I was committed to not playing college football. After my senior year of high school, where my team had gone 15-0 and won our school’s first state football championship, I felt satisfied with the conclusion of my football career. I was applying to different schools trying to get the best education I could, all the while ready to embrace life after athletics, and become a full-time student.
I had always known about Carnegie Mellon University, being only two hours away in Cleveland, Ohio. I had even spoken with Coach Lackner, and knew enough to know that CMU was a highly prestigious institution. Knowing that, and not wanting to burn any bridges before I made a decision that would impact my future so greatly, I made a quick campus visit, which was as simple as Coach Lackner, my mother, and myself walking around campus for three hours in the throes of the early-spring cold. I saw the campus, and was impressed with all the things Coach Lackner had to say about it, the Carnegie Mellon education experience, and the football program. Almost on a whim, I signed on after a long period of painful uncertainty and indecision, not fully believing in the choice I had made. Little did I know it could have quite possibly been the best decision I have ever, or will ever, make in my lifetime.
To make what could be an EXTREMELY long story a bit shorter, I can truthfully say that each year at Carnegie Mellon has had a great, and independent impact on my life, and on me as a person. The first thing that CMU did for me was to help me find an identity. After applying late, I began my career as an undecided H&SS (now Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences) student, and did not really know what my academic goals were. Coach Lackner gave me tremendous direction as to where I should be going, and where else I could look for help in this difficult decision. Beyond just giving me direction, the team helped me get involved very early on. I got my first work-study job on campus doing recruiting calls in the Coaches’ offices at night. That first year really taught me how to get on the right track at such a difficult institution, and without that initial direction and purpose, I would not be the man that I am today.
In my second year, the workload increased exponentially. I successfully transferred into the Tepper School of Business, and my role on the team became more than just special teams with the occasional defensive appearance. As this all began to happen, I truly began to see the value of my teammates. Our team essentially served as a network that encompassed academic tutoring for basically every major, career advice and direction, and overall help in every aspect of life from close friends who had almost always been in your shoes once before. This is something that only being a Tartan athlete could provide to a young college student.
As a junior, I was able to become more of a leader. I tried to push myself, and everyone around me, who pushed right back. On our defensive side of the ball, we had a culture that drove us all to want to not only succeed, but to have fun while doing it. That was one of my favorite defenses that I have ever been a part of for that very reason. Furthermore, now beginning to look for a junior internship, those very same players, and especially football alumni, were all practically chomping at the bit to help me. That networking ability involving people that truly care about you and wish to help you is something you can only find as an athlete. Coach Lackner was also hugely important in this regard, as he constantly offered connections and advice, incessantly reaching out to football alumni in order to be able to present opportunities for us as current players and students in literally every field of study.
Finally, in my last year I was fortunate enough to be elected captain of the football team. That kind of honor is something that I will cherish for the rest of my life, and will truly never forget. In our very first game, I managed to break my leg on the second drive against Case Western Reserve University. What originally was a 6-8 week diagnosis, turned out to be optimistic, as I missed the rest of the year. While this was extremely difficult to bear, it taught me so much more about leadership than I could have ever dreamed possible as a player alone. I had to learn to be able to lead from the sidelines, and challenge myself to still be just as involved in the team as I was in all my healthy years past. I truthfully think that hardship like that brings out the best in us, and I know that this season has made me better for what I have gone through. Again, this is something I believe you will only find through athletics.
I said earlier that I was basically dead set on staying away from college football. I also said that I essentially committed to Carnegie Mellon on a whim. Well, that “whim” sincerely changed the course of my life. Sure there were rough patches (poor performances, hardships off the field, times of doubt), but overall, nothing will ever compare to the experiences I have gained and the development I have had over these past four years. Athletics in college, and at Carnegie Mellon specifically, ad so much more to your four-year experience than is possible without them. The connections I have made, friends I have gained, and experiences that have made me the man I will leave CMU as, have molded my life in unforgettable ways. Without my teammates, my coaches, and every single member of the Tartan athletic community, I would never have gotten to where I am today. So I urge anyone who may be on the fence about furthering his or her athletic career in college at Carnegie Mellon, to make the decision I once made. You may not know it now, but the community you become a part of is far greater than you can possibly imagine. It is one that you truly can never forget, and one you will never have to, because it will always stay with you no matter where you go. A college experience is not the same without athletics, and that partnership between the two is not the same anywhere else. Even an impromptu, short walking tour in the bitter cold teaches you that no one comes to Carnegie Mellon to be average. After being here, I can honestly say that we all seek something more, and to become something great. Being an athlete allows you to do just that. Roll Tartans.