Policing not only the streets, but also the backfield

More news about: Crown
Josh Brozek in uniform.
Cover photo by Charity McCusick; Uniform photos courtesy Josh Brozek, Crown athletics

Josh Brozek said a common question he gets asked is, “When do you sleep?”

The reason that comes up is obvious: While the Crown linebacker is juggling academics and athletics as many college students do, he also spends a big chunk of his week as a police officer with the West Hennepin County (Minn.) Public Safety Department.

“I like what the profession represents, the professionalism it requires you to have, the integrity it requires, and how much the public trusts you when they give you that position,” said Brozek, a patrol officer.

At 25 years old, he’s older than most of his fellow students on the field. And this season marks the first time in six years that he’s played the game.

Brozek was a quarterback and safety in high school and went on to Mayville State, an NAIA school that offered him a scholarship. When he arrived at Mayville, he wasn’t sure what professional career he wanted, so he signed up for a general course load while he played safety on the football team and decided what he wanted to do with his life.

He soon settled on a career in the police force, and since Mayville didn’t have a relevant academic program, he transferred to a two-year school and earned an associate’s degree in law enforcement.

He graduated from that program in 2012 and later became a West Hennepin County officer.

Brozek said he likes the variety of his shifts and the opportunity to help people that come with being a police officer. He said he’s happy not to be chained to his desk doing eight hours of mindless paperwork as in so many other jobs.

“I go to work not knowing what’s going to happen,” he said.

For career advancement, he said a bachelor’s degree was important.

“When you get a four-year degree, it gives you a little more opportunity to move up in the department,” Brozek said.

That’s how he ended up at Crown, spending days in class, afternoons on the football field and evenings with the police, napping here and there and finding that a social life doesn’t fit neatly into his new schedule.

The criminal justice major uses weekends to catch up on his school work or, if possible, to get ahead. Like everything, it takes planning and a solid work ethic to execute.

After getting his degree, he hopes to move into investigations and become a sergeant. Further out, his intent is to become a police chief.

“I have a strong drive to be successful, and that pushes me to feel like I can do school and all of this now,” said Brozek, who’s expected to graduate in 2017. “After it all, it just gives me that much more opportunity to be successful in life. That helps keep me going, realizing how much this degree will help me afterwards.”

Coach John Auer said Brozek spoke with the Crown staff before the start of the season to see how his schedule would blend with the team.

“He’s always looking to do well at each of the things he does. I think his drive for excellence helps him with all of this,” Auer said. But “I think it’s tough for him, too, because he has to juggle all these things, and he can’t do what other people can do because of time constraints.”

Coming back to football after being away for more than half a decade wasn’t seamless, but the curve wasn’t excessive either. As a police officer, Brozek already worked out five to six days a week, where he focused largely on lifting -- long before he considered returning to the sport.

Yet football practice required more running than Brozek was used to, and he had to adjust to the speed of play.

It was tough “trying to transition from quarterback/safety to linebacker, where you’re up in the box,” he said. “Back at safety, guys aren’t coming at you right away. You have a little bit of time to react and read. But at linebacker, it’s right there; you have to react so much quicker.”

Auer said that Brozek has improved each week. The athlete has a strong focus and good personality, and he’s adapting as he should to the game.

“That’s the biggest thing, that concept of you look at him and you see a guy with a mature body and every aspect of him is mature, but he still hasn’t played football in a while, so it’s going to take some time for him to get back into the swing of things,” Auer said. “He’s had to be patient, and we’ve had to be patient in the understanding that he’s going to improve like a freshman would even though he doesn’t look like a freshman.”

After three games, Crown is 1-2, and Brozek’s 23 tackles puts him third on the team. He leads the team with 2.5 tackles for loss.

Brozek isn’t able to make 100 percent of the football team’s activities, and he said his coaches have been understanding about that. The police department’s leadership, too, adapts Brozek’s rotating schedule around game day.

“The only thing that has made this all possible is that in each aspect of my life, everybody has been willing to work with my schedule,” he said.

Champion of sports information out of work

Jim Heath's work, and the work of other SIDs, might not always be recognized, but is essential to the operation of any collegiate athletic department.

Earlier this month, the company that runs the Apprentice School in Newport News decided that the sports information director position wasn’t a vital part of its athletics program.

That company, Newport News Shipbuilding, was wrong.

A wave of layoffs saw more than 450 people at the vocational school and related properties lose their jobs -- and hundreds more pressured into early retirement. Among those out of work is Apprentice SID Jim Heath, a man his colleagues at other institutions called a dedicated professional and an incredible person.

“What made him great is that Jim put in well beyond the hours that are necessary,” said Ferrum SID Gary Holden, a longtime friend of Heath’s. “He did all the extras to get the Apprentice program into the limelight.”

Apprentice School has never been a part of Division III -- or even of the NCAA. But it was part of the Atlantic Central Football Conference before that organization disbanded in 2010. In its final seasons, the conference consisted of Apprentice and D-III schools Wesley, Salisbury and Frostburg State. Heath not only served as SID for Apprentice but also for the conference as a whole.

