SportsLeader is a virtue-based mentoring and motivation program for coaches. This blog shares stories from coaches all over the country transforming lives. For more information contact Lou Judd -

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Power of Initiative

SAVE THE DATE! Feb 24-25, 2012
FREE Character Building Clinic hosted by SportsLeader for Coaches and Captains

One of the athletes we are honoring this year at our SportsLeader Awards Night on Feb 24th is Joseph Fisher. Joseph is a remarkable young man who is truly an example of initiative - coming up with an idea on his own, following through and getting it done - all at the age of 12, 13 ...

Joseph is currently an 8th grader at St Agnes school in Louisville, KY. He played football for the past two seasons for Coach Paul Passafiume, Co-Founder of SportsLeader. He credits the SportsLeader Program as a big part of the success of his team. His team won the Toy Bowl in 2009 and 2010.

Joseph is consistently a 4.0 student, is a member of the Student Council, and the Kentucky Youth Assembly. 

Joseph is a volunteer at the Nazareth Home and created a group known as "Fifth Down Equipment Locker" where he collects used football equipment and donates to underprivileged football teams. He looks forward to attending St. X and playing for the Tigers.

In the past two years he has helped collect over 350 pieces of football equipment.

Joseph and teammate Colin delivered this season's collection to the Louisville Broncos of the Louisville Metro Youth Football League. The Broncos are a 1st year team and are led by Coach McAdory. Coach "Mac" was proud to announce that this year's team made it all the way to the Semi-Finals. Joseph and Colin shared the SportsLeader virtues of Charity, Humility and Determination. 

Coach "Mac" expressed his extreme gratitude and promised the equipment would go to good use and that it will help to include some who may not be able to participate otherwise. 

If you'd like to check out Joseph's work please visit his web site at: 


5TH Down Equipment Locker is a program to provide used equipment for football players of need. It is called 5th down because like a 5th down on the football field it gives us all another opportunity. 

In giving, we practice generosity. Not everyone has been blessed the way we have. We also display leadership by setting an example for others. When others witness the joy we receive in giving, it will inspire them to do the same. 

The person getting the equipment gets the opportunity to play football and experience the fellowship and camaraderie that we all know it brings. 

Here is how it works:

We will collect your used equipment (equipment you own). Please clean any equipment before you bring it in. We need anything you can spare: cleats, pads, pants practice jerseys, gloves, helmets, etc… you get the idea. Once we have the equipment gathered we will get representatives of our team to deliver them.

Please give freely. There are plenty of kids in our community that can’t play because of the cost of equipment. Let’s share the opportunity of playing football with them and make a difference in someone’s life.

We encourage others to follow Joe’s footsteps. If you would like to participate here in the Louisville area please contact us at

We can help you organize your local collection and get you in touch with needy teams. We would also like to help you if you want to start one up in your local community.

Leadership and The First Follower

Tom Ryan, head wrestling coach at Ohio State, recently shared these lessons with his team and I thought it looked really interesting.

I've seen this play out time and time again as we've tried to introduce virtue into schools ... many times there might be ONE person ... and getting that first follower and the second is very challenging.

Our society urgently needs more virtuous leaders and followers. It's not an option - it's an urgency.

Leadership and The First Follower
By Derek Sivers

If you've learned a lot about leadership and making a movement, then let's watch a movement happen, start to finish, in under 3 minutes, and dissect some lessons:

A leader needs the guts to stand alone and look ridiculous. But what he's doing is so simple, it's almost instructional. This is key. You must be easy to follow!

Now comes the first follower with a crucial role: he publicly shows everyone how to follow. Notice the leader embraces him as an equal, so it's not about the leader anymore - it's about them, plural. Notice he's calling to his friends to join in. It takes guts to be a first follower! You stand out and brave ridicule, yourself. Being a first follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership. The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint, the first follower is the spark that makes the fire.

The 2nd follower is a turning point: it's proof the first has done well. Now it's not a lone nut, and it's not two nuts. Three is a crowd and a crowd is news.

A movement must be public. Make sure outsiders see more than just the leader. Everyone needs to see the followers, because new followers emulate followers - not the leader.

Now here come 2 more, then 3 more. Now we've got momentum. This is the tipping point! Now we've got a movement!

As more people jump in, it's no longer risky. If they were on the fence before, there's no reason not to join now. They won't be ridiculed, they won't stand out, and they will be part of the in-crowd, if they hurry. Over the next minute you'll see the rest who prefer to be part of the crowd, because eventually they'd be ridiculed for not joining.

And ladies and gentlemen that is how a movement is made! Let's recap what we learned:

If you are a version of the shirtless dancing guy, all alone, remember the importance of nurturing your first few followers as equals, making everything clearly about the movement, not you.

Be public. Be easy to follow!

But the biggest lesson here - did you catch it?

Leadership is over-glorified.

Yes it started with the shirtless guy, and he'll get all the credit, but you saw what really happened:

It was the first follower that transformed a lone nut into a leader.

There is no movement without the first follower.

We're told we all need to be leaders, but that would be really ineffective.

The best way to make a movement, if you really care, is to courageously follow and show others how to follow.

When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Nicholas Holden - Courage

Nicholas Holden is one of the athletes we will be honoring at this year's Awards Ceremony on Friday February 24th at Cincinnati Moeller High School. 

One of his coaches took the time to write this inspiring note about him.

As a society we need to make more of an effort to recognize the strength of virtue and its greatness. Please join us!

Nicholas Holden - Courage
By Brian Redden

Courage comes in all shapes, sizes, and circumstances.  For those of us in the St. Gertrude Bulldogs Football Program, a shining example of Courage was presented through a very special family who faced a rare cancer with rare conviction and courage that inspired coaches and players alike with their "Get Er Done" attitude and an outlook on life that taught us to cherish every single day we have with our loved ones.

In October, 2010, Tracy Holden was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer called multiple myeloma.  I say rare as it usually does not affect 40 year old Caucasian women, but rather African American men over age 60.  This would be just one of many distinctive traits that the Holden's friends and family would come to learn of them over the next 13 months as Tracy battled this aggressive disease.  One thing was true of her though, and that was her amazing outlook and attitude that she was going to give it her all to fight and do her best to beat the disease. 

I vividly remember sitting on the couch in her living room during a friends and family cookout at her over Memorial Day Weekend 2011 when she, then all of 90 pounds, told me how hard she was going to fight to get better and how much she was looking forward to watching her son, Nicholas, play football for our Reserve Football team at St. Gertrude and her daughter, Grace, cheering for that same team.  She and her husband Keith had always been great supporters and volunteers in the program and she hated that she couldn't do more in 2011.

