College Football Northview High School (Dothan, AL) ‘86 Vanderbilt University ‘90
Jones School of Law ‘94
Baseball was always my favorite sport. It was my best sport. I played all through childhood and high school, was on All-star teams, won batting titles, received other awards. I wanted to play in college. My high school career was pretty good and a few schools showed interest, but it was my other sport, football, that led to my college sports career. We had a magical senior football season. They called us the “Cardiac Cougars” because we kept playing in overtime games (5)! We started out 1-3, but then won 10 of the last 11 games on the way to the Alabama 6A State Title. I quarterbacked our team and was a team captain. We had a very talented team that had several seniors sign scholarships, including me. I received a scholarship to Vanderbilt University.
However, once I landed on campus, it did not take very long to realize I was now a little fish in a big pond. There were many other quarterbacks already on the roster who were more talented, faster, and stronger. I redshirted my freshman year; that decision allowed me to adjust to the college game. I had the pleasure (actually, it was no pleasure, more like the responsibility!) of being the next week’s opponent’s quarterback so our defense could get prepared for the upcoming game. This time as a redshirt was a humbling experience. All athletes have a competitive fire that fuels their desire to succeed. I quickly learned that I could improve my game by trying my best on the practice field each day. It was exhausting, but I learned some valuable lessons that season. I learned more about humility, staying confident as an athlete, and that leadership is earned not just assumed. Although our team’s season was not a success, I felt that personally I had succeeded by learning these mental and physical skills during my freshman year.
I built upon my freshman year lessons to travel with the team the next three years, earn a varsity letter, and graduate on time. I still have several very close friends from those teams. Even today in my law practice, I apply some of those lessons. There is no substitute for hard work, proper planning, finding something that interests you, and becoming very good at it. Our office motto is “Keep Chopping Wood,” which means just that. College is just 4-5 years, but it prepares you for the next 40-50 years. Life is too short to not enjoy what you do as a profession.
Do not just play one sport during elementary and middle school. When you are young, try as many sports that interest you. This will help you develop better skills as an all-around athlete. It also helps to build confidence and develop more mental and life skills. If you just play one sport all year, there is a great potential for burnout. Even if you specialize in your best sport later on, being exposed to other sports will help you athletically, both mentally and physically. You never want to lose the fun of playing sports. Playing multiple sports will help avoid mental fatigue and burnout. Also, overuse injuries go hand-in-hand with burnout. Make sure you do not abuse your body. Rest between seasons. Properly treat your injuries. Listen to your doctors, coaches, and parents. If you take care of your body off the field, it will take care of you on it. The most important lesson though is to just have fun!
Bernard, thanks for sharing your story. I too can relate with the love of baseball but scholarship in football! You just never know how things will work out but it sounds like you learned so much on the football field to help guide you in life. I understand oh so well about the humbling experience many of us face, especially going from High-School to College sports. The fact that you acknowledge you needed to work hard while you were a Red Shirt to better yourself on the field is a great Check Your Game moment. Your choice to step up and work hard not only affected you in a positive way but it also helped the team. It's interesting how good choices and bad choices we make in life affect more than just ourselves! You could've just complained, gave up, not given your best or even quit like others but you stuck with it just like your motto at work to "Keep Chopping Wood." That motto sounds like that's the kind of thing we did in football where we were doing the same things over and over while working hard at those things each day. I love it Bernard. Lastly, your advice is great and wanted to reiterate what you said as well as what other athletes are saying, and that is for young kids playing sports to have fun. If a kid isn't having fun, then they should find something else to do. It's that simple. Thanks again Bernard for your transparency as well as humility to share a piece of your life during College. I'm sure there are others who will be encouraged by your story to be humble, work hard, listen to others and have fun even while they're chopping wood! -Gary Rogers