/columns/around-the-nation/2016/political-football

Handling the political football

Kenneth Bone, left, was perhaps the only person who came out of the second presidential debate, on J.J. Tomlin's campus, with a positive impression from viewers.
Provided photo 

Let’s talk politics.

For most college students, this will be the first presidential election in which they can vote. While some 18- to 22-year-olds will go no further than following a “parody” Twitter account to form their views, others choose to get informed through firsthand experience.

A summer on Capitol Hill, an internship at a national convention, or a spring abroad at an embassy can shed light on how much work goes on behind the scenes, beyond the commercials and 24-hour cable news. The preparation, teamwork, and sacrifice they observed isn’t so different from a football season.

J.J. Tomlin knows what it takes to turn things around and excel in a team setting. He has led the Bears to a 5-1 start, just two years removed from a 4-6 finish in his first season as a starter. He has already thrown for over 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns this season and currently ranks sixth in the nation in passing yards per game. Most importantly, his team is tied for first place in the ultra-competitive SAA.

The marketing major spent the summer in Washington, D.C., interning for United States Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). What he saw on Capitol Hill was not too different from what he’s seen in football locker rooms and on the field.

“For these guys to be successful, they have to have a staff behind them doing the legwork,” said Tomlin. “As a quarterback, you’re obviously the face of the team, but you need all 11 guys on offense and defense to be successful.”

When the second presidential debate was held on Wash. U.’s campus, Tomlin was there. Yes, he was the bearded young man holding up the “Kenneth Bone 4 Prez” sign that you may have seen on CNN’s post-debate coverage. The Bears are the only team in Division III whose locker room was cleared out by the Secret Service.

The team endured two weeks of security sweeps leading up to the Oct. 9 debate. The Bears managed to stay focused and now, said Tomlin, appreciate the spotlight shone on their university. The world was watching the school in St. Louis. If any casual observer wanted to see if the school had a football team, Tomlin is proud that they would see a 5-1 team in first place. While recent events have taken an unexpected turn, Tomlin still values what he learned in his summer on Capitol Hill.

“One thing I learned from watching them was just to have fun and not get caught up in the emotions or frustration. You have to combine an attitude of enjoyment with intensity,” said Tomlin. “Congress, overall, is trying to make their states a better place. They’re all working together, despite their differences.”

John Gormley gained an international perspective in 2016. The University of Chicago wide receiver sacrificed spring practices so he could take advantage of an opportunity to intern at the United States Embassy in Lima, Peru. He then spent the summer working at a consulting firm in Mexico City.

The Austin, Texas native enjoyed the political science classes he took as a freshman and decided to pursue that path. He spent the spring of his junior year in Peru, working for the State Department. He had the support of his coaches to take advantage of the unique opportunity.

“Everyone’s knows what an embassy is and everyone’s heard of the concept, they don’t really know exactly what they do,” said Gormley. “Having actually been there gave me a whole different perspective of what the people at the embassy actually do, how there are so many different interests at each one of them. It takes a lot of time, resources, and effort. It’s certainly different than what we see domestically.”

Gormley was promoting U.S. culture, which included talking American football. He was surprised by how many people casually followed the game and he was happy to share his insight into the fundamentals of the sport with people from all different countries.

“When you’re on a football team, there’s a lot of competing interests. You have a hundred guys, everyone’s very different, but at the end of the day, everybody has to come together and work together for that final product on the field,” he said. “You get to know how to interact with people of all different backgrounds and all sorts of different situations. The same thing happened when I was abroad, engaging with all different people. You basically have to be sort of like a Swiss Army knife as far as handling a bunch of different responsibilities at the same time. Football helps in general with a lot of different things career-wise. I know in my case, it helped me with this internship.”

Charlie Voudouris is a backup linebacker at Washington and Lee, the university known for its Mock Convention held every four years which almost always correctly predicts who will be the presidential nominee of the party not currently in the White House. He is also a Cleveland native, so it was only natural that he wanted to participate in this summer’s Republican National Convention held in his hometown.

“I have always been interested in how our complex political system works,” said Voudouris. “When I heard that the convention was going to be held in Cleveland, I figured that it would be a great opportunity for me to get my first glimpse into the political world.”

Voudouris served as an operations intern at the RNC. Football coaches often talk about paying attention to details, no matter how minute. Putting on a political convention is similar to preparing for a football game.

“In football, every movement is planned out as part of a play. Everything down to the steps we must take for the optimal result of the play is practiced daily,” said Voudouris. “During the convention, we debated everything down to what color we would designate to the different elevators. In both situations, this attention to detail created great success.”

All three are excited to vote in a presidential election for the first time. With their in-depth experience, they are more prepared than most of their peers to make an informed decision on Nov. 8.

Making a statement

Connor Brewer stood alone. The Millikin offensive lineman was the only Big Blue player on the field during the playing of the National Anthem on Saturday. The rest of his team remained in the locker room. Neither Brewer, his teammates, nor his coaches would comment.

Millikin University made the following statement via Facebook on Tuesday:

The national anthem is an opportunity to reflect on the liberty and freedom we hold sacred and work to foster. Millikin University will continue to celebrate that tradition at every one of our games. True to our mission to prepare students for democratic citizenship in a global environment, we respect the rights and beliefs of our students, faculty, and community to exercise their civil liberties, in ways consistent with their conscience, while the national anthem is played. With that in mind, when the Big Blue take the field this weekend, we will continue to support the individual expressions of those liberties and freedoms.

