Keion Carpenter Gave Everything Until The End

Former Virginia Tech and NFL Defensive Back Keion Carpenter passed away on December 29, 2016 hours after slipping and hitting his head.  No, he wasn’t doing anything bad – he was simply playing with his son, Kyle.  The 39-year-old Carpenter fell into a coma before passing away 4 days after Christmas, leaving his wife and four children to pick up the pieces of a life taken way too soon.

As someone who followed Virginia Tech football, I remember Carpenter very well.  He was one of my favorite Hokies ever.  It saddens me to see him go because I am reminded of the things that I treasured him for – the interceptions and the tackles.  I think of his play on the field and the victories he was able to contribute to.

I’m also saddened because instead of my memories of VT football or the NFL, I should be thinking about the person.  The man who ran a non-profit organization, called the Carpenter House, to strengthen the lives of those that didn’t have the advantages that many others did. Carpenter wanted to give hope, he wanted to bring change and most importantly he wanted to do something to help a community that didn’t have a lot of people stepping up to assist it.

I’m upset because Carpenter was only 39 and should have been given more time to help the community of Baltimore he loved so much.  Even though he lived in Atlanta he was always spending time in the place where he grew up.  I can’t imagine how much more he could have given back if there were 20 more years of Keion Carpenter.  How many more children’s lives could he have touched?

Will everyone outside of his community remember him for being a football player?  Five years down the road will anyone outside of the community even remember the good work that he has done for the unfortunate?  It haunts me to think about the legacies of the people who do good.  Unfortunately we tend to remember the evil rather than the good. We remember the names of people like Hitler and Stalin but we don’t remember the names of the children who were killed in the Sandy Hook shooting – even though we should never ever forget their names.

As someone who went to Virginia Tech I can never forget the name of Seung-Hui Cho and the image of dual pistols pointed at the camera.  However, I also see the 32 Hokie stones in front of Burruss, something that I had to visit to truly pay my respect to those taken far too soon.  I’m not moved to a truly emotional level by a lot of things, but those 32 stones left me asking questions that I’ll never have answers for.

Those individuals that died that day I never knew but in a way I felt a kinship with them because I had experienced some things that they did.  I knew places that they went, I saw things that they did and I probably took the same classes they did.  Hell I ate and lived at the same places they did.  In a lot of ways it felt personal and the memorial hit home more than a news article or a web video.

Keion Carpenter’s death does the same thing.  A member of Hokie nation who tried to be a good human being – giving back to those who were less fortunate.  He wasn’t taken by a mass shooting, an out of control individual or a random act of violence.  He died from a “freak accident.”  Does that make it even tougher to take?  I don’t know.

I’ve heard that death is the one thing that is certain in life.  You live you die.  It’s the circle of life like in The Lion King.   It’s certainly not fair.  But fair is that place you go in the summer and ride the tilt-a-whirl or whatever it is called.  Nothing it seems is fair and Carpenter’s death seems to back that up.

If we, or I in particular, learn anything from Carpenter’s death it’s that we should never stop giving back.  Those people who have less than us aren’t always going to have a helping hand.  Who knows how many Keion Carpenters are out there because we don’t hear about the good people in the world unless they are in our communities.  Sadly, we need to change that.  We need to prop up the good people rather than praise the bad.  Help those that are unable to get out of a bad situation.  Everyone deserves a helping hand. If Keion Carpenter should be remembered for anything it’s not for football but for being a loving, caring human being that gave back to others and wanted to make a better world. Let’s make sure that we continue his dream and give everyone life while we can.

Boy I Love Losing Super bowls

Recently I saw an advertisement for ESPN’s 30 for 30 “Four Falls of Buffalo.”  30 for 30 films are the greatest sports documentaries I’ve ever seen.  They cover every sport, they draw you in and whether you think you care about the topic or not, you find yourself watching the whole thing. However, this one was about everything for me.  It was about a team that most outside of New York State could care less about (mostly the far Western side of the state) and a team that was labeled the “loveable losers” for the years they went to “back-to-back-to-back-to-back” Super Bowls.  I know Drake wrote “Back to Back” but let’s see him do “Back to Back to Back to Back!”

