I am a Rogers Viking. I played football from 1990 to 1993. After high school, I played five years of college football – one at Navy Prep and four at the U.S. Naval Academy. Then I served eight years in the Marine Corps infantry, deploying five times overseas.
This past October, I visited Newport for the first time in five years. I brought along three of my dear friends whom I served with in Afghanistan, where we slept through frigid temperatures in dirt holes. While in Newport (their first time) we attended a Rogers High football game. I told them about Coach John Toppa and all the glories of Rogers High School Football, including a colder than hell Thanksgiving Day game in 1993 – my final game in the red and black.
I regaled them about my old coaches, hardworking no-nonsense men who still pace the sidelines; men like Jim Grauer, Rick Fullerton, and Wally Christenson. I also told them about the best athlete in RHS history and current head coach, Frank Newsome, who ran the triple option like a Panzer General on the attack. Sitting in the stands, I was proud to be a Rogers Viking and proud of the young men who still wear the red and black.
Football is a violent game. My position coach at Navy, a man who grew up in Compton, California, told us nearly every day: “This is a tough game for tough people.” Everyone who has played football with passion knows this to be true. I cannot remember playing a single game at Navy without some sort of nagging injury. By my senior year, before every practice and game, the trainers would spend 15 minutes taping me up. Pain alone would not stop me from doing what I loved, taking the field with my brothers.
Where did I learn this resilience and toughness? A never quit attitude that has enabled my success and happiness as an adult? If I had to pick a moment, I’d say I learned it on a cold day at Toppa Field. In the first half of a JV football game, I caught a pass behind the linebackers and saw only the end zone before my eyes. As I tucked the ball and ran for six, a Middleton safety came out of nowhere and hit me like a truck. When I got up, pain pierced through my forearm. I ran over to the sideline and Coach Stinson asked me if I could still play. I wanted to play. I loved to play. I strapped on my helmet, ran back to the huddle, joined my brothers, and played through extraordinary pain. By the end of the game, I realized I had chewed through my mouthpiece.
The next day, I went to the hospital and learned that I had fractured my forearm. I cannot remember if we won or lost that game against Middletown; however, I forever gained a personal victory for my life. The pain and frigid temperatures helped me discover my true character. And I’m forever grateful I had the opportunity to make this discovery of self-worth as a very young man.
Character is not discovered through ideal circumstances. To discover one’s self-worth, we need a challenge, some pain, and tons of adversity. On that day, I learned to run into the wind. I learned to live my life with mission and verve. I learned to never quit.
It breaks my heart to learn, via Newport Buzz, that the Vikings – the Vikings! – did not take the field today because it’s “too cold.” Consequently, Newport County risk-adverse bureaucrats are robbing these young men of a challenge, of a battle many of them desperately need. When I received my coaches All State plaque my senior year, it read, “Rhode Island High School Football Coaches, Molders of Men.” Newport County, let these coaches fulfill their mission – to help these young men discover their character.