One of my grandfathers, an uncle, an aunt, and my dear mother were not able to complete six decades on this planet we call “Earth”. As I approached the various ages of these beloved family members I felt apprehension mixed with thanksgiving for the time I am afforded in mortality with family, friends, colleagues, fellow humans. Understanding that none of us have total control of how long we live in this earthly state, I can state that due to circumstances beyond my control I am now celebrating my sixtieth birthday. As I ponder the life I have been blessed with I know there were opportunities along the way for an earlier departure than I would have preferred. So many of us have had those experiences. Occasions where it was clear we had been watched over and protected from fatal outcomes along this journey we call “life”. So many associates, colleagues, friends, and family have transitioned from mortality, yet here I remain. The list of those individuals grows with each passing year. I am humbled that my name is not currently on that list…yet I know in my heart when it is I will be reunited with all of those who have gone on before, embraced with mutual love in the presence of a loving Heavenly Father. In reflection I can see that there is so much I have experienced…so much I have learned…so much I can still do.
While very young my parents moved us around quite often. Through my elementary school years I averaged attending two schools per year due to our moving from town to town. I would just start to get comfortable, then it would be time to start all over once again. As a result friendships outside my family were short-lived. My shy nature did not help things, so I kind of ended up on the extreme side of shyness. Upon reflection I see that opportunities for strengthening relationships were lost due to my shyness and inability to open up a bit with those outside my family. Even so, moving around so much helped me learn that people are people. I attended schools with so many differing student bodies that I saw that there is good and bad in all different kinds of people. The outward appearance of an individual is not always a reflection of what lies within that individual.
Nearing high school age our locations of residence became more stable. I only attended two junior high schools (grades 7-9) and one high school (grades 10-12). It was in high school where I could finally participate in what had interested me for years…FOOTBALL! The sport had fascinated me for as long as I could remember, yet due to my size I had not been able to play the sport in how it was intended to be played…fully padded up in football gear. That first year in high school I had participated in the summer training sessions, thus I had teammates with whom I had started to build friendships with. When classes began this made the transition to high school so much easier for this extremely shy guy. Football was not kind to me at first. I had to be helped in putting on the football protective gear correctly. I learned quickly that there is a difference between the discomfort experienced with physical exertion and the physical pain caused by other humans pounding into your body from various directions. With time I adjusted. The first year I didn’t get to suit up for varsity games until we reached the playoffs. I am sure that honor was bestowed upon me due to my ability to survive as opposed to thrive. The view was eye-opening enough to set the mold for me to become a varsity starter the last two years of high school. Along the road of playing high school football I learned that the sport was not what I had expected it to be in full football gear…it was BETTER! So much so that I did not want my football playing experience to end. I sought college opportunities.
I had hoped to earn a college scholarship playing high school football. I did not. I was offered a walk-on opportunity at a university I had dreamed of playing for, but my financial circumstances made that an impossible dream to fulfill. A local community college invited me over for a visit. A few of my teammates and I enjoyed our visit and our free dinner at a fast food restaurant across the street from campus. I was sold! I immediately began training in earnest for my first season as an East Los Angeles College Husky. I was no stranger to hard physical training, so the transition to college football was as smooth as could be expected. The size and speed of the football players I played with and against took some adjusting to, but I adjusted and became a starter on the offensive line that first year in college. As the calendar turned to another year, with my training for my second college football season well underway, a higher calling gradually came to me.
In our religion we are given the opportunity of going on a mission. Two years for males and 18 months for females. I had never considered going on a mission since I considered that it would interfere with my football endeavors. As I prepared for my second season of college football it seemed that I was spinning my wheels and not really operating with a purpose. After much reflection and prayer I decided that I should serve a mission. I did all that was necessary and eventually received word that I was called to serve in the Central American country of Guatemala. It was definitely a leap of faith, the biggest I had made in my young life, but I knew within me the decision I made was the right one. Despite any challenges which awaited, I was determined to serve. I had no idea how much this experience would end up impacting the rest of my life.
For two years I put my personal endeavors on hold while embarking on a path to serve others. I was not a model missionary by any means. I was humbled to my very core and challenged in ways I had never imagined possible. I met so many people who changed my perception of the life I had back home. My eyes were opened to the lack of opportunities available to the vast majority of people I came across which were available and often taken for granted in the United States. I did what I could to help the people whose paths I crossed. What I learned from them was so much more than I have ever done for those wonderful people. After two years I returned home a much better person than I had been before. I vowed to never take for granted opportunities placed in my life. No matter what there are always people in the world who would love to live in similar circumstances as our own…yet they will never get the opportunity.
Returning to the “real world” took some adjustment on my part. No longer the extremely shy individual I was before Guatemala, I had much more confidence in myself and my abilities. My priorities had shifted and were much more grounded. Football had been left behind and not to be included in my post-Guatemala life. A college degree was a high priority, along with earning the funds to pay for my education. It quickly became apparent that working full-time while going to college would definitely require more time in earning a degree than I could foresee. The thought came to me that if I took the chance of playing football one more season at East Los Angeles College I could possibly garner the interest of a university enough to warrant a college scholarship. I set to the task. I took a part-time job, went to school full-time, and trained as hard as possible with the intent of earning a spot on the football team once again. My efforts were rewarded and I even ended up starting every game on the offensive line. In a relatively short amount of time, I was not able to train with the team until the summer months, the offensive line I was a member of became extremely close. We had each other’s backs and our working relationship on the field became evident as we could not be stopped on becoming one of the top community college offenses in the country. This taught me that bonds can be formed in a relatively short time and last a lifetime. We got together many years later after not seeing each other for decades and it felt like we were still brothers at heart.
