This past Thursday night, Craig Nelson laid 32 hats out on a table. He only had to wait six picks to pluck the Indianapolis Colts lid from his kitchen as he watched his son, Quenton, achieve his dream of playing in the NFL. Mike McGlinchey, Durham Smthye, and Equanimeous St. Brown and their families partook in a similar celebration as their names were called over the weekend. A single phone call changed their lives forever.
McKay Schwenke was on the phone last Monday as well. He didn’t receive an update on his son’s recent tryout with the Atlanta Falcons; in fact, that wasn’t even the purpose of the call. The question he had and still has won’t be answered for another six to eight weeks. That’s the amount of time the coroner believes it will take to figure out why Kona died in his sleep at 25.
I’ve thought a lot about Kona’s death this past weekend. Sure, part of this is due to the fact I’m a father myself and couldn’t imagine the shock, grief, and pain of burying either of my sons. The real driving force, however, is the typical “he left too early” narrative that surrounds the draft season.
Josh Adams, now an undrafted free agent signee like Kona, is Exhibit A for Irish fans this draft season. With one year of eligibility left, Adams passed on trying to build another Heisman campaign and a reason for everyone to bust out their #33Trucking hats once again. It’s easy to assume a smooth, upward trajectory of improvement. It’s a little bit harder to digest an injury history at a position that has a ridiculously short shelf life with the added fact that the offensive line has lost two top ten picks.
It’s almost impossible to fathom that Adams could, at any moment, be gone from this earth in the blink of an eye.
While I’m sure that grim reality rarely, if ever, crosses a potential draftee’s mind, it’s a reminder that boiling this down to a simple business decision can definitely be a gross over-simplification. Only a select few have the sure-fire, top pick security to actually have their choice be that simple. For others, like Adams, it’s a calculated risk and a decision to chase a dream that may never come true.
Shouldn’t an athlete try to maximize their chances in a ridiculously small window of time to try to achieve this dream?
I’d argue transfers are in the same boat as well. Take the recent departures of Jay Hayes and Nick Watkins as examples. While neither was going to start in 2018, both would have received significant playing time for the Irish. Different situations may lead to a better shot at increased playing time, and thus, a better chance of grabbing on to that NFL brass ring. Or perhaps they see the window closing and simply want to make the most of their opportunity playing a game they love. In those cases, “making the most” is in the eye of the player’s desires whether it be a better chance for a national title or getting as much playing time as possible.
As much as I’m annoyed by the NCAA’s wild inconsistency, I find it hard to even be mad about Shea Patterson’s newly found eligibility for Michigan. The NCAA made a rule change that would’ve been really handy for Alohi Gilman last year (as would have Navy working with Notre Dame much like Ole Miss did with Michigan). I’ll direct my anger in that direction rather than someone trying to find a way to chance his football dreams.
The only thing that I can blame Shea for is terrible choice in schools.
The older I get, the more I empathize with student-athletes making early departure and transfer decisions. Sure, it would be nice if all of our loyal sons stay loyal until every last bit of their eligibility is exhausted, but “one more year” is one hell of a request to make and, in some cases, assume it’s the only logical choice. None of these student-athletes know what next one more year will bring or whether or not it will come at all.