I had the privilege of coaching Nicholas that season as the Defensive Coordinator and OL coach for our Reserve team.  Nicholas wasn't the smallest boy on our team, but he was close.  He was also one of the most fearless, toughest, hard-nosed competitors we had on our roster of 27 young men.  Not only did Nicholas never back down from making a block or a tackle against a bigger opponent in a drill or a game, he also played with a love and understanding of the game that you rarely see from boys in his age group.  On top of that, he was one of our most vocal leaders - letting team mates know when they did things right, taking care of team mates when they were down, and leading us in prayer praying for his mother and another parent from our program who was battling cancer too.
It could have been easy for Nicholas to take a break from practice while his mother was in the hospital getting her bone marrow transplant for the better part of 2 months.  It could have been easy for him to miss a practice or two when she returned to the hospital in October with complications from her transplant.  

It could have been easy for him to say that football was too hard with all he had going on in his life, that it was too physical when 90% of the kids are bigger or outweighed him, that it was too mentally grinding when his mom wasn't there to welcome him home after getting bruised at practice.  He never did.  He was, and is, a model team mate.  He is a quiet leader who pushed all of us to be better coaches and players, to do better on and off the field, to pray for our loved ones and their challenges while putting ourselves second or third.  He is a hero of mine and I believe is a model of the Courage that SportsLeader seeks to have our young people exhibit.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Virtue Helps Wrestling Teams Impress

Over the weekend, two SportsLeader wrestling teams had some amazing success on and off the mat.

The last time the Ohio State wrestling team beat Iowa in 1966, Woody Hayes was still the Buckeyes' head football coach.

Archie Griffin had yet to play a down for OSU, let alone win two Heisman Trophies.

The United States was in the middle of the Vietnam War under President Lyndon B. Johnson.

And everyone, including the coaching staff, involved with the OSU wrestling team had yet to live in a world that saw their school win against Iowa.

That all changed last Friday night though, after the No. 7 Buckeyes toppled No. 2 Iowa, 21-9, at St. John Arena.

The virtues that they have been focusing on over the past fee weeks were Self-Less, Iron-Willed and Humble.


For St Xavier High School, they have not had much wrestling success against Elder High School in quite a while. That changed as well with a 45-30 victory Saturday night.

I had the pleasure of attending the St Xavier match with my son and I was so glad I was able to bring him - because he witnessed a lot of virtue.

There were some questionable calls/no-calls by the referee throughout the match. The crowd got rather upset a few times but I was so impressed with the coaching staffs from both schools. All of the coaches involved were class-acts. 

They handled themselves so well even my eight year old son noticed. "These coaches don't scream at the ref even when all these people do."

During one particular wrestling match at 152 pounds, the Elder wrestler got injured. The St Xavier wrestler, Joe Heyob, went over to the Elder bench, took a knee and reached out to the injured competitor. I don't know what he said, but the action spoke volumes. I personally had never seen that before. Virtue = Strength in action.

Again, my son noticed. "That was really nice of Joe, wasn't it, Dad."

It once again showed me how everything matters. A regular wrestling match can turn into a tremendous learning experience, even for our younger fans in attendance.

Transforming the culture of sports ...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Earle Bruce Headlines SportsLeader Coaches Clinic

We hope you can join us.

Earle Bruce
When an injury ended Earle Bruce's playing career at Ohio State, coach Woody Hayes urged Bruce to become a coach. 

Starting in the high school ranks, Bruce was an assistant before becoming a head coach, posting an 82-12-3 record in ten seasons and earning Ohio High School Coach of the Year honors three times. 

Earle's first collegiate job was at Tampa, where in one season he had a 10-2 record and a Tangerine Bowl win. He then went to Iowa State, where he turned around a perpetually losing program into a winner and bowl invitee. 

In 1979, Bruce went to Ohio State, succeeding his friend Woody Hayes. In his first year he posted an undefeated regular season, a Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl. Bruce was named National Coach of the Year by both the Football Writers and Coaches Associations. 

In his nine seasons at OSU, Bruce won or shared four Big Ten championships, took the Buckeyes to eight bowl games, finished in the top 20 eight times and posted an 81-26-1 record. 

From there, he spent one season at Northern Iowa before closing his career at Colorado State, where he took the Rams to their first bowl game in 42 years. 

Overall Bruce had a 154-90-2 record, took four different schools to bowl games where he had a 12-5 record, had ten seasons where his teams won nine or more games, and had nine top 20 teams.

The Coaching Tree of Earle Bruce is one of the most remarkable in the history of College Football.

Coaches who were Assistants with him have won 7 of the past 9 National Championships:
2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2011.

Dom Capers, Pete Carroll, Jim Tressel, Mark Dantonio, Glen Mason, Urban Meyer, Nick Saban ... just to name a few.


FREE Character Building Clinic hosted by SportsLeader for Coaches and Captains
($20 donation appreciated but not required, checks made out to SportsLeader)

February 24-25, 2012

At Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller High School
9001 Montgomery Road
Cincinnati, OH 45242

Registration Instructions:
Reply to this Email with your name, high school, address, cell phone number and position

SportsLeader Awards Night
Friday Night February 24, 2012

6:30 Arrival

6:50 Award presentation to athletes who have displayed great virtue and initiative in serving others

7:15 Award Presentation to Coach Trent Todd: Youth FB Coach and Double-Lung Transplant Survivor

7:45 Some of his athletes give testimonials

8:00 Break - Social

8:15 Zeke Bratkowski: Former QB for Green Bay Packers, Member of the Packers Hall of Fame, NFL quarterback coach/offensive coordinator. Prepared Tim Tebow personally for the NFL.

