Sunday, September 21, 2014

Living the Suite Life



Today, as part of my new Lady #RamsFan partnership, I had the opportunity to watch the St. Louis Rams vs. Dallas Cowboys football game from a VIP suite with my fellow lady bloggers. We also had a chance to taste some of the new food now available at Rams games this season. So here is the scoop on the new eats at the Dome for the next time you're there for a Rams game!

(Author's note: I did not try every food offering but I will post photos of everything even if I did not try it!) 

Our first tasting was beef and chicken tacos from Carneros Cantina. This was one of the items I did not try, but everyone who did try them said they were very tasty!


Then they brought in one of my favorites ... Strange Donuts! The flavors they brought us were: Gooey Butter, Maple Bacon, Camp Fire, Chicken n' waffle and 5th Down. The Gooey Butter is one of my favorites so of course I couldn't pass by a taste of that one! The Chicken n' Waffle donut looked very interesting. It actually had a chicken strip on top of the (waffle flavored?) donut, but I wasn't quite that adventurous today! And the Camp Fire donut had a marshmallow in the middle! Clever!!


Sugar Fire was the next vendor and they brought in Brisket Cheesesteak Sandwiches and Smoked Sausages. I tried the Brisket Cheesesteak Sandwich and it was amazing. I will definitely buy one of those at the next Rams game I attend!!


Are you sitting down? Crown Candy Kitchen brought in their famous BLT sandwich. I die. Since I had already eaten the Sugar Fire sandwich I just had a bite of Offspring #1's BLT ... but I'm telling you, this is must eat food at the Dome. Must. Eat. Food!!


Go for 2 Tavern (tell me again why we went for it on 4th and inches instead of taking the three points ... oh, I digress) brought by some hand rolled pretzels. One was a regular pretzel with a side of cheese sauce, and one was a pretzel covered in cinnamon sugar and both looked delicious ... but after Sugar Fire and some BLT I figured I should pass.


Finally, The Slice came bye with 18 Inch Pizza slices ... cheese and pepperoni, I really shouldn't have but I had half of a slice of pepperoni and it was quite good!!


For dessert, Bissinger's had two boxes of chocolate in the suite for it, and lets face it ... you can never go wrong with chocolate!



The only thing that could have possibly made today better would have been a Rams win, but I guess we can't have everything, can we?!

I'd like to thank Danielle Smith and the St. Louis Rams for this amