By Brady Russell
As a kid, I wanted nothing more than to play football for a living.
Consequently, the teachers I had growing up hearing this dream would often ask, “Well Brady, what else do you like?” The lack of support started the fire within me from the start.
As I got into high school, I was fairly small and started my freshman year off as a slot receiver weighing 140.
Through a lot of time and tedious work throughout a couple of years and off-seasons, I was able to pack on the weight and by junior year I was starting at defensive end weighing 205.
At that time, I started getting some looks from the local schools. Those being: CSU, Wyoming, and CU.
All were inviting me to camps and sending me the usual college pamphlet mail. After junior year, it seemed sure-fire that I would get an offer, yet everyone was holding out on me. Being in Fort Collins, CSU was the one that puzzled me the most. I was in their backyard and for whatever reason, they just wouldn’t pull the trigger.
Going into senior year I had a chip on my shoulder.
I was tired of being led on, having schools act as they wanted me, but clearly, it wasn’t the case. CU was the one school that clearly said, “You will have to walk on, we don’t have a spot for you.”
This was respectable to me. While I thought they were wrong in who they took instead of me, at least they were honest.
My senior football season ended and all I got were a few D1 AA offers.
I knew in my heart I could play at a higher level than that.
That’s when I got back in touch with one of my high school coaches, Corey Sample.
Corey at the time was still training to play in the CFL, and I was training to prove someone wrong.
If you ask me, both our goals went hand in hand. So we decided to work out together.
For the entirety of my senior year post-football, it was Corey and I at the gym at 5 am, 5-6 days a week, then I was off to school at 7:30. Senior year classes ended at 12:30 so I worked from 1-4 in construction every day, then back out to the field at night with Coach Sample once again.
It was essentially a 12-13 hour day, every day, with a rest on Sundays.
We grinded, both of us just searching for a chance.
That’s the thing though.
We were searching for chances…opportunities, not the most comfortable positions and situations.
Our work together finally culminated as Coach went on to become a trainer in Northern Colorado, and I went on to switch positions and earn the starting tight end job at CU.
I always had a good work ethic, but working with Coach Sample that year truly taught me the value of never being outworked.
I also learned the value of betting on myself.
Backtracking slightly, signing day came around a senior year and I still had no options.
A few days after signing day, CU’s offensive coordinator came by my school to see if I still wanted a spot on the team, even though I was going to have to pay for it.
I went home, had some long conversations with my parents, and the next thing you know I was going to my uncle’s alma mater at CU. My dad being in the military, had 2 years of free school left also known as the eGI bill, which meant that I had 2 years to try and earn a scholarship.
My parents weren’t completely sold with my decision.
After all, I had offers, it was just two smaller schools.
But I knew what I was capable of, but they may not have completely trusted that at the time.
I had this strange gut feeling telling me the University of Colorado is where I needed to be, now I know that was the Holy Spirit pushing me in the right direction.
With that being said, I got to CU on a mission.
That first fall, as most walk-ons would know, I didn’t get a chance. I was just tossed down at the bottom of the depth chart in fall camp and by the time season came around I was playing scout team.
However, one thing I knew for sure was no one was going to have better scout team footage than me.
I was going to let them know they made a mistake not letting me play that year. I took it personally.
I went on to win scout team player of the year as a freshman, still the greatest achievement I’ll probably ever have in my career because of the circumstances surrounding the effort.
Spring ball then rolled around, and by then I was third-string behind last year’s starter. They also added a new juco kid they brought in.
Of course, the juco kid got put ahead of me in the depth chart immediately, but that was expected, as I was still a walk-on.
Next thing you know, it’s fall camp again and after an offseason of work, I was
finally getting to show what I was capable of.
I quickly took over the second string spot and was starting when we were in 12-personal practice.
By the end of fall camp, it was almost inevitable I would get a scholarship with how much time I would spend on the field that season.
At the end of fall camp, they finally awarded it to me. That season I would go on to become the starter by game 7 and never looked back.
Now three years later, I’m going into my senior season, although I have two years of eligibility
left because of Covid-19. I’m coming off a season-ending ankle injury that required surgery and I’m here to say, this journey is far from over.
If everything in my past hasn’t set me back, neither will this injury.
Hopefully, this story will remind you to trust God’s control over everything.
None of us grow up dreaming to endure the hardships and change of plans along the way.
However, I know they’ve all shaped me into the man I am now.
They’ve made me comfortable with knowing I’m not in control and brought me into a deeper relationship with Christ than I would have ever imagined.