The Big Blue likely would prefer that the focus be on its 43-35 win over Augustana, which boosted Millikin’s record to 3-3 on the season. Hopefully, Division III football fans can respect both Brewer’s and his teammates’ choices on Saturday and in the weeks ahead. With a national spotlight shining on them, the Big Blue head to winless Carroll on Saturday.

Remembering the Voice

UW-Whitewater and Division III football lost a legend this week. For three decades, Tom Pattison was a devoted fan, advocate, and broadcaster of the Warhawks. Pattison passed away on Monday after a battle with liver cancer.

I never had the privilege of interacting with Pattison, unfortunately. Those who know him well shared their memories of the man who was synonymous with the program for so many years.

“Tom was the ‘Voice’ of Warhawk athletics and football. He was very close to our team. He truly bled purple,” said Warhawks coach Kevin Bullis. “Tom’s passion and commitment to the Warhawks was second to none. It is an honor and pleasure to have known him. He will be greatly missed but his legacy lives on in the Warhawks.”

“Tom was the Voice of the Warhawks for many years doing football, basketball and some baseball games. He lived and died being a Warhawk,” said former Warhawks coach Bob Berezowitz. “He bled purple and white. It was his life."

Pattison started the website WarhawkFootball.com in 2003 to promote UW-Whitewater sports. He spotlighted individual players and sent reports on their achievements back to their hometowns. He was inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame and received the UW-Whitewater Distinguished Service Award.

“Tom was very passionate (especially about Warhawk Football), a hard worker and very loyal (almost to a fault),” said Gary Douglas, who took over Warhawks play-by-play duties from Pattison. “He was never afraid to ask the tough questions in a press conference and was ahead of the curve when he created WarhawkFootball.com. When we brought him back to work with me on the games I always felt that if his health hadn't already got the best of him he would have been the perfect game analyst. He gave it his best until he had to step away.”

The Warhawks program started its rise under Berezowitz. When Lance Leipold took the reins, he wanted the program to reach a national level, similar to Mount Union. Pattison’s efforts with radio broadcasts and WarhawkFootball.com helped the program rise nationally.

“Tom was integral in promoting UW-Whitewater football and basketball. He’s a big reason why that place was able to make the climb that it did,” said Leipold, now the head coach at the University of Buffalo. “His efforts were a great injection to the athletic department. He helped UW-Whitewater connect to people nationwide.”

Five former Warhawks coaches and two former players are on Leipold’s staff at Buffalo. Their first thoughts upon hearing of Pattison’s passing were of all the time and passion he spent making the players feel like their efforts were worthy of recognition. Not every Division III athlete gets the kind of one-on-one attention that Pattison devoted to so many players over the years.

“When word got to us here, that was the first thing we talked about,” said Leipold. “The players really appreciated everything he did for them.”

My colleagues will have more memories and appreciation of Pattison to share in next week’s podcast and Around the West column. UW-Whitewater and all of Division III football is better for receiving the hard work and passion of Tom Pattison for over 25 years.

“Tom Pattison dedicated a good portion of his life to the promotion and betterment of UW-Whitewater Athletics,” said interim UW-Whitewater AD Randy Marnocha. “We are forever grateful for Tom’s contributions and are all better for having known him. He will be missed.”

Players’ Corner

Sam Benger has been a dominant force since arriving on Carnegie Mellon’s campus. The junior has already compiled 998 all-purpose yards this season. PAC opponents probably wish he were a senior, but they’ve still got a year and a half of attempting to slow the CMU running back. To this day, I cannot understand the mentality that it takes to be a running back, being the target on nearly every snap. Benger shines light on why he relishes the role.

My love for football began at an early age. I started playing the game in second grade. Beginning to understand what it means to be part of a team, how it feels to wear the big shoulder pads and weighty helmet, how to cradle the football. The process is exciting and new. Then comes the game. Breaking out into the open field you realize it’s a race. That fleeting moment that lasts in the brief seconds when you are handed the ball until you cross into the end zone, that consuming and raw excitement is what caused me to fall in the love with football. That uncertainty when you’re handed the ball, of whether you’ll be smacked by a blitzing linebacker or seam the defense for an 84-yard touchdown. These are the emotions and feelings that solidified football as an important part of my life.

Football is special because of the opportunities and relationships it provides. The brotherhood of a team is something forged in the fire of a late-season shootout where you leave everything out on the field. The gut wrench of a double OT loss is surpassed in its absolute emotional output only by an upset win. Sure, the lows are low, but the highs are soaring and all-consuming. Going out on the field and competing with your brothers is a privilege. Strapping up and exerting yourself fully creates a euphoria after the final whistle blows that is indescribable to anyone outside the game. I am grateful for the opportunity to play this game, for my health, for my teammates and coaches. It has been quite a ride.

And it’s not over yet.

As part of my attempt to rekindle a love for football, I’ll be reaching out to players all season long to give them space to explain why they love the game. If you or someone you know would like to be featured in Players’ Corner this year, please reach out to me at any time.

What do you know? Do you know things? Let's find out!

There are so many worthy stories to be told and I can’t find them all on my own. Please share with me those stories that make you passionate about D-III football. If you have suggestions for next week's column, please reach out to me on Twitter at @adamturer or via email at adam.turer@d3sports.com. Thanks for reading!

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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.

2014-2015 columnist: Ryan Tipps.
2001-2013 columnist: Keith McMillan.

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