Sunday, January 26, 2014

We Need To Do Better

It breaks my heart to see two schools that I love failing in how we take care of not only our student-athletes, but our students as well. If you have not seen this story please take 16 minutes and watch it.

College Athletes and Mental Health: Sasha's Story

(Click on link to view video.)

We need to do a better job as parents, teachers, coaches and school administrators at recognizing mental health issues as an illness that needs medical attention. It is not something to be taken lightly which can be seen from the tragic end to this story, as well as the tragic end of Lizzy Seeberg's story.

We also need to do a better job at educating our young people how to keep themselves safe with regards to rape situations. Not only that, but we need to make sure that they understand that if such a thing happens that a.) it is not their fault, and b.) that it is safe for them to come forward and fight for their rights. So many young women never come forward. Is that because their attackers threaten their safety? Is it because they are ashamed and embarrassed. We need to do a better job at empowering young women today or these trends will never change.

I'd like to think that tragedies such as these can be prevented in the future. What if Lizzy's case had been promptly seen to by University and legal officials ... would she still be here today? What if Sasha would retained her scholarship and been able to focus on her school and her future instead of losing everything as a result of her illness ... would she still be here today? We are failing our youth ... we are failing our future. We need to do better.

Where Are They Now? Kinnon Tatum

Back when football was a hard-hitting, rough, physical, my-job-is-to-kill-you sort of game, there was a country boy named Kinnon Tatum. He was a rough and tumble, I’m-coming-to-get-you, head-banging kind of player and he loved it. He turned down offers from UNC and Georgia Tech and left the warm comfortable environment of Fayetteville, North Carolina to play football in the lake effect tormented town of South Bend, Indiana for the University of Notre Dame. Playing football at ND was no walk in the park for Tatum, but he learned a great deal from Coach Holtz and his on-the-field experiences, and eventually moved on to play football in the NFL for the Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now enjoying a successful career with Allstate in Chicago, Kinnon has taken a path with several twists and turns since his NFL playing days. Come with me and walk the journey of Kinnon Tatum.

Q: Growing up in Fayetteville, NC, how did you end up playing football at Notre Dame?

A: "Like many other guys I didn’t know anything about Notre Dame. I had never watched an ND game on TV until I was being recruited by them. I didn’t even know where the school was. I thought Notre Dame was in England because it kind of had a ‘holier than thou’ look to it. During the recruiting process when I told people who I was being recruited by, every time I mentioned Notre Dame you could see people’s eyebrows raise. I was just a country boy, and I had no clue that ND was so highly regarded. All I knew was my attending Notre Dame seemed to really, really matter to my coach and my parents. At that point I did my research to see what Notre Dame was all about."

"During the recruiting process I was being pursued by Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and Notre Dame.
I wanted to get away from home and out from under the grips of my parents. I was ready to get the heck out of dodge and so I ended up choosing Notre Dame."

"Back when I was being recruited, you didn’t make your recruiting visits until the beginning of December. When I got to Notre Dame I fell in love with the school. It felt different to me than the other schools when I was talking to people on campus -- what really captivated me about Notre Dame was the following. When the other schools were talking to me, they made it feel like I was going to come to their respective school and make THEM better, that it was all about me. But at Notre Dame it was different. Coach Holtz sat me down and told me, ‘Here is what we can offer you. If you can come here and fall in line, you might be able to fit in.’ They expected you to come, work hard, and make a commitment to give your all to Notre Dame. Sitting in Coach Holtz’s office, we sealed the deal right then and there. He told me that if I came to Notre Dame and did what he wanted me to do on the field, and got good grades off the field, that I may get the chance to play by my junior year. I thought to myself, ‘this little man is out of his mind. He must be smoking something else in that pipe.’ I loved the challenge though and I was headed to play football at Notre Dame."

"My host during my visit to Notre Dame was Lee Becton, which was a great fit for me because he also was from North Carolina. Lee (Mr. Smooth Operator) played offense and I played defense but we really jelled together. We were like yin and yang. Everyone that I came in contact with that weekend was so very welcoming. Lee let me know what it was going to be like if I came to ND. He didn’t sugarcoat anything -- he wanted me to know what South Bend was all about. South Bend is not a big city, there is no extravagant night life. It’s card games and playing pool but that fit me well -- I’m a very low key guy."

Q: What is your best Notre Dame football memory?

A: "Without a doubt my best Notre Dame football memory is the one that made me immortal -- that game over USC (1995). That huge play that was violent, destructive, and absolutely game-changing. That was the moment. USC was coming in and talking up a big game. They were making all kinds of noise about how they were going to come into our house and beat us. Yada yada yada…bring it on. I have slingshots in reserve! (laughs). Yes, they were coming to town and it was a big matchup, but we were ready."

"That play could not have been any bigger as far as turning points in games go. We were actually down 7-3 at the time, and after that play we went for 35 straight points. It was hands down the turning point in that game. I wish they would have shown me walking off of the field. You think Johnny Cash is cool? The way I walked off of the field, I just knew that play was going to be all over SportsCenter that night and that little red light was going to be blinking on my dorm phone when I got back home. That was my moment."

"I’m so glad that I played football when I did. My job was to be a ‘trained assassin.’ I was trained to ‘kill’ people in games. Nobody was protected. Today I would probably be ejected from every game. (laughs)"

Q: So Kinnon, tell me about your ‘84 Fleetwood Cadillac? Talking with your fellow head-banger Kory Minor I heard it was the party mobile.

A: "I used to let him borrow it all of the time -- I think he still owes me gas money! It was real LA-ish (just like Kory!), with the rims and the white interior. Street rider all the way."

Q: Tell me about the group Top Authority. I heard from a fellow head-banger that they were the group of choice before taking the field to bring the pain?

A: "Top Authority was the most extreme music a person could listen to, back at the time, without actually doing bodily harm to someone. It really pumped you up. Whatever kind of levels you had, it brought you to your absolute top-level, to the top of your game. You were definitely all fired up and after you listen to them you needed 30 minutes to catch your breath. That was our pregame ritual."

Q: What was it like playing for Lou Holtz? 

A: "Up until and including playing under Coach Holtz at Notre Dame, all of my coaches were basically the same kind of guy. Fundamentals were key. They made you outwork your opponent. They instilled in you to never quit by the way they taught you at practice and when watching film. They always made you feel that you could not lose -- I felt like a gladiator each and every week that I played. I never thought that I was going to lose. And I’m not just talking about winning as a team, I’m talking about one-on-one battles, too. A lot of the time you would find yourself going up against one certain player. Never did I think I’d lose the battle."

Q: What is your favorite Lou Holtz Story?

A: "When we made the trip to Ireland, we were out on the field practicing one day. Coach Holtz always had this thing about demonstrating the correct way to do something when you weren’t doing it correctly. Here was all 125 pounds of him showing you how to be tough. So we’re in Ireland, we’re feeling pretty laid back because we’re playing Navy. We are enjoying our trip. We get to game day and you know Coach Holtz, he’s always on the edge when his teams are too loose. He’s down with the offense getting them ready for the game and Coach Davie is with us, the defense, and he’s feeling pretty relaxed, too. It’s Navy! All we have to do is not get into too much trouble and we’re all good. Meanwhile Coach Holtz is down there yelling at the offense like it’s training camp or something. We’re still warming up and trying not to watch what’s going on with the offense too close. We go back into the locker room for the pregame speech and guys are running around, laughing and snickering, ‘did you see that??’"

