Gridiron Greatness

Want to hear the story behind this picture? Read on!

Core scripture: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

Message: I love football.  The strategy.  The unpredictability.  The power.  The passion.  As the crisp autumn air brings golden leaves to the ground, I still find joy in tossing the ball around the yard with my boys.  Who cares if my Chiefs are 1-2!  Mahomes, aka Ma-homeboy, will bounce them right back.  Just wait and see.

I recently connected with my old high school football coach, Steve Rampy.  Rampy, my favorite coach of all-time, led Blue Valley High School to four State titles and won a National Championship with Pitt State in 2011.  The old man is still at it, stalking the sidelines at Staley High School. 

What made Rampy special to me?  It is hard to know even where to begin.  His philosophy and mentality can be taken straight to our classrooms to empower our students.  I thought long and hard about what immortalized him, and I came up with three powerful truths that Rampy consistently preached.  I can almost see his towering presence before us, voice booming out, our ears tuned in to every precious word.

First and foremost, Rampy empowered his players.  It was his tradition to take the seniors on a float trip the summer entering their final season.  The camaraderie built there was unprecedented.  He allowed the seniors to create goals, themes for the season, and hash out their dreams on the gridiron.  As a 3rd string benchwarmer, I still felt like I had a voice.  The memories of that float trip will live forever in my heart. 

Do your students have that voice?  Do you empower them to make decisions in your classroom?  Do you differentiate instruction to fit the strengths of different students?  Rampy had a knack for making everyone feel special.  From the star player to the water boy, each representative of that team felt empowered to be great.  Give that feeling to your students!  Empower them the way Christ empowered His disciples.

Secondly, Rampy preached a never give up mentality.  I was tempted to quit football entering my junior year, but he persuaded me otherwise.  Had I quit, I never would have had the opportunity to make my first varsity catch against Pittsburgh in my senior homecoming game.  I never would have caught a pass against my brother, an All-State defensive back, in my final game.  Rampy pushed me to power through any adversity before me.

We as teachers can do the same for our students.  A little bit of Rampy can be seen in me as I too tell my students that it ain’t over till the fat lady sings.  I will do everything from showing motivational video clips to crouching beside the desk of a student that needs encouragement, whispering life-filling words of wisdom.  I write notes and inject positivity to my students whenever I can to inspire them to never give up.  What a blessing when they listen!

Finally, Rampy pushed me beyond anything I could ever dream.  One practice our team ran sprints for two straight hours on a Saturday morning.  Three players walked out and quit the team that day amidst the rank smell of vomit in the thick humid air.  Nobody thought they could survive, but Rampy did.  His voice, booming encouragement from the side, propelled us to greatness that day.  It was a turning point for my senior year.  For everyone.

Our students need to be pushed.  Not to unrealistic expectations but to greatness.  Greatness for each student is a little different.  Push that accelerated kid to write that extra page.  Challenge the mediocre to rise past their own meager potential.  Believe in your students so they can believe in themselves, and praise them for every small improvement.  Be a Rampy to them!

I get shivers down my spine as these memories come flooding back to me.  Believe me, I could write a book about Steve Rampy.  Maybe I will someday.  His legacy will live forever in my heart, and if only a glimmer of his gridiron greatness enters you today, I will count it a victory.    

Challenge: Look at the three areas above.  How can you add a bit of Rampy to your classroom?  Think about specific students that would benefit from being pushed in a positive way.  Push them!  Create community in your classroom, empowering students to have a voice.  Most importantly, preach that never give up mentality, refusing to allow students to throw in the towel. 

Video application: I was the Rudy Ruettiger of my football team.  Need a motivational video to inspire your students?  Show them this video below, and tell them the story of Rudy!  As a walk on football player at Notre Dame, Rudy never gave up on his dream of playing football for the Irish.  Never seen the movie Rudy?  Watch it!  Share his story with your students so they can chase their dreams, too!  Here is a clip of the final scene to inspire.  I still remember watching this in the movie theater, weeping alongside my brother.  And you know what?  I wept again as I watched the clip now. 

Quotes: Here are some of my favorite football coach quotes.  Use these to inspire your students!

  • “Excuses are the tools of the incompetent.” (Mike Tomlin)
  • “If you want to win, do the ordinary things better than anyone else does them day in and day out.” (Chuck Noll)
  • “Nobody who ever gave his best regretted it.” (George Halas)
  • “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” (Vince Lombardi)
  • “You gotta battle.” (Steve Rampy)

Prayer points: Lift up the following areas to the Lord …

  • Pray that you can be that encouraging, empowering coach that Rampy was to me in your classroom.
  • Praise God that I have been empowered by Olathe South football coach, Craig Lewis, to give devotions to his football team every Friday.
  • Praise God that Coach Lewis invited me to be on the sidelines under the Friday night lights as Olathe South takes on their rival, Olathe North, in four days. 

Just for fun: There was a story mentioned above that merits a little more detail.  Yes, my brother Clay went to a rival high school due to a boundary change in our district, and yes, I did play against him in my last game.  Rampy started his seniors that day and called the first play of the game just for me: a five-yard hitch route.  And my brother was guarding me.  In true Rudy fashion, our quarterback rifled a perfect pass right to my awaiting hands.  I caught the ball, slipped by Clay’s tackle, and was taken down by one of his teammates eight yards down the field.  Clay never got the chance to redeem himself that day.  The picture of that catch is immortalized above.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for all those amazing coaches like Steve Rampy that influence our lives.  May their legacy live on inside us as we teach with unbridled passion.  Amen.

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