FWAA member catches the bug, but not the ball, at Penn State spring game

FWAA member Nate Bauer of Blue-White Illustrated participated in the punt-catch event at Penn State’s Blue-White Spring Game on April 22.  Penn State head football coach James Franklin offered media members an opportunity to participate.  Here is Bauer’s account of the experience.

By Nate Bauer

Blue-White Illustrated

The proposal was one not to be taken seriously.

Penn State’s James Franklin began his midweek, post-practice press conference by offering up an opportunity for the media. Any interested colleagues, he announced, could go down on the field, in front of the Blue-White Game crowd, and catch a punt.

With a tone that instantly elicited memories of grade school teachers fed up with students who’d talked too much during class, the invention was, in my mind at least, clearly born of spite. Go ahead, hot shot, you teach the class.

An avid practitioner of avoiding any and all forms of unnecessary embarrassment, this was an example-making moment from which I’d spent my entire life steering clear.

Fewer than 72 hours later, I’d let a booming, sidewinding punt glance through my fingertips and to the Beaver Stadium turf. And not a day has passed since in which I haven’t wished for another crack at it.

So what changed?

It started with Franklin himself shortly after his challenge had first been revealed. Lingering with a colleague on the other end of Penn State’s outdoor practice fields following the scrum, snapping a few pictures of players while chatting with team personnel, the head coach himself popped into the circle to say hello.

As we’d been warned, by Franklin’s own words and via other staff members, the challenge was not a joke. They’d already drawn up legal waivers to be signed by participants, and Franklin was adamant about bringing the idea to fruition.

“So are you going to do it?” he asked excitedly.

“Absolutely not,” I said.

And my colleague? The same.

“Come on! Are you kidding me? I had higher expectations for you guys. This is a real disappointment,” Franklin said. His up-to-no-good grin beaming for the duration of the conversation, the dismissal was a welcomed relief. Crisis averted.

The reality would quickly turn the next day as my phone buzzed with incoming texts and calls. In a group text with three of my closest friends, without having mentioned any of it, the challenges poured in.

“Are you suiting up for the Blue-White Game Nate?”

Acknowledging that I’d been lobbied by Franklin and other staffers to participate, my answer remained a solid no.

“Do it! Do it!” they persisted.

Then another, and another, and another; as each hour passed, friends and family urged my participation after they’d read the Tweets, Facebook or Instagram posts from Penn State football that had, to no surprise, gone viral.

The sway of bad advice from folks with no skin in the game began to work. I queried the team’s sports information director to find out what the response had been like from others. The response had been positive, I was told, and though I’d made no mention of wanting to participate, the question was apparently the equivalent of a verbal commitment.

“I’m signing you up,” the next message read. “You want to do it.”

Maybe she was right. Certainly, that I’d already Googled “how to catch a punt” betrayed any notion to the contrary. Predictably, the answers were mostly less than illuminating, but an entry from former New York Giants return man Phil McConkey did offer some insight. McConkey, paraphrasing legendary coach Bill Parcells, said catching punts could be boiled down to four golden rules.

“Sprint to the ball. Get set. Don’t drift. Catch it.”

Not unlike playing centerfield in a church softball game, the nuances of trajectory, wind and spin would need to wait for another day. Instead, understanding the basic principles would have to suffice as preparation.

Still reluctant about my decision as I stepped onto the field alongside 15 other brave souls at halftime, I made one last-ditch effort to glean some pre-punt knowledge to increase my chances of success. With Franklin making the rounds to offer his thanks for being good sports, I asked for at least a few tips in return.

Turning back, his emphasis was even more straightforward than McConkey’s. Whatever you do, he said, show no hesitation. Make the decision on where the ball will land, run to the spot and go after it, as he continued, because “you’re either going to look ridiculous, or you’re going to catch it, but you don’t want anything in between.”

And with that, the steady air assault began.

The punts booming in rapid succession off the feet of starter Blake Gillikin and backup Dan Pasquariello, two lines of media members filtered through. At my place deep in the second line, maybe 12th overall, the on-field experience of watching punt after punt sail through the air proved beneficial, though. The distances weren’t wildly different from punt to punt, but the locations sideline to sideline often were.

Finally at the front of the line, my name announced over the Beaver Stadium loudspeakers, Pasquariello’s punt leapt from his foot to my right, at least the 40 feet separating my hash from the one opposite my line.

Immediately, the golden rules would come into play. Though I’d been able to track the direction of the punt well, the downfall of my career in any and all varieties of youth athletics manifest itself completely.