In the Spring I was afforded two choices of universities who wanted me to play football. I chose to head west and accept a football scholarship to a small division two university in southwestern New Mexico. The small town provided challenges to others from Southern California, but not to me due to what I had seen and experienced in Guatemala. I found the place very acceptable and a great place, with few distractions, to complete my bachelor’s degree. The higher elevation was a challenge and the competition was intense. Two years later I had started on the offensive line and had earned a bachelor’s degree. That small town brought so many of us together from various parts of the country. We left with a brotherhood which lasts to this day. We didn’t always share the same morals, but we shared the desire for success on the football field…and we found it as we had the best two-year run the football team had to that point in the school’s history.
It was great and football had been very good to me. Three years in high school and four years in college, but the trail had come to an end as I was not a good enough player to earn a paycheck playing football….but maybe coaching football could be part of my future. Football had taught me so much and I wanted to stay involved with it some way. I had learned that the greater good rests in the success of the team. Individual effort is best when combined with the efforts of others forming a team which can attain more than possible to the individual alone. Hard work does not guarantee success, but it sure gives you a better chance. Fighting through discomfort/pain leads to strength in which to face challenges. I loved the sport and would get to stay involved thanks to the coach who had recruited me to that small division two university.
I was back in the Los Angeles area preparing to start a teaching career and coaching high school football. I received a phone call which would change my direction. It was that coach offering me the opportunity of coaching at the university I had just graduated from. After much thought, and consultation with others I trusted, I accepted the position and returned to begin my coaching career. That career has now spanned more than thirty-four years…three colleges…and two high schools. I’ve worked with countless numbers of athletes over that span and I consider myself blessed to have had the opportunity. I’ve been mentored and taught by some of the best football minds around who happen to be great individuals who not only helped me become a better coach…they helped me become a better man. I needed, and accepted, all the help I could get. I needed to become better in order to help keep us with the most important part of my life.
We had graduated from the same high school together. I knew her as a person who was way above my league in every aspect. Not only was she pretty, she was popular, had many friends, and even had regular access to a car. We never dated, but we were cordial. Six years after graduation our paths crossed and she invited me on a date. She was impressive and I felt lucky to have had the opportunity of dating such a beautifully wonderful person. It was a one-time memorable kind of thing. Two years later our paths crossed once again and we started down the same path together. We were married about a year later and I had to pinch myself periodically to make sure I was not dreaming. She knew she was marrying a football coach and she has supported me since day one. Unconditional love knows no bounds. Our love for one another helped bring four wonderful children into our lives.
Along with marriage, fatherhood taught me to put my priorities in order. I know not what paths others may take, but as for me the family reigns supreme. Football had to take a back seat as being the best husband and father I could be meant more to me than becoming the best football coach. I never desired being a head coach, just an assistant coach focused on the offensive line. On the other hand, being a head of household brought more fulfillment and joy than I could have ever imagined. With my last breath in mortality I will declare that the greatest joys in my life are rooted in my family…which now includes two son-in-laws, and two grandsons with a granddaughter on the way.
Speaking of family, it took me some years to realize that “I was born of goodly parents.” My father and I didn’t always have a close relationship, but I could go to him with concerns or doubts I had. He was never judgmental. My mother taught me most every characteristic that I have. She worked hard and at times could be hard on her two sons. I later realized that may have been a reaction to some of the unexpected cards she had been dealt in her life. My younger brother was the best friend I could have ever had growing up. Despite our seven-plus years age difference, we were extremely close. Most of the pleasant childhood memories I have include my beloved brother. With the help of my parents and brother, not to mention my grandparents and other family members who helped raise me, I had a firm foundation for the life which lay ahead of me. From them I learned that diligence, energy, faith, integrity, love, and a sense of humor are integral parts of a complete life.
So, what have I learned in my sixty years of mortality? I’ve shared some of what I’ve learned, but let me tie things up with some thoughts…
Don’t take the truly unimportant things too seriously…laugh often and look for the light side of things.
Enjoy the journey…it’s great to have goals, but the road to attaining those goals is a journey which can, and should, be enjoyed.
Love wholeheartedly…it may leave you vulnerable, but it’s the only way to go and the life rewards are everlasting.
Don’t sweat the small stuff…life is filled with important stuff, don’t waste energy on the things that don’t matter as much.
Family is one of God’s choicest gifts…don’t take it for granted and don’t spend unnecessary time away from them.
Be honest with yourself and others…no one likes to be dealt with dishonestly.
Find something you really like to do, then figure out a way to get paid for it…the world is filled with people who have followed this way of thinking and the world is a better place because of the inventions and services they have rendered. I am a simple man who found football and I’ve been paid to coach it for more than thirty-four years now.
Don’t accept blame that isn’t yours…you make enough mistakes on your own, don’t accept the blame others may want to place on you.
When receiving criticism, consider the source…never accept criticism from those you don’t trust enough to ask for advice.
What you look for in life you will find…too many in our world today look for the bad…be the person who looks for the good in life and you will always be pleased with what you find.
So often the best presents can’t be gift-wrapped…enjoy and appreciate the moments which touch your soul…those are the greatest gifts of all.
Go ahead and do the seemingly small stuff…those are what often have the biggest impacts. Smile often. Greet people with a cheerful face. Open a door for someone. Say “thank you” and “you’re welcome” when appropriate. Perform a simple act of kindness…not only will the receiver feel good, you will too.
Sixty trips around the sun and I’m still learning…never think that you’ve learned enough.
So much learned and so much more to learn and experience. Life is a gift that I do not take for granted. I am grateful everyday I wake up in the same place I went to bed. I could go on, but I’ve take up enough of your time…I gotta take advantage of the time I have left.
Just one man sharing his….VIEW FROM THE SIDELINE…