Recruiting Reform

A week ago, the NCAA Division I Council adopted a package of recruiting rules changes that will go into effect if it is approved by the NCAA Board of Directors on April 26th. As an advocate for student-athlete welfare and a participant in the NCAA ‘s legislative process, I feel the need to share my thoughts on not only this rules package, but also the current state of Division 1 football recruiting as a whole.

To start, let’s talk about the package in three parts: The good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

1. EARLY OFFICIAL VISITS!!!! (April, May, June)

I have campaigned for early official visits for years, and this adamant belief in the need for them is rooted in my own experience. As a high school junior, I committed to the University of Oklahoma and completely ended my recruitment, even though I had never even gotten a chance to visit Stanford, one of my other top choices. Stanford is in the opposite corner of the nation as Apopka, Florida, and I could not afford to go visit campus. September 1st was the start of paid official visits, but I couldn’t wait until then. I committed early partially because I was ready, but also because I felt like I had to. The reality of the recruiting landscape is that the timeline has been moved up. Earlier offers translates into earlier commitments, which result in spots being filled sooner. I felt that if I didn’t commit, someone else would, and I would be stripped of a chance to fulfill a childhood dream. I am so thankful I chose Oklahoma, but I was not able to make a fully-informed decision due to outdated recruiting regulations. I am so grateful that the NCAA has voted to allow earlier visits! In doing so, we are allowing prospective student-athletes to make the most informed decision possible.

OS Photo shoot
Blast from the past. I was goofy. Really goofy. Wow…

2. Hard Cap on Signees

A signing class has now been limiting to just 25 people, and I believe this is a win for student-athletes. All too often, we hear stories of young men who are left without a scholarship because a school oversigned and then were forced to make tough decisions on who to award a scholarship to. This rule effectively eliminates oversigning, which is a big step in the right direction.

3. An extra coach!

Some may roll their eyes and label this another exorbitant expenditure, but I believe it is absolutely necessary. The player to coach ratio in football is far greater than in most other sports. Adding another on-field, full-time assistant provides student-athletes with better quality instruction and a more personal experience.

4. Satellite Camp Regulation

Outlawing satellite camps entirely was a gross overstep of boundaries, for satellite camps do greatly benefit high school recruits as much as they do colleges. That being said, satellite camps did need some regulation, for their previous format was rife with opportunities for exploitation and loopholes for shady practices to thrive. Restricting camps to four year institutions prevents possible nefarious dealings with the high schools of prospective athletes, while limiting the total number of days (but allowing greater flexibility in scheduling) should go a long way to eliminate overuse and exploitation.

Harbough
The Godfather of Satellite Camps

The Bad

December Signing Day

I was all for an early signing day. Most everyone is in agreement that it is necessary. Myself, and many other athletes, have advocated for an early signing day, but we wanted it BEFORE OUR SENIOR YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL (Late July or August). An increasing number of student-athletes are committing earlier (due to being offered earlier), and these athletes are ready to make their decision final. A great many want to officially end their recruitment before their senior seasons start so that they can focus all of their effort on their last season of true amateurism and enjoy their time with their high school programs. This desire was clearly communicated, yet the Council ended up going with a December signing day that does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to meet the expressed needs of student-athletes. This is a six-week bump that “saves” athletes from having to go through the recruiting process at the only time where they actually have time to focus on it. I believe this change will have minimal effect and is entirely self-serving.

The Ugly

IAWP Hiring Restrictions

“Individual Associated With a Prospect.” That’s what the mysterious acronym stands for. In an effort to eliminate a loophole that allows for shady player-coach “package deals”, the NCAA decided to burn the bridge from high school to college entirely. High school coaches are no longer allowed to be hired to off-field coaching staff positions without a two year recruiting penalty. Essentially, the NCAA just banned high school coaches from its ranks. It is extremely rare for a high school coach to be awarded a position coaching job. Rather, many of these men get in the door through off-field positions like Analyst or Director of Player Development. After a time of tutelage, they transition to on-field coaching roles. This natural progression has now been outlawed because of a fear of malicious exploitation. We could’ve fixed the issue in less drastic ways, but instead we went nuclear and laid our high school coaching community to waste. This is the best parallel I can use to explain: The Death Star explosion. This would be like if the Empire self-detected the tiny weakness within its design, and, rather than simply closing that stupid port, blew up the entire space station. Nerd rant complete.

drinkwitz
Former Boise State OC and new NC State OC Eliah Drinkwitz got his start by transitioning from high school coach to Offensive Analyst at Auburn, a move which is now illegal

As the son of a high school coach and a former athlete that is very grateful for the high school coaching community, this component of the package was unpalatable to me.

