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Russell Wilson, giving Wisconsin commencement speech: Tom O’Brien said ‘you’re never going to play in NFL’

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Seemingly against long odds, Russell Wilson has turned himself into a Pro Bowl-level quarterback in the NFL.  What he still has an issue with, it seems, is his exit from North Carolina State.

Wilson was a two-sport athlete for the Wolfpack, playing football and baseball at NCSU.  With Mike Glennon on the roster, his football coach, Tom O’Brien, wanted a commitment to the sport from his All-ACC quarterback; Wilson, a MLB draft pick as well, couldn’t give that, leaving NCSU for Wisconsin for his final season of eligibility.

That was the spring and summer of 2011; fastforward to May of 2016, and Wilson gave the commencement address at UW.  And Wilson added to his version of the narrative by stretching it to the point of breaking.

The summer before my senior year of college, I’m playing minor-league baseball. I called my football coach at NC State and said, ‘Hey coach, I’d like to come back for my senior year.’ He told me I wasn’t coming back. He said, ‘Listen son, you’re never going to play in the National Football League. You’re too small. There’s no chance. You’ve got no shot. Give it up.’ Of course, I’m on this side of the phone saying, ‘So you’re telling me I’m not coming back to NC State? I won’t see the field?’ He said, ‘No son, you won’t see the field.’ Now this was everything I had worked for. And now it was completely gone. If I wanted to follow my dream I had to leave NC State. I had no idea if I would get a second chance somewhere else.

(Wilson’s speech begins at around the 1:04:45 mark)

I’m far from an O’Brien apologist, but by all accounts it was commitment, not talent, that ultimately pushed Wilson to leave Raleigh for Madison.  But, whatever narrative helps Wilson sleep at night or gives him quality fodder for a speech — a narrative, incidentally, that was decidedly positive when Wilson had his jersey number honored by NCSU a couple of years ago.

“This is truly an amazing honor and I am looking forward to being back in Raleigh and Carter-Finley Stadium,” Wilson said in a statement March 25, 2014. “My experience at NC State was an amazing one playing football and baseball but also accomplishing my goal of graduating in three years. My memories of playing as the quarterback for the Wolfpack are never-ending and the roar of the Wolfpack Nation still rings in my ear from memorable wins against FSU and UNC!

“I learned the value of great leadership, ultimate sacrifice, and the relentless belief that hard work pays off. I am grateful for all of my amazing teammates and players past, present, and future. I can still taste and sense the blood, sweat, and tears we all sacrificed to be successful.”

In the end, ironically, Wilson did exactly what O’Brien wanted: he focused solely on football.  That focus, though, only came after Wilson’s less-than-amicable divorce from the Wolfpack — a divorce that Wilson, still, can’t realistically come to terms with.

This Memorial Day, take time to remember

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(Reprinted and reposted with permission for an eighth straight year from, well, me.)

You have to admit that, despite the ongoing partisan slap-fights and political in-fighting and every other really crappy thing going on, we have a pretty damn good life, living in these United States of America.  It’s a far-from-perfect country, but, dammit, it’s ours.  Ours because our own have and will continue to shed their blood in the ultimate sacrifice.  Gave and will continue to give their lives, their hopes, their dreams so that we — and our children and our children’s children and their children — may live and realize ours and theirs.

As you go about your day today, doing whatever it is that you do on Memorial Day, take a second or two or sixty — or more — to reflect on what exactly this day is all about.

Please.  Just take a moment.  Take a moment to God bless those who have given so much.

God bless those who have paid the ultimate price for the freedom we enjoy day-in and day-out.

God bless those hundreds of thousands of millions who’ve lost fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters in the ultimate sacrifice paid forward to every single one of us, for our freedoms.

And thank you — thank you, thank you, thank you with every fiber of my being — to those who continue serving this country and keep this great nation safe.