"Coach Holtz walks into the training room with a big bandage on his nose. Apparently he was demonstrating to the offense how to put your face into a guy's chest when you’re making a tackle and when he did it he cut his face from the top of his nose to the bottom. I guess he forgot that he didn’t have a helmet on. (laughing)"

"He was the king of breaking you down and building you back up again."

"He tried to break me one day but I’m unbreakable. Heading into my sophomore year I was feeling pretty good about myself. I had played a handful of games as a freshman and I was competing with an unproven senior for my position so I figured I was in pretty good shape. That summer Anthony Sweeny, Lyron Cobbins, and I all stayed home to work summer jobs so that we could buy a car and did not go to summer school on campus. We were only three out of 80 people who weren’t on campus for the summer, so you can imagine the crooked looks that we got from that little man (coach Holtz) when we came back to school in the fall."

"We were at practice one day during fall camp doing a kickoff return and I’m blocking on special teams. During the first kickoff the guy runs right by me and I don’t block him. So we do it again, and I miss him again. I really could not block this guy. So we line it up and run it again and I don’t block him yet again and I’m thinking,‘holy crap what’s going on with me?’ Holtz says to me, ‘I give you a job to do and you’ve got to do it. Well, everyone, go have a good practice. Tatum come see me after practice.’ So I go back to practice completely pissed off and am knocking people out to make up for it."

"I go to coach Holtz’s office after practice and his secretary Jan asks me, ‘Tatum, what are you doing here?’ and I reply, ‘I dunno, I can’t block.’ I go in to Coach’s office and he’s sitting there smoking his pipe. He says to me,‘I know you were recruited by Georgia Tech, Tennessee, and UNC. I’ve got transfer papers to these schools right here.’ I push the papers right back at him and tell him that I am willing to do whatever he wants me to do. If he wants me to work on my blocking, I’ll work on my blocking. And coach Holtz agreed. He put me on probation and I was under his surveillance. He made a point to make sure that I did not play defense in any games that season. I only got to play on special teams all year. Man did I want to transfer. I played less my sophomore year than I did my freshman year and he did it deliberately. I spoke with coach Davie about it and he wanted to put me in but told me if he did he’d get fired."

"So what did I do? For the rest of the year I terrorized my own team in practice. I’m sure they were thinking, ‘What is wrong with this angry guy right here?’ I went through that year and then my Mom came up to South Bend for the Stanford game. She only came up for one game a year and he didn’t even play me once that entire game. I went into Coach Davie’s office at 6:00 AM Sunday morning and I was at my wit’s end. ‘Let me tell you, things are going to change or I’m outta here.’He told me to keep doing what I’m doing. My Mom came all of the way here and I didn’t even play once. That really hurt my feelings right there. And I took it out on my teammates in practice."

"Heading into spring practice it was me and Bert Berry and that upcoming year (my Junior year) was supposed to be my year. It was a nasty spring…you want to talk about head-banging. We were the most head-banging players on the team. We were trying to outdo each other. No one even knew what was going on but they saw the product we were putting out there and our junior and senior years were just awesome."

Q: What was it like being a student-athlete at Notre Dame? How did being a student-athlete at Notre Dame prepare you for life after college? (Kinnon was a Sociology major.)

A: "It was tough trying to balance everything. The toughest part about it was getting into a routine that worked. Getting into what worked for me. Time management. Instead of waiting until the evening, I needed to go ahead and knock out homework earlier in the day instead of watching the Young and The Restless. It was all about time management for me. I went to college not liking to write and then I got to college and realized that writing was one of my best skills. I had a lot to say, but I didn’t know that I was a talented writer until Dr. Holly Martin saved me. She was an academic advisor for the freshman class back then. Now she’s the Assistant Dean of Freshman Studies. She was all sweet with these glasses -- Mary Poppins-like -- but she was tough once she got you into that office. She was the female Hulk. She got so upset with you when she thought you were under achieving. She knew how to reach the students and get them to perform at the best. She got you to perform in the classroom like you did on the field."

Q: How do you remember your NFL draft?

A: "I was drafted in the third round of the NFL draft, the 87th pick. Bertrand Berry was drafted 86th to the Colts. I stayed in South Bend and watched the draft by myself. I kicked my roommate Nate out of the apartment because I didn't want to be around anyone while I was watched the draft. (Nate was an Air Force ROTC nerd studying civil engineering. Talk about yin and yang.) Back then the draft was terrible and it took so long for each pick. I ordered Papa John’s pizza, took a nap, woke up, saw Renaldo get drafted, saw more guys get drafted in the second round including Marc Edwards. I really didn’t think I was going to get drafted until the second day. I tested really well at the combine. I tested at the safety level for a linebacker position."

"I’m sitting there watching the draft when I get a call from a friend of mine. I immediately tell him, ‘I can’t talk right now! I’m waiting for my draft phone call!’ I got off the phone and shortly after that I got a call from Jimmy Johnson and the Dolphins saying that they were going to take me at the 89th pick at the end of the third round and I really believed him because I knew he liked small explosive linebackers. I was so excited about the opportunity to get to move to Florida after four years in South Bend, Indiana. I always wanted to live there because it has sunshine 12 months out of the year and I could cookout and go to the beach all year round. It was somewhere around pick 65 or 70 when he called."

"The phone rang again and this time it was the Carolina Panthers asking me if I wanted to be a Panther. You betcha!! I want to come home. They told me that they were going to take me at the 87th pick and that’s exactly what they did. I’ve never been so overcome with emotion until that very moment. I didn’t expect to go on the first day. It was like all of the hard work, the tough classes, overcoming injuries, everything…it all finally paid off. Getting drafted into the NFL was icing on the cake. My whole plan for my life was that as long as my parents didn’t have to pay for my college education,things were going to be great. That was the best gift I could give back to them. All of that was going through my head as I was getting drafted to the Panthers and so it was completely overwhelming."

Q: What was it like playing in the NFL? 

A: "The highs? You’re going against the best of the best. You never have to second guess your competition because there are no mismatches. They are the top of their craft. All of them. When you’re going against players like Jerome Bettis, Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders…having to cover guys like that in practice you’re thinking to yourself, ‘are you kidding me?’ Talk about being a kid in a candy store."

"The lows? The job aspect of playing in the NFL and being on a losing team. I lost more in the first two years in the NFL than I had lost in the previous six or seven years of playing football. I wore my emotions on my sleeve back then, and there was no sugar-coating things for me. But I’ve learned now that if I’m really upset, I shouldn’t say anything at all. But back then we’d lose games back-to-back and then we’d go kick it and drown our sorrows. It was not what I was used to at all. From my previous experiences, if things were not going right on the field, you’d be embarrassed to show your face off of the field, in public. But it wasn’t like that. There were a lot of veteran players who told us to not take your work home with you. There is enough stress in this business, and if you take it home with you, you will only make things worse."