I’ve been a Bills fan for as long as I can remember.  Well, for as long as I’ve been a professional football fan.  Growing up in the South there was not a lot of love for the Atlanta Falcons at the time, they were horrible and my team was the University of Tennessee Volunteers.  The Big Orange.  Southeastern Tennessee was close to Knoxville and my neighbor was a huge Vol fan. For all I knew he probably was a booster but he bled Orange and decked me out in Orange and turned on the radio on Saturdays so I could hear all about the Volunteer Navy and Smokey.  Yes, I know the words to Rocky Top, I have been to Vols games and I’m not sure that color Orange is right for everyone.  But I digress.

I got into card collecting as I got older and we moved around the South.  I starting looking for baseball and basketball cards everywhere I could find them.  Gas stations used to carry them, grocery stores had them with the candy bars and I used to visit a sports card shop or two when I could.   My father, being a Hokie, wasn’t too thrilled about my Volunteer Orange hanging in the closet.  So when he had the chance he took me to Blacksburg and started introducing me to Virginia Tech football.

Picking through a box of cards I found a stack of football cards, which I had never been collecting before, but my dad had been.  I didn’t know any of the players but I stumbled upon some guy who was a rookie and when I flipped it over it said he was from Norfolk and he went to Virginia Tech. So I started asking my dad about him.  After that, I made my mind up that I was going to be a Bills fan.

I’ve been a Bills fan through the greatest team ever era; that included my heroes: Bruce Smith, Andre Reed and Darryl Talley just to name a few. We navigating around Todd Collins long enough to realize that we miss Jim Kelly. Past the forgettable Rob Johnson vs. Doug Flutie debate that Wade Phillips had. Flutie clearly was the better starter from where I sat. Oh and here’s where it all starts to get murky. Are you ready? Alex Van Pelt, J.P. Losman, Drew Bledsoe, Kelly Holcomb, Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, E.J. Manuel, Jeff Tuel, Thad Lewis, Kyle Orton, Matt Cassel and finally current starter Tyrod Taylor.  The Tyrod Taylor that I was thrilled to find they signed, only because I was ready to give up after the signing of Rex Ryan.

Yes I said give up.

“But you can’t be a true fan,” some might say.

Or “give up just because of the coach?”

Buffalo could have signed anyone and truly, I mean ANYONE.  I don’t mean to scream, but maybe I do.   I saw how the Jets were under his leadership and I wasn’t impressed.  For a team that was supposed to have a great defensive mind, the Bills never seemed to have too much trouble getting past them last year.  I didn’t want him to come in and wreck what was a great Bills ‘D.’

But it’s been wrecked.  Jim Schwartz was let go from his defensive coordinator spot and Ryan has put himself in place as head of the defense. Thru 13 games this year the defensive stats aren’t pretty.  358.8 average ypg (20), 3,300 total yards given up (20), 253.8 passing ypg (22), 104.9 rushing ypg (14). Last year’s defense ranked 4th in total ypg, 3rd in total passing yards given up and 11th in rushing yards given up. 124 penalties were amassed over a full season, through 13 games there have been 109 this season. If I were a betting man I’d say that stat will go up, way up.

The defense that was lean and mean is now sloppy and punch drunk.  They are boisterous and complain about penalties, like Rex Ryan did after the Eagles game just recently when he followed the officials off the field running his mouth all the way.  He ran his mouth to the New York media week in and week out last year becoming one of the favorite mouthpieces to get a quote.  This year he’s wanted nothing more than provide quotes about Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots wanting to give the newspapers enough words to fill half a page only to lose both games.  I can’t believe he hasn’t learned his lesson by now and I can’t believe Doug Whaley hasn’t reined him in by now.  It feels to me his hiring was for publicity to sell some tickets or to move some shirts.  I hope management is happy.  They went from a potential playoff team to a “not gonna make the playoffs” team.

Funny, I could stick by a team that busted its ass and tried it’s hardest to win a game with a coach that was clueless but at least he wasn’t out there blaming the refs every week and burying his head in the sand.  Chan Gailey wasn’t the best coach the Bills ever had but I would gladly have him back, at least he didn’t run his mouth about the Patriots before the Bills played them.  Even for all his faults Doug Marrone did a better job of giving me a warm and fuzzy feeling.  Alright, no.  Let’s say he gave me a lukewarm feeling.  But damn, at least I didn’t feel like secretly he wanted to coach for Bill Belichick like Rex.  Anymore I think it’s Rex’s secret desire to coach for Belichick that’s why he talks about him so much.  As Drake says “Jealousy is just love and hate at the same time.”