In my short and stocky case, “Sprint to the ball!” likely appeared as a beleaguered rumble, leaving the ball to slip through my outstretched fingers.

Though two or three colleagues ahead of me were able to actually secure the punts, I would not join them. Instead, the consolation of Penn State men’s hoops head coach Pat Chambers awaited me in the back of the end zone — him being nearly in tears laughing at my near-miss.

Still, what I’d suspected was confirmed by him and others.

I almost had it! A better kick and I would have been on to the second round! That wasn’t so difficult!

Reflecting on the initial challenge, having avoided abject embarrassment while still taking in a unique experience, it was a decision I’m glad to have made.

“We thought that would be fun,” said Franklin. “And just so you know, I’m dead serious.”

It was fun. And though I’d resolutely objected to the idea from the start, I’m now determined to get another shot at next year.

And just so you know, I’m dead serious.

Schedule for upcoming FBS Conference media days

Here are the dates and sites for the 2017 Football Media Days in July for the 10 FBS Conferences.

American: July 17-18,  Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina, Newport, Rhode Island

ACC: July 13-14, Westin, Charlotte

Big Ten: July 24-25, Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, Chicago

Big 12: July 17-18, The Star, Frisco, Texas

Conference USA: July 19-20, DFW Marriott North, Irving, TX

Mid-American: July 25-26, Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton, Ohio

Mountain West: July 25-26, The Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

Pac-12: July 26-27,  Hollywood and Highland Entertainment Center, Los Angeles

SEC: July 10-13, Hyatt-Wynfrey Hotel, Hoover, AL

Sun Belt: July 23-24, Superdome, New Orleans

Call for entries in the 2017 FWAA Best Writing Contest

FWAA members may begin submitting entries in the 2017 Best Writing Contest now.

CATEGORIES

• Game Story (Immediate Deadline)

• Feature Story/Profile

• Enterprise/Investigative

• Column/Analysis/Commentary

BEAT WRITER OF THE YEAR AWARD

In addition, see below, we have created a special award for the top beat writer as judged by a special FWAA committee headed by FWAA board member Malcolm Moran. He is now the director of the Sports Capital Journalism Program, IUPUI.

WRITING CONTEST RULES

You must be an FWAA member in good standing to enter.

Deadline: July 1, 2017. Entries sent after the deadline WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED.

Limit: One (1) article per category, although a series of articles may be submitted in the enterprise category.

Entries must have appeared in print or on line between Feb. 1, 2016 and Jan. 31, 2017.

Entries must be submitted electronically to contest@fwaa.com.

Entries not sent to this e-mail address will not be accepted

Send MS Word or text files only. DO NOT SEND HTML files, Word Perfect files, stories in other word processing software or links to stories on the Internet or electronic libraries

Make your entry easy to read by taking out unnecessary carriage returns (They can give your entry an odd look when opened by a judge’s word processing program)

Delete any embedded advertising, photos and cutlines from the files (The file should contain only your story and your identifying information)

At the top of each entry, the following information should be included:

• Writer(s)

• Publication or online service

• Category

• Date of publication

• E-mail address and telephone number for the writer(s) of the entry

The entries will be sorted and stripped of identifying information and forwarded to the judge(s).

Files containing your entries should follow this naming convention: yourname-category.doc

The category must be one of these four words: Game, Feature, Enterprise or Column

Example: KenStephens-game.doc

Only entries sent electronically will be accepted and all entries will be sorted and stripped of identifying information and forwarded to the judge(s)

FWAA BEAT WRITER OF THE YEAR AWARD: If you have a nomination of a beat writer who covers major college football (either a team or a conference) or you want to nominate yourself, please send an e-mail/letter explaining the qualifications of the person (no more than 250 words) to:

Malcolm Moran

Sports Capital Journalism Program IUPUI

University Library 3100J

755 W. Michigan

Indianapolis, IN 46202

Malcolm’s e-mail is malcolmmoran1@gmail.com. Malcolm and his committee will then make inquiries into the FWAA members nominated. In order to qualify for this award the person nominated must have been an FWAA member during the 2016 football season.

Questions? E-mail Ken Stephens at ken.stephens@sbcglobal.net.

FWAA member begins previews of all 130 FBS teams

FWAA member Matt Murschel of the Orlando Sentinel is previewing all 130 NCAA FBS Teams, ranking them from No.130 all the way to the No.1 team. His first installment  began on Monday with No. 130 Alabama-Birmingham, which is re-instituting football this coming season. His team reports will appear daily in the Orlando Sentinel on-line.