The Bigger Issue: The Culture

While I am obviously upset with some components of this package, I am very relieved that we did something. It’s not perfect, but there are some really good things in here. That being said, there are larger, more threatening issues within the realm of football recruiting that need to be addressed soon for the good of college athletics. To me, these issues trace back to the recruiting culture, and are affecting our nation’s culture as a whole.

A Culture of Unaccountability

On both sides, our words mean nothing. Players commit and decommit every day. College dole out way more offers than they can accept, and often times either label the offers “non-committable” or they pull them at a later date. No one is held accountable. The word “commitment” has become click bait for likes and retweets, rather than a principle of life that is to be treated with reverence. What are we teaching our kids? That a man’s word is cheap and meaningless. On both sides, we are committed until a better opportunity comes along. A school from a better conference. A player with more stars. College football recruiting is entirely devoid of accountability, and is making a mockery of “Commitment.”

*cue the latest ridiculous Bleacher Report Commitment video*

A Culture of Egotism

The insatiable ego of the adolescent is but a weakness to be exploited. For the 18 months leading up to Signing Day, coaches and fans alike do their best to woo the top-rated recruits to their school by any means necessary. We treat 17 year olds like celebrities, praising their every move, showering them with attention, and then begging them to give our school a chance. Through our actions, we as a society are validating a notion that has been slowly solidifying since the day they found that first letter in the mailbox: that their value is found in their athletic ability.

The funny thing is most high schools kids don’t even necessarily deserve it. Hear me out. Recruiting isn’t about who the BEST football players are. It’s about finding the players with the greatest POTENTIAL. We are recruiting kids based upon what we THINK they COULD do, not necessarily what they have already accomplished. Ask the high school coaches. Yes, sometimes the best football players are the highest rated recruits, but many times the best high school football players don’t have the measurables or ceiling to excel at the next level. Some of the best 17-year-old football players in the nation are tapped out, and by the time they are 21, they cannot compare to guys with freakish athletic ability that finally received nutrition, coaching, and strength & conditioning development once they got to college.

So, in essence, we drown high schoolers in undeserved adoration and inflate their egos to whatever size necessary to solicit a signature (often accompanied with a puppy, parachute, or zombie apocalypse video). And then, they get to campus, their senses dulled by the intoxicating cocktail of worship and attention, and we are surprised and upset when they are selfish, egotistical, and entitled, though it was us who made them that way. By unashamedly appealing to the egos of kids that are still in a fragile stage of emotional development, we are actually crippling them and creating the problems of our future in the process. In the name of wins and losses, we are willing to tell kids whatever they want to hear, even if it’s not what they need to hear. We have to do better as fans and coaches by valuing the potential man more than the potential player, and then translating that priority system to the way we recruit.

Obviously, I believe a great many coaches do it the right way, as I believe that there are a lot of incredible young people entering the world of college football. But, when I look around at some of the poisonous cultural issues that are plaguing college football as a whole, I trace it back to where it all started: The Recruitment.

Develop men. Win Games. In that order.

TD

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The Ultimate Sacrifice

Love is an action verb.

Often times, we state the degree of our love by professing what we would do for the other. In that mindset, giving your life for someone is the ultimate act of love. Who could argue that?

But what if I told you that your life may not be the greatest gift you can give?

Especially on Easter, the mere thought may be perceived as sacrilege. But bear with me…

The ultimate sacrifice varies from individual to individual: What do you prize most?

So what is your defining desire- your greatest love? Is it your life? Material possessions? Loved ones? Your identity?

Whatever IT is, IT is the greatest gift you could give, the most difficult sacrifice you could make.

Though for some life itself is the most valued possession, for others the most cherished prize is not the breath of life, but the principles and beliefs that comprise our identity. It is not WHAT I am (flesh and blood) that I am so unwilling to give up as it is WHO I am (My integrity, values, passions).

It would be far more excruciating to surrender my identity than to surrender my life, which makes my identity the greatest gift I have to offer.

