Last week, I dropped my oldest son off at college. It was an emotional moment filled with pride, excitement, fear, and anxiety. I watched a little boy walk away in a man’s shoes, and it was then that I realized how big those shoes truly are.
You see, not only is he entering his freshman year, but he is on the inaugural football team for his school. This is a rare opportunity. It is huge. I have been reflecting on this, ruminating over what this means, for the past week as it turned from a plan to reality. I am not sure he realizes, though, the role he is playing in this and the impact he can make.
So, my son, this letter is to you. You are making history this year. You and your forty-four teammates are the foundation of the football team at your school. You get to set the tone. Do you understand what this means? It means that you are responsible for creating the groundwork for a long-standing program. It reminds me of the parable of the two men building houses. The foolish man built his on the sand, and the wise man built his on a rock. Which will you choose in building your program? Sand washes away, but the rock will stand forever. This is your legacy you will leave behind. What rocks will you use for your foundation? I’d like to recommend some to you as you move forward.
Kindness. Today, that is a scarce commodity. This team has the ability to create kindness, an environment free of hazing and humiliating freshmen as they enter the program. You are coming in new, but so is everyone else. There is no big man on campus. There is no belittling the new guys. You are all in the same boat, and if you row together, you will go further, faster. Keep handing the oars to the new players each year, and show them the ropes. Don’t make them pay their dues or find their way; guide them. You may not always like everyone you encounter, but you always need to show kindness. Set the stage for the future.
Respect. This goes hand in hand with kindness. To respect others, you must first respect yourself. Respect yourself by choosing to do the right thing. Don’t cut corners. Hold yourself to the highest standard. In respecting others, appreciate diversity and the differences in your teammates. Embrace their unique qualities. Learn from one another. Books are good, classes are important, but the best lessons in life tend to come from the experiences you have and from the people you meet along the way.
Character. I have told you for your entire life to never compromise your integrity. Character and integrity define you, and what you do now will stay with you throughout your life. It is no different on this team. You will define who you are by what you do and by what you offer to this program. You are loyal and honest, and your heart is so generous. You have always pulled for the underdog. Your mantra for years has been the famous John Wooden quote,“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” Don’t ever change.
Support. These young men are your brothers. You will grow so much with them over the next five years, and you will create lifelong friendships. You need to have one another’s back, both on and off of the field. You need to be able to trust one another, to count on one another, to be there for one another. Life is a team sport, and you need to not only surround yourself with great teammates, but you need to be a great teammate. It can be tough. You will go through ups and downs together, but you will never regret what you put into this relationship.
Commitment. You committed to a huge responsibility. The day you signed to be part of this team, you signed to create this team. You signed to be an integral part of this. You signed to work with the coaches to build an exceptional program. You are out there representing not only yourself, but your family, your team, your community, your coaches, and your school. You have a lot of responsibility being handed to you; live up to the expectations.
Leadership. It’s a unique situation to be in, to not have anyone ahead of you to guide you or to look up to. You are the class of leaders. You are the program. You will determine the initial success of this. It’s a heavy burden to bear, and you will have your challenges. Make wise choices, and guide those around you to do the same. Together, you will lead this team to great places.
I admit that I am a bit envious of your opportunity. So few will ever have this. You are one of forty-five young men this year to be chosen for this mission. I know that you are caught up in the excitement: the new dorm, the new friends, the classes, the campus. I only hope you step back, take a deep breath, and take in how huge this really is. Make the most of it, because this is a once in a lifetime moment. Put on those shoes, and fill them with all that you have.