I haven’t fully given up on the Bills.  I threatened to go out in the yard and burn everything Buffalo I owned.  I was mad and out of control.  I’ve come this far, I’ve gone through all those years with all those years of missed playoffs and terrible play.  I wasn’t expecting the team to compete for a Super Bowl.  I wasn’t expecting anything major.  Of course, outside of Buffalo no one really knows much about the team anyway.

 

The End of An Era

It’s taken some time for it to truly sink in, but less than twenty four hours later I’m still not sure how I feel about Coach Beamer deciding to hang up the whistle.  A part of me sees it as a time for the Hokies to move on and pursue a new route in recruiting and play calling. But the other part sees what he did for the University, the students and Blacksburg itself.

I looked down to check the time on my phone while I was refereeing my daughter’s soccer game and an ESPN alert said Coach Beamer is retiring.  In the midst of trying to watch the kids keep the ball in bounds and stay onside, I couldn’t exactly stop and think about Beamer.  But it slowly has crept into mind, “what is the University going to do?”  “What will Tech Football be without Beamer?”

I think about the time that a shy 18 year old kid found his way to the practice field of the 15th ranked Hokies, at the time, and watched his heroes with awe.  It’s a story I’ve recounted on this blog, but I’ve never told to many people.  It’s one of those moments where I got so close to the team but I’ve never been there again.  If I could do it again, I’d make even more out of it, and enjoy it even more.  For some reason, I thought at the time that I’d get even more chances to do it again.

“Yo kid,” I still remember the guy on crutches yelling at me.  “What are you doing here?”

It was a good question.  Somehow I floundered around enough to convince him that I belonged on the sidelines.  Seeing that I was maybe 150 pounds soaking wet and six feet tall if I stood on a rather large rock, he could tell I wasn’t there to join in on the practice.  I don’t remember what I told him but I will always remember Tee Butler.  I don’t know where he is now and I don’t know what he’s doing, but he’s one of the Hokies that made me feel comfortable enough to talk to the big man.

You know, the big man: Coach Beamer.

If you’ve ever been 18 years old, come from a small town and shy as hell; going up to someone with the prestige and championship pedigree of Coach Beamer is intimidating as hell.

When he ended practice, Tee said it was my turn and wished me luck. I think he even laughed as he hobbled away.

With whatever courage I could muster, I got up the nerve to go talk to Coach.  I didn’t know what to expect, well, let’s be honest, I did know what I was expecting.  I was expecting him to be like that guy in practice who yelled when you didn’t get the drill right.  The Coach who did not have time for me or who was going to give me an attitude because I was cutting into his time when he could be calling recruits.

What I got was down-home charm.  I got a Coach who was supportive and could tell that I was nervous and out of my depth.  I got a Coach who seemed to genuinely care.  I got a Coach who did not act like he was bigger than the University or the students.  It was truly impressive to me when I look back on it.  At the time I was just happy that I didn’t pee my pants.  Now that I think about it, he left me feeling like he truly cared about our meeting.  Whether he knows it or remembers it, I will always remember that day when I got to interview him.  Not that I was that great of a reporter because my questions were awful, but for someone who is a Hokie fan and can’t always cross paths with the Coach, it is one of those moments that I will always remember.

Some people treasure meeting athletes and meeting celebrities, but it’s funny, I was terrible at “my job” that day and he was as cool as a cucumber and tried to help me.  He didn’t rush me, and I stopped the questions because I ran out of them, otherwise I think he would have stood there with me all day in his straw hat.  It’s amazing, this is a guy that will someday end up in the College Football Hall of Fame.

It makes me torn when I watch the Hokies play sometimes on Saturdays.  I feel like he’s the nicest guy you could ever want to meet and truly cares about the players but maybe the game has passed him by a bit.  I hesitate to say that.  I truly do.  The man was an innovator on special teams and created “Beamer Ball.”

He always said he’d walk away when he said it would be beneficial for the program and maybe his feeling is right.  I’m not sure, maybe he’s not right.  How can I judge?  It’s his decision not mine.  I’ve been looking at it all year and saying he’s been the problem or the offense has been the problem, but how do I know?  I’m not there in the game.  I’m not there in practice.  I’m not there on the sidelines.  I’m not there with a headset.  I’m not there in the huddle.  How do I know?  Hell I couldn’t even get the courage up to really interview him.  What do I know?