So, on this Easter Sunday, I ask myself “What about Jesus?” Jesus gave His life for me on the cross, and does this thesis not cheapen what He did that day at Golgotha? HIS SACRIFICE WAS THE GREATEST IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND TY. HOW DARE YOU QUESTION THAT!!!!

But what if I told you that, on that hill called Calgary nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus’ life was the least of what He gave?

Men die every day, and far too many of them die unjustly. Jesus was neither the first nor the last man to die for a cause, and many good men have laid down their lives for others.

So what was the big deal about THIS man and His sacrifice?

It was not that He gave up His life, but that he surrendered His Holiness. Jesus is God, and He never needed the body anyways. Look past the blood, the nails, and the thorns! Those are the visible evidences of His crucifixion, but there is another: The Sin. Jesus, the only perfect man to ever live, the Holy Son of God, took on the enormity of the sins of mankind (past, present, and future), and in doing so sacrificed His righteousness for us. His righteousness was the one thing that separated Him, God, from us, Man, and yet He willingly gave it up for us!!

Jesus didn’t “just” die for us. He gave up His place in heaven to come to Earth. He sacrificed His holiness and embodied our sin. He went to Hell in our place. Hallelujah!

We tend to get too caught up in Jesus’ death. If Jesus had stayed dead, he would just be another martyr. In Acts 5, when the apostles were called before the Sanhedrin, a Pharisee named Gamaliel points out that many men came before Jesus “claiming to be somebody”, but each of them was killed, and their following scattered. And the same would have been true of Jesus had He remained in the grave. But He did not! After three days, He rose again, defeating death and making it possible for us to have eternal life by entering into a relationship with Him!

If He had remained in the ground, He would have been remembered as just another martyr. Instead, He is the Savior of the World!

 

Happy Easter!

 

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

 

 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

2 Corinthians 5:21

Sooner Superlatives: Opposing Gameplans

Best Defensive Gameplans

There were a few times where I laid my head down and knew that our offense had been shut down in every aspect of the game.These coaches and players deserve a ton of credit for shutting us down on these days. Though each of these losses were tremendous learning experiences, I still hate losing.

  1. Brent Venables- Clemson- 2014rab-2

Their gameplan was absolutely mind-numbing. I could not have designed a more perfect defensive gameplan to combat that specific offensive gameplan if I had put it together myself. The game itself was a nightmare. They ran fronts and brought blitzes that they had never shown on tape. They disguised their schemes incredibly well, they showed tremendous variety in their packages, and then once the ball was snapped they played with reckless abandon. We lost 5 games that year, but this might’ve been the only one we lost up front.

In both my contests against Venable’s Tiger defense, I came away very impressed with the small things that they did to create doubt and confusion on our side. Clemson resembled an NFL defense both in talent and scheme much more than any other team we played. By breaking their own tendencies, showing weird looks, and bluffing blitzes, they were able to force me to be just a bit hesitant. As a guy that knew the playbook inside and out, and that prided myself on understanding defensive scheme and tendency, it was not often that I was hesitant in my decision-making on the field. But in those games, they did just enough to cause me to doubt my own calls just a tad, and that has an amplified effect on the big stage.

  1. Phil Bennett- Baylor- 2013

Football vs. OU

This was the Thursday night shellacking in Waco against the Bears in their all blacks. Like Clemson, they did some things that we had never seen them do before, and we did a poor job of adjusting. The week before, we had pounded the ball down the field against Texas Tech with different variations of our Power scheme. Bennett and the Bears completely took away our best play with a series of exaggerated slants that made running power nearly impossible. Our entire strong side running game was shut down. What a lot of people don’t realize is that it’s actually much harder to run AWAY from a blitz than to run right into it. When you know a blitz is coming, the best thing to do is to check a run right into the teeth of it, and many times you can gash the defense for a big play. Unfortunately, in this game, we didn’t have many weakside runs in, and by the time we started getting anything going, the game was already out of hand. This game, we weren’t ready for it, and they took it to us and shut down the ground game. However, in every meeting since, they continue to run the same high-risk slants and blitzes, and they get gashed.