And, again, God bless families torn apart and made lesser by the heartbreaking losses, hellish and unthinkable holes in the soul that allow us to do whatever the hell it is we want to on this day and every other day of the year…

Iowa linebacker announces transfer

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Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has been known to have a program that could play some solid defense more often than not, but the depth at linebacker just got a bit more shallow this Memorial Day weekend. Redshirt sophomore Anthony Garbutt has announced he is leaving the program.

“After prayer, consulting with my family and Coach Ferentz, I have made the decision to leave the University of Iowa,” Garbutt announced in a statement on Twitter. “I am thankful for my years as a Hawkeye and will continue to support the franchise.”

Garbutt went on to announce he will make a decision after going through a recruiting process. No timeline for his decision was announced.

Garbutt still has three more years of eligibility remaining, although he has already burned one redshirt year after joining the Class of 2015 at Iowa. If he transfers to another FBS program, he will have to sit out the upcoming 2017 season and lose a year of eligibility in the process. He would be available to play immediately this fall if he transfers to a lower division football program.

Report: Navy’s football stadium will host NHL outdoor game between Caps and Leafs

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The NHL has enjoyed the success of their growing number of outdoor games. What started out as an attempt to steal the New Years Day spotlight from the college football bowl season has grown to include additional outdoor games around the country in February and March as part of the league’s Stadium Series. With an abundance of outdoor games, finding new venues to host the outdoor games offers new opportunities to showcase a wide range of stadiums. Navy is now set to get in on the NHL outdoor fun.

The Associated Press reports Navy’s Navy-Marine Corp Memorial Stadium will be used for one game in the NHL’s Stadium Series on March 3, 2018. The Washington Capitals will “host” the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 34,000-seat venue in Annapolis, Maryland. A formal announcement is expected to be made on Monday, Memorial Day. It’s also the same day the NHL kicks off the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators and commissioner Gary Bettman gives his annual state of the league address.

The New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres were previously slated to play in the NHL Winter Classic in Citi Field, home of baseball’s New York Mets.

Heinz Field, the home of the Pitt Panthers, was used to host the 2011 Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, becoming the first college football stadium to host an outdoor NHL game. Of course, Heinz Field is also home to the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, so this college stadium host came with an asterisk. Heinz Field hosted a Stadium Series game this past February between the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers.

Michigan’s Michigan Stadium hosted the Winter Classic in 2014 between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. TCF Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, hosted a game in the NHL’s Stadium Series in 2016 between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks.

There are still a good handful of stadiums worth considering for future NHL outdoor games, especially in the Big Ten. Penn State’s Beaver Stadium has long been suspected of being a potential target for an outdoor game, but any plans involving Beaver Stadium may have to wait until after the stadium’s facilities are upgraded as part of the school’s upcoming athletics department renovation. Ohio State’s Ohio Stadium could also be an attractive candidate for an outdoor game in the future as well.

A couple other venues for possible Stadium Series game sin the future should include the Los Angeles Coliseum and the Rose Bowl. The NHL has already played an outdoor game in Dodger Stadium, back in 2014, so the league is not afraid to play outside in LA (and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara hosted a game in 2015). If they return, playing in either historic stadium would seem to make sense, although it is possible the NHL would prefer to wait until the new home of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and Chargers is completed before making a trip to LA again.

Alabama DB Tony Brown has chance to prove he’s fastest NCAA athlete in nation

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Forget the 40-yard dash. Alabama defensive back Tony Brown is setting his focus on the 100-meter dash.

Brown, a track star in addition to being a fixture on the Alabama defense, qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in the 100-meter dash after finishing in the top 10 at the NCAA East Regional at Kentucky. Brown is a two-time All-American on the track.

Let this serve as another example of the caliber of athletes Nick Saban is bringing in to his program. Recruiting analysts have been noting for years the importance of recruiting athletes with skills in more than one sport, and Alabama has that with Brown. Brown was one of the nation’s top hurdlers in high school, and that success on the track has continued in Tuscaloosa.

Brown brings the pain on the football field too, of course. Just ask former Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams what kind of damage Brown can bring.

Helmet sticker to Gridiron Now.