CLICK HERE to begin reading Matt’s series.

 

Rice honors former Owl Matt Sign of NFF

Matt Sign, FWAA Board member from the National Football Foundation where he is the chief operating officer, was honored this past week at the Rice Spring Game. He is a former standout Rice football player.

For Immediate Release

Chuck Pool

cpool@rice.edu

713-348-5775

Cobb and Sign Selected as 2017 Honor Jerseys

Two mainstays of the current Rice football team will take to the field for the annual Blue-Gray spring game in new numbers as they honor a pair of standout teammates from the past as part of the Rice Owls Honor Jersey program.

Running back Samuel Stewart will switch to 45 this year to honor 1991 Doak Walker Award winner Trevor Cobb, while defensive tackle Preston Gordon wear 99 to honor Cobb’s teammate and two-time All –SWC noseguard Matt Sign.   

Cobb became the first Owl to win one of college football’s major individual awards when he received the 1991 Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back.  Cobb was a consensus All-American in 1991 and went on to be named the 1992 Southwest Conference Offensive Player of the Year.  He completed his  career ranked second on the SWC rushing list with 4,948 yards, which ranked eighth on the NCAA career list at that time and now ranks 22nd in NCAA history.

He became the first Owl to rush for over 1,000 yards in three seasons and holds the top three season totals in school history, capped by his 1,692 yards in 1991 during his run to the Doak Walker Award.  In addition to his yardage total, Cobb holds Rice season and career marks for rushing attempts (306/1,091), and all-purpose yards (6,512) in addition to the career mark for rushing touchdowns (38).

Despite his 5-10, 220 pound frame, Sign was a dominant defensive force during his career at Rice.  He led Rice linemen in tackles in each of his four seasons and he ranks fifth on the Rice career chart with 36 tackles for loss and sixth with 14 sacks. He won the Lipscomb Award in 1989 as the Outstanding Freshman and shared the first “Bloody Joe” Davis Award in 1991.

After starting his professional career with Florida Citrus Sports (FCS) which produced the Champs Sports Bowl and the Gridiron Classic College All-Star Game, Sign was named the Chief Operating Officer of the National Football Foundation in 2005.

The Honor Jersey program began in 2012, when Rice head coach David Bailiff first honored past notable Rice football players by having current member of the team who play the same position change numbers.  King Hill and O.J. Brigance were honored the first year.  In 2013, the Owls honored the first three African-American players at Rice (Rodrigo Barnes, Stahle Vincent and Mike Tyler) along with Bucky Allshouse, who was their recruiting host.   In 2014, Larry Izzo, N.D. Kalu and Richard Chapman were honored while in 2015; Jeff Rose and Dr. Leland Winston saw players change to their numbers. Last year, Ray Alborn, Donald Bowers and David Houser were honored.

Kickoff for the annual game to wrap up spring football drills is set for 8:00 p.m. Friday at Rice Stadium.

NFF publishes book on Mean Joe Greene by FWAA member Jon Finkel

The National Football Foundation (NFF) & College Hall of Fame announced today the first book, “Mean” Joe Greene: Built By Football, in its Football Matters’ “Built By Football” series. The book, which will be available April 3, can be preordered by clicking here.

“We are extremely excited about this new series, which will take an inside look at the marquee members of the College Football Hall of Fame,” said Steve Hatchell, NFF president & CEO. “The road to becoming a Hall of Famer produces so many amazing stories of those who overcame adversity and persevered. We knew that we needed to do more to capture these stories. We are extremely grateful to Hall of Famer Joe Greene and author Jon Finkel for their efforts on launching this series.”

“Mean” Joe Greene’s memoir is a master class in determination, domination and perseverance. For the first time ever, the College and Pro football hall of famer gives readers an unflinching look at his rise from high school bully-victim and bench warmer to University of North Texas legend and Pittsburgh Steelers icon. Many years before he would anchor the most-feared, most-successful defense the NFL had ever seen, Joe Greene was just a big, timid kid from Temple, Texas, struggling to find his confidence as a teenager being raised by a single mother.

“When I got to North Texas I was rough around the edges as a man and as a player,” said Joe Greene. “College helped polish me up a bit and then when I got to Pittsburgh my teammates helped me to continue to smooth things out. I’m a better person because of the men who coached me and the men I played with. I learned from them. I’d like to take this opportunity to pass along that knowledge.”