 

  1. Gary Patterson- TCU- 2014 and 2015

tcu-2015

Patterson and his staff are one of the premier defensive staffs in America. They are schematically sound, their players play with exceptional technique, and they play HARD. In 2014, they got pressure on us throughout the day, and we had trouble running the ball. Aside from Clemson, it was our next worse game up front. 2015, though they didn’t beat us, was even more impressive. They had marginal defensive talent and depth due to a rash of injuries throughout the year. Yet, somehow, they managed to slow down the most potent offense I ever played on. Part of that is due to the injury of Baker, but even before he left they were causing us problems, and his absence cannot explain for our lack of success on the ground. They disguised blitzes and used some run-game twists to stifle us throughout the second half. Year in and year out, the Horned Frogs defensive linemen are the best at reading blocks of everyone we play. The TCU defensive staff is very, very good.

Worst Defensive Gameplans

C’mon now….. I might wanna get a job as a coach! Besides, we want these gameplans to get pulled off the shelf again! 🙂

TD

Sooner Superlatives: Players

I love big words. I love debating philosophy and ideology. Politics, history, and religion. But I also love this game called football, and I would be remiss if I didn’t have some fun, dumb it down, and talk some ball from time to time as I reminisce on my quickly fading college football career.

That being said, what follows is a jumble of bests and worsts of my career at Oklahoma (2012-2015).

Best Players I Played Against

*I only included players I actually PLAYED against. Players that I watched from the sideline in 2013 and parts of 2012 are not included. Neither are skinny DBs.

beasley

  1. Vic Beasley-DE/OLB- Clemson- As the rest of the NFL found out this year, Beasley is a DAWG. He possesses the unique combination of speed and power that makes him incredibly dangerous as a pass rusher. He is an absolute physical specimen that jumps off the film.
  2. Andrew Billings- NG- Baylor– At a level of football where nearly every interior lineman can bench 400 pounds, it is not often that you encounter a brute whose strength is truly amazing. When you lock on with Billings, you immediately feel that he is much stronger than anyone else you have ever blocked. He started as a raw talent, but got better each year. I hope he gets healthy so he can excel in the NFL.
  3. Grady Jarrett- DT- Clemson- He’s that stubby defensive lineman that just took down Tom Brady three times in the Super Bowl. At 6 feet tall, he doesn’t look like much, but he has phenomenal hand usage, and he reads blocks exceptionally. The exact opposite of Billings, he beats you with technique, which I respect.
  4. AJ Johnson- LB- Tennessee- The predator. The guy looks the part, and he flies around to the ball. He was not the most technically or schematically sound, and he took a lot of chances to make plays, but he made up for it with freakish athletic ability. Once a projected first-round pick, his career was derailed after allegations of sexual assault.
  5. Jalen Reeves-Maybin- LB- Tennessee– He is not nearly as freakishly talented as Johnson, but he more than made up for it. Within the system, he was probably a more reliable and productive player. With a relentless motor and physical playing style, he made plays all over the field. In 2015, he recorded nearly 20 tackles against us, several of which prevented what would have been huge plays. He missed much of this year due to injury and is now preparing for the draft.
  6. Derek Barnett- DE- Tennessee- Just a great all-around football player. He started against us as a freshman, and he steadily progressed each year. If I would have played him this year (his last and best), he would be higher on the list).
  7. Ryan Mueller- DE- Kansas St– The poor man’s JJ Watt. This guy played harder than any other player I have ever witnessed. I distinctly remember watching him on tape in a play against Oklahoma St. JW Walsh ran a zone read. Mueller squeezed causing JW to pull the ball and run for about 15 yards. Mueller spun 360 degrees and pursued Walsh all the way down the field causing him to step out of bounds. Even though he had no chance of even touching JW, much less tackling him, he dove through the air and landed flat on his face. He gave everything he had on every play.

