Friday, September 15, 2017

Time For Kickoff

TigerBlog can't be the only one struck by the contrast between the two most recent college football behind-the-scenes shows he's seen.

One of them is "Last Chance U" on Netflix. The other is "A Season With Navy Football" on Showtime, the first at East Mississippi Community College and the other at the United States Naval Academy.

It would appear that at first glance, other than the fact that there are cameras following football players and coaches around all week and then at that weekend's game, that these two teams have nothing in common.

The differences are glaringly obvious. On one side, the story centers around players who, as the title suggests, have already had their big-time opportunities and failed, leaving them at a small community college in Mississippi, where they hope to turn things around to get another chance. The struggles to keep the players engaged academically as they chase the minimum standards they need for Division I eligibility are obvious, and the saintly academic advisor became a national star for her efforts - until she just couldn't take it anymore and left.

What comes across from her is the frustration of trying to keep these kids on course when, by appearances at least, their academic progression is more important to her than to the players themselves. Heck, how many scenes are there when she has to ask the players if they have a pencil or a notebook?

And that doesn't even take into account the news that broke yesterday of one of the players featured in Season 2 who was just arrested in connection with a fatal stabbing.

It makes for quite the contrast with the students at the Naval Academy, obviously. Even the academic advisor for the football players is a Marine Corps officer.

The two head coaches couldn't seem less similar if it was all scripted. Buddy Stephens, from EMCC, comes across as simply a jerk who turns a blind eye to anything that can't help his team win games, often by as many points as possible. Navy's Ken Niumatalolo, much like Princeton's Bob Surace, seems like the exact guy you'd let coach your kid.

In "Last Chance U," the singular goal is use football to get to the NFL, which several who have come through the program there have achieved and which most have not and will not. In "A Season With Navy Football," the goal is to play football now and serve their country later. It is for them a calling, and it's very inspiring.

The biggest difference between the two teams can be summed up in one word - discipline. There is next-to-none of from the players at EMCC. There is an abundance of it from the players at Navy. Yes, that is the point of a service academy. It's a military institution, and the military relies on discipline. The slightest bit of it at EMCC, though, would go a really, really long way for the players, both on the field and in the classroom.

There are two similarities that come jumping out from the two shows.

First, in some ways, football is football, whether it's at a junior college or the top level of Division I. The preparation, the practice, the way that the players reveal themselves through how they practice and play and, more than anything else, the dynamic that exists between head coach and assistant coaches, head coach and players and assistant coach and players.

The other is way more subtle. As much as the players seem to not care at all about going to school on "Last Chance U," they are still IN school, which they wouldn't be were it not for football. And they are forced, as a result, to go to class, to do the work - or they won't have any chance of advancing. As for the Navy players, they are also forced to learn the balancing trick of football and athletics, with the unbelievable demands of the Academy added on.

This is what here at Princeton is called "Education Through Athletics." It's about the life lessons that college athletics teach and the way that athletics becomes an extension of the educational experience, not a competitor with the educational experience.

Navy, EMCC, Princeton. That part is the same.

TigerBlog's only complaint about the Navy show is that it's only 30 minutes. He thinks 45-60 minutes would be much better.

Oh, and it just has to be driving the people at Army nuts.

Speaking of football, the 149th year of Princeton football begins tomorrow at noon, when the Tigers host San Diego.

Princeton enters the 2017 season hoping to be where it was at the end of 2016 - celebrating an Ivy League championship. That task would be easier with a healthy John Lovett (you remember him from his first-team All-America season a year ago after his amazing 31-touchdown season), and it'll be interesting to see how his absence impacts the offense - and who steps in to his role.

Defensively, Princeton will be led by lineman Kurt Holuba, who is as good as it gets in the Ivy League. 

San Diego comes across the country after having played two games. The Toreros are 1-1, with a win over Western New Mexico and a loss to Cal-Davis. The opponents and the scores are irrelevant; it's the advantage of having played two games already against a team playing for the first time. 

Princeton has two non-league games to start the season, tomorrow against San Diego and then next Saturday at Lafayette, before opening the league season at home against Columbia Sept. 30.

There are all kinds of events before the game tomorrow as well. From the pregame story:
Prior to the game, there will be a Youth Clinic on the neighboring Weaver Track (10:30-11:30). Princeton student-athletes, representing a variety of varsity sports, will come to Weaver Track to work with the children and teach them the general skills and techniques associated with their respective sports. In the past, the student-athletes have staffed approximately 15 sport and activity stations, including basketball, soccer, lacrosse, track & field and volleyball, to name a few.

There's something really special and really fun about the first football game of the year. The weather for practice has been really good, and the weather for the game should be relatively perfect.

It's time for kickoff for Princeton.

It's a 10-week sprint to the finish, one that, for Princeton, hopefully will mirror 2016.

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