"My greatest highlight? This is a weird highlight, but it’s who I am. We played the Dallas Cowboys on a Sunday night. It was the primetime night game and my dad is from Texas. I have a lot of family in Texas and a big number of them came to the game. We were playing against the likes of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Daryl 'Moose' Johnston, Michael Irvin; we beat them in primetime on Sunday night. Even though our season was not going right, that was a huge win for us. I ended up tearing the ligament in my thumb that game and had to have my first surgery as a result of the injury. It was on a special teams play on a punt and I got tangled up with another guy. I got up and as I’m running back to the sideline I felt something flapping against my wrist."

"When I got to the sideline and tried to rest my hand on my hips, my left hand kept sliding off and when I looked to see what was going on it was at that point I realized I had done something bad to my hand. I could take my thumb and push it all the way back to my wrist because the ligament was totally detached from the bone. They did X-rays during the game and told me that I’d have surgery the next day. In the meantime they put a cast on it and they put me back into the game. After we beat Dallas, I partied with my teammates. That whole experience of winning in primetime was awesome. The four days following surgery were not awesome though. I had never felt pain like that before. I felt every pulse in my body. I called my trainer at 4:00 AM and said, ‘there is no way I am waiting until 6:00 AM for pain medication. I’m coming to you right now.’"

"I played for four years in the NFL. Three seasons in Carolina. At the end of my second season with Carolina I had what would turn out to be a career ending injury to my shoulder. I rehabbed for seven months going into the offseason and in my first 'practice" back during my third season I re-injured my shoulder and sat out the rest of the '99 season. The next year, in 2000, I joined the Tampa Bay Bucs in March and was there until the last cuts in September. I stayed down there for a few extra months because I loved Florida so much, but it started to wear on me. I realized that my body just could not compete any longer; that my time in the NFL was over. At that point I hung up my cleats."

Q: Where did life take you after football? 

A: "Following the end of my NFL career I chilled out for a while, contemplating what to do next. I took a management trainee position with PN&B Marketing in North Carolina and then after that I opened up my own branch, JK3 Unlimited, in Fayetteville, North Carolina with a partner for a year. Then my partner decided one day to empty the accounts and up and move to Texas, leaving me with a bunch of angry employees. Then I decided to relocate to South Carolina to open up another branch."

"In 2003, I went into sales with Lincoln-Mercury-Subaru and began selling cars in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I just seem to have a way of talking, and sales seemed like a natural fit for me. But that was a very up-and-down business because it was a commission-based position. Then I thought to myself:‘I have a degree. I’m supposed to have all ‘up’ months.’ I had just had a child in 2002 and needed a position that would support my family. So in 2004 I moved to New Orleans and start working for Allstate in Metairie, Louisiana. You talk about the hookup -- that was a great job and a fantastic city. I lived and worked there for Allstate until Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. All I was able to salvage after the hurricane was two of my helmets. I lost all of my photos and jerseys – pretty much everything I had. That was a humbling experience for me."

"Allstate relocated me to Charlotte, North Carolina post-Katrina, which was great for me because that was where my son was. I was hoping to be much more involved in his life, living in the same town and everything, but unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances things did not work out that way. Then a friend of mine, Dante Jones, who played for the Steelers, was coaching high school football and asked me to be his linebackers coach in South Charlotte at Providence High School -- I absolutely fell in love with the job. I rearranged my Allstate schedule so that I could make practices every day. I coached high school ball for a few years when I got an opportunity to join Charlie Weis’ coaching staff at Notre Dame. In 2008 I was an offensive quality control coach, in 2009 I was a defensive quality control coach, and then Bryant Young joined me. When Weis left Notre Dame, I got the opportunity to coach at Seton Hill and we had three pretty bad years so at the end of the third year it was time for me to move on."

"At that point I decided it was time to head back into the business world. I had new personal goals and needed some stability in my life which coaching does not often bring. Now I’m in Chicago at Allstate’s main hub and I’m settling down. It’s time to hang up the whistle and the cleats and explore all of the opportunities in front of me in the business sector."

Q: What advice would you give current student athletes?

A: "Focus on the bottom line and not on the in-between. Focus on the now, the today. The in-between is glorified, the scholarship is glorified; it’s the wow factor. The self-promotion for student-athletes starts so early these days with the internet and social media. Find out what really makes you happy, what really makes you a person, and concentrate on that. Don’t be the loudest person in the room but make people miss you when you are gone. Be as humble as you can. Life has too many twists and turns. Let your work speak for itself at the end of the day. You see people in the NFL play 8, 9, 10 years in the NFL who you never heard of when they were in college. If people focused more on improving their skills and letting their work speak for itself instead of tooting their own horn all the time they’d enjoy their career a whole lot more."

Would you like to learn more about what Kinnon Tatum is currently doing with Allstate? Are you interested in become serious about your savings and retirement planning? Kinnon has some great information from you, coming from a person who was lost and has clarity and direction now … Not enough former professional athletes experience comfortable retirement and it's primarily because of knowledge. I invite you to explore the most liquid, tax-free options available today.

For more information regarding your savings and retirement planning you can contact Kinnon at:

I’d like to give a big thank you to Kinnon for stopping by the blog. It was an absolute pleasure to walk through his journey with him. Stay tuned for more great stories in the “Where are they now?” series! If you enjoy this series you can also read more stories in my book, “Echoes From the End Zone: The Men We Became” available at

Cheers & Go Irish!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Sherman, Sherman, Sherman

What the media didn't show you post interview ...
Guest post by Oscar McBride

Sherman, Sherman, Sherman

Family –

I’ve done my best to stay out of the whole Richard Sherman “thing,” but some of the things I’m hearing out there are beginning to make me sick. Hopefully at some point we’ll all figure out this is about nothing more than sport, showmanship and popularity. How our sports media personalities missed this simple staging is beyond me… I guess sport media coverage has changed as much sport itself.

Hmmmmm…. Maybe that’s another blog post – nevertheless, I digress.

First of all I’m going on record by saying the man (Sherman) is genius… yep genius… and before you sport conservatives have a heart attack or come unglued; lemme ‘splain.

Sherman has single-handedly put the entire sports world on its ear by speaking his mind in a post-game interview… let’s get the basic questions out of the way.Was he crass? Yes. Was he abrupt? Yes. Did he speak his mind? Yes. Was he in the moment? Yes. Was it intentional? Yes. Is he dumb, a thug or stupid?
Absolutely not!

How about this: Sherman asked that his Twitter faithful follow his teammate Derrick Coleman, Jr. (who at the time had only about 400 followers) and now Coleman boasts a verified account with some 34K followers! That’s just since Monday!!!

Hello? Is anyone out there listening???

Can you say media in the palm of his hand…? I knew ya could.

Richard Sherman isn’t a thug, a miscreant or an idiot. He is the son of educated people who attended one of the most coveted universities in the nation outside of Notre Dame… Stanford.  He is hands down the best defensive back in pro football and has the mindset and the swagger to back it all up.

