I love the process of preparing and training. Early morning workouts, film study, and healthy diet were never a sacrifice for me. No feeling compared with knowing I had put in the work to outplay my opponent and delivering results. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to play football for Carnegie Mellon University. My student-athlete experience used my passion to compete to make me a stronger leader.
As with every student-athlete’s experience, my experience as a student-athlete was unique. My perspective entering college was shaped by my pursuit of playing college hockey. In high school, college football was an afterthought to college hockey. Upon my high school graduation, I invested three years of effort and my family’s support into playing in developmental hockey leagues. Despite delaying my college matriculation, I failed to generate interest from college hockey teams. I became more confident in my potential as a football player than as a hockey player, so I emailed college football coaches hoping to extend my competitive sports career. Coach Lackner and Coach Bodnar invited me to visit Carnegie Mellon, and I made the decision to attend.
The maturity from three gap years helped me transition into college. Students, professors, and others helped me explore my interest in electrical and computer engineering. The chip on my shoulder from hockey led me to success on the football field. I developed the resilience to overcome difficult coursework and injuries. A student organization presented the opportunity to travel to Europe for a solar powered boating competition and led to internships with Ford Motor Company. My first three years at Carnegie Mellon reinforced my confidence to find individual success, but my senior season of football was when I began to grasp what leadership was about.
I had the chance to be a senior captain of the football team. Preparing for the season, the captains met with Coach Lackner. We touched on goals, expectations, and accountability, but the discussion progressed elsewhere. I am not sure exactly what was said, but I took it as: “This is your team now. People are going to follow you. Run with it.”
That message set in as training camp started. As seniors, there was no older class to look up to anymore. Thinking back to my freshman year coming onto the team, I remembered how older classes shaped my perception of the team. I realized the influence of the seniors on the juniors, the juniors on the sophomores, and the sophomores on the freshman. As a senior captain, it became clear my role was to portray my passion to compete and enable teammates with similar drive to do the same.
The captaincy pushed me out of my comfort zone. My love to train made leading by example second nature, but the role challenged my communication skills. I did my best to develop other leaders by making team members aware of their influence on the team’s success. We fostered a culture conducive to the team’s goals. When improvements could be made, I made it a point to not shy away from difficult conversations. There were times I failed to deliver the right message, but with each setback, I became better prepared to lead the team in the future. It was rewarding to see how my actions enabled other leaders to guide the team towards success.
Despite missing our goals of winning the conference and making playoffs (which still eats at my competitive side), my senior football season developed me from a person with leadership traits into a leader. I invested so much of myself into that team, and the team repaid my investment tenfold. As I conclude my experience as a Carnegie Mellon student-athlete, I move forward with confidence to pursue my passions and appreciation for the people who made the experience possible.