Honorable mention (guys I didn’t actually play in the games against)- Haha Clinton-Dix (Bama), CJ Mosley (Bama), Arthur Brown (K-State), Jason Verrett (TCU), Stephone Anthony (Clemson- was suspended for most of our game)

Most Overrated Players

 

oakman
This picture is the reason Oakman got famous

 

  1. Shawn Oakman- DE- Baylor– I made this list with one man in mind. If it weren’t for Twitter memes, Oakman would’ve remained in relative obscurity where he belonged. He was very gifted, and the most physically imposing athlete that I have ever seen, but he was soft, incredibly lazy, and technically subpar. Even if he would not have gotten convicted, he would have never made it at the next level.
  2. Manti Te’o- LB- Notre Dame– Don’t get me wrong, Te’o was a very good player. But of all the players we played in my time in Norman, this is the one that was a Heisman finalist. He made a lot of tackles, but a lot of people didn’t realize that he made so many tackles because he was never blocked. Louie Nix, Stephon Tuitt, Sheldon Day, and Kapron Lewis-Moore were very good, and their occupation of double teams allowed Te’o to get recognition.
  3. Shaq Lawson- DE- Clemson– I remain adamant that Lawson was not nearly as impressive as he was made out to be. He might’ve been a better pass rusher, but Kevin Dodd (the other end) was a better all-around player. Lawson took a lot of plays off, and didn’t want to be physical unless he had to be.

4. Damontre Moore- DE- Texas A&M– When we played A&M in the Cotton Bowl, he was at the top of all the mock drafts. He had a lot of sacks, but statistics can be misleading. Most of his sacks came through protection errors, schematic mismatches, or sheer luck. His hips were incredibly tight, and we knew he wouldn’t live up to expectations as a pro.

The Best That Never Were

Sadly, there are a lot of teammates of mine that were insanely talented, yet they did not finish their careers as Sooners. They could have been household names. It’s crucial that the staff identifies potential at-risk athletes and invests in them early on to prevent these mistakes from being repeated year in and year out.

metoyer

  1. Trey Metoyer- WR– The guy was incredible. 5XL gloves. His hands were disproportionate to his body. In a backyard football game, he was everyone’s first pick. But in an organized offense, he had trouble with the playbook, and then eventually was removed from the team after some trouble with the law (I’ll just leave it at that).
  2. Gary Simon- Corner– This guy was the next big thing. He walked into the Huff first week of freshman year and windmill dunked off a standing vertical…. IN FLIP FLOPS. He played some as a freshman, and everyone was convinced he would become a lockdown corner opposite Aaron Colvin as a sophomore. Then he went home after the bowl game and never came back.
  3. John Michael McGee- OG– A raw but gifted Army All-American that quit abruptly three days into fall camp.
  4. Mike Onuoha- DE– Longest. Arms. Ever. The former basketball player was just starting to tap into his potential as a football player when he was removed from the team.
  5. Michiah Quick- Corner– Highly rated recruit that played early on at wideout, then moved to corner this past year. He was just starting to takeoff when he suffered a knee injury versus Texas. A month later, he was removed from the team.

I’ll be back soon with more bests and worsts, including: games, bowl experiences, teammates, and opposing gameplans. Be sure to check ’em out!

 

TD

 

The Dereliction of Purpose

The late, great Jim Valvano asserted that there are three things that we should do as human beings: laugh, think, and cry.

I find myself spending more and more time doing the second of this triad: Thinking. I do not believe it is coincidental that my level of critical thought seems to be positively correlated to the amount of time I spend with my nose in a book.

Side note* My current reading selections are “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand, “Call an Audible” by Daron Roberts, and “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan. “Atlas Shrugged” might be the best piece of literature I’ve ever encountered. If you have book suggestions, please send them in!

A recent passage in a book brought the concept of Purpose to the center of my attention. From David to Aristotle to Einstein to Bieber, the preeminent philosophers of every age have weighed in on the purpose and meaning of life. But today, in a world oversaturated with information and overpopulated by things, we are at a crisis of purpose.

All too often, we derive our identity from the material objects we surround ourselves with. Cars. Clothes. Gadgets. Homes. But let’s take it a step farther. Job titles. Accolades. Reputations. Relationships. We are looking for meaning in all the wrong places.

The sources of our purpose have been contaminated. We have come to construct our identity using the material and immaterial creations of our own hands. I cannot help but feel that we have it all backwards. Man is meant to breathe purpose and meaning into the works of his hands and of his mind, not the other way around! Objects and ideas that are the fruit of Man’s considerable capacity for innovation and progress are meant to serve him, not to be served by him. These Things that seem to control our existence, would have no meaning were they not given it by their inventor. We impart purpose to things. We DO NOT derive purpose from things.

As my mind careened down this path of purpose, identity, and meaning, I stopped short. This line of thinking, with its celebration of the spirit of man, may be inspiring and stimulating and beautiful, but it’s so… Secular. Where is God in my rationale? Is this not a direct contradiction to my belief in an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God?