Whatever your journey looks like, own it. Own all the ups, downs, and space in between. There is no straight line to success. I may have run quite a few 9-flies in my career, but life certainly isn’t a straight line route. So don’t be afraid to kill that play and move on to the next.
When things get tough you gotta stick to the only things you can control…hard work and effort.
Whether you’re sidelined by an injury, a coaching decision, or a depth chart, you must keep going.
Chances are your heroes and role models took very difficult paths to get to where they are today.
So keep betting on yourself and sharpening your skills. Your opportunity in difficult times that could alter the course of your career and life awaits you. Seize it!
The D3 NIL King
I recently had the privilege of sitting down with what many are called the “King of D3 NIL,” Jack Betts. And after my thorough conversation with the impressive 21-year-old and Amherst wide receiver, I can confidently say such a claim has a strong basis – Jack now having embarked on partnerships with brands like Allbirds and Body Armour.
Jack and I’s conversation began with a rundown from him on the process he has nearly perfected when approaching brands and businesses when trying to leverage a NIL deal/partnership. What struck me from the moment the conversation began was Jack’s organization. Jack was kind enough to share with me his resume that runs through various accomplishments and commitments he has earned and partaken in his professional career away from football. And let me tell you… the resume did not lack flare.
But organization is an element commonly missed by most athletes. Jack understands that like him businesses reviewing his resume and proposition do not have much time. And to be precise and detail oriented could be the difference between being ghosted by brands or signing a life-changing deal.
As the conversation continued Jack’s poise shined through his ability to expand upon difficult topics surrounding NIL at the moment. Primarily, how the majority of student-athletes don’t really have a clue about anything surrounding their name, image, or likeness (NIL), Jack went on to express his plan to form an organization dedicated to working with student-athletes of Indigenous decent just like himself (Cherokee).
Besides being an excellent pursuit, I’m quite personally excited to see how his organization does with working with athletes. It’s tough for student-athletes to learn any sort of information from credible sources without sacrificing their rights in exclusivity agreements within the NIL sphere at the moment. So Jack willingly lending his ear and experience to those in need is a fabulous gesture.
Our conversation wrapped up discussing Jack’s #1 piece of advice to student-athletes: have an elevator pitch. No, this conversation was not meant to discuss high-level skills to have when approaching Silicon Valley VCs but I could see how one could cipher that. All jokes aside, Jack recommended profusely athletes have a quick elevator pitch (short, less than a one-minute statement) that easily maps out how you would bring value to a business or brand. At the end of the day, there aren’t many instances that you’ll be paid for doing something that at some point won’t bring or double in value to your investor.
As a student-athlete, besides certain instances like boosters’ contributions, businesses and brands want to know how specifically you can bring them value in a unique way most other athletes can’t.
All this being said, if there’s one thing to take away from Jack it is his… for lack of a better word, tenacity. Jack is on a mission in the NIL space. Although I can not fully describe nor understand this intangible element about him, I can tell you he’s a guy you want on your team. And that’s why he is undisputed D3 King of NIL and now moving north of 30 NIL deals.
I want to thank Jack for giving me his time and patience over the last few weeks for various content production. As well as recognize the wonderful work he is doing in world sports and for those in most need of it.
For our full conversation, you can head over to Spotify or follow our work on social media via @Athletiverse
Spotify podcast episode: Athletiverse Podcast | D3 King of NIL
Peace and love,
Dominyck Bullard (Chief Publisher – Varsity Chronicle)
The Freeman Era Difference
Verbal general or coaching revolutionary? Analyzing the approach of new Notre Dame Football Head Coach, Marcus Freeman.
If you are a Notre Dame fan or just interested in reading our write-up on the recent coaching change out of South Bend, I promise we will get to that, but I want to start here.
I want to start with a story about Bill Buckner.
For those unacquainted, Bill Buckner let a ground ball go through his legs in the 1986 Worlds Series for our younger audience.
After the error, the Mets would defeat the Red Sox, Buckner’s team, and claim the title in game 7.
Buckner would be the most excellent scapegoat in sports of the 20th century.
However, disturbingly enough, Buckner, two weeks before the series with the Mets in an interview with Don Shane from WBZ-TV, said, “The dreams are that you’re going to have a great series and win. The nightmares are that you are going to let the winning run score on a ground ball through your legs.”
To squash all assumptions, no, this story is not about manifestation.
It’s about mentality.
Marcus Freeman, a week ago, took over as the head football coach for Notre Dame.
In his opening statement to the media upon accepting this most prestigious position, Freeman did anything but what the media has seen over the years.