Let’s look back a few years in sport shall we? Follow me now… don’t get lost…

Does anyone remember a guy named Cassius Marcellus Clay who later became “The Greatest of All Time?” Was there ever any doubt about what he was thinking or what he was planning to do in the ring? Nope… as a matter of fact the only shock the world received was when he didn’t win! Did you know that Ali is actually credited with changing showmanship in sport… by being on-edge, unpredictable and fun?!

What about this other guy whoplayed corner in the NFL nicknamed “Primetime?”  Was he considered a thug or was he just ignorantly acting out? Hmmmm… whatever the plan he “prime-timed” his was into the NFL Hall of Fame and grabbed a couple of Super Bowl rings with the 49ers and Cowboys in route.
Anyone can say what is considered by many to be “the right thing.”  How great would it be to hear Peyton Manning say, “Brady got bitched. There was nothing they could do against our defense and my offense carved them up.”Instead he carefully chooses his words as if walking through the desert trying to avoid IED’s. In some cases completely repeating himself… not that I don’t love Peyton – jus’ sayin.

Good grief man! Say what’s on your mind!!!!

In honesty it takes some stones to go against the grain on live TV… knowing that what you say will fall under the scrutiny of millions of viewers. But if you have a plan….all attention becomes good attention.
 Yeah I know… it’s rough… conservatives take a breath… this will be over soon.

Let’s switch gears shall we?

For those of you who think that Sherman didn’t plan this whole thing you’re being somewhat shallow in your thought process. Let’s look at the details shall we? A close friend of mine always says, “The devil is in the details” so let’s see what a closer examination brings.

1. He’s going to his first Super Bowl
2. He’s in a contract year… BIG contract year
3. He’s a leader on arguably the best defense in the NFL
4. He made the “play” that helped solidify his team’s place in the Super Bowl
5. He’s in a contract year… BIG contract year
6. He’s the best cornerback in the NFL
7. He wrote an eloquent letter dispelling any issues regarding his actions less than 24 hours later… and posted it
8. Wait… did I mention he’s in a contract year… BIG contract year?
9. He spun the “incident” into a web of racism and elitism that we all jumped on hook, line and sinker
10. And finally… he’s in a contract year…. BIG contract year

We (yes, I include myself in the madness) are giving this man exactly what he wants… attention, controversy and a great platform to catapult him from the side stagein all but forgotten Seattle to an NFL superstar amidst making a game saving play in one of the best NFC Championship games ever played.

Why wouldn’t he do something different knowing the cameras were rolling…? DUH!!

At the end of the day we all have our opinions about athletes; what they do, how they do it and whether we agree or not… that’s one of the fundamental joys of sport. But if anyone out there doesn’t believe this whole “incident” as I heard it called today wasn’t pre-planned – maybe you should take a closer look at what’s really going on before you jump in. Professional sport is changing people….pay attention.

“Oh Sherman, Sherman, Sherman!” (Mama Clump Voice – While Clapping Hands)!

Sport is Life
Oscar McBride ‘94
Twitter: @Ask_Oscar


Monday, January 20, 2014

What if ...?

“Former otre Dame President Father Ted Hesburgh with
Martin Luther King, Jr. at a civil rights rally in 1964."
Guest Post by Oscar McBride

Family –

As I sit here today basking in the freedom of living in the United States of America and celebrating Martin Luther King Day, I had some random thoughts (as I often do) run through my mind. These thoughts made me ask the inevitable question: “what if?”

The obvious first question I asked was: “What if there was no Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?” I think this question is particularly poignant given the time and the rise of civil rights leaders. Medgar Evers was assassinated on his driveway in June of 1963 and Malcolm was assassinated in February of 1965 presumably by The Nation. At that time, King stood alone in his quest for equality using a non-violent approach.

I couldn’t help but ask myself: “If there was no Dr. King would I be able to enjoy the freedoms I enjoy today as an African-American? Would someone else have risen to the forefront to open American’s eyes to the blatant inequalities running rampant in society?

Wait … wait … don’t click off just yet … this isn’t a Civil Rights history lesson – but rather a collection of thoughts that will I’ll bring to conclusion a little later …

Lemme ‘splain.

The aforementioned thoughts gave way to my thinking about how much sport has changed and how many African American student-athletes forgo their collegiate experience and completing their educations for the money and fame of the professional ranks.

Hmmmmm … Let’s see.

There are 102 underclassmen leaving for the NFL this season. Given the known demographic that 67% of all NFL players are African-American it would be safe to assume that at least that percentage number of student-athletes leaving early for the NFL are also African-American.

Let’s be clear here … I’m not suggesting that student-athletes should risk losing millions of dollars as a professional in order to stay in school… what I am suggesting is that maybe there should be a change to the letters of intent they sign out of high school.

Enter my second question: “What if the NCAA changed the national letters of intent? What if all student-athletes were required to reimburse the institutions that paid for them to attend and play sports?”

Check this out …

Let’s say a player left early for the NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL. If there was a clause in the national letter of intent which stated that if a player left early he would be required to:

1. Reimburse the college or university for half of the financial aid and benefits he received during his time there


2. Required to return to the college of university previously attended and pay for his full tuition and books in an effort to insure he completes his education

would we have as many student-athletes leaving early for the professional ranks? Interesting concept isn’t it?

Again, this isn’t a quest to deter student-athletes from seizing opportunities presented to them, but rather adding a level of conscience responsibility to their thought process. I love sport … especially high school sport, but once the “leap” is made to the next level there seems to be a fundamental disconnect to the ultimate reason student-athletes are called STUDENT-ATHLETES not ATHLETE-STUDENTS.

Anyway, I just thought I would share some of my random thoughts with you today… let me know what you think. I would be interested to hear your perspective.

Sport is Life.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Where Are They Now? Pat Eilers

At Notre Dame, the improbable is done on a daily basis. There are student-athletes at Notre Dame and then there is Pat Eilers. Notre Dame did not offer a bio-medical engineering program at the time, so Pat instead graduated with degrees in both Biology (pre-med) (’89) and Mechanical Engineering (’90). On top of that he played both football (a member of the 1988 national championship team) and baseball. He went on to play in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins, and Chicago Bears after Notre Dame, and then embarked upon a successful career in the private equity industry. Pat currently lives in Chicago with his wife and four children – Elizabeth and Katherine are a junior and a freshman, respectively, at Notre Dame, Clare is a sophomore in high school at Loyola Academy, and Patrick is a fifth grader at Saints Faith Hope & Charity. What does Pat Eilers’ journey look like? Come take a walk with Notre Dame football (strong safety, flanker, and split end) and baseball player Pat Eilers.

Featured image: Split end Pat Eilers (’90) receiving treatment after injuring his hand against the Buffaloes. [Photo: Notre Dame Archives]

Q: What prompted you to make the decision to leave Yale and attend Notre Dame to play football?

