One of the marks of a good college football coach is what he encourages his players to do off the football field. No, check that - what his players actually do off the field. It’s not like coaches at discipline-troubled schools actually tell their players to commit crimes and cheat on test. But a coach who has his players acting right and making a difference in the community? That is a good coach.
Brian Kelly, for example, is a good coach. Aside from the Bearcats’ considerable success on the field (21-6 for the last two seasons, Orange Bowl bid in 2008, 5-0 and ranked 8th this season), the program is squeaky-clean, a welcome development after the eyebrow-raising regime of Bob Huggins on the Cincinnati hardwood. So as they prepare for their biggest game of the season - a road test at #21 South Florida tonight - they do so with the help of Mitch Stone, the 12-year-old cancer patient that they’ve “adopted.”
From the NEW YORK TIMES:
“We can talk about our struggles every day, but just seeing him and his family going through such a serious moment makes us realize that we’re fortunate and blessed,” the junior running back John Goebel said. “We want to do whatever we can to uplift his spirits because he is definitely doing the same for us.”
Cincinnati became the first Football Bowl Subdivision team to “adopt” a child through Friends of Jaclyn, which matches pediatric brain tumor patients with sports teams, mostly from colleges. Friends of Jaclyn has matched 125 youngsters with teams, with 80 others in the works and more than 1,000 teams on a waiting list. The program grew out of the friendship forged in 2005 between the Northwestern women’s lacrosse team and Jaclyn Murphy, then 10, who was being treated for a malignant brain tumor.
In the Stone family’s relationship with Cincinnati football, it is hard to determine who has benefited more.
“The ideal thing is how they’re inspired by me and I’m inspired by them,” Mitch said last week while watching practice with his mother, Dee, and his twin, Nick.
Even though Cincinnati was the first to go through Friends of Jaclyn, they’re hardly the first college program to rally around children with illnesses.
Every day - usually under the radar of the press - there’s a star athlete or team making its rounds through the university’s hospitals. Here, for example, Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi and his teammates found a young cancer patient, Jenna Waters at the UIHC:
A group of players — Dan Wolfe, Ricky Stanzi, Brett Morse, A.J. Edds, Tony Moeaki and Jeff Tarpinian — first visited Jenna in the hospital in April. Jared and Christina say they thought it would be a one-time deal; they were just visiting sick kids in the hospital.
“They didn’t know what they were coming into. They come in and they meet her and then they kind of enjoyed themselves,” Jared said. “After that they wanted to come see her again. They made that decision themselves.”
Stanzi is Jenna’s favorite, her first crush.
The Hawkeyes’ starting quarterback has pursued a relationship with Jenna’s family and spends time with them as often as he can. His parents sent Jenna gifts, including a pink and white outfit, which Jenna wears proudly and blushes when she tells people who gave it to her.
There are literally hundreds of these stories; this is because by and large, college football coaches are good people at heart. They may bend the rules for the sake of winning games, but they usually at least know how to be good stewards of the university.