In the height my existential crisis, the answer hit me. Like finding the missing corner piece in an intricate puzzle, a sudden realization gave me unbelievable clarity. I had been thinking about it all wrong.

“Man and His Inventions”

Instead

“Creator and His Creations”

This paradigm shift made all the difference in my understanding. GOD, our Creator, endows Man with a distinct purpose, and then Man, in turn, creates for himself and bestows purpose upon his own creations. But purpose flows downward, from a sovereign God all the way to the inanimate byproducts of Man.

God ⇒ Man ⇒ Objects/Ideas/Words

In the above diagram, the arrows represent the purposes given by God and Man, which may not always be the same. The first arrow cannot be flipped, for we are incapable of forcing an omnipotent God to serve our purpose. But the second arrow can, and when we allow our own meaning and purpose as men to be taken from the things of this world, we will find ourselves consistently unhappy. We find ourselves at our most content when the arrows themselves are identical.

When we align ourselves with God’s purpose in our own lives, and then in turn manifest that same purpose in the material and immaterial things that we create, we will have found that we are in the center of His will.

TD

Off The Chain

“Stick to sports.”

 

“Stay in your lane.”

 

“That’s not for you to comment on.”

 

Throughout the career of many collegiate athletes, it is understood that there are some things you can talk about… and some that you can’t.

When articulating your viewpoint, whether it be from the podium or the Twitter keyboard, it is stressed that you represent your team and your university, and your commentary should reflect this fact. With that in mind, it is prudent for all athletes to creatively express their opinions within the confines of the official stance of the head coach and the university. If you don’t agree with the “official” statement, then you have two options: Deflect the question with a whirring waltz of words, or expertly employ the Fifth Amendment in your response.

And then there are the topics that are thought to be well-beyond your purview, deemed to be either too weighty or too whimsical to even be spoken of aloud by a witless, mindless brute of an athlete.

In a way, your degree of self-expression is chained by the status of your employment unsolicited amateur participation in college athletics (sorry for the typo).

While this restriction is self-imposed and necessary in my opinion, it can still be frustrating at times, particularly for those athletes that feel that they have more to offer the world in the expression of complex thought than they do in the demonstration of athletic ability.

For such athletes, their dreaded departure from the playing field doubles as their anticipated arrival in society.

For those athletes, the fear of marginalization in the “next stage of life” is quickly surpassed by an overwhelming sense of liberation when it is discovered that their minds and hearts can take them farther than their bodies ever could.

For them, to be removed from the playing field is not to be unvalued or undesirable, but to be unmuted, unleashed, and unchained.

A New Frontier

I know countless such athletes, but I write to you today because I am partnering with two of them that need no introduction: Lauren Chamberlain and Eric Striker.

Oklahoma v West Virginia

lauren

The three of us are working together to start a podcast that tackles all the topics we’ve been told to avoid for the duration of our careers. Of course, we will still talk sports a bit, but we will also talk faith, politics, pop culture, community service, social issues, health, and anything else that piques our interest.

What makes this partnership so special is that we are so different. Each of the three of us have profoundly different beliefs, backgrounds, and opinions. But we love each other, and we respect each other. Not in spite of our differences, but BECAUSE of them!

This is what I can promise you from our show:

  1. Uproarious Laughter

I am BY FAR the least outgoing of the group. These are three incredibly unique personalities, and whether we are talking about the most trivial of issues or the most consequential, I pledge that you will be entertained.

  1. Challenging Debate

We have been having fight-to-the-death, winner-take-all yelling matches for five plus years. Now, for the first time, you get to hear them. I promise that we will do our homework and articulately state our views. If nothing else, you will be forced to think.

Note to the listener* Remember… I am ALWAYS right

  1. Moving Commentary

We are intense, passionate individuals that see sports as a platform to make a positive impact on the world around us. We are dreamers that perceive no ambition to be beyond our reach. Our hope is that something we say can slightly alter your perspective and inspire you to be a force for change in your environment.

I hope that you will join us as we start out on this journey together. Follow us on social media for updates, and tune-in to our Facebook Live segments to interact with us weekly!

 

Without further ado, I am pleased to introduce the one to the other.

 

Front & Center, please meet Off The Chain!

offthechain

Follow!