9:15 Social

SportsLeader Character Building Clinic
Saturday Morning February 25, 2012

7:30 Arrival and Registration

8:00 Clinic speakers 1
High School Track - Aaron Segedi, Trenton MI- Community Impact Projects: Victory Day
Grade School Track - Tommy Hagey, St Henry Nashville TN - The Virtue Program's Impact on the Coaching Staff

8:35 Switch

8:40 Clinic Speakers 2
High School Track - Steve Frommeyer, Eminence KY - The Importance of a Systematic Virtue Program
Grade School Track - Ron Jennings, Lakota Stallions Cincinnati OH - Transforming Your Youth Football League Through Virtue

9:15 Switch

9:20 Clinic Speakers 3
High School Track - Bill Sweet and Ron Adams, Wyandotte Roosevelt MI - How to Train Captains and Build Leaders Year Round
Grade School Track - Jim DeJoy, Sycamore Cincinnati OH - How to Discipline Players and Deal with Disappointment

9:55 Break/Social

10:20 General talk for both HS and GS - SportsLeader  Cofounders ... Paul Passafiume & Lou Judd - Integrating a Virtue Program into Your Team and School

11:00 Switch

11:05 Clinic Speakers 4
High School Track - Chris Tracy, Franklin County KY - Traditions that Build a Program and Transform Families
Grade School Track - Brian Redden, St Gertrude OH - Integrating a Virtue Program into Your Boosters Organization

11:35 Switch

11:40 General talk for both HS and GS - Earle Bruce: Former Head Football Coach at Ohio State

12:15 Wrap up

12:30 Departure

Philip Rivers: Bold & Strong

SAVE THE DATE! Feb 24-25, 2012
FREE Character Building Clinic hosted by SportsLeader for Coaches and Captains

Catholic Quarterback Philip Rivers Passes On the Faith
San Diego Chargers' star talks faith, family and football: 'Once I've received the Eucharist, then I'm prepared to go out and play.'


Coming off a disappointing 2011 NFL campaign, San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is wasting no time to prepare for next season.

The Chargers won four of their first five games last season, but finished with an 8-8 record. The team missed the playoffs, and Tim Tebow’s Denver Broncos went instead.

Less dedicated players would take time off, but not Rivers. Dedication is something his father Steve, a high-school coach, passed along to him, and it has been a driving force in his football career.
At North Carolina State University, Rivers broke every school passing record, finishing his collegiate career with 13,484 passing yards, the second-highest total ever for a Division 1-A quarterback up to that point.

His production in the NFL has also been impressive. His 95.2 passer-rating currently ranks fifth all-time among quarterbacks with at least 1,500 yards passing.

Perhaps even more impressive than Rivers’ football accomplishments, however, is his dedication to passing on his Catholic faith. The 30-year-old Decatur, Ala., native cherishes opportunities to hand on to his own children the faith that his parents gave to him.

Rivers discussed this and many other things in early January.

What do you think of this past season, and what are you doing now during the playoffs?
This past season was certainly a disappointment. We didn’t make the playoffs, and I didn’t have my best season, personally. However, I’m thankful for the adversity we experienced because if we take it in the right way, it can help us next season.

We had a fairly strong close to the season, so I remember the saying that “You never lose; you just run out of time.” We ran out of time this season, but there’s next season, which I’m preparing for already. I watch the teams in the playoffs to see what we can do better the next time we play them.
I really am thankful for this season’s adversity, not just from a football perspective, but from an overall life perspective as well. It’s made me not just a better player, but a better husband and father.

How do you find time for your commitment to the faith when most of your games are played on the Lord’s Day?
It’s funny, because it’s always been a dream of mine to play in the NFL, but I was concerned about the games being played on Sundays. I love to play football but wanted to be able to attend Mass as well. Now, I do that by going to a vigil Mass or an early Sunday morning one. Once I’ve received the Eucharist, then I’m prepared to go out and play.

Something that might seem odd on the surface is this: If I put football above my faith and family, I think I’d be worse off as a player, not better. It’s a matter of putting things in the right order, which helps you to do each of those things as they ought to be done. Avoiding idolatry helps you to have the right perspective on life, which in turn helps you to live more effectively. Faith comes first, then family, then football.

What do you think of Tim Tebow’s statements about faith?
I know Tim a little bit because we have the same agent. I’ve enjoyed speaking with him from time to time and know that he has strong beliefs. I’ve been public about my beliefs, as well, but not in as vocal or persistent a manner. Everyone has a different way of expressing themselves, and Tim has his own way, too.

As a quarterback I very much appreciate what a great competitor he is and how he wills his team to win. I always look forward to competing against competitors like him.

What does football mean to you, not just as a way to make a living, but as a game you’ve been playing your whole life and one in which your father has influenced you?
Football is one of the most popular sports in the country, and there are many reasons for this. You can take so much from football and apply it to life in general. Just some of those things are goal-setting, preparation, teamwork, perseverance and discipline.

Discipline is one of the biggest things that stands out for me in relation to my father. He would always tell me that if you’re going to do something, do it all the way. Nothing should be done halfheartedly. That was true not only with football, but with something as simple as cleaning your room or cutting the grass. I would wonder why making a bed was important at all when you were going to use it again later that day. The discipline to do those simple things can help you so much with greater things. Luke 16:10 comes to mind, in that regard.

My father was my coach in high school, and I still talk with him very frequently about football today. I’ll call him after practice, and we’ll talk about how things went. In fact, Dad still has other players of his who call him up and talk with him as well. That’s something very special to me — how he has helped to guide me and others in being a man.

What has your father passed along to you regarding the Catholic faith specifically?
My father converted from being Southern Baptist when I was very young. He was determined that we get to Mass every Sunday, which served as the foundation for everything else. You simply do not miss Mass. Period. When the father of the family says we go, then we go.
When I went away to school at North Carolina State, I was on my own for the first time and really out of my element, but when I went to Mass that first Sunday, everything fell back into place. Even though I was physically a good distance from my family, I knew I was home in the truest sense.
That’s one of the gifts of the Church I appreciate most: the oneness or universality of it all. It’s the same essential Mass regardless of which city or state or country you’re in at the time. I’ve been to some beautiful churches in Denver, St. Louis and Chicago, but what’s even more beautiful than the churches is Jesus (being) always present in the Eucharist.

This is true in any Catholic church you go to.

Because you grew up in the South, you must have encountered opposition to Catholicism.
There were only about 15 of us in my confirmation class, not just for our parish, but for the entire county in Alabama that I lived in. That tells you how small the Catholic population was. However, I wouldn’t call it opposition that I encountered, but more of a questioning as to why we did certain things. That can be a good thing, in the sense that you learn so much about the faith because of the questions. That’s something my mother helped me with in even more detail than my father. She was especially instrumental in revealing the truth of the Church to my wife, Tiffany, during her conversion.
Most of my buddies from school I didn’t see at Mass on Sunday because they weren’t Catholic. We got along fine outside of church, but the religious camaraderie wasn’t there.

I’ve known my wife since we were in junior high school, but she wasn’t Catholic at that time. However, like my father, she converted, and that has strengthened both of us.

Our bond in the faith is the foundation of our marriage. San Diego has a very solid Catholic community, which has been great for my wife and kids to make friends and be supported in the faith.

This is very encouraging, especially when it comes to living out teachings of the Church that are not as popular as others. The most noticeable of these is being open to life, or what is commonly known as natural family planning (NFP). When you see others making the same commitment to the faith as you are, it can only strengthen you.