In his compelling, eye-opening autobiography, Greene takes readers on an unprecedented tour of his life, exploring the people who influenced him and the events that shaped him: from humiliating high school embarrassments to the grit and guts that led to four Super Bowl titles as a player.

Better known by his nickname “Mean Joe” Greene, Charles Edward Joseph Greene acquired his moniker as a reference to his school’s nickname, the University of North Texas Mean Green (then known as North Texas State). During his three seasons in Denton, the 6-4, 270-pound defensive tackle led the Mean Green to a 23-5-1 record. In his 29 games, the team held the opposition to 2,507 yards gained on 1,276 rushes. A per carry average of less than two yards per attempt. His collegiate coach, Rod Rust, said of the 1968 consensus All-America, “There are two factors behind Joe’s success. First, he has the ability to make the big defensive play and turn the tempo of a game around. Second, he has the speed to be an excellent pursuit player.”

A top prospect in the 1969 NFL Draft, Greene was selected fourth overall by the Steelers, and he would go on to become part of the “Steel Curtain” defense that won four Super Bowls in six years. He made 10 Pro Bowl appearances, and he twice earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. He played 13 seasons in the NFL from 1969-81, appearing in 181 games. In 1979, he was named NFL Man of the Year.

After his playing career, Greene spent 16 years as an assistant coach before becoming a special assistant for player personnel with the franchise. During his time in player personnel, the franchise would claim two more Super Bowls, giving Greene a total of six rings. Both North Texas and the Steelers have retired his No. 75. He earned induction into the University of North Texas Hall of Fame in 1981, the College Football Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.

Jon Finkel, the co-author with Greene on the book, has written numerous books, which have been endorsed by everyone from Oscar-winner Spike Lee and NFL Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, to Dallas Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones and ArtofManliness.com founder Brett McKay. He has published with legends who have won a combined 14 Super Bowl titles, 25 NBA Championships, 4 NBA Slam Dunk contests and a Heisman Trophy. Visit www.jonfinkel.com for the latest news, book and social media information. He can be reached at: info@jonfinkel.com

INTERVIEW & BOOK REQUESTS: Scott Bedgood, media@footballmatters.org

ABOUT THE BOOK: Football Matters Publishing, Release Date, April 3rd 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9986273-0-4

Advance Praise for the Book

Mel Blount, NFL Hall of Famer

“I had the honor of playing with Joe Greene and sharing those great Steeler Super Bowl victories with him. I am convinced that none of them would have happened without Joe and his leadership. He was a great leader on the field and in the locker room. His desire to win and positive attitude were contagious. Because of his physical play he was known as “Mean” Joe Greene, but those of us who truly know Joe Greene know that he is a better person than he was a player and that’s saying a lot.”

Jon Kolb, 4x Super Bowl Champion

“I believe that my friend Mr. Joe Greene may be one of the “deepest” people that I’ve ever met. I sometimes get angry when people only refer to him as “Mean” Joe because they miss the complexity of the man. To view Joe as only a great football player is to miss the biggest part of a great man. I am glad he has agreed to do this book, as it comes at a time when real heroes are desperately needed.”

Franco Harris, Pro Football Hall of Famer

“By the time I was drafted by the Steelers, it was clear that Joe was the cornerstone of our team. With him in place, they drafted players to fit this new system and mentality. The results are now legendary, as we won four Super Bowls and the Steelers became the new standard of professional football. Yes, Joe was the spark that ignited it all, and as time passes, his role continues to shine brighter and brighter. There is no question in my mind that “Mean” Joe Greene is the greatest Steeler of all time!”

Dan Rooney, Owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, former US Ambassador

“Joe has been a good father to his three children, a good husband, and it has been wonderful to have Joe as a representative of the Steelers in all the ways he was involved with the team. He was still a young man when we became the team of the decade in the 70s. He had many achievements, playing in Super Bowls, Pro Bowls, and all the best recognitions. He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987. However, he was not interested in the accolades. He was focused on being the best.”

About FootballMatters.org

FootballMatters.org, launched in 2014, is an initiative of the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF). The site is the NFF’s home for telling stories that promote amateur football and highlight the good in the game. Through social round-ups, behind-the-scenes captains videos, exclusive interviews with Hall of Famers, and features that include I’m A Football Player, Football Moms and Leaders Beyond the Field, FootballMatters.org showcases the many areas of life that football impacts. Visit www.FootballMatters.org.