A: “I broke my collar-bone halfway through the football season of my senior year in high school at St. Thomas Academy in Minnesota. We went undefeated during the regular season but I played in only five of the nine games, given the injury. In the first game of the playoffs we lost in overtime to our rival, Cretin High School. I was a skilled (well … semi-skilled) position player from Minnesota, which meant I was being heavily recruited by several Ivy League schools and less so by the major Division I schools. I did not receive a scholarship offer from the major Division I schools and decided to attend Yale to play football and baseball, thinking it could be a really good fit for me.”

“During my first year, I played on the freshman football team at Yale (freshmen weren’t allowed to play on the varsity).  Our last game of the season was against Harvard, known as — ‘The Game.’ My Dad had come to New Haven to see me play and to go to the varsity game. As we sat watching the varsity play in the Yale Bowl, which was approximately half full, it was hard not to compare it to the times my Dad had taken me to a Notre Dame game once a year where the stadium was always filled to the brim. Sitting there watching the Yale-Harvard varsity game, I told my dad while Yale was a great school and I had great friends, I wanted to consider transferring to Notre Dame in the spring.”

“Before I left New Haven in the spring, I went to the football coach’s office to see my coach, Coach Kelly. I told him I was going to my sister’s graduation at Notre Dame and had also set up a meeting with Coach Holtz.  I explained that I intended to transfer to Notre Dame. Coach Kelly told me that he didn’t think it would be a good decision; he thought I had a good football career ahead of me at Yale and I would most likely go to Notre Dame and not play at all. I replied that while that may but true, I’d rather go to Notre Dame and never play than stay at Yale and always wonder what would have happened if I did transfer. So as I drove home to Minnesota, I stopped by Notre Dame for my sister’s graduation and had my meeting with Coach Holtz.”

“I explained to Coach Holtz that I had been accepted as a transfer student and asked him if he would allow me to try out for the team in the fall as a walk-on. He told me I could walk on and further, if I proved I could contribute to the team by vying for a starting position, there would be an opportunity for me to earn a scholarship. I practiced that fall with the scout team as a tailback (I was ineligible to play that fall due to the transfer). In the spring, I was switched to strong safety. Coming out of spring ball, George Streeter and I were competing for the starting job and Coach Holtz true to his word awarded me a scholarship.”

Q: What is your best Notre Dame Football memory?

Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz led the
1988 Fighting Irish to a 12-0 record.
Getty Images
A: “I have so many great Notre Dame football memories that it is difficult to pick just one. However, two stick out most in my mind, one happened during my first spring practice and the other happened on a Saturday afternoon in 1988.”

“We were in spring practice during my sophomore year, I was playing strong-safety and my good friend Andy Heck (Currently the Offensive Line Coach for the Kansas City Chiefs) was playing tight end. I was lined up against Andy and he held me on a running play where the running back broke contain and ran for fifteen yards.  I heard Coach Holtz holler, ‘Eilers, I’m trying to find you a position, son. Maybe you should have kept your ass at Yale.’”

“I responded, ‘Coach, I didn’t transfer from Yale not to play.’”

“Coach Holtz replied, ‘Run the play again.’”

“I lined up across from Andy again– mind you I was 200 pounds and he weighed 300 — I held contain this time, stopping the running back at the line of scrimmage.”

“Coach Holtz came up and tapped me on the helmet and said, ‘I think you’re going to be okay son.’”

“That was a seminal moment for me that spring. I was either going to be written off by coach or be a part of his plans. At that moment, I felt as though I was going to get a shot to contribute and play.”

“Andy Heck ultimately switched from tight end to tackle – where he went on to become a first round draft pick for the Seattle Seahawks. Andy was probably the highest paid guy coming out of Notre Dame, I was a free agent.”

“My other favorite moment occurred during the 1988 Notre Dame-Miami game. Miami’s quarterback was Steve Walsh, who also was the quarterback of my high school rival, Cretin. In my senior year of high school, we beat Cretin during the regular season where I had intercepted Steve twice but they beat us in the first playoff game. (Walsh and I also played together when we were both with the Chicago Bears.)”

“Now we were playing against each other on a much bigger stage. A lot of people from St. Paul came to see both of us play. Steve played really well but thankfully we won.”

“Coach Holtz called my number close to the Miami goal-line and I scored the first touchdown of my career. It was a thrill to score a touchdown in the south end zone and look up and see Touchdown Jesus over the top of the north-end of the stadium. Beating Miami is something I will never forget; they came into the game ranked number one and hadn’t lost in a couple of years.  Our 1988 Notre Dame team went onto an undefeated season and won the National Championship.”

Q: Your fellow teammate Tony Rice asked me to ask you how you got the nickname Robo Cop.

A: “(laughing …) well, for starters, the only All-American award/recognition I attained in college was being named an All-American in strength and conditioning. I wasn’t nearly as fast as Rocket or Ricky Watters but I was I fast enough, and had the strength of a lineman. There was a character named Robo Cop in the Terminator movies and they thought I looked/moved like him.   I was less fluid and more robotic than other skilled position players and that is how I believe I got the nickname Robo Cop, from Tony and my receivers Coach Pete Cordelli.”

Q: What was it like playing for Coach Holtz?

A: “Coach Holtz did a great job of identifying where each players attributes could most benefit the team. I went from a running back as a transfer sophomore, to a strong safety in the spring and following fall, to a flanker/split end for the remaining part of my career at Notre Dame. Coach Holtz and his staff should be complimented for finding the roles in which each player could utilize their God-given ability best. He developed an attitude amongst the team where everyone was respected, regardless of their role; players put the team first. To have that many personalities and egos, put their own personal goals and ambitions behind that of the team and University-oriented goals … that’s a pretty unique accomplishment for a Coach and his staff.”

“He also never let complacency enter the equation.  I’ll use the ‘88 team as an example. We were 12-0 on Saturday, but we were 0-12 on Sunday. What I mean is that after each win we would go to watch film on Sunday, and despite there being plenty of positive reinforcement, the staff always identified numerous ways we could improve. Each Monday, Coach Holtz would tell us that it was going to be really, really difficult to beat whoever we were playing the following Saturday. On Tuesday, Coach would tell us if we bought into the game plan that we might actually have a chance. By Wednesday he would tell us that he could see the light at the end of the tunnel. On Thursday he was feeling really good about our chances, and on Friday it was almost a foregone conclusion that we would prevail on Saturday with another victory.  Each Friday night, he’d have us lay on the floor at Loftus and have us visualize doing our jobs, making big plays and the team winning the game. By Saturday pre-game, he’d tell us there was no way we could lose, and sure enough we won. Then on Sunday, we’d start the whole process all over again. As a college freshman or sophomore you didn’t realize what was happening to you each week, but you eventually understood as a junior and senior that striving for excellence requires the team to be frightened of becoming complacent. Practices under Coach Holtz were incredibly more difficult than game day ever was. If you could survive practice, then chances were you’d be very successful during the game.”

Q: What was it like being a student-athlete at Notre Dame? How did being a student-athlete at Notre Dame prepare you for life after college?

A: “For me, one of the most important benefits of attending Notre Dame was learning to balance both work in the classroom and on the field. The Notre Dame Faculty and coaches taught us how to be successful at both academics and athletics.”