Because Apprentice continues to play a handful of Division III schools each season, Heath had built relationships with teams across the Mid-Atlantic. Last week, in an extensive email thread that reached the region’s sports community, the support for Heath was apparent. This is just a sampling of what people said:

  • “Jim gave his all while working at Apprentice and never harped on the negatives of the SID position and was always quick with a joke or a smile when we saw him at a game. … Since Jim worked for the Apprentice School and not being associated officially in the NCAA his work went largely unnoticed. But I can say if it wasn't for Jim's dedication to his craft and his work behind the scenes a lot of us wouldn't know about Apprentice and would have had major statistical headaches when our teams played the Builders in any sport without Jim's help.” -- Sam Atkinson, Assistant athletic director for communications at Gallaudet
  • “I have worked with Jim for 20+ years in this business -- it has never been about personal recognition for Jim, and now is the perfect time to recognize him for his good work. Even though he wasn't a member of the NCAA at Apprentice, he made our jobs easier. He was always willing to lend a hand and for that, we should be forever thankful.” -- Scott Musa, athletic communications director at Shenandoah
  • “Jim was not only an incredible professional, but an even better person. … He never looked for the spotlight for his hard work, but most certainly deserves it.” -- Tim Brennan, SID at Salisbury

Heath, who worked at Apprentice for 16 years, is in his first year as president of the Virginia Sports Information Directors association.

“It’s always been about ‘what can I do to promote the school as well as the athletes,’ ” Heath said. “With a unique school such as Apprentice, it’s a challenge to get recognized as they are not NCAA nor NAIA members. When we got the first player recognized from CoSIDA as Academic All-American, it opened the eyes of the administration then as to what a sports information director can do for a school.  I wanted to explore as many options as possible to get the school and its athletes noticed.”

When he began at Apprentice, he would spend six hours a day working for the school and then pull a full shift on the sports copy desk at The Daily Press in Newport News. Heath, who turns 47 today, also spent time working for his alma mater, CNU, and for Old Dominion University.

What’s disconcerting is that Heath’s latest job situation isn’t an isolated one. Schools jockeying to manage their money are diminishing the SID position all across the country, to their own detriment.

“That hurts the school,” Holden said. “It hurts them with the presence in the media. In today’s world, you have to have a presence in the media, and of course now, in social media, too. Sports Information Directors pretty much get out there and tell the stories.”

UW-Platteville has eliminated its SID position, and conference-mate UW-River Falls split the job between two people after their full-time SID retired. The job of Mount St. Joseph’s SID was reduced to part-time.

“The sports information director position is a full-time position. It’s certainly more than 40 hours a week; it’s more than 50 hours a week on a light week,” said Holden, who has been Ferrum’s SID for nearly 25 years.

Holden also serves as the school’s assistant athletic director for compliance, a job he took in 2004 before student transfers became so commonplace. His workload has grown significantly. More so, Ferrum has added seven varsity sports in the past five years, further highlighting how important it can be for schools to have a point person for the vast amounts of sports data they manage.

“It saves the coaches from an absolute nightmare in trying to keep up with their own statistics, results and reporting things to the NCAA and to the conference offices,” he said. “Any school that does not have an SID, you can talk to any coach and they would tell you what a nightmare it is.”

Sports Information Directors keep the focus on the students and give them their due for their accomplishments. SIDs are the liaisons between student-athletes and their communities. And they handle live stats on game day, along with video feeds and clips.

Apprentice “won a national championship in baseball last year, and I suspect that a lot of the things that Jim did helped them with recruiting and retaining students,” Holden said. “There were so many things that he did that were so far above and beyond. I still believe to this day that Newport News Apprentice does not understand what they’ve lost. The people in the athletic department do, I’m sure, because Jim was very beloved by them. … But it was a business decision by the company that owns the shipyard.”

SIDs also post news releases and score updates to D3football.com and are crucial to helping make the site run smoothly. We applaud them for that. Good SIDs are all around us. Some of the greatest ones deserve an athletic department to call home.

Heath is still doing work with the U.S. Collegiate Athletic Association, which is the association that the Apprentice belongs to, as a sports information consultant as well as the football sports information director. In addition to his football work, he has been one of the statisticians for the association’s basketball national tournament since 2009 and has been the official scorer for the baseball nationals since 2005.

“Most definitely I am making every effort to stay in sports information with this next chapter of my life,” Heath said. “I have always been a numbers guy, going back to times watching North Carolina basketball games and keeping score on a notepad as a child.”

Holden said of Heath, “Someone will pick him up. The next school that hires him will benefit greatly.”

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Adam Turer

Adam Turer graduated in 2006 from Washington and Lee University, where he was a two-year starter at free safety. He lives in Cincinnati and covers area high school sports in addition to his full-time job as an attorney. Adam has contributed to D3football.com since 2007 and is in his third season writing Around the Nation after spending four seasons writing Around the Mid-Atlantic.

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