I’m no one special. I don’t consider myself different from anyone else. But when some people discover what I do to pay my college tuition, they light up, and they look at me like I’m special. Embarrassed, I just smile and say “thank-you” to their wishes of “good luck next season.” I’ve simply never understood why throwing a football well has entitled me to receive the admiration of so many fans.
I was blessed with many things growing up: a supportive family, good health, a strong work ethic, and athletic talent. Armed with these, I was fortunate enough to earn a football scholarship to Penn State University. I arrived on campus two years ago and quickly discovered what “fan following” really meant. During the next two seasons, I saw the highs and the lows. In 2004, the PSU football team was knocked out of bowl contention long before the regular season ended. Our fans stuck with us. In 2005, we won the Orange Bowl in triple overtime and finished as the third-ranked team in college football. Our fans partied with us. This tremendous accomplishment, however, was nothing compared to an event which occurred several months before that game, an event which very few people ever even knew occurred.
Before I met these “fans,” my idea of a bad day was having Coach Paterno jump on me for throwing an interception; a bad day was getting up at five o’clock in the morning for a run. But that day, as my teammates and I waited for some “fans,” I found out what a bad day really was. As they got off the buses, they looked tiny; most were bald. They were all young. Two things each child had in common were cancer and a wish to spend time with Penn State football players. Listening to their parents’ stories of diagnosis, treatment, and pain, I finally realized what a bad day is. A bad day is chemotherapy. A bad day is multiple blood transfusions.
During those two hours, I threw the football around with many of those kids, some too weak to hold the ball up themselves. I learned more during those two hours than I have during fifteen years of schooling. I learned what I believe. I believe that each of us has the responsibility to make the most out of the talents and opportunities that have been given to us. I realized that like those little fans, many others have not had the opportunities that I have had. I realized that not taking advantage of each breath and every game would not only be an injustice to me, but an injustice to those kids as well. In the end, I became their biggest fan. As they left that day, many of them wished me “good luck next season.” I silently wished them the same.
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