“There was a time at Yale in the 80’s and before when its football teams were competing for the National Title, but the Ivy League made a decision to not continue investing at a level so its football programs could compete for National Titles. In my mind, they sacrificed their football programs ability to compete for National Titles.”

“Some SEC schools, on the other hand, would appear to sacrifice their academic focus, witnessed by their anemic graduation rates, to ensure their teams excel athletically.”

“Stanford has done an excellent job in all their athletic endeavors, witnessed by their perennial first place finishes in the Sears Directors Cup while excelling academically.”

“While, I feel at Notre Dame, we strive for excellence in both academics and athletics, but also in the student-athletes’ spiritual development.”

“Father John Jenkins says, ‘We strive to be the pre-eminent Catholic, faith-based research institution in the world,’ and that means a lot to me. Not only have some schools sacrificed their football programs along the way, but they also lost their religious focus.”

“Being a student-athlete at Notre Dame meant I didn’t have to sacrifice my pursuit of excellence in academics, athletics, or developing spiritually. That was the big appeal to me.”

“Notre Dame didn’t have a bio-medical engineering program so I pursued degrees in mechanical engineering and biology (pre-med). I graduated after my fourth year of college with a biology degree and given my transfer I had a fifth year of eligibility to play football. I stayed and utilized my athletic eligibility and finished my mechanical engineering degree. I contemplated going to medical school, but I was able to play in the NFL while working in private equity during the offseason. I decided against going back to medical school after I finished my football career given my age and the number of year’s medical school and specialization would have taken.”

“Like everyone in college, you definitely had to sacrifice; in particular I sacrificed a lot of sleep. There is an American Studies professor at Notre Dame, Professor Pierce who spoke at my freshman daughter’s athletic orientation. He gave what I call his ‘improbable speech.’ His speech went something like this: ‘you are told in today’s society that you can’t strive to be excellent in both academics and athletics. If your pursuit is academics, then you certainly can’t excel in athletics and if your pursuit is athletics, then you certainly can’t excel in academics.  But at Notre Dame we pursue excellence in both, so we pursue the improbable. Professor Pierce then states, when you get hurt and you have to play … press on. When you are in the classroom and get an unsatisfactory grade … press on. When you get home from training table and you still have a 10-page paper to write that evening … press on.’”

“I played both baseball and football, and as long as we didn’t have a baseball game, I’d be at spring football practice. It was grueling balancing the rigorous academics while playing two sports, but it is a big reason for why I am who I am today.”

Q: How do you remember your NFL draft? 

A: “I received several phone calls in the later rounds of the NFL draft but was not selected. After the draft was over, I received offers from four NFL teams. The Bears and Saints were looking at me as a receiver while the Giants and Vikings were interested in me as a safety. I felt safety was my more natural position. At Notre Dame, we ran more of a run/option-style offense which is why I was able to play flanker.  However, I wasn’t an NFL-style receiver so I knew my chances to make a team were much better at the safety position. And seeing that I was from Minnesota, and my wife (who I met between my junior and senior years in college) was already living in the Twin Cities, it made sense to take the offer from the Vikings. And so that’s what I did.”

Q: What was it like playing in the NFL? 

A:  ”During my rookie year in the NFL in 1990, only two free agents made it (with the Vikings), me and John Randall. Signing with Minnesota and making the team my rookie season was a real thrill; I was playing for my hometown team, in effect a dream come true. I played predominantly special teams, and at safety on third down, short yardage, and goal-line situations. During the last game of my first preseason just before final cuts, I was told by our Head Coach, Jerry Burns, ‘Pat, in order to make the team you need to make every tackle on kick-off.’ On the first kickoff you’re thinking, not only are you competing against the other team but now you’re competing with your own teammates, too. I made the first tackle and came off of the field and Coach Burns told me, ‘One down, but you need to make a few more!’”

“I made the team, and ended up playing in the NFL for 6 years.”

“After two years with the Vikings I was a free agent and Coach Green came in as the new head coach. The Vikings did not choose to protect me and I received three other free agent offers in addition to an offer from the Vikings, they came from the Arizona Cardinals, the Buffalo Bills, and the Washington Redskins. The Cardinals offered me the best contract with the largest signing bonus, so that’s where I decided to go. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.  My wife moved to Arizona on a Friday, my car got shipped from Minnesota to Arizona on Saturday, and I was cut on Monday, it was extremely disappointing.  (Ironically, another Notre Dame Player, Dave Duerson, ended up being the last safety to make the team). That was the low point of my professional football career.”

“We drove back to Minnesota and I resumed my full-time off-season job as a venture capitalist and worked there while flying around and working out for the NFL teams who were interested in signing me.”

“Charlie Casserly, the General Manager of the Washington Redskins, and Joe Gibbs had been talking to me. Charlie kept telling me that they were going to sign me. Finally, I flew out to DC and went in to see Mr. Casserly. I introduced myself to the receptionist, BJ, and said ‘I’m here to see Mr. Casserly.’ Casserly came out and said, ‘Pat, what is this all about?’ I replied, ‘You’ve talked to me repeatedly about bringing me in to sign me and I decided it was time to figure out whether you are going to get this done or not. I either need to do this or put this behind me?’ He asked me if I could wait and went back into his meeting. After three hours, he came back and asked me if I could stay overnight and workout the following day. After my workout the next day, the Redskins signed me.”

“Playing for Joe Gibbs was a tremendous experience; Coach Gibbs stays in contact with all his former players to this day. That was a real high point in my NFL career. I ended up playing for the Redskins for three years. My last NFL stop, after playing for the Redskins, was playing for the Chicago Bears under Dave Wanstedt in 1995.”

“During my six NFL off-seasons, I initially worked at IAI Venture Capital for Steven Rothmeier in Minneapolis and then at Jordan Industries for Jay Jordan and Tom Quinn.”

“What I learned from the whole Cardinals/Redskins experience was this: I chose to play with the Cardinals because they had offered me the largest signing bonus and biggest contract, and I ignored where my heart was, given the organizational fit and my comfort with the coaches and teammates.  This ended up being a great learning experience. When the Redskins, an organization and group of people that I believed in (I really admired and respected what Coach Gibbs stood for), decided to sign me, things end up working out for the best. I learned an important life lesson, which is making decisions based solely for monetary reasons should not be the sole factor in making the best decisions.”

Q: Where did life take you after football?

Pat Eilers
A: “After I was done playing in the NFL, I continued to work for Jay Jordan and Tom Quinn at Jordan Industries. Then, I decided to go back to business school and get a MBA at the Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business. After receiving my MBA, I was hired by Madison Dearborn Partners (“MDP”), a private equity firm in Chicago (on the corner of Madison and Dearborn).”

“Madison Dearborn’s Chairman, John Canning, told me he decided to call it Madison Dearborn because it’s about the organization and the organizations legacy. MDP manages eighteen billion dollars and our current fund is a 4 billion dollar buyout and growth equity fund. Our limited partners (our investors) include endowments such as Notre Dame, Yale, Stanford, and Harvard, and our investors also include public and private pension funds.”