Only Coach knows what is truly right for him.  From what I’ve seen only Coach knows what is truly right for the University and the players. They are his players because he treats them like they are part of his family, just like everyone he comes in contact with.  It will be odd not to see Coach walking that sideline next year and I still have yet to really digest it.  There are still those questions: Who could replace him?  How could you ever replace him?  Will it ever be the same?  Where will the program go from here?

I guess it will all work out somehow. I’m sure Coach will give it all he has for the rest of the year and no doubt the players will do all they can to send him out on a high note.  It will be interesting to see if recruits back out because Coach is leaving.  When I think of him, I think icon is probably a good way to describe him, but to me he’ll always be that Coach that gave me a moment that I’ll never forget and I thank him for that.  If I ever get the chance I would like to do it in person, but until then, thank you for everything Coach.

My Ambitions As A Writer

Forgive me ‘Pac but it seems like the perfect headline for a story about college and my craft. About the same time that 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me came out, I went to Virginia Tech to start my freshman year with hopes of being an author.

A little ways into my campaign I found out through the school’s newspaper (Collegiate Times, memories) that they were looking for a sports writer/intern and they needed them ASAP for a special story. Me being a typical Southern male and Virginia Tech student I was crazy about the football team and played basketball any time I could.

What you have to keep in mind here is that VT at this time was about 24,000 and the town I was coming from was only about 8,000 so I was experiencing a bit of fish out of water syndrome. I was doing ok, making it to most (music appreciation on Tuesdays I could NOT get up for) classes on time and I was doing my best to adjust to a roommate and a dorm that is notoriously wild. Hokies know Pritchard Hall, if you don’t know Pritchard ask a Hokie. In fact my year was the year of the fire alarm, it got to be so bad that it was almost once a day. I believe one night I even slept through one as scary as that sounds. Then there’s the food and while they say the food has gotten better, back then there were places you only went if you had spare time afterward. I’m sure most colleges have places like that.

I went to the CT and I asked them if they were still offering the intern/writer position and indeed they were. They asked if I was a writer which I could check that off and they got to the sports part. What did I know about sports and football in particular? Really? Oh I’ve only been coming to Lane for years. I saw Tech play in two Gator Bowls and I know they just won the Sugar Bowl and I was hoping for more.

I guess I BS’ed my way through whatever because they gave me the surprise gig, which surprised me. I was told to go up to the football practice field no show them my CT press badge, stand on the sideline, watch practice and then interview Coach Frank Beamer. Ok. So I’m not even sure what happened after that. I don’t remember leaving there. I just remember I somehow found my way to practice and I remember Coach’s whistle. Here I was an 18 year old kid way out of his depth and I’m supposed to write a piece about one of the best teams in college football? Excuse me? My first semester in college? Huh? I’m way lost this isn’t happening to me.

I found my way to this open space and this guy comes along on crutches. He said his name was Tee (Tee Butler from New Jersey) he had a knee injury and he was a freshman too. He had gotten hurt during the first couple of days of spring drills and was recovering from surgery. I think he was looking for someone to talk to and someone to pick on because he could tell I was in over my head. But he made me laugh and he was really great. I don’t know if I ever got to thank him but he made me feel much more at ease on the sidelines, because for a young kid to see something like that up,close is like Rudy seeing Notre Dame practice up close.

When the time came to interview Frank Beamer I’m certain I asked stupid questions. No doubt he knew I was nervous and lost as well, especially when you consider the national media that bugs him all the time. I will tell you I’ve read his book and he talks about taking time for people and treating people fairly and nice. This man took time out of his schedule after practice for me and was polite and answered every one of my questions, I have nothing but the greatest respect for him. He probably doesn’t remember it but his was the first interview I ever had…I suppose I’ll never be able to top that. Or at least I haven’t yet. This was before the Mike Vick years and the ACC so we talked about the Big East and the Sugar Bowl. It was fun but way too short.

My interview and story were put in the CT, bottom half of the sports section on the front page. I have a copy in my closet. I pull it out every now and then to remind myself that I’ve been that close to one of the greatest college football coaches of all time and I’ve interviewed the man. To think what I could have done if I didn’t quit after that, I just felt overwhelmed. It’s a shame really, but I couldn’t help it, I was star struck, I needed more experience with someone guiding me and they weren’t going to do it. So I knew my work was going to suffer. Tough decision. I guess my ambitions never changed, I always wanted to be the best and be in the presence of the best.