Because of the commitment that’s required, a lot of people are particularly afraid of the baby stages of raising children. It’s easy to talk yourself into thinking you just can’t handle all the work that it takes. What I tell people, though, is that the children do grow up; they aren’t going to be in need of constant supervision and assistance forever.

Plus, when the time comes to look back on your child-raising years, you may actually want more children. There can be a fear of having too many going in, but a regret of not enough when looking back. There are people who would desperately want to have more but can’t.
My mom comes from a family of nine children, and she would have loved more than anything to have had a large family of her own. However, that was not God’s plan, and I ended up being the only child for the first 11 years of my life. Then we were fortunate to welcome my brother Stephen into the world, and later my sister Anna.

With the birth of our second son in October, we have six kids now. It’s funny because sometimes when I’m out with just three of them, people ask if they’re all mine, as if three is an enormous family.

What do you enjoy most about fatherhood?
Every day there’s something new to witness. It’s fun to watch them grow. Tiffany and I comment to each other on which one is more like mom or more like dad when they do certain things. Each one is different, but I really enjoy watching them play together and love each other. That’s very special to see as a dad.

When you have a family of your own, you realize just how much you owe to your own parents, and you find that you do things just like they did. You may not have appreciated those things at the time, but it’s funny to see them come back. One little example of this is when I was younger; we would finish a meal, and 15 minutes later I’d ask my dad for a snack. He’d tell me, “We just ate. You’re not hungry; you’re just bored. Now go play.” Today, my own kids do the same thing to me, and I give them the same response my dad gave me.
I love my kids so much and not only enjoy them now, but sometimes I think of what it will be like when they’re grown up. When they have families of their own and come back home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, it will be so much fun to see them and all the grandkids.

Strengthening families is a major reason you started your foundation, Rivers of Hope, correct?
Yes, it is. On our way home from a trip to Disneyland a few years ago, Tiffany and I were talking about doing something pro-life, and a great way to do that is by helping foster kids find “forever families.” We’re so blessed ourselves to have a strong family, but we knew that so many people don’t have that same blessing.

In coming up with a name, we all decided on Rivers of Hope, because “hope” is my mom’s favorite word, and it really expresses the purpose of the foundation. Our primary purpose is to help find permanent homes for foster children, which is a hope unfulfilled for too many.
I’ve talked with many foster children, and it is very common for them to bounce from home to home. Two little sisters in particular stand out in my mind. They explained that whenever a social worker would come to the home they were in at the time, one sister would yell to the other, “Pack your bags!” To these kids, seeing a social worker meant moving again. We wanted to help them see the day when that cycle would stop and they’d find a permanent home.

There are hundreds of kids here in San Diego County ready to be adopted, so we want to raise awareness of that. We’re not reinventing the wheel, just trying to help the process go more smoothly with the organizations that already exist.
We do other things as well. If someone doesn’t have the money to buy a pair of cleats or a musical instrument, or whatever it might be, then we pay for those things. We also do referrals to crisis-pregnancy centers for mothers who need that support. Protecting the most vulnerable is essential to being pro-life.

Another part of being pro-life that you’ve spoken about is purity. Why is this an important topic to you?
One of the people we’ve gotten to know here in San Diego is Jason Evert of Catholic Answers. He presents the truth about sexuality, a topic which is so misrepresented in the media. Young people don’t realize what a gift it is within the context of marriage, so it’s great to be able to use the platform I have to spread the truth. People are able to put a face to a cause.

Speaking of purity, what do you say about some of the commercials played during football games?

It’s a shame, because it used to be fun to watch commercials during the Super Bowl, for instance. Now, it’s kind of hit or miss, and you have to be thankful for the pause button on the DVR. You know what you’re going to see in advance, so you prevent your kids especially from seeing those things. You want to protect their innocence, and that’s a preventative way of doing it. But in today’s world, praying for our kids is essential for their protection and continued growth in the faith.

I can’t put into words how much I enjoy praying with my kids. Most of them are a bit too young to have the attention span for a Rosary, so our favorite devotion is the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which is shorter. We pray that every day of Lent, and we actually sing it most of the time. If the end of the day is coming, and we haven’t prayed the chaplet, one of the kids will enthusiastically insist that we do so.

Do you have a patron saint?
St. Sebastian is the patron of athletes, so I wear a medal of him, along with a miraculous medal and a crucifix. There are many stories I could tell about his patronage, but here’s just one. In a 2008 playoff game I tore my ACL [anterior cruciate ligament]. The week following that game was a very spiritual one for me. My mom asked me on the phone, “Do you know that St. Sebastian’s feast day [Jan. 20] is the day of the next playoff game?” Amazingly, maybe even miraculously, I was able to play that game.

I also admire St. Francis Xavier, a missionary priest who had quite an adventurous life. Reading stories like his helps to get the right perspective on things. What I have to suffer doesn’t really compare with what he and other saints went through for the Lord. Even more to the point, when you think of what Jesus suffered in his passion for us all, it can only help you love him all the more.

Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Marcus Rush Freshman All American

SAVE THE DATE! Feb 24-25, 2012
FREE Character Building Clinic hosted by SportsLeader for Coaches and Captains
I had the pleasure of speaking with Michigan State defensive end Marcus Rush yesterday. Marcus has been named Freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America. Rush is one of two Big Ten players selected to the 28-man team, joining Northwestern safety Ibraheim Campbell.
This is the second time a SportsLeader graduate has earned a spot on the FWAA Freshman All-America Team, as Rush joins linebacker Greg Jones (2007), also from Michigan State, who now plays with the NY Giants.
Marcus opened preseason camp near the bottom of the depth chart at defensive end but with his tremendous work ethic worked his way into the starting lineup. He ranked third on the team in tackles for loss (12 for 45 yards) and sacks (4 for 23 yards)
He helped Michigan State finish 11-3 in 2011, tying the school single-season record for victories. MSU implemented the mentoring this season.
One of the things that helped him the most was the great relationships he was able to build with his coaches, especially his mentor coach. He said they spoke numerous times during the season and it really, really helped to talk with a coach about some personal things.
The mentoring also strengthened his relationships with his friends as they helped one another make good decisions and stay away from temptations.

Priorities and $240,000

The mission statement of SportsLeader is very simple: Transform the culture of sports.
Why does it need transforming?
Here is a very relevant example:
This past weekend a New York businessman and avid Packers fan decided to drop $240,000 on a road trip to the NFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Giants at Lambeau Field.
How can you spend $240K on a football game?