Twitter

@OffTheChain_Pod

Instagram

@OffTheChain_Podcast

Facebook

@OffTheChainPod

Soundcloud

Off The Chain

Let’s have some fun!

TD

 

Star Wars

I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me.

I shouldn’t do this. Media members (did I just refer to myself as a member of the media? ugh) are advised to stay away from politics and religion. But there is a third member of that trinity: Star Wars. Don’t talk about Star Wars Ty. You are bringing this on yourself. If I thought the backlash for the queso blog was bad (I’m so sorry I so deeply offended the Mont’s loyalists), then just wait til I try to rank the installments of everyone’s favorite Intergalactic saga. But when I set out to become a blogger, I pledged to cover the tough issues, so I must press on. Like Cherrut Imwe’s suicidal stroll for the Master Switch, I now press forward into blaster fire, blind and without a lightsaber to protect me. But…. I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me.

*I’ll start with the worst and make my way to the best. The only criteria are my own experiences and opinions. If you don’t like my criteria, get your own blog.

8. Revenge of the Sith

sw-rots

Yes, I know that this was actually the most critically acclaimed of the prequels, but hear me out. It’s fitting really. Anakin Skywalker was the Chosen One with the greatest potential in Jedi history, yet he let everyone down and cut Samuel L. Jackson’s hands off. In similar fashion, Revenge of the Sith had incredible potential. The stage was set. We all knew how it had to end, and all the producers, cast, and crew had to do was connect the dots. For the most part, they did their jobs well, but with one exception….. HAYDEN CHRISTENSON. Yes, I am putting it all on you. Anakin was a whiny, cocky, emotional teenager in Attack of the Clones. His character was annoying, but necessary to create the persona needed. In Revenge, he HAD to grow up into a powerful, competent Jedi knight with an undercurrent of rage and resentment in order for the film to fulfill its lofty expectations. What came across the screen was the same whiny, immature, unstable boy with a penchant for throwing Force-filled temper tantrums. His dialogue with Padme was vomit-inducing, despite Natalie Portman being a very highly regarded actress. I almost got the feeling that she started pressing trying to make up for his performance and the end result was that her overperforming compounded his mistakes. With a spectacular performance by Anakin, this film could have been absolutely astounding. But due to Christenson’s performance (and an over-reliance on CGI), Revenge of the Sith was a huge letdown for me.

7. The Phantom Menace

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This is everyone’s favorite film to hate, and there are some good reasons; Jar Jar Binks being one of them. Another major mistake was making the enemy an army of droids. It was as if the scriptwriters looked to the Star Wars nation’s love for R2D2 and C-3PO and used it as an excuse to replicate thousands of lifeless, personality-less villains.

What was particularly disappointing was the premature demise of possibly the best new characters: Qui-Gon Ginn and Darth Maul. Both characters showed incredible promise, yet Phantom was the end of their roles in the movies. By allowing Qui-Gon to die, The Phantom Menace broke a cardinal rule of film-making: You don’t kill Liam Neeson.

6. Attack of the Clones

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Set 10 years after Phantom, Attack of the Clones starts to bring all the pieces together. We see the creation of the Clone Army as the foundation of the Stormtroopers. We are introduced to Jango Fett and his young son Boba. We get to see Yoda in a lightsaber battle (!!!). There was a lot to get excited about in Attack of the Clones, though some of the thrills were blatant appeals to the nostalgia of Star Wars lovers (The Fetts, Yoda, etc.). If you’re anything like me, you were already getting annoyed with Hayden Christenson as Anakin and his awkward/creepy crush on the older Padme Amidala. The dialogue between them was cheesy, but I gave them a free pass because they were supposed to be young and immature. They got no such pass in Revenge of the Sith (see above).

5. Rogue One

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I feel badly about placing Rogue One in the back half of the movies because I thought it was absolutely fantastic. The gap between Rogue One and the prequels is considerable, while the margin between Rogue One and the next film on the list is thin.

