Making an Impact
Four men. Four lives in football. Four futures still left to play.
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The players called it “Bloody Tuesday.” A tradition at Penn State, it pitted the first-team offense against the first-team defense. No quarter asked, none given. “And sometimes,” says Mike Meade, “if we had a sub-par game the week before or a tough game coming up, Bloody Tuesday was followed by Bloodier Wednesday.”
The full-bore weekly scrimmage was just one of many rites of passage Meade endured in a successful, though not spectacular, football career: All-State running back at Dover High School, starting fullback at Penn State, four relatively injury-free years in the National Football League, then a comfortable life as a businessman and family man in his hometown.
Meade’s journey could serve as a template for those who choose the pressure-cooker of big-time football, which long ago replaced baseball in America’s sporting heart. The game generates tremendous revenue from gate receipts, television contracts and gambling action that builds throughout the season, concluding with nearly $100 million wagered on Super Bowl Sunday.
Big money begets big pressure on the players. It starts at age 16 or 17, when college coaches visit recruits at their schools and homes, then barrage them with phone calls, emails and letters. It amps up markedly once the athlete enters the college game, with its huge stadiums and TV audiences, gung-ho alumni and coaches who demand total dedication. Then, if he’s talented and lucky enough, a player can reach the ultimate—the NFL, where fortune and fame await.
Jamaal Jackson, Andrew Szczerba and Ben Patrick are at various stages of the journey Mike Meade completed three decades ago. Jackson is a highly-touted senior running back at Hodgson Vocational Technical School near Newark. Szczerba, a Salesianum grad, is a sophomore tight end at Penn State. A former All-American at UD, Patrick is in his third year as a tight end for the Arizona Cardinals. Each provides a unique viewpoint on football’s impact on their lives.
Page 2: College Bound