Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Daniel's Fresh Hope
Too many years coaching, observing, and presiding over youth and public/private school sports - especially a long tenure as President of Rock Valley [Junior] Tackle Football - inhibited me from discussing the prowess of my own sons with their coaches; for I've often joked with coaches and officials, "They think their kid is the next Walter Payton; so you better..."
While I have done my best to encourage their participation, performance, and attitude, I have kept my distance from their coaches about playing time and positions.
Frankly, knowing a little more about sports - especially brutal evaluations of talent and psychosociospiritual exigencies - than I've let on, my sons, like too many others, have suffered under coaches like me who have caved to vocally persistent parents with an inflated estimate of their children's charismata.
Fortunately, especially after athletes move to higher levels of competition, where coaches are paid for wins and losses as well as character and skills development, the proverbial cream rises to the top.
Anyway, my son Daniel's confessional journey as a football player may be helpful to those who...
He loves football.
He will never play again.
Perhaps this part of his continuing journey will help someone in theirs.
(Daniel A. Kopp)
The night before my first junior tackle football game, my father gave a paperweight to me with a quote from Vince Lombardi on it: “The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.”
Face down on the turf and screaming in pain after the second play of my senior year in college, I remembered that night when he gave it to me; and I remembered how he explained the inevitability of adversities in life and the importance of never giving up and always working hard to be a better man, athlete, student, and Christian.
Football has been a huge part of my life since birth. I grew up with a love for the game and a desire to excel.
My father was right about the inevitability of adversities.
A broken foot in my junior year of high school that I played through in my senior year forced me to abandon hope of playing at a D1 school. A lifelong dream was revoked; yet it fueled my ambition to play at the next level. I refused to quit. I had worked too hard.
Coe College offered the best opportunity to excel on the field and challenge me in the classroom. Paralleling my young football career, college presented its own set of adversities. I struggled to adjust to college in my first semester. The transition was more difficult than anticipated and I did not perform to the best of my abilities. One professor even said I wasn’t “ready” for college. Instead of giving up, I dedicated myself to my studies and reaching academic potential.
Because I worked hard, I progressed and began to excel academically and athletically. My GPA rose to 3.3 or higher in subsequent semesters to earn a triple major in Economics, Political Science, and Business Administration in four years. Professors, such as the head of the Economics Department, challenged me to pursue dual graduate studies leading to a Ph.D. in Economics and J.D.
Hard work also paid off on the football field. I worked my way on to the field as a sophomore for 10-0 team and won the annual “Scout Team Player of the Year” award. That plaque now sits on my desk near the Vince Lombardi paperweight as reminders of the value of hard work no matter the challenge.
My junior year was interrupted by breaking the same foot broken during high school. Thinking my football career might be over, I sat out the entire season with a medical redshirt; however, I would not give up. My academic advisor and I came up with a strategy to extend my academic career for a semester so I could return and play one more year.
Spring semester 2013 was the toughest of my life. Setbacks in rehab along with slipping on ice and suffering a massive concussion were daunting. My father had to come to pick me up and take me home while encouraging me with reminders of inevitable adversities and overcoming them through hard work and determination. Bedridden for two weeks during recovery, my father, the Dean, and I discussed the difficulties of catching up academically and how it would have a negative effect on my GPA. While the Dean suggested I withdraw from classes to “save” my GPA, I did not give up. I worked extremely hard to earn relatively respectable grades.
The summer of 2014 was a turning point in my life. I moved out of my parents’ home and took a lawn-care job for Pro-Lawn in Cedar Rapids. The experiences and lessons from a new work environment, continuing rehab, self-reflection, and self-sufficiency served as a dramatic maturing period. Reflection on the paperweight’s meaning was prevalent and I received affirmation on the job and during rehab for my work ethic, attitude, and perseverance. I was ready to return to the football field because I had worked too hard to surrender.
After grueling rehab within a time crunch to get back into playing shape, I returned to the field having a better appreciation of the day-to-day process and the privilege of playing the game that I love so much. I had a new perspective. My coaches decided to put me in a rotation to keep me as healthy as possible and I excelled. The hard work was paying off.
As an academically and athletically successful junior year came to an end, I returned to my lawn-care job for the summer and was promoted to supervisor. Goals and aspirations for my senior year were amplified by the expectations of peers, coaches, and myself. Focusing on every workout and committed to any opportunity to do extra work on the field or in the weight room, I was ready to fulfill my athletic potential and high expectations. I was voted captain of the team by my peers – an honor which has been cherished by me at every level of play.
The first game of my senior season was against the fifth-ranked team in the country. I was ready. I did not know the second play of game and year would be my last. On that second play of my redshirt senior year, I fractured my leg and dislocated my ankle.
I have a tattoo on my arm of Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I had sent that verse to our offensive coordinator earlier that day. As the orthopedic doctor prepared to relocate my ankle on the field, my coach repeated that verse to me. I wept not for myself but for my teammates and family. I was not going to be able to play with the men who I had worked so hard with in the offseason. My parents who sacrificed so much to give every opportunity to me would not get to see me play again. I had played my last game.
The next day, I was in the weight room with my teammates; lifting with a broken leg. I attended class, practice, and team meetings as usual that entire week; disregarding the major surgery to repair my leg and ankle. I was done playing but I was not surrendering. I had worked too hard.
I have a long road ahead of me; recovering physically and transitioning into law school. With more surgeries to come and challenging classwork, I will continue to work through the inevitable adversities to be faced. I’m not perfect; yet I have the potential and skills to excel in law. I have dealt with academic and athletic adversities; but as Coach Lombardi said, “The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.”
This is my promise to you.
I will never surrender because I will not be out-worked.
For more, go to "Dashed Dream and Fresh Hope" in the archives of this site or the archives of The Belvidere Daily Republican and www.churchandworld.com.
Blessings and Love!