Instead of promising championship runs and accomplishing unimaginable feats, Freeman, in his opening remarks, made clear that his primary concern was to ensure that everyone knew that the primary driver of success for Notre Dame Football would be the players.
“Being the leader of this program is about understanding that to be successful on this journey, it’s going to take others, and we’re going to have to do this as a team.”
Freeman, above all, has maintained the view that at the heart of Notre Dame football is a set of values reflective of the university’s education and institution.
When we generally look at the broader population of collegiate athletes, the identity of the players, fans, coaches, and community is that they came here to play sports.
But Freeman has reminded his players and the nation that athletes, despite previous identities, do not come to Notre Dame to play football.
They don’t even come to contribute to change.
They come to be changed by Notre Dame.
Freeman has taken the typical achievement-based reward system within sports that convince athletes that they’ll only receive love, acceptance, and notoriety from on-field success and now challenges the men in his program to see themselves as a part of something much bigger than football.
Yes, football is important. And Freeman doesn’t take that for granted.
But as the “players coach,” he reminds his team and us all that football is just something they do.
The overall manner in which his team handles themselves academically, socially, and spiritually is what he seems to demand the high standards of most.
Wins and national championships will be the byproduct of developing mentally consistent and strong players.
Although Marcus Freeman could be some verbal general or someone who knows how to say all the right things, Freeman seems to truly understand the depth of an athlete’s mind beyond most.
So back to Buckner for a moment.
Buckner’s nightmare comments made shortly before making one of the most unforgettable errors in baseball history raise the question that making that error was not one of his worst nightmares. Would the outcome be different that night?
None of us can answer that.
However, I believe athletes’ identities mustn’t be contingent upon the results of a game.
As Marcus Freeman makes his debut shortly in the Fiesta Bowl, could Notre Dame’s new leader bring the Irish their national championship with the approach to developing high-level people before athletes?
In the spirit of sport romanticism, boy, I hope so.
You can catch Marcus Freeman’s debut on January 1, 2022, as Oklahoma State takes on Notre Dame on ESPN.
We wish you all a very happy and blessed holiday season!
Influencing a Positive Response to Mental Illness in High Schools and Young Adults
The legacy of dual-sport athlete and mental health advocate, Jessica Lefevre.
I hit rock bottom four years ago.
It was Halloween 2018 when two of my guy friends were killed in a car accident. Then one girl from my high school committed suicide, and another from Reveal High School.
I saw the effect that those tragedies had on all of the students and also on me. I almost didn’t graduate from high school because I started skipping classes because of how depressed I got.
In my senior year of high school, I had an interest from Chapman University to join their women’s soccer program. I saw soccer in my future.
Unfortunately, though I did not end up committing because my GPA was below what they were asking. I saw my future vanish. I didn’t have a plan, a future; I saw no point in being here. I questioned whether I wanted to continue living.
Helping athletes and hearing their stories is what kept me going.
I thought my world was ending. I didn’t have a future with soccer; I didn’t know my future. But speaking to all of these players gave me purpose.
I learned, “It’s ok to not be ok.”
We had the 49ers come to our school to talk about mental health. These guys were grown men and never showed emotion.
There is this stereotype that men can’t show emotions. So you never see it. But I saw these players get emotional, which showed me that I wasn’t alone. They showed me that being emotional is a strength, not a weakness.
Being on a football team in high school, I saw how this mindset of athletes, putting everything aside once you step onto the field because you have to look tough, affects athletes.
Football players especially have to have a tough mindset where they can’t show emotions on the field.
One day I was practicing field goals before a game, and none of them were going in. Something was going on in my mind that I just couldn’t brush to the side.
And I remember walking off the field, taking my helmet off, and walking to the bench. My coach could tell I was upset, so he came up to me and asked what was going on with me.
I just broke down in tears. I couldn’t hold my emotions inside anymore. Because whether you are a female or male football player, you have to look tough on the field.
But I learned that showing emotion is not a sign of weakness; it signifies strength and bravery. And I wanted athletes to know that.
That’s when I started “Safe Space”- a youth organization spreading awareness for mental health among athletes. I became a speaker for the organization and traveled to different school districts, hoping to impact the athletes and their families.
The change was seen- we got mental health professionals, counselors at all of our district schools and other districts in the Bay area (private or public).
I would talk to sports teams and try to educate them on mental health. I would also speak at my football games to the parents of these athletes.
I expressed the importance of having those hard conversations with their child (about suicide or mental health disorders).
I found a purpose to keep living.
My purpose was to help others.
I saw life is worth living.
Live each day with a grateful heart because it can change in an instant.