-1,086 miles to travel in a 70-foot RV

-2 waitresses

-3 TVs

-26 bottles of champagne

-65 Kobe beef burgers

-100 gallons of beer

-150 pounds of prime beef

-10 live lobsters

-6 seats on the 50-yard line

The gentleman brought five friends -- all diehard Giants fans -- and that ratio likely worked against him on the 20-hour trip home following Big Blue's stunning 37-20 win on Sunday.

The dream now is now a nightmare, as is the reality that awaits him when his RV pulls into the driveway and he's met by the wife who pretended she was cool with him skipping their 28th wedding anniversary for all this.

Now not everyone drops $240,000 for a game but there are many of us who dedicate a similar amount of hours on sports while we dedicate only a few minutes on serving others.
Just some food for thought and I include myself in this needed time of refection.

Selfless Tim Tebow Wins Over Rick Reilly

A tremendous example of virtue! Imagine if every athletic team in the country had 1 athlete like this ... our world would be a very different place.
I Believe in Tim Tebow
By Rick Reilly
I've come to believe in Tim Tebow, but not for what he does on a football field, which is still three parts Dr. Jekyll and two parts Mr. Hyde.

No, I've come to believe in Tim Tebow for what he does off a football field, which is represent the best parts of us, the parts I want to be and so rarely am.

Who among us is this selfless?

Every week, Tebow picks out someone who is suffering, or who is dying, or who is injured. He flies these people and their families to the Broncos game, rents them a car, puts them up in a nice hotel, buys them dinner (usually at a Dave & Buster's), gets them and their families pregame passes, visits with them just before kickoff (!), gets them 30-yard-line tickets down low, visits with them after the game (sometimes for an hour), has them walk him to his car, and sends them off with a basket of gifts.

Home or road, win or lose, hero or goat.

Remember last week, when the world was pulling its hair out in the hour after Tebow had stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers with an 80-yard OT touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas in the playoffs? And Twitter was exploding with 9,420 tweets about Tebow per second? When an ESPN poll was naming him the most popular athlete in America?

Tebow was spending that hour talking to 16-year-old Bailey Knaub about her 73 surgeries so far and what TV shows she likes.

"Here he'd just played the game of his life," recalls Bailey's mother, Kathy, of Loveland, Colo., "and the first thing he does after his press conference is come find Bailey and ask, 'Did you get anything to eat?' He acted like what he'd just done wasn't anything, like it was all about Bailey."

More than that, Tebow kept corralling people into the room for Bailey to meet. Hey, Demaryius, come in here a minute. Hey, Mr. Elway. Hey, Coach Fox.

Even though sometimes-fatal Wegener's granulomatosis has left Bailey with only one lung, the attention took her breath away.

"It was the best day of my life," she emailed. "It was a bright star among very gloomy and difficult days. Tim Tebow gave me the greatest gift I could ever imagine. He gave me the strength for the future. I know now that I can face any obstacle placed in front of me. Tim taught me to never give up because at the end of the day, today might seem bleak but it can't rain forever and tomorrow is a new day, with new promises."

I read that email to Tebow, and he was honestly floored.

"Why me? Why should I inspire her?" he said. "I just don't feel, I don't know, adequate. Really, hearing her story inspires me."

It's not just NFL defenses that get Tebowed. It's high school girls who don't know whether they'll ever go to a prom. It's adults who can hardly stand. It's kids who will die soon.

For the game at Buffalo, it was Charlottesville, Va., blue-chip high school QB Jacob Rainey, who lost his leg after a freak tackle in a scrimmage. Tebow threw three interceptions in that Buffalo game and the Broncos were crushed 40-14.

"He walked in and took a big sigh and said, 'Well, that didn't go as planned,'" Rainey remembers. "Where I'm from, people wonder how sincere and genuine he is. But I think he's the most genuine person I've ever met."

There's not an ounce of artifice or phoniness or Hollywood in this kid Tebow, and I've looked everywhere for it.

Take 9-year-old Zac Taylor, a child who lives in constant pain. Immediately after Tebow shocked the Chicago Bears with a 13-10 comeback win, Tebow spent an hour with Zac and his family. At one point, Zac, who has 10 doctors, asked Tebow whether he has a secret prayer for hospital visits. Tebow whispered it in his ear. And because Tebow still needed to be checked out by the Broncos' team doctor, he took Zac in with him, but only after they had whispered it together.

And it's not always kids. Tom Driscoll, a 55-year-old who is dying of brain cancer at a hospice in Denver, was Tebow's guest for the Cincinnati game. "The doctors took some of my brain," Driscoll says, "so my short-term memory is kind of shot. But that day I'll never forget. Tim is such a good man."

This whole thing makes no football sense, of course. Most NFL players hardly talk to teammatesbefore a game, much less visit with the sick and dying.

Isn't that a huge distraction?

"Just the opposite," Tebow says. "It's by far the best thing I do to get myself ready. Here you are, about to play a game that the world says is the most important thing in the world. Win and they praise you. Lose and they crush you. And here I have a chance to talk to the coolest, most courageous people. It puts it all into perspective. The game doesn't really matter. I mean, I'll give 100 percent of my heart to win it, but in the end, the thing I most want to do is not win championships or make a lot of money, it's to invest in people's lives, to make a difference."

So that's it. I've given up giving up on him. I'm a 100 percent believer. Not in his arm. Not in his skills. I believe in his heart, his there-will-definitely-be-a-pony-under-the-tree optimism, the way his love pours into people, right up to their eyeballs, until they believe they can master the hopeless comeback, too.

Remember the QB who lost his leg, Jacob Rainey? He got his prosthetic leg a few weeks ago, and he wants to play high school football next season. Yes, tackle football. He'd be the first to do that on an above-the-knee amputation.

Hmmm. Wonder where he got that crazy idea?

"Tim told me to keep fighting, no matter what," Rainey says. "I am."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Drew Brees on Faith & Humility

It's great to see NFL players who are not afraid to talk about faith and virtue.

I recommend sharing this video with your players, coaches and parents.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Virtue, Marriage and Happiness

SAVE THE DATE! Feb 24-25, 2012
FREE Character Building Clinic hosted by SportsLeader for Coaches and Captains

One of the reasons I am so passionate about virtue and athletics is that virtue leads to happiness. And athletics is the premier location of youth-oriented ministry.
The more we can teach our young people about virtue AND inspire-encourage-mentor them to put into practice, to live it ... the happier they and we will be.
The younger we can reach kids with these lessons - the better.
The article below brings some "scientific proof"... some "University Study" if you will to the these statements.
If we want our young people to grow up to have happy marriages in the future - Virtue MUST be a part of the equation.
When a former player comes back twenty years later and says, "Thanks Coach for everything you taught me ..." and we see that they are happily married ... surely that is worth a few minutes of practice time each day.
Don't you think?