Q: What advice would you give current student-athletes?

A: :”If you are a student-athlete at Notre Dame, remember that college is about developing yourself academically, athletically, and spiritually. You can’t let any one of these endeavors jeopardize your development in one of the others. You have to try and develop all three and to do this; you will likely end up sacrificing sleep and some social activities in college. Just like Professor Pierce at Notre Dame said, you try to accomplish the improbable on a daily basis.  You need to ignore the conventional wisdom that you cannot pursue excellence in both academics as well as athletics.”

“Chuck Forman, the all-pro running back from Minnesota told me, ‘Pat, make sure when you look back on your football career you can say you used football and that football didn’t use you.’ He told me there were a lot of people who wanted to be around him while he was playing football, but disappeared when he was done. It took him two years to realize that he had to get up and start another career post-football (selling copiers). He said, ‘You should work during the offseason to develop a second career.’ The average duration of a career in the NFL is 2.8 years, that’s why they say it stands for ‘Not for Long’ — 2.8 years is hardly what you would call a career.”

“A lot of kids are respected because they are able to produce on the field, but everyone who contributes to the team, including the team managers, as an example, are just as important as the superstar on the team. Remember to remain humble about the whole experience — that is paramount.”

“The person you deem successful is only successful because they have failed and lost more than anyone else, but they never gave up.”

“One time I was at an event with Coach Holtz and he said, ‘Pat, you look around the room and there are a lot of successful people here, but if you are not careful, success breeds complacency.”

I’d like to thank Pat Eilers for graciously taking some time out of his busy schedule to stop by the blog. We all greatly appreciate it! Stay tuned for many more great stories in the “Where are they now?” series! If you enjoy this series, you can also read more stories in my new book, “Echoes From the End Zone: The Men We Became“ now available for purchase.

Cheers & Go Irish!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Where Are They Now? Byron Spruell

A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives. ~Jackie Robinson

[Featured image: Notre Dame Football (Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)]

Byron Spruell had aspirations of becoming an engineer since he was in the sixth grade, when his teacher told him that his math and science talents would serve him well in the engineering field. When he reached high school and not only excelled academically, but also athletically on the football field and basketball court, Byron received the opportunity to attend the University of Notre Dame on a football scholarship. Recruited by head coach Gerry Faust and ultimately finishing his collegiate career playing for head coach Lou Holtz, Byron experienced what it was like to play college football under two very different personalities. Now Byron is a vice-chairman of Deloitte LLP, managing principal of the organization’s Central region, as well as managing principal of Deloitte’s Chicago office. Spruell helps drive Deloitte’s national strategy for client and business growth, as well as the firm’s strategic positioning in local markets across 17 states in the Central region. Byron and his wife Sedra have two children: Devyn and Aleah.

Q: Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, how did you end up playing football at Notre Dame?

A: “I was the product of two excellent role models. My mother was a seamstress/tailor and my dad was an engineer at the sewer district. They wanted my siblings and I to do our absolute best in everything we did. At the culmination of my high school career I was co-valedictorian of my high school class, and I had several opportunities to play football and basketball at Division I schools. The key criteria for what I wanted to get out of college helped me narrow down my choices to end up selecting the University of Notre Dame. What I was looking for was a school that was not only serious about academics, but also had a great athletics program. I also wanted a school that was close enough to home that my family could come see me play. Notre Dame passed all of my requirements with flying colors.”

“My parents ended up being able to come see me play for the majority of the home games through my senior year, and then for my fifth year of eligibility they were able to see every home and away game. It’s one thing to be good on the field, or off the field, but Notre Dame helped me excel in both of these areas and that was exactly what I wanted and aspired to achieve.”

“The other schools that I looked at besides Notre Dame were Vanderbilt, West Virginia, and Ohio State (particularly considering that I grew up in the Buckeye State). I knew once I got on campus for my visit at Notre Dame that it was a great fit for me. The style of teaching and learning in the classroom, the people walking around, I immediately felt welcome. My host during my visit to Notre Dame was Allen Pinkett. He was one year ahead of me and was in the school of engineering, so I’m sure they matched me up with him so that I could have the chance to meet another football player in a path that I wanted to pursue. By the time I got to ND the next year though, Allen had decided that trying to study engineering and play football was too rigorous of a schedule for him and he had transferred into the school of business. (The engineering school was aptly nicknamed ‘pre-business’ and they often times told freshman, ‘look left and look right…one of you will be gone at the end of your freshman year.’) When I was a senior at ND they paired me up with a visiting Rod West, who was very focused on academics and mildly interested in studying engineering at Notre Dame. After shadowing with me he made a comment that his head would explode if he had to take the engineering classes that I was in and it confirmed his choice to go straight to the business school!”

“I would have to say though, that one of the main reasons that I chose Notre Dame was because of how well they combined academics with athletics. My sixth grade teacher told me I was good at math and science and that I should become an engineer. I wanted to be a design engineer for one of the big three U.S.-based auto companies and that’s why I chose to study mechanical engineering, but as I neared graduation they were not doing so well. I had the chance to extend my studies and begin work on my MBA during my fifth year at ND which was also special because it was Tim Brown’s Heisman year. When I wasn’t drafted in the NFL after that year, I decided to remain at ND and finish my MBA. The year I finished my MBA, Notre Dame won the national championship. It was fun and rewarding to be on campus and witness the team’s success. Coach Holtz gave me and my fellow co-captain Chuck Lanza national championship rings because we had done so much to get the team to that point.  I cherish that ring and my relationship with Coach Holtz as he is a mentor to this day (a ‘Coach for Life’ as he would say).”

Q: What is your best Notre Dame football memory?

A: “The game against USC in 1986 sticks out in my mind. Out in Los Angeles, the whole environment, the Coliseum, the Trojan horse, down by 22 points…we rallied together as a team that day to pull out the win. It was Coach Holtz’s first year at Notre Dame. We lost five games that year by a total of six points. It was crazy how close we were but just couldn’t pull out the wins. It was the final game of the season and we were down 37-15 at halftime.”

“Sure, we were down 22 points out in Los Angeles, but we rallied under Coach Holtz’s leadership and came back to win the game on a last-second field goal by John Carney. We had started to build some real camaraderie that season and that win over USC gave us great momentum to carry us into the next year. On the flight back, Chuck Lanza and I got the indication that we would be co-captains next year. To have that type of victory in a hostile house environment and then to know the team felt that I was a leader moving forward is something I will never forget.”

Q: What was it like playing for Coach Faust? Coach Holtz?

1987 Fighting Irish Captain Byron Spruell
A: “Coach Faust really delegated a lot to his assistant coaches as compared to Coach Holtz who leveraged his coaching staff but still had command of every single detail. Holtz used his coaches but was completely involved. Coach Faust appeared to be more of a figurehead and was not so much in full command.”

“As a result, Coach Holtz really spent a lot of time, not only with his coaches but with his players, too. He helped us grow and develop into men (and this carried off the football field as well). I still remember going into his office for career advice as I was deciding between several employment offers.  He advised me to focus on “What’s Important Now” (WIN) and to secure a good foundation with a company that cared about my continued growth and development, a place that promoted excellence with people I could trust.  Those words have always been in my mind throughout my career and the organizations I have been associated with.”

