It’s A One Sided Stadium – A Funny Story With A Lesson On Working With What You Got

By: Chad Wilson – Editor GridironStuds Blog
Twitter: @GridironStuds

Any teen will tell you that they know everything.  As a teen you absolutely know how life and everything in it works. Any adult will tell you that their dumbest years were years 13-19,  yep the teen years.  Those years before adulthood are filled with “I’d never”, “there’s no way I would ever” and “when I get older, it’s going to be like this.”

Being an aloof 16 year old in 1988,  I sat down on the couch one Saturday afternoon in Moreno Valley, California flipping through the TV channels (this is what we did before Snapchat & Instagram).  On my glide through the channels I stopped on a college football game and found something humorous about the contest.  In the background from one of the camera angles,  I could see cars on what seemed to be the street driving around in the background.  What kind of college football game was this I thought.  I’d never play football at a school that plays in a stadium like that was another thought.  These two teams,  it seemed,  were playing in a high school stadium.  It definitely wasn’t the big time football they were playing at USC or UCLA or at Miami, Florida St. and Notre Dame,  the titan programs in college football at the time.  The dudes playing at these schools were unlucky for sure.

By the time my senior season came around in 1989,  I was on a roll.  The fruits of my hard work were paying off.  Out of nowhere I became the big play guy on a Canyon Spring High School football team that was on their way to repeating as California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Champions.  Name a way to score a touchdown and I did it:  rushing, receiving, kickoff return, interception return, fumble return, etc.  I had also earned myself a reputation as a lockdown corner before I even knew or cared what one of those were.  Nevertheless,  when my senior season was done,  I received some recruiting attention but not nearly as much as I had hoped.  The big local football programs I had come to love since moving out to California from Florida,  UCLA and USC,  didn’t see the value in my big play ways since I didn’t have much of a junior year and was all of 163 lbs. on a good day.  Nevertheless, I had to make do with offers from California, San Diego St., UNLV, Cal St. Fullerton and Long Beach St.  To make a long story short,  I chose Long Beach St. on signing day 1990.

I arrived at Long Beach St. fresh off of earning MVP honors in our county’s all star game and opened eyes in early practices.  It appeared I would be one of the only true freshman to earn playing time during the season.  To solidify that,  I needed to do well in the final fall camp scrimmage we would have at the stadium.  I guess the last fall scrimmage was a big deal because we were going to have it at the stadium.  I was excited for a number of reasons.  First, it was my first feel of big time division I football in a stadium like I always dreamed of and I didn’t get to see the stadium when I came on my official visit.

We boarded those buses and made our way through the Long Beach streets to go to the stadium.  At the time,  Long Beach St. did not have an on campus stadium but our coach,  the legendary George Allen, was making strides towards changing that. Our ride through the streets of the LBC (Snoop Dogg voice) took us through a big parking lot and off in the distance I saw what figured to be a high school football stadium as it only had stands on one side.  I followed high school football pretty closely and was wondering which one of the teams in Long Beach played there.  Senior cornerback Oliver Thompson was sitting next to me on the team bus, so I asked him, “Aye, who plays there?” pointing to the stadium in the distance. “We do,” he responded.  I brushed off that answer because the guys on this team were known for playing games so much so that they had coined a phrase called “clownin”.  “Dog, stop playing, who plays there?” I asked again. “I’m trying to tell you, we play in there,” he replied obviously amused by whatever look I had on my face.  I took his smile while answering as another session of clownin the freshman. “Oh, alright, you feel like playing today,” I replied and left it alone. We continued our drive in the direction of the stadium and upon reaching it, came to a stop and players starting getting up.  “What the $#@?” I thought still sitting in my seat waiting for the bus to continue on. “Get your rookie #@$ up,”  O.T. (Oliver Thompson) said.  This was our stadium?  This is where we play?  It was a punch in the gut.  I made my way into the locker room (term used loosely) and observed only hooks on the wall for our belongings.  I swallowed hard,  got dressed and made my way out to the field where I was dealt the knockout blow.  When I exited the tunnel to the field I observed a street like area in the distance with cars moving around. I had seen this scene before.  Dammit man,  I was at that school that I saw on TV two years ago and said I would never play for.  I imagine this was the feeling the Kardashians had when Bruce said he was going all Caitlyn on them.

It was all coming back to me now. I had asked several times during my official visit to Long Beach St. to see the stadium but the nifty coach hosting me, Greg Holt always found a way to distract me with a meal, meeting Hall of Famer Willie Brown or with a well rounded co-ed.  “Oh there’s plenty of time to see the stadium,” he said to me. I guess that time was now that I had signed.  A one sided stadium was no way to land a prized recruit.

On that day,  I overcame the sudden desire to want to transfer and did enough in the scrimmage to make it onto the active roster for the season.  I even managed to start a couple of games my freshman year.  However,  I never fully recovered from that punch in the gut.  I wanted to play big time football and while Long Beach St. would play some big time teams,  home games at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach with a capacity of 12,000 was no Colosseum or the Rose Bowl where my cousin was playing for UCLA.  Were it not for the exceptional campus social life (if you know what I mean) and the outstanding camaraderie with teammates,  I might have made some transfer demands.

Through my time at Long Beach St. it seemed that many of the players had accepted their football situation.  My freshman year we went 6-5 and ended the year with a win to turn things around from previous losing seasons.  Sadly,  legendary coach George Allen would pass away after just one season at the school and with it many of his great plans.  Our second season we were a disaster and not very competitive especially against the powers of college football.  While some accepted and expected losing,  I never did.  When our game against the University of Miami came midway through the season,  I went all out.  While some waited to get their heads cut off by the eventual national champions,  I went balls to the wall and played to the max of my abilities.

At the end of the season,  Long Beach St. cut their football program freeing all players to go where they chose without sitting out a year.  I phoned a childhood friend, Ryan Collins and asked him if he would tell the Miami coaches about me.  He did and the first thing they did was pull out the film of their game against Long Beach St.  Had I accepted the fact that we weren’t good and that Miami would crush us,  I would have never have been offered a scholarship by Miami and become a Hurricane.

The moral of the story here is this:  Some of you may be sitting in a one sided stadium situation but where you are currently has nothing to do with where you want to go.  Underdogs do win games and since we all make bets in life,  always bet on yourself..  Long Beach St. ended up producing some all star talent.  Super Bowl MVP Terrell Davis (Denver Broncos),  current San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy and current ESPN announcer and record setting passer for Howard University Jay Walker all hailed from that team that battled in that one sided stadium in Long Beach.  I am certain they did not reach their place in life by accepting less and the message to you is take whatever you have in your life and maximize it.

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