The Generous Marriage

This column appears in the Dec. 11 issue of The New York Times Magazine.

From tribesmen to billionaire philanthropists, the social value of generosity is already well known. But new research suggests it also matters much more intimately than we imagined, even down to our most personal relationships.

Researchers from the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project recently studied the role of generosity in the marriages of 2,870 men and women. Generosity was defined as “the virtue of giving good things to one’s spouse freely and abundantly” — like simply making them coffee in the morning — and researchers quizzed men and women on how often they behaved generously toward their partners. How often did they express affection? How willing were they to forgive?

The responses went right to the core of their unions. Men and women with the highest scores on the generosity scale were far more likely to report that they were “very happy” in their marriages. The benefits of generosity were particularly pronounced among couples with children. Among the parents who posted above-average scores for marital generosity, about 50 percent reported being “very happy” together. Among those with lower generosity scores, only about 14 percent claimed to be “very happy,” according to the latest “State of Our Unions” report from the National Marriage Project.

While sexual intimacy, commitment and communication are important, the focus on generosity adds a new dimension to our understanding of marital success. Though this conclusion may seem fairly self-evident, it’s not always easy to be generous to a romantic partner. The noted marriage researcher John Gottman has found that successful couples say or do at least five positive things for each negative interaction with their partner — not an easy feat.

“In marriage we are expected to do our fair share when it comes to housework, child care and being faithful, but generosity is going above and beyond the ordinary expectations with small acts of service and making an extra effort to be affectionate,” explains the University of Virginia’s W. Bradford Wilcox, who led the research. “Living that spirit of generosity in a marriage does foster a virtuous cycle that leads to both spouses on average being happier in the marriage.”

Social scientists are now wondering if this virtuous cycle extends to children too. In a study of 3-year-old twins, Israeli researchers have identified a genetic predisposition toward generosity that may be further influenced by a parent’s behavior. Preliminary findings suggest that children with more-engaged parents are more likely to be generous toward others, which may bode well for their future relationships — and their parents’ too.

“We see meaningful differences in parents’ behaviors,” said Ariel Knafo, the principal investigator and a psychologist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “In the long run we’d like to be able to see whether it’s children’s generosity that also makes parents more kind or the other way around. Probably it’s both.”

Do you have a generous relationship?

Top three predictors of a happy marriage among parents:

1. Sexual Intimacy.
2. Commitment.
3. Generosity.
For more information about this study you can visit these links below:

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

FREE Character Building Clinic for Coaches and Captains

SAVE THE DATE! Feb 24-25, 2012

SportsLeader will be hosting its 6th Annual Character Building Clinic.

More information to come soon. Please spread the word. This year we will have 2 tracks: 1 for High School and 1 for Grade School.

Any questions: Please contact Lou Judd at
or call 859.512.2572

Virtue = Strength, Lou

FREE Character Building Clinic hosted by SportsLeader for Coaches and Captains
($20 donation appreciated but not required, checks made out to SportsLeader)

February 24-25, 2012

At Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller High School
9001 Montgomery Road
Cincinnati, OH 45242

Registration Instructions:
Reply to this Email with your name, high school, address, cell phone number and position
SportsLeader Awards Night
Friday Night February 24, 2012

6:30 Arrival

6:50 Award presentation to athletes who have displayed great virtue and initiative in serving others

7:15 Award Presentation to Coach Trent Todd: Youth FB Coach and Double-Lung Transplant Survivor

7:45 Some of his athletes give testimonials

8:00 Break - Social

8:15 Zeke Bratkowski: Former QB for Green Bay Packers, Member of the Packers Hall of Fame, NFL quarterback coach/offensive coordinator. Prepared Tim Tebow personally for the NFL.

9:15 Social

SportsLeader Character Building Clinic
Saturday Morning February 25, 2012

7:30 Arrival and Registration

8:00 Clinic speakers 1
High School Track - Aaron Segedi, Trenton MI- Community Impact Projects: Victory Day
Grade School Track - Tommy Hagey, St Henry Nashville TN - The Virtue Program's Impact on the Coaching Staff

8:35 Switch

8:40 Clinic Speakers 2
High School Track - Steve Frommeyer, Eminence KY - The Importance of a Systematic Virtue Program
Grade School Track - Ron Jennings, Lakota Stallions Cincinnati OH - Transforming Your Youth Football League Through Virtue

9:15 Switch

9:20 Clinic Speakers 3
High School Track - Bill Sweet and Ron Adams, Wyandotte Roosevelt MI - How to Train Captains and Build Leaders Year Round
Grade School Track - Jim DeJoy, Sycamore Cincinnati OH - How to Discipline Players and Deal with Disappointment

9:55 Break/Social

10:20 General talk for both HS and GS - SportsLeader  Cofounders ... Paul Passafiume & Lou Judd - Integrating a Virtue Program into Your Team and School

11:00 Switch

11:05 Clinic Speakers 4
High School Track - Chris Tracy, Franklin County KY - Traditions that Build a Program and Transform Families
Grade School Track Brian Redden, St Gertrude OH - Integrating a Virtue Program into Your Boosters Organization

11:35 Switch

11:40 General talk for both HS and GS - SPEAKER STILL TBD

12:15 Wrap up

12:30 Departure

Hotels near Archbishop Moeller High School

Embassy Suites Cincinnati-Northeast (Blue Ash)
4554 Lake Forest Drive
Blue Ash
(513) 733-8900

4625 East Lake Forest Drive
Blue Ash
(513) 733-4334

Holiday Inn Express & Suites- Cincinnati/Blue Ash
4660 Creek Rd
(877) 863-4780

Crowne Plaza
5901 Pfeiffer Rd
(800) 468-3597

Wingate by Wyndham Cincinnati-Blue Ash
4320 Glendale Milford Rd
Blue Ash
(800) 228-1000

Hilton Garden Inn Cincinnati Blue Ash
5300 Cornell Rd
Blue Ash
(513) 469-6900

Hampton Inn Cincinnati/Blue Ash
4640 Creek Road
Blue Ash
(513) 791-2822

Monday, January 9, 2012

What is Your Calling in Life?

One of the most rewarding aspects of my time with SportsLeader has been the relationships I've been able to build with so many amazing coaches. Steve Bennett is an amazing example of this. A few years back, when Steve was stepping away from coaches, I felt a loss. Well I'm thrilled to share Steve's testimony of part of his journey.

