Monday, February 20, 2012

Reflections On A Five-Year Plan

Athletics Communications Intern

As I sit here reflecting on the past five years of my life - the best years of my life - I can’t help remembering how it all started.

Walking off the field, after losing in the Arizona State Quarterfinals in high school, I thought I might have played my last football game. My self-confidence was high since I knew I could play at the next level, but I had not landed an offer to a school that met my criteria and time was running out. I didn’t hold out a lot of hope that I would go on to play college ball.

However, I continued to work on my craft; throwing and training as if I had received that scholarship offer. December came and went with nothing more to show for my hard work and preparation. Then I received a call that turned my world up side down.  

“Hi Sean, this is Coach Biggs with UC Davis football. I would like to talk to you about playing football with us.”

I went to Davis three weeks later for my official visit where I met future coaches, friends, teammates and toured the place where I would spend the next five years of my life. After my official visit, I knew I wanted to be a part of it all; the camaraderie among the players; the history of UC Davis Football and, most importantly, to be part of the team.  

In February, as I sat signing the final documents which made me a part of it all, I told myself that my past and future efforts were not going to be in vain and that I was going to “make something of myself” at UC Davis. Thus, I created a five-year plan - a set of goals that I would accomplish in football by the end of my tenure.  Among the countless goals I created for myself, my first and most important goal was to become the starting quarterback.  So, in preparation for my first summer football camp, I focused my energy on becoming that guy - the starting quarterback. 

That first summer camp experience substantiated everything I believed about UC Davis football. I felt a level of camaraderie that I had never felt before, my coaches were great leaders and I truly felt part of a team. With this validation, I started the process of accomplishing my goals, with the “starting quarterback” goal bolded, underlined and highlighted at the top of my plan. Through my redshirt year and into spring ball, I did whatever I could to perform, impress my coaches, and learn our offense, all in an attempt to go into my second year ready to fulfill expectations.

My second season began and I competed for the starting role, losing it to sophomore Greg Denham  early in camp. Undaunted, I looked ahead, knowing there would be other opportunities down the road to earn the spot. I was therefore enthused when, toward the end of the season, I saw playing time through a "wildcat package" that was designed for me.  

That opportunity was short-lived and the harsh reality that there can only be one starting quarterback hit me hard. All of a sudden the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel seemed a great distance away and I had to adjust to the fact that my number one goal might not be achieved for some time, if at all. This realization was reinforced when I lost the battle for the backup position in my third summer camp and then tore my hamstring. My injury kept me out most of my third year and sent me to the bottom of the depth chart. Spring ball came around and I worked hard, as I always had, but couldn’t climb back up the chart. That proverbial light I had been following so diligently was virtually extinguished when I met with coaches after spring ball and was informed I would not be invited to summer camp because “the numbers” only allowed them to carry three quarterbacks through camp.

Although devastated, I kept my head up, pushed through the negativity and looked toward the future. I told myself that no matter what happened, I would not stop working towards my goal. As chance would have it, two weeks later Greg Denham retired, and I had the opportunity to try to prove myself once again at summer camp.  

As my fourth season began, I once again found myself behind two other quarterbacks: Randy Wright and Austin Heyworth.  It was at this juncture that I knew I probably would never reach my goal of being the starter. Although I would never stop competing for the job, I knew I had to alter my goals and I began looking at the big picture. After a great amount of thought, I decided on goals that were less self-centered and instead focused on goals that were in the best interest of the team. I decided that if I could not take on the role of the starting quarterback I still could make a difference in a different capacity. I chose to be the leader of the quarterback group, mentoring my younger counterparts and pushing them as hard as I pushed myself. I strove to be a player who could be used as an example as someone who never quit and did what he could do to always finish.

That season, with Coach Tim Plough’s direction, Heyworth’s’ intellect, Randy’s clutch play, freshman London Lacy's talent and my leadership, our quarterback group was more cohesive than in any previous year. We were a single unit.

When my last spring game rolled around, I played my heart out knowing that because of my position on the depth chart it could be the last time I competed on the field. Because of my new “big picture” focus, taking the field felt different this time. I played the best football I had ever played.  

When my final summer camp arrived, my early goal of being the starting quarterback had faded away but my new goals shined brightly. I entered camp as a senior leader with confidence flowing from the previous spring. In addition to it being my final camp and season, I also knew something special was looming on the horizon. Our first game was going to be in my hometown against Arizona State University. With only the slightest hope of seeing time in that game, I pushed every day to prepare and ready myself for that moment. Camp concluded and we flew to Arizona. The summer heat greeted me, as if to say, “Welcome home.”

In the moments before the game started, I looked around at my teammates in our locker room and I thought to myself, “How perfect is this, to be in my hometown playing football with my best friends.” The game was tough, but we never gave up. With time running out in the fourth quarter, Coach Plough sent me out with the offense. There were only eight seconds left. While most would think eight seconds is hardly anything, it was enough for me. I made the most out of my eight seconds, completing two passes. Afterwards, I walked over to the countless people who had come to support me: family, friends, and ex-teammates who had walked off the field with me five years ago after our state quarterfinal loss. Looking at all of these people, I was overcome with pride, knowing that all the work I had put in had all been worth it.

