Baggage. Suspicion. Lies. Lack of character. Everywhere you look in sports, there they are, only to make you shake your head and wonder. Lance Armstrong. Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. Tiger Woods. Whatever happened to role models? Thank goodness there are still a few out there, and a former 3-star football recruit from Bessemer, Alabama is at the top of the list.
As National Signing Day approaches, young football players across America need only to look to Philadelphia Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans as proof positive that hard work can pay off (Ryan's latest contract brought him $48 million). But even DeMeco himself would be the first to tell you that when he leaves this earth, the Lord won't care how much money he has made, he will care what kind of impressions he has left. Monday night I was reminded again that Ryans will leave plenty.
It's not easy for the fine folks at Fox6 to land a current NFL player as guest speaker for our annual "Sideline" All-Star Awards Banquet. Speaking to a group of high school kids is not high on their priority lists, and most of their speaking fees start about $15,000 to $20,000 (trust me- a few players you know and love told me to show them the big money or it was no dice). So when after talking with DeMeco at length and he said a resounding "I'll do it", I was again reminded that the home grown talent is the real deal.
As twelve of the top high school players in our state looked on (players like Ardarius Stewart, Zach Cunningham and Nick Mullins), Ryans told the kids not what they wanted to hear but what they needed to hear. He told them that when he played linebacker at Jess Lanier, he was thought to be too small (he played there at 190 lbs, he's now a svelt 245), too slow and too short. He told them how he was the first player in the Crimson Tide weight room, the first to arrive class, and soon to be the first from his family to graduate from a four-year university. DeMeco Ryans preached from his heart about showing heart.
The kid that was too small became a unanimous All-American while at Alabama. The kid that was too short won the national Lott Trophy as American's college impact player of the year. The kid that was too slow became the AFC Defensive Rookie Of The Year with the Houston Texans. Not bad for a kid who used to be shown on "Sideline 2000".
As our "Sideline" banquet drew to a close, DeMeco did something that our honorees will remember for years to come. He took the 12 kids to an adjoining room, no parents, no media present. He talked with the kids privately about family, football and faith. Those blue-chippers received a 30 minute talk about how to become better players, better husbands, better fathers, and better men. I did not see that private session coming, but it capped off a sensational night of fun and fellowship.
As DeMeco Ryans slowly departed, he posed for pictures with every parent, every brother, every sister with a camera or an iPhone. He joined hands with his fiance while his mother and some eight other family members followed. DeMeco had left the building. And we were all better people after hearing his message.
I guess there are role models out there afterall...