Love: College sports are a fun, eye-opening journey
Twenty years ago Thursday, I took the field for my first football practice at Westminster College.
I quickly went from being considered one of the top players on my high school team to a small fish in a big pond.
But I was super excited — and a little nervous — to get started. It was a new opportunity for me.
I didn't have past accomplishments in high school to fall back on — those didn't matter in the eyes of my college offensive line coach — but at the same time, I had a clean slate to make a difference.
I slowly got up to speed with the new offense — I was one of four centers on the team — and I got the opportunity to learn from a senior who came into the season as a two time all-conference first-team player.
A series of practices led up to a scrimmage, and then I and all of the other younger players took on Allegheny in a junior varsity game.
That game was an eye-opener for me, as I got hit by a blitzing linebacker on a play early in the game, and my right arm went numb. The speed of the game was so much faster now.
The second JV game was on the turf at Carnegie Mellon, and I again was in the trenches trying to make a name for myself.
It turned out to be the last day in my 10-plus years of organized tackle football that I would put on a helmet, shoulder pads and other uniform requirements.
During a pass play in the second half, Carnegie Mellon's defensive line and linebackers came on an all-out rush.
My offensive-line teammates did a good job handling the rush, but there soon was a pileup — and it all landed on my right leg.
I broke my fibula, sprained my knee and dislocated my ankle.
I was carted off the field to UPMC Presby and later fitted with a full leg cast that stopped four inches from my hip.
I was in that cast for eight weeks, and needless to say, I was done for the season.
I tried to come back in the spring, but I just didn't have desire to continue playing.
It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because there was an open spot on the football TV broadcast crew, and I started with them two weeks after the injury.
I never missed a Westminster football game during my four years, and I got to travel all over the midwest, as the Titans were in an NAIA conference that was very spread out.
The crew also flew out to Portland, Ore., to broadcast the 1994 NAIA National Title game, which Westminster won.
My story is one of thousands involving high school student-athletes who make the decision to continue the sport they love at the next level while getting a quality education.
The journey began last week and continues this week for a new crop of freshman who, like me, go from standouts on their high school teams to an opportunity to start from the ground up.
It's an exciting time with new opportunities.
Every year, some of the new freshmen make an immediate splash, and their coaches can't wait to put them in the starting lineup or give them a ton of playing time in their first seasons.
Others are brought along more carefully, and a redshirt season is in order.
These same decisions and opportunities will be made and cashed in in late October and early November, as well as in the dead of winter in February as the winter and spring seasons get started.
As freshman are getting a new start, grizzled veterans, including fifth-year seniors are preparing for one last go for the collegiate teams.
In many cases, such as Plum graduate and Penn State-Behrend volleyball senior Chelsea Magnusen, they have risen to the title of team captain, and their teams will look to them as they battle for a winning season, a conference title or a trip to their conference playoffs.
Some, such as Thiel junior offensive linemen and Gateway graduate Jason Crystol, have earned preseason all-star honors, and are looking forward to living up to the recognition. Crystol is an NCAA Division III fourth-team all-star at center for the Tomcats.
Often, athletes find that their original college choice doesn't work out for them for whatever reason and a transfer is necessary.
It can never be an easy decision, but it often works out in the end.
Plum graduate Paul Paradise started his college soccer career at West Virginia and then made the move to Missouri State, where he excelled and earned all-conference honors.
Gateway graduate Haakim Oliver started at Notre Dame College in Ohio, but he now is at Edinboro.
In some cases, a student-athlete will take on the responsibility of playing a collegiate sport in more than one season.
Gateway grad David Folkmire begins his second season on the Grove City football team, and he plans to play baseball in the spring. An injury prevented him from playing baseball as a freshman.
Plum 2013 graduate Jake DiGuilio is playing football this fall at Waynesburg, and he plans to transition to the wrestling team for the winter season.
Dozens of Gateway and Plum athletes are on college teams this fall, winter and spring. They again will strive to be at their best while bringing pride to themselves, their friends and family, their school and the communities they call home.
Many of the athletes and their accomplishments this academic year will be chronicled in the pages of the Plum Advance Leader.
It's almost time for Lights, Camera, Action!
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.