During the next week’s game against Montana State, Randy sustained an injury, which propelled me to the backup position, with Heyworth being the starter against the University of San Diego in our first home game. I was ecstatic to be able to be in a position where I felt I could give something to the team from a playmaking standpoint. However, my contentment was short-lived. During a live goal line practice period on the Tuesday before our Saturday game, I dove into the endzone, scoring a touchdown, but at the same time injuring my knee. For the next two weeks I walked around on crutches and was sidelined for an additional three weeks. 

Upon returning to practice, still fighting my injury, I again I found myself back in my position near the bottom of the depth chart. But, I never looked down or pitied myself. The football “gods” obviously had different plans for me. After Heyworth was injured in the USD game and Randy was back as the starter, a young London Lacy had to step up and be the backup quarterback to potentially lead the team if Randy was to get injured again. Being in London’s position several times throughout my career, and not being able to play, I turned again to helping in his development.

During our last week of practice, the seniors had an opportunity to address the team. I went first and told my teammates and coaches that, “It has truly been an honor to have played with you and to have been a part of this team.” I have never spoken truer words.

The season ended and my football career at UC Davis was over. Yet it didn’t feel that way until I returned from Christmas break. Stepping foot in Davis and feeling the wet winter air, something felt different. Then, it finally hit me - football was truly over. No more two-hour meetings, mandatory lifting four days a week, or 6 a.m. running. I began to mentally review my football career. Did I do everything I could? Yes, I truly think I did. Did I truly work as hard as I could? Yes, yes I did. But, was all that work in vain - did I accomplish my goals? That final question remained unanswered until late January at my final football banquet. 

At the banquet I sat next to my fellow seniors and my parents. The finality of my UC Davis football career filled me with nostalgia. Then, Tim Plough, my friend and teammate from my freshman year, my coach, and now friend once again, was standing at the podium about to give the Aggie Pride Award. Listening to him talk, as I had countless hours in the past through meetings and practice, brought a smile to my face. Plough announced that my teammates had voted to give me the Aggie Pride Award and explained that I symbolized Aggie Pride - the character and tradition of UC Davis football - much like Coach Biggs and Coach Sochor do. As I walked to the stage and received my award, I began to see people rise. As I turned back, the entire room was standing and clapping.

At that moment, seeing my family, friends, teammates, administration and coaches standing and applauding me, made me realize that nothing I had done had been in vain. Everything, from the numerous hardships to the amazing moments, had all been worth it. And, while I may not have followed my five-year plan to the letter, I had followed it in spirit. I found that even the best laid plans would inevitably change. It became clear that setting individual goals and having expectations for yourself is important, but that true personal success is based upon how you react to the hardships, adapt to the adversity and, in the end, persevere by doing what is best for the team.

Sean Maraz is a writing intern in the Athletics Communications Office during the WInter Quarter. His contributions to the football program during his career as a UC Davis student-athlete made him a very deserving winner of the Aggie Pride Award. The senior from Phoenix, Ariz., is majoring in Science & Technology Studies.

9 comments:

  1. Best entry yet. Congrats on the Aggie Pride award, Sean!

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    1. You are an inspiration to all of us! I wish more people could see life the way you do. Congratulations on your award, you truly deserve it!

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  2. Sean, Reading your blog was inspiring! It was a pleasure speaking with you yesterday, but more of a pleasure reading your words here. Aggie Pride is more than just two words; it represents the essence of what it means to be a student athlete at UC Davis. Thanks for posting your blog; it will inspire many future athletes. Congratulations on the Aggie Pride award...

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  3. I started at defensive tackle for 3 seasons one including the 1971 miracle season and game. These comments surely do reflect Aggie Pride. I was a season ticket holder for many years until the new stadium was built. Watching games in the new stadium I sometimes felt like Aggie Pride was bypassed for Big Time Football.Your comments changed all that They bring a smile to my face and I realize that Aggie Pride is a live and well at UC Davis.

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  4. Bill "Suitcase" Simpson '69March 2, 2012 at 12:07 PM

    Great write, Sean, and great sentiments. I too fell far short of my playing-time goals as an Aggie, playing DT behind Aggie Hall of Famer Tom Williams and Mike Clark, another who signed an NFL contract.

    I earned no award, but as you expressed so well, I have never regretted one minute of my time as a member of the UCD Football Program, nor of my time at Davis, in general. Those experiences were fundamental in me becoming the man I am today.

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  5. Congratulations Sean, Your words exemplify the Aggie fighting spirit. You have a very bright future. You are a very talented writer.

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  6. Great Man, truly inspirational. Such a good true life story. Always keep your head up, God has bigger plans.

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  7. Well done, Sean, both this and you-know-what that just happened! Mandy and I are proud to know you (and to have been able to watch you grow into the fine man you are!) Chuck

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  8. Sean, I attended the Aggie football banquet and was one of many standing with "leaky" eyes as you received your award. It was great to hear and read your story, reflect on my own similar memories, and realize that you, as many have before you, come to a similar conclusion that exemplifies Aggie Pride. As a former Aggie, I feel connected to you and your teammates as I do to those with whom I played. Congratualtions.

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