Rogue One proved that Star Wars can exist without a Skywalker, and that the storyline is compelling enough to carry itself without any previous characters playing major roles. I thought the filmmakers did an unbelievable job of evoking memories of previous Star Wars films through tiny details like the squadron sign in (“This is Red Leader standing by”), Jyn climbing out of a massive wind tunnel in contrast to Luke falling down on Bespin, K2SO pulling his pistol EXACTLY like Han Solo, and Vader’s palace at the site of his disfiguration. Quite possibly, the best thing about this movie was that EVERYONE DIED. It was so shocking. That doesn’t happen in Star Wars. That sure as heck doesn’t happen in Disney. But the characters were all expendable, and they were used to make an emphatic statement about the mortality of the Rebellion (which at times has seemed unbelievably lucky over and over again). Oh… and did I mention the Vader scene at the end? CHILLS. Never before have we truly witnessed Vader’s destructive power. I want MORE.

My only critique of Rogue One would be that it was set up for success. The filmmakers were given a great deal of artistic freedom. They knew they had to get the Death Star plans to Princess Leia aboard Tantive IV. That’s about it as far as limitations go. They weren’t constrained by maintaining character integrity or by having to stay within a certain storyline. Some could say that makes their job harder, but I think it made the task easier.

4. A New Hope

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The original. This first installment set the stage for DECADES of legendary films, books, TV series, and an unprecedented fan following. The Star Wars universe doesn’t exist without A New Hope, and the film should get credit for that. A New Hope took a concept that had been denied over and over again, combined it with a bunch of no name actors, and struck the jackpot.

3. The Empire Strikes Back

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As a kid, I hated The Empire Strikes Back. It was depressing and scary.

Looking back, I now realize that was why it was so incredible, and that it deserves all of its critical acclaim. Empire establishes the power and reach of the Galactic Empire, introduces the nefarious Emperor, and, most importantly, reveals that Luke is in fact the son of the Galaxy’s Face of Evil: Darth Vader. Along the way, Empire takes the viewer to far away worlds and diverse climates that testify to the expanse of this “galaxy far far away.” While A New Hope concludes in the triumph of the Rebellion and the anticipation of what’s to come, The Empire Strikes Back leaves us betrayed, missing a hand, and frozen in Carbonite. The pendulum swung quite severely.

But, in the end, I must stick with my 10 year old gut: I don’t like it; it makes me sad. So it will stay at #3, rather than at #1 where many would say it belongs.

2. The Force Awakens

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“This is sacrilege! How could you place such a recent film that high on the list??!”

Quite simply: Because it was that good.

The Star Wars Fandom had every reason to be apprehensive. No George Lucas. The disappointment of the prequels. The new ownership of Disney. The Force Awakens had to blow it out of the water just to overcome the skepticism of some critics, and it did just that. It took elements of the classic characters and the plot of the original Trilogy, combined them with a new set of heroes and a fresh storyline, and created the foundational work of what looks to be a strong resurgence after the flop of the prequels.

I reserve the right to reevaluate this film after the second installment of the trilogy debuts a year from now. The development of Kylo Ren is crucial. If he is as annoying, childish, and unintimidating as he was in The Force Awakens, he will have become the bane of this trilogy and Adam Driver will take his place alongside Hayden Christenson on the Star Wars Wall of Shame. Also, Rey better not be a Skywalker. That’s too repetitive. The series needs a hero with a new name.

1. Return of the Jedi

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It may not be as critically acclaimed as Empire, but Return of the Jedi holds a very special place in my heart. I watched it over and over and over again in my grandmom’s living room as a little kid, and I desperately wanted a pet Ewok.

Early on, the rescue of Han Solo was the perfect stage to show the audience that this is not the same Luke Skywalker that was stuck in a diaper in a fishtank the last time we saw him. Then, Luke’s premature goodbye to Yoda leaves the viewer very unsettled because we know that Luke may not be fully ready for his inevitable reunion with his father. Unlike in the prequels, you see the three main characters mature and evolve, and that process is completed by the end of the movie. By the climax, the stage has been set beautifully for multiple internal and external conflicts to be played out on the screen simultaneously. In the culmination of the original trilogy, it all comes together. It is revealed that Leia is Luke’s twin sister, Luke confronts Vader and the Emperor, and ultimately the Rebellion overcomes the evil Galactic Empire, with the help of some furry friends.

The final scene of the film, when Luke looks towards his ghostly predecessors, may just be the feel good moment of the 20th century! I guess I’m just a sucker for happy endings.

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You most likely think my list is bantha fodder, but The Force itself guided me to these conclusions.

May the Force be with you,

Master Darlington