Maybe you will identify with his story. I recommend sharing this with all the coaches on your staff.

It is a GRACE to know one's calling in life.

As you know I coached football (also, soccer, basketball and baseball along the way) for roughly 8 years at St Gabriel following my son from 1st through 8th Grades.  My son’s 4th, 5th and 6th grade we utilized the Sportsleader program with his teams.  7th and 8th grade on a limited basis being an asst coach, although the Jersey Ceremonies these years were amazing!

After my son Michaels 8th grade year I decided to hang up my whistle and not coach football.  My reasoning was to relax and enjoy my son’s freshman football experience at St Xavier from the stands.  I also thought it would be good for me to devote more time in the fall to my career in Orthopedic Sales.  Relaxing and enjoying myself was easier said than done. I wound up driving my son (and wife) crazy asking him questions about his freshman practices every night when he got home or on the car ride home from practice.

I will admit I felt as something was missing from my life.  It was definitely an adjustment not being involved in my son’s coaching as well.  St Gabriel’s head coach and I kept in touch.  He had asked me a few times over the summer to continue coaching but I cordially declined stating I didn’t want to miss any of my son’s freshman football.  He kept an “open door” offer for me to return anytime to the staff.  

Towards the end of August I was continuing to drive my wife and son crazy with questions and advice about his football.  My wife told me I needed to find something to do for my sake and the families.  Around the same time all of this was going on I was in Church one Sunday listening to the Homily.  Our Priest was talking about having a “calling in life” and whatever that calling may be should involve helping others. This hit me right between the eyes.  I remember sitting in Church thinking he (the Priest and God) was talking directly to me.  

I felt that I was being selfish not helping the Coaches on the staff who asked for my help and not utilizing my God given Talents to help others, specifically the young men on the team.  I remember thinking my career is going great but is that really directly helping others?  I knew the answer was no to that question.  Later that same day I went to St Gabriel’s first regular season game with my son and let him know I was thinking about coaching again.  He told me I should especially since his games were on Thursday night and St Gabriel’s were on Sunday afternoon.  I confirmed with my wife that evening that she was still fine with me coaching again.  She said yes.

The next day I called the head coach and asked him if his offer was still open for me to return.  He said yes and I joined the staff the next day.  It was an absolute blast coaching again.  I had no idea how much I missed it.  It was actually much easier not having a son on the team.  I was back doing what I loved to do as well as what I felt God and my family wanted.  My son was relieved that I had something to keep me busy and not critiquing him during the rest of his season.   It was a Win-Win-Win for me, my family and the team.  

The season went great and I realized that football coaching is in my DNA.  Probably one of the most rewarding things that has ever happened to me in my entire life was having players and parents thank me for coming back to the team.  Nothing big, just a simple thank you.  That was confirmation to me that I had made the right decision.  I had never told anyone this story except maybe one friend and my wife until we exchanged emails last week.  I’m just glad I was listening during Church that Sunday.  I can’t wait to get started again in July!

P.s. some of the parents organized a pre-season Jersey Ceremony before I joined the team. I was told it went great.

Have a great evening!!

Steve Bennett

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

865 Cards for Joey Caretti

One of the coaches in our Association, Ron Adams of Wyandotte Michigan Roosevelt High School, shared some pretty inspiring new with me. It is an awesome example of a coach-teacher bringing VIRTUE everywhere they go and impacting hundreds of people along the way. A simple class assignment, the intentional focus on virtue brought out the best in a softball player.

A student athlete took it upon herself to collect 865 cards for an 11 year old boy with cancer and then drove an hour one way to deliver them in person.

Imagine if every coach-teacher across the country did this! More info below.

I am sending you this because I believe it is a story that should be shared during the holidays. I think it truly represents the true meaning of Christmas.

After you watch Joey's story you will understand why this is so special. I teach Global Events and this year I have made a commitment to discuss topics that represent something our society is in great need of, Virtue. 

A couple of weeks ago I passed out the news papers (Detroit News, Detroit Free Press & USA Today) and the students in my class were asked to find an article of their choice, summarize it and share it with the class. 

Lauren Hall, a senior here at Wyandotte Roosevelt, talked to our class about Joey's story and his unfortunate battle with leukemia. She was inspired to help reach the 1000 cards for Joey and encourage others in our school to help. 

As a memeber of our Key Club, sponsored by Sheryl Brna, the group reached out to the entire Wyandotte School district. What started out as an act of Virtue at Roosevelt High School was made available to every school in our district. We showed the news report to the kids in our district and I can't tell you how proud I am of our kids and the response we received. The last count for cards was around 600 for just Roosevelt. Lauren indicated she was collecting the cards and was going to personally deliver them to Joey. This really makes me feel good about what our community represents.

Laren Hall is not someone looking to be featured, it's not her personality. I know she didn't do this becasue she wanted attention, she just wanted to help make a difference.

I asked Lauren if I could provide you with her contact information and she was more than willing. I hope you will take the time to report this story with the hope it will inspire others to do something VIRTUOUS.  

Ron Adams
S. S. Teacher/Head Football Coach
Wyandotte Roosevelt High School


Roosevelt Students Send Heartfelt Wishes to Young Cancer Patient
Wyandotte Roosevelt High students rally to make cards for Joey Caretti, a young boy in his second battle with cancer, and deliver their messages of encouragement in time for Christmas.
• By Kathleen Trent

The students at Roosevelt High School have plenty of heart.

They proved it recently by organizing an outpouring of support for an 11-year-old boy recently diagnosed with leukemia.

It all started in early December.

Ron Adams, who teaches global events, asked his class to focus on some stories of virtue. He passed out some newspapers and told them to pick an article to discuss in class.

Lauren Hall, a senior, was inspired by a story about Joey Caretti of Washington Township. Joey had won the battle with a rare form of brain cancer on Nov. 11. But just weeks later, he was diagnosed with a second cancer–leukemia.

Now facing yet another battle with additional cancer treatments and the prospect of a bone marrow transplant, Joey was humble enough to simply ask for some get-well wishes. In response, thousands of cards have been sent from all over the U.S. and the world.

Cards for Joey. What a great idea, Hall thought, and especially at Christmas.

A Goal and a Plan

That’s when Hall sprang into action. She put in a request at the school to have the student body view a video clip about Joey from Fox 2 News. She wanted the students to actually experience Joey’s story.

By Dec. 21, she was still waiting for her project idea to make it through the necessary approval process. Hall said that with every passing day she felt even more determined to take action.

