I’ve always considered myself very lucky to have grown up where I did, and when I did. As a kid (and still to this day), two of my favorite sports were football and basketball. During my youth, the football and basketball programs at the local high school were very good. The football team was winning Super Bowls every year and the basketball team was winning games in a tough, competitive league, too. My dad was always involved with the recreational sports program at the high school, and he took me to countless football and basketball games, so I got to spend a lot of time around the high school and got to meet a lot of the players. There were two particular athletes that stood out; I idolized them, and they were my role models. More than 15 years later, I still look up to them. Their names are Matt and Mike.
Not these Role Models
Matt was a member of both the football and basketball teams. He was undersized, but had one of the most amazing work ethics I’ve ever seen. He lived maybe a mile from the high school, and when my dad and I were en route to the school, we’d frequently see him jogging to the school’s track to perform his workout, only to jog back home after. Matt was dedicated to being the best player he could be, and gave 100% effort in his off-season workouts, in practice, and in games. When I was in elementary school, I had to read a book and do a book report on someone who was similar to the main character. The main character was an athlete named “Rusty”, and I chose to interview Matt. Jokingly, I think he was then called “Rusty” by his coach for the rest of the basketball season. While he wasn’t the biggest or most talented player on the field, Matt earned the right to play college football by virtue of his unmatched effort and hard work. I’ll never forget what his college coach said about him in his biography during his freshman season: “Matt is a pleasure to coach. He’s the first one on the field and the last one off.” I know this statement by heart, because I hung it on my bedroom wall years ago and looked at it every day.
Mike was a member of the basketball team. He was an absolute star and ended up scoring over 1,000 points in his career. I’ve watched a lot of basketball over the years and played against kids who went on to play professionally in the NBA and overseas, as well as at the Division 1 level, and Mike is still one of the purest shooters I’ve ever seen. He played hoops in college, and as far as I know, is still the record holder for career 3-point field goals made at his school (even though one of his seasons was shortened by injury). Mike, like Matt, put in considerable work in the off-season, improving his basketball skills as well as his jumping ability (they would routinely throw him alley-oops in games). His work ethic allowed him to be the player he ultimately became, and he was even offered a contract to play overseas at the conclusion of his college career.
I’ve always loved JJ, but Mike would’ve given him a run for his money
Lucky for me, Mike was back in the area when I was in high school, so he would put me through individual workouts during my basketball off-season. One day, after a workout, I remember talking to him about when he was in high school. He said something that has stuck with me over the years:
“Matt and I were probably the only two kids in our grade that didn’t drink.”
What Mike was essentially saying was that he and Matt were not your typical high school students. While many kids in their grade were getting into things like drugs and alcohol, they were going against the grain and devoting most of their time to working towards the goals they had set for themselves. Matt and Mike were not the norm. They were different.
Looking back, being different is what made these two so special. It’s what made these two so cool. And it’s what makes me feel so fortunate to have had them to look up to when I was a kid.
You see, Matt and Mike weren’t like everybody else. Yes, they had aspirations for themselves and set goals like other people, but, unlike others, they held themselves to high standards, they held themselves accountable, and they put their heads down and did what was necessary to reach their aspirations and goals.
We all have choices, and every single one of our choices has consequences. If you break it down even further, every decision you make either supports your goal, or it doesn’t.
That’s why I want to challenge you to be different.
If you want to lose weight, don’t eat dessert like the rest of your family does after dinner.
If you want to gain mass, don’t sleep in late like the rest of your friends. Get out of bed to make sure you get all of your meals in.
If you want to feel better, don’t sit on your ass in front of the TV like most Americans do the second they get home from work. Go for a walk or get in a 30 minute workout in your basement or garage.
If you want to play a sport in college or beyond, don’t go to every party or dance on Saturday night. Go to the gym.
If you want to advance your career and be one of the best at what you do, don’t hit the bar and stay out late with the rest of your co-workers. Stay in and read a book.
These are only just a few examples, but you get the idea.
Although we don’t talk as often as we’d like, I’ve kept in touch with Matt and Mike over the years. It’s not surprising that both of their current jobs entail working with kids. It makes me very happy and proud to know that they’re still having a positive impact on our youth.
Be different. After all, you never know whose role model you might be.