Give credit when credit’s due

For the University of Rhode Island football team, wins are few and far between, but the effort that both the coaches and the players show each day is comparable to that of a FCS Championship contender.

Find a college student on this campus, or any campus for that matter, that gets up every morning at 5:30 a.m. Not only are they getting up at 5:30 a.m., but they are practicing, getting better, stronger, faster and smarter with each and every stride they take.

Football players at URI start their day with treatment for injuries at 6 a.m., followed by meetings with coaches at 6:45 a.m., before they walk to the practice fields at 7:50 a.m. What these athletes do in the first two plus hours of their day is more than some college students do in a day.

I know that because I am a college student. I like to think of myself as a motivated and hardworking student, but some days, well, I am done with the day the second I wake up. Athletes don’t have that luxury. If I go to bed at 2 a.m. and wake up at 8 a.m. for class and don’t feel like going, I roll back over and sleep until noon. Student athletes can’t do that. They wake up and grind. Every. Single. Day.

Each college sports team on this campus works hard. I see it. Men’s and women’s track student athletes run this campus each day. Baseball and softball players spend cold winters in the hitting barn itching to get on the field come April. Basketball student athletes have long practices inside the Ryan Center and then, given the hype around the sport, have to speak to the media some days.

Next time you see a URI student athlete that is not on the football team, ask them if someone has ever told them their program would be cut. Go ahead and let me know. If I were a betting man, which I am not, not one student athlete would tell you yes.  

Guess what separates those student athletes from the football players? Just that. Football is always synonymous with getting cut. Football has the unsuccessful reputation, which based on wins and losses, yes, I admit, they deserve. However, on effort? Not a snowball’s chance in hell.

Let’s get back to their schedule. After practice from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., Rhody football players head to their classes for the day. After classes they troop back to the athletic facilities for meetings, and study hall, and injury treatment. By the way, they have to squeeze meals, class requirements that come outside the classroom, and a social life into the equation. Yes, a social life. Every college student deserves one of those.

The average college student would be GASSED by the end of that day. But guess what? Tomorrow, it all happens again for student athletes. From the middle of the summer when training camp starts until the end of November when the season concludes this is how the days go. (For the sake of the argument, they get Sunday’s and Monday’s off. Off from just practice. They still have meetings and mandatory study hall sessions.)    

I applaud the URI football players. In my mind, wins should not validate the effort that someone is giving. I see you all working. We all see you all working. It just depends on if we choose to give you credit for it. Which I do. I sure as hell could never do what you guys do. Not to mention the criticism you guys get. I’m a reporter and get trolled on Twitter about saying something positive about URI football.

The fact is this; the URI football team does not get the credit that they deserve. There are other sports on campus that don’t either. I also applaud them. Winning is one thing, but the effort to go to bed a better person than you were when you woke up is another thing.

Rams head coach Jim Fleming and his staff deserve credit, too. They are professionals and do this for a living so they, rightfully so, deserve criticism when it’s due. But, the coaching staff are the group of people that somehow have to motivate 18-22-year-old young men that they can do anything. That despite just five wins in the past three plus season, that they, the URI Rams, can compete against some of the toughest schools in the country.

For Fleming, it comes down to having the mentality of a winner despite the results of a loser. It’s about going to work each day, putting aside the bad, and focusing on the good. A “lunchbox” mentality. “You have to keep on getting back up and pulling yourself up by the bootstraps,” Fleming said earlier this season following a 35-34 loss to No. 14 Elon. “Hang your hat on perseverance, commitment, and preparation for the next week. Those boot straps will be heavier tomorrow and pulling them off the matt has happened a lot.”

It is true. The boot straps get heavier, the days get longer, and the nights get shorter. That is a winner mentality. Do you actually think that these players and coaches enjoy losing? Of course not, they hate it more than anybody. But they keep going, working hard, getting better every single day.

I don’t blame people for seeing poor results on the field and criticizing the program. But, I do ask, you do know that those men on that field have lives ahead of them? In 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, 50 years, football will still be with these student athletes. However, the take away is not the route patterns, the defensive schemes, the ability to pick up a blitz, etc. the greater take away are the lessons and life skills that you learn on the gridiron.

Wins will come for URI football. Whether it be in the win column or in the lives of the men that play and coach every Saturday. This Saturday, I will tell the story of the game, as a journalist should. I will not hide the facts as James Madison University, the No. 1 team in the FCS and defending National Champions, comes to town.  But part of telling the facts is the effort. The Rams will be playing the hardest they can.

“Continuing to get off the matt and play is important in life,” Fleming said. “There is no limit to resilience because once you give in you lose and you quit, and when you quit you’re a loser. That’s not what we’re going to do.”   

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Stone Freeman
Stone Freeman is a junior at the University of Rhode Island majoring in journalism. He can be found at either the Ryan Center, Boss Ice Arena, Meade Stadium, or Bill Beck Field covering URI athletics for the Good Five Cent Cigar and WRIU 90.3 FM. To contact Stone you can email him at stone_freeman@my.uri.edu or on Twitter @StonePFreeman.