As a member of the Key Club, Hall knew her school's community service group would help. Teacher Sheryl Brna also got involved on Lauren's behalf.  They contacted the principal’s office and got through the first hurdle. They called the board office in an effort to obtain supplies of markers and card stock. The board came through and it was a go.

The Key Club also enlisted the help of the Aktion Club, a service group comprised of special-needs students. As Hall worked behind the scenes organizing all the details, the group of student volunteers was able to staff two 8-foot tables during all lunches on Dec. 22-23.

“We set up a stand in the cafeteria so we would not disrupt the classes,” Hall said. “We were hoping to get some cards for Joey because that is what he wanted most.”

And cards they got.  The volunteers worked the booth while the video clip was set up to run continuously so the students having lunch could see Joey’s story.

“Kids were coming over to see what was going on and how they could help,” Hall said.

“They used the card stock and markers to make some very special get-well cards for Joey,” Brna said. “Some were extremely elaborate. The students also used inspirational quotes in their cards.”

By the time it was all said and done Hall and the other students had collected more than a few cards. The get-well wishes totaled 865 cards to be exact.

So many students had taken time out to make cards for Joey. It was an outpouring of support.

Cards for Christmas

The holiday spirit helped but Hall didn’t feel like her job was done. She wanted to get the cards to Joey before Christmas.  She spoke with Brna and the two decided a road trip was in order.

That Friday night they took the cards to the Pokas family of Macomb Township, who collected cards on Joey's behalf. They drove all the way to Macomb to make sure Joey would receive the cards on time.

“He did receive them on time and he was thrilled,” Brna said. "Our students were thrilled too."

Hall said she has learned several lessons through her project.

“This has taught me there are little things you can do to help someone who may not be as fortunate as you,” Hall said.

And Hall’s teachers applaud her efforts as well.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of our kids and the response we received,” Adams said. “This really makes me feel good about what our community represents.”

His colleague agrees.

“It was so heartwarming to see Lauren take on this beautiful project,” Brna said. "The goodwill for Joey went school-wide. The kids also learned they can empower themselves to accomplish great things.”

Brna said the students wanted to shower Joey with cards like the courtroom scene from Miracle on 34th Street and that is exactly what they did.

The families from Macomb County who were involved in collecting the cards for Joey were duly impressed by the get-well wishes from Wyandotte. They phoned Hall to let her know how much they appreciated her efforts:

Hundreds and hundreds of get well wishes sent to Joey–from the heart.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Brad Sonntag: A Hidden Hero

Brad Sonntag is not exactly a daily household name. If you've never heard of him you are probably not alone. He is a 5 ft 8 and 176 pound fifth year year senior for the Michigan State Spartans football team. This was his first season as the holder for the kicker.

Yes, an article about the holder.

I had the pleasure of meeting Brad a few times this past season in my visits to Michigan State with Coach Mike Pruchnicki. We watched practice a number of times and for some reason Brad always stood out, even though he is the shortest guy on the team. He was a tireless worker, always staying afterwards to run routes with other receivers or defensive backs. You could readily observe his amazing attitude about everything, his willingness to do anything for the team, his desire to improve ...

And after 4 long years of playing division one football he had appeared in only 11 games (in 2 seasons) primarily in special teams roles ... 4 years of work to be on the field for less than 10 seconds. In high school Brad was a star QB , player of the year leading his team to the State Championship.

In our "all about me" society it would have been easy for Brad to check out a long time ago.

But he is the type of athlete pretty much every coach on earth would like to have on their team - A VIRTUOUS ONE: Self-less, dedicated, persevering, loyal, noble, humble ...

Yesterday I was thrilled to be able to see Brad get some well-well-well deserved praise and attention. He helped his team win a Bowl Game for the first time since 2001. Here below are a few more details about the momentous occasion.

I suggest sharing this email with all of your coaches, parents and athletes. Another example of virtue paying off, virtue helping a team accomplish something great. 

Brad could have hung up his cleats a long time ago ... the coaches could have given up on Brad a long time ago ... I'm sure all are very happy they stuck together.

Brad Sonntag's steady hands the difference in Michigan State's 33-30 triple overtime win over Georgia in Outback Bowl
By Geoff Mott | The Saginaw News

The fifth-year senior is a reserve wide receiver for the Spartans, but his crucial handling of the game-tying extra point and game-winning field goal as holder was the difference in the Spartans thrilling 33-30 triple overtime win over Georgia in Monday's Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla.

Moore's snap skipped into the grass in front of Sonntag, who calmly scooped up the ball and delivered the hold for Conroy's game-tying extra point kick.

Neither team scored in the first overtime as Cousins threw an interception and Georgia missed a game-winning field goal attempt. Georgia kicker Blair Walsh knocked in a 47-yard field goal in the second overtime for the 30-27 lead, but Sonntag put down a snap to his inside that gave Conroy a 35-yard field goal for the tie.

In the third overtime, MSU got the ball first and scored on Conroy's 28-yard field goal. Moore's snap was high on Sonntag, who reached up and quickly got the ball down for the kick. Walsh's 47-yard field goal for the tie was blocked and Sonntag and the Spartans celebrated their first bowl victory in 10 years.

Sonntag credits coaching for being able to react in that situation.

“About midway through every practice, (Michigan State quarterback coach Dave Warner) takes me aside and fires snaps at me,” Sonntag said. “It's a bad snap period and he fires them here and there on me. That gets me ready.”

The practice paid off and the world got to see it on display in the Outback Bowl. Normally a quiet position until the holder messes up, Sonntag got instant accolades. ABC announcer Mike Tirico suggested after Sonntag's hold in the second overtime that the former Nouvel Catholic Central standout should be the game's Most Valuable Player.

“I had about 20 to 30 texts after the game with people telling me (about Tirico's comments),” Sonntag said. “When you don't know who the holder is, you've done a great job. I guess today was my day to shine as a holder.

“But I was just doing my job. That's one of the small parts of the team that I do and I do that job well. I help ease the minds of the coaches with having a fifth year guy there. You don't have to worry about bad snaps. I'll get it done.”

Sonntag and his senior teammates lingered around Raymond James Stadium for nearly 20 minutes after the game. The satisfaction of completing a mission they had started as freshmen was just sinking in.

“That scene in the locker room is hard to put into words,” Sonntag said. “You put in five years of work to go out on top and we went out and beat a very good SEC team. All this hard work with a 105 guys coming together and getting this big win for (Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio) is huge.

“It's absolutely crucial for our juniors, sophomores and freshmen moving forward.”