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National Signing Day: A Father’s Lesson

February 1st is “National Signing Day.”  It is the first day in which a high school senior can sign a binding Letter of Intent to play football in college. After months and sometimes years of recruiting, the hype and drama culminate on this special day as millions of deeply devoted college football fans tune in to learn which athletes have officially committed to their favorite school.

To be honest, I haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to National Signing Day in years past.  But I certainly have this year.  You see, my youngest son is part of the hype and drama. CBS Sports (MaxPreps) lists him as one of the top pro-style quarterbacks in the nation.  He is also projected as a high draft pick in the Major League Baseball draft this June.  But first, on February 1st, he will excitedly sign his letter of intent to play football and baseball at what we affectionately call, “The U.”  This is very good news for me. Half my wardrobe has the “U” on it.

To both my wife and son’s chagrin, however, it appears I have gotten caught up in all the hype.  There are at least a dozen or so fan-based websites devoted to University of Miami athletics and dozens more dealing with the MLB draft.  Few articles or discussion boards where my son is mentioned go by without coming to my attention.  And while the vast majority of articles and comments are very positive, a tiny few are negative. And what is a father to do when uninformed nincompoops make disparaging remarks about his son?

Well, in the way of a confession, I’ll admit that I have cleverly disguised my name and relationship to my son and have responded in anonymity to a few of the comments made by knuckle-headed bloggers and fans.  Using my highly developed skills in sarcasm and derision, I not only put those misanthropes in their places, but questioned their very intelligence for even thinking something negative about my son.

Then, and this is where I blew it, I proudly showed my wife and son some of the blog posts and comments (without revealing my cleverly disguised message-board name). I was confident they would be pleased how a total stranger was coming to his defense

To my great surprise, however, they were both able to instantly determine each one of my blog-post replies despite my cleverly disguised name.  Then, after reading my acrid comments, they would turn and look at me with an eye-narrowing “what is wrong with you?” glare.  “What?” I answered, trying in vain to look innocent.

After a brief discussion where various degrees of my intelligence were questioned, a beautiful moment took place, one I will long cherish.  My son put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eyes and with an assuring and loving smile said, “It’s ok, Dad.  I can take it.”

It’s a beautiful thing to see your child grow up with steely fortitude ready to face a hostile world.  It’s that much more amazing to realize they are willing to step into the brutal world of college football where one can turn from hero to goat in an instant.  I have watched in admiration as Jacory Harris, the University of Miami quarterback these past years, has skillfully and graciously managed such a hostile environment.  “It comes with the territory,” is the common view.

And now a new wave of aspiring athletes will face the glaring spotlights and the roar of cheering or jeering fans.  As a Dad, I can’t imagine ever overcoming the sense that I have to protect and defend my children. There are, after all, a few loud cynics out there who like to drag as many people as they can down their sad and lonely road.  But for now, with ample threats from my wife and son, I have retired my clever pseudonyms.  And when I feel that desire to set another pundit in his place, I’ll remember that assuring smile, “It’s ok, Dad. I can take it.”

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