“Coach Holtz made sure you understood three things. One, that he cared about his players. Two, that he made sure you were ready for what you were going to face on the football field. Three, that he was your coach for life, and made sure you were ready for your future both on and off of the field. He prepared you with the details that would make you a good football player, but also prepared you to be a good man in the business world or wherever life would take you.”

“Again, one of the most important factors that led me to choose to attend Notre Dame was how well they combined academics and athletics — Coach Holtz was a big part of why this worked so well. He prepared you for the details that would make you a good football player, but this same attention to detail was also what was going to make you a good man and successful at whatever you pursued after football.”

Q: What was it like being a student-athlete at Notre Dame? How did being a student-athlete at Notre Dame prepare you for life after college?

A: “For the most part it was all about balance, work ethic, and discipline. I like to be busy anyways but you need to cut through the clutter and be organized to succeed at a place like Notre Dame as a student-athlete. I really liked the environment at Notre Dame. It was a good fit for me. At Notre Dame you are truly a student-athlete. There are no athletics dorms. You are a student first and an athlete second — you carry yourself that way. You are given certain opportunities but you are not separated and you are not made to feel special or privileged compared to your fellow students. With the exception of Wednesday training table and game day (when we had steak), we ate dining hall food just like everybody else (only a few hours later).”

“Class, film, study, practice, training table, and then you go back to your dorm and study some more. You are tired and don’t feel like studying, but you still have to get it done. I definitely spent some late nights with David Letterman on in the background while getting my work done. It took hard work and discipline to play football and get my engineering degree and my MBA from Notre Dame.”

“My wife lived in Badin. I met her at an SYR (“Screw Your Roommate”) dance freshman year (that was our first date). We dated all four years, studied together as undergraduate engineering students, and got engaged between our fifth year and the final year of graduate school. She got her graduate degree in Aerospace Engineering and I got my MBA.”

“The engineering department was a challenging place to be — it definitely was not a place for the faint of heart! I had some adversity athletically as well, suffering some injuries at Notre Dame. I had hoped to work in the NFL and pursue some business opportunities during the offseason, but the knee injuries that I suffered as a student-athlete came back to haunt me, and the NFL didn’t think I was good enough or hungry enough. Even though this was a disappointment, I was okay with it. It allowed me to go back and get my MBA. It was a wonderful experience playing football at ND and I would have loved to continue that path, but at the end of the day the NFL is a business and you learn that fact very quickly. I would not change a thing.”

“From a diversity perspective, the environment at Notre Dame was very similar to my high school experience so I was not shocked when I got to ND. I didn’t have any situations that were negative as a student-athlete and the situations that I did encounter got me ready for the business world in terms of connecting with people from all walks of life and it was a very positive experience.”

“When you come out of Notre Dame you are prepared for the next chapter. In my case, I had a great football experience (and was molded by a great coach), two degrees that I could build a career upon (and be branded as a “Double Domer”), and a bonus of meeting a wonderful young woman with whom I could build a life and future family.  I definitely look back and appreciate all of the opportunity that the ND experience afforded me.”

Q: Where did life take you after football?

Byron Spruell, Deloitte LLP
A: “True to form as a coachable and approachable person given my athletics background and ability to connect, I always sought out advice. I spoke with Coach Holtz and he wanted me seek out a company where I could trust the people, love what I do, and they were committed to excellence.  I talked to one of my professors, Clay Smith, and he told me that I probably wanted to start out in consulting and special services and get exposed to a lot of different things. Then, after that experience, I could move back into the corporate world if I saw fit. I simply wanted to use both my engineering skills and my MBA skills that I had attained. With all of this input, I looked at a number of corporate and consulting opportunities and decided on taking a job with Peterson Consulting, which was founded by Alan Peterson who came out of the old Andersen firm and started this business that focused on consulting and litigation support. They were headquartered in Chicago and they had an office in Houston which was great for me since my wife got a job at Rockwell on site at NASA. At Peterson, I definitely got the opportunity to use both sets of skills (engineering and MBA/financial skills), and I also got to work with attorneys to use the dispute skills that I learned in my business law class.”

“For the first seven years of my career I did bankruptcy work, construction claims, and environmental claims which was a great proving ground and exposed me to client service and what I do today. Then I made the move to Deloitte & Touche. I was on the road a lot during my time with Peterson Consulting and my wife and I were ready to start a family. The move to Deloitte allowed me to stay at home more. It got me into a new practice that had an entrepreneurial spirit like Peterson had, but with the support of a big company and brand behind me. It was also in Houston and I focused on the oil and gas industry and business insurance claims consulting.”

“In 2004 I moved to the Deloitte office in Chicago to focus on broader financial advisory services, and then in 2007 I moved to the New York Deloitte office and served as Chief of Staff to former U.S. CEO and current global CEO Barry Salzberg. I was involved in operations, communications, strategy, global, regulatory/policy, talent, and clients/market matters. I spent a great deal of time shadowing Salzberg, and foreshadowing him as well. You need to always try and be a couple steps ahead of him in order to avoid any surprises. Like Holtz, Barry had a huge impact on me as a person and helped shape my professional career. In 2011 I became Global Managing Director of Financial Advisory and now I am back in the Chicago office as the Central Region and Chicago Managing Principal.”

“One of the most important things that I have learned along my career journey is to always be coachable. Never feel as though you know everything or that you can do this alone. Be prepared for new opportunities and be flexible and adaptable. Notre Dame really teaches you how to learn — this is also the culture at Deloitte. We pride ourselves in growing leaders and also have a great connection to Notre Dame and the Mendoza School of Business.”

Q: What advice would you give current student-athletes?

A: “I currently sit on the monogram club board and one of our jobs is to be a liaison between the current student-athletes and former student-athletes through mentoring and providing advice about the professional and business world. The biggest thing, particularly for ND student athletes, is to stay focused, perform, and be coachable. Know that Notre Dame is a special brand that people really do respect. IF you come through a place like Notre Dame and do well both academically and athletically, you will have a great value in the marketplace. Use that to your advantage.”

Q: Can you talk about your involvement with the Jackie Robinson Foundation?

A: “One of the things I most enjoy is giving back to the community. I love to give back and invest in people. My passions are diversity and education. We do a fair amount of mentoring for Jackie Robinson scholars. I give my time, talent, and treasure because it is about mentoring and developing, growing them into young men and women and giving them opportunities to go to college that they might not otherwise have. I keep a fair amount of relationships going to provide advice and counsel to give them perspective on what they are going through. I look forward to continuing to work with them. They have a lot of credibility in the market with the successes they’ve achieved.”

I’d like to thank Byron Spruell for graciously taking some time out of his busy schedule to stop by the blog. We all greatly appreciate it! Stay tuned for many more great stories in the “Where are they now?” series! If you enjoy this series, you can also read more stories in my new book, “Echoes From the End Zone: The Men We Became” now available for purchase.

Cheers & Go Irish!