In Good Company

What an amazing time it’s been since Andy became a member of the University of Akron Football program. I’ve felt extreme pride coupled with a sense of accomplishment for Andy. But mixed in with this fulfilling emotion comes unnerving moments like when the phone call is from the ER at Akron City Hospital. This has happened more times than I care to remember.

Being a Division 1 football player is tough, competitive, physical, political and expensive (if you’re not on scholarship). Andy has struck a good balance between academics and athletics. And, I’m convinced his hard work – on and off the field, will pay off. Even though the bones may give out way too early in life, his education will provide a lifetime of benefits.

Published annually, the Zips Media Guide is a “who’s who” of past and present players, coaches and staff.  There are stats and records from decades ago, up to this seasons latest roster. Anything you need to know about Zips Football can be found within its 197 pages.  The most important insertion in this issue is page #59. Detron and Jon would probably agree.

Some of the names published in the Zips Media Guides are very recognizable stemming from successful NFL careers.  As of recent, Jason Taylor was the first ever Akron Zip to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There are coaches who led the Zips to bowl games and MAC Championships whose stats are embedded in Akron history. But the vast majority listed here is just a group of young men who were fortunate and talented enough to be part of a college team. Additionally this vast majority of young men never played another sanctioned football game after college, but rather pursued careers based on their education.

There are two names in this guide that I have come to know – other than my son and the group of players he’s associated with. If nothing else, these two men are prime examples of humility, and the gratified lifestyles they made outside of football.

This past June, Andy and I visited the Hartville Flea Market. The purpose was to find gently used items that could liven-up his new apartment in Akron. As we strolled through the aisles, I remembered someone from a previous Hartville visit who said he played for the Zips “back in the day.”  He started this conversation after noting my Zips Football cap.

As Andy and I sorted through the tables of stuff, I spotted a tall, well-groomed man wearing a “Jesus is my boss” tee-shirt.  Not quite sure, I asked him if at one time he played football for Akron. His tanned faced smiled from ear to ear. He extended his hand and said, “Yessir, John Stone, quarterback, ’56 to ’59.”

I introduced John to Andy as a current Zips O-lineman, to which he replied, “I wish I would have had a guy your size in front of me back then.”  He spoke to us for quite sometime – revisiting the glory days with anecdotal stories from the late 50’s.  His proudest accomplishment was holding several career high records – only to be beaten by Charlie Frye in the early 2000’s.  After college, John went on to build homes in the south Akron suburbs. Although he’s officially retired at age 78, his two sons now run the business and are “doing very well for themselves.” His vocal tone became more upbeat talking about his sons, than his QB passing records.  When Andy shook his hand and bid farewell, John said, “I wish you health, and may God bless your future.”

I became acquainted with Zach Derr while attending The Chapel in Wadsworth, Ohio. He’s a humble, down-to-earth regular guy and is completely dedicated as their lead pastor.  It kind of took me by surprise when I found out he was a member of the Akron Zips Football Hall of Fame.  As a place kicker, he set season and career high point stats, was an All Academic – MAC First Team Player for 3 years straight, and team captain in 2001.  After Akron, he took his skills and played at the pro level in Dallas, Detroit and Atlanta.

Only a couple times have I heard Zach weave a football experience into his sermon.  And, for the most part, it was centered around his activity with Christian organizations (FCA, Campus Ministries) early on in college. I’m certain if you asked Zach about his athletic history, he would acknowledge that it was a part of his life at one time, and then move on to a more timely conversation.

My point is simple. There’s an extremely small percentage of individuals that leave college and can say football is their life career. The larger percentage have experiences to share with their names and numbers printed on paper. I don’t know what the upcoming Media Guides will publish about Andy. There’s always a chance there will be others besides Akron. Who knows?

I’m confident Andy’s football experience will help elevate his values in the future. More than likely, that future probably won’t involve football.