Keith Strudler: Poughkeepsie To Jacksonville, Feet First

Sep 23, 2015

Since I work at Marist College, and have for many years, I tend to avoid commentating on the air about Marist stuff, if for no other reason than keeping my job. And because there’s an obvious potential conflict of issue, which doesn’t always make for great journalism. So I will acknowledge that up front, lest anyone suggest I’m simply a homer or at least didn’t recognize the incestuous appearance of this piece.

That aside, last Sunday, Jason Myers kicked a 28 yard field goal for the Jacksonville Jaguars in the final minute of their 23-20 win over Miami. This comes in addition to the 58 yarder Myers hit earlier in the game, only one yard shy of the Jacksonville record for longest kick. And, Jason Myers is a 2012 graduate of Marist College, where he kicked for the football team. Just to fully, fully disclose, he was a sports comm major, and thus a former student of mine.

The obvious story here is that Marist, while a fine institution of higher learning, in my completely unbiased opinion, does not regularly produce future NFL athletes. Now, if I may brag, I’ve got former students working in the NFL headquarters, but I don’t typically expect people in my classroom, or any classroom on campus, to spend time on the NFL field of play. Interestingly enough, Myers was actually playing against another Marist graduate on Sunday. Terrence Fede is a second year defensive end for Miami and is the first and only Red Fox to ever be drafted into the league. Myers made the roster as a free agent, after a year off and one year kicking in the arena league. While Marist is technically a Division I athletic program, the football teams plays in the non-scholarship sector of the championship sub-division, which gives them more in common with Division III programs than, say, Alabama. So having one, much less two athletes in the league ranks in the area of statistical anomaly.

Clearly, this is a point of considerable pride on campus, even if it comes as a surprise. While Fede was pretty good college athlete, kind of a man among boys at this level, Myers was no star. In fact, he wasn’t really even close. His senior year, he went 5 for 10 for field goals with a long of 40. That’s 18 yards less than he hit just last weekend on national television. And he missed 3 of his 22 extra point attempts, which in the world of kicking, are basically supposed to be automatic. So the thought that two years later, this same guy would literally win a game for an NFL franchise would have sounded as crazy as say, Donald Trump being president. So there.

To be honest, maybe even more so. Today’s athletic world is more scientific than a pharmaceutical company. An average NFL scout can predict with shocking efficiency who will be successful in the league by little more than a work out. Between the combine and four years of college prep, it’s hard to fathom an average kicker from a small team ever breaking through the pack. In all fairness, it’s more like a state assemblyman from Kansas taking the White House, which, to my recollection, hasn’t happened.

Whenever you see stories like this, there’s a natural reaction to try and take some lesson from it. Like that anyone can overcome any odds, if they simply put their mind to it. Or that we shouldn’t accept any limitations on our future. There’s perhaps something there, at least in generality. But that’s probably more wishful analysis than honest assessment. There is likely a good explanation for why Jason Myers went from anonymous college kicker to near record setting professional athlete. It could be some expert coaching, age, maturity, or something else. We may never know.

But what makes his ascendancy so notable is the rareness with which it happens. See, if it were as simple as having a positive attitude, then we’d have a whole lot more Red Foxes in the NFL – as well as those from Drake, Davidson, Jacksonville, and other schools that play in Marist’s non-scholarship conference. What makes Jason’s trip special is that it’s not particularly replicable. Which means that no matter how hard most people work, it’s still pretty likely you’ll never make the NFL, or even the CFL. Which means all the tales about limitations are sometimes just that – tales. In sports, we do all have limitations and impassible obstacles, a whole lot of which are completely out of our control. Jason Myers, and Terrence Fede, pushed through them. It’s as impressive as it is implausible. Then again, I may be a little biased.

Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

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