Monday Must Read
A great bit from Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column and leveraging sports for an education.
Now for something completely different. Scott Sicko is a senior at the University of New Hampshire, a Football Championship Subdivision (nee Division I-AA) first-team all-America tight end and an interesting NFL prospect. At 6-foot-4 and 251 pounds, he’s a willing blocker with soft hands. He worked out privately for the Patriots. He was on radar screens around the league. Until last weekend.
On Saturday, he sat at home in Stillwater, N.Y., about a half-hour north of Albany, with his parents, girlfriend andsome other relatives. They waited for hours, pick after pick after pick. His name wasn’t called. A few picks before the final choice of the seventh round, he started discussing with his family what was in his heart.
Sicko got a scholarship to play football at New Hampshire. But he always thought he was at college to get an education, then to play football. He majored in History with a minor in Political Science. He’s set to graduate on time May 22, and he’s considering returning to school to finish a double-major (taking more poli-sci courses), or going for a Master’s in History, and then, if all goes well, maybe a Ph.D. in History. “I love American history,” he said. “I love knowing where we’ve been as a country, and how we got to where we are today. I’ve had so many great influences as teachers, and I think it would be fun someday to teach, maybe in college.”
So with the final few picks winding down, Sicko told his family the truth: If he didn’t get drafted, he wanted to go back to college full-time and see what direction the road took him. “I love football,” he said. “I’ve been playing since I was seven years old, and playing in the NFL was always a dream of mine. I can’t say if I would have made it if I’d have signed with somebody and tried to make it as a free-agent. I don’t know. But this … this just felt right.”
He said he had no bitterness, no anger at teams for not picking him. But when he thought about a football life on the edge of a roster — possibly an itinerant life of an undrafted free-agent, working out day after day to try to get a shot in an NFL camp, or moving from one NFL practice squad to another, or possibly being on an active roster — it didn’t jibe with the life he wanted to live.
“I always lived my life for family first, education second and happiness third,” he said Sunday afternoon as he drove from his home in upstate New York back to New Hampshire. “I’ve found the first two lead to the third. Being away, to some that would be an adventure, and I’m not saying it wouldn’t have been fun. But let’s say I made it for a couple of years. You always hear players say, ‘I’m going to go back and finish my education.’ How many of them really do? Not many. When I thought about where I was in my life and where I wanted to go, I figured most people don’t make careers of it. I gave everything I could to football. I loved every second of it. But I love my family and school too. I just thought, I’m really excited about going back to school and seeing where real life will take me.”
But first there was a problem. Thirty-two NFL teams had his phone number. When the draft ends, teams start calling undrafted prospects to try to sign them to come to training camp. The Chargers called. Dallas called. The Jets, Jacksonville and Kansas City called.
“I told them, basically, ‘I’m honored you called me, but I’m not going to play football anymore. I’m going to further my education,”’ he said.
A couple of the teams were surprised, but he said they respected his decision and wished him luck.
“It was tough, telling NFL teams I didn’t want to be in their camps,” he said. “But it was the right thing.”
He knows people will think he’s nuts. There aren’t many athletes, given a choice, who would want to go work in the real world before giving their sport a major effort. To Sicko, it doesn’t feel like quitting. It feels like just choosing to do something else he loves. There wasn’t a sentence in a 25-minute conversation that had regret in it.
It felt logical to ask about why a mature kid like him wouldn’t want to go to a camp, just to challenge himself and see if he could do it. Wouldn’t he, for the rest of his life, question his decision? Wouldn’t he wake up one morning 30 years from now feeling like some Moonlight Graham, a guy who’d give anything to go back for just one chance, to see if he was really good enough? He just didn’t think he would ever feel that way. If I could convey how he sounded, happy and determined are the first two words that come to mind.
“How’d you feel when you woke up this morning?” I said. “Any sadness at all?”
“No,” he said. “I felt excited. It’s been a long process in football, and it was all fun. This is going to be fun too.”
It’s nice, in the midst of a weekend when football seems more important than breathing to some, that we have a different kind of role model for our kids. I hope they read everything Scott Sicko just said here.