about Larry Izzo or Larry Centers.
I could do an entire anthology alone on Steve Smith Sr. blocking defensive backs. Then I wanted to write about Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed and Sean Taylor. These three players inspired me in my playing days.
Of all the possible plays and players I thought about, I kept coming back to one guy. A guy who seems to get forgotten at his position group in the 2000s but embodies the spirit of Maximus Decimus Meridius.
That player is Jeremy Shockey.
Shockey was a tough, smart, and deceptively athletic tight end who punished defenses week in and week out. I’ve long been fascinated with tight ends and how they can be an offense’s Sherman Tank. During the University of Miami’s resurgence in the early 2000s, Shockey upheld the role of the program’s earlier players.
Walk loudly and carry two sticks.
He had an internal drive and fire that was rarely matched on the field. He instilled fear in a defense a la his “godfather” from an earlier generation, Mike Ditka. There are two things that make most defensive backs sick to the stomach. 1) Getting beat on a deep route and seeing that receiver looking back to make the catch and 2) seeing a tight end running straight at them with the football.
That’s why for one play I would want to be that tight end, running downhill
into the teeth of a defense.
Shockey with the ball in his hands is like watching a stray shopping cart getting caught in high winds in a parking lot.
There will be contact.
One of the thrills of playing football is beating the man in front of you. When you beat multiple men in one play it’s very much an out of body experience. The electricity that runs through your body is impossible to hide.
Shockey flips the script in this play, going from the hunted to the hunter. Maximus does the same thing throughout the movie. Using the barbarian horde, tigers, and chariots as mere props to showcase his intentions.
The struggle to achieve any goal comes with the choice of deciding who you will be harshest on – the ‘enemy’ or yourself. I realized when I got to WVU that my enemy wasn’t the coach who said I wouldn’t make it at that level. My enemy was me. Only I knew how far I could climb. I was the only one could keep myself from where I wanted to go.
Shockey doesn’t come close to making the yards above unless he put in the work in the offseason. He makes the play by choosing to be aggressive at a point when he could have just taken the yards in front of him.
Maximus could very well have just made it all worthwhile by killing Commodus and being The Gladiator. He instead chose to do that and bring about positive change to Rome.
Everyday, the stakes around us are high. We can choose to run our lives to a predetermined script. Or we can decide, even midway through our story, to change the ending. This play is a brilliant reminder to me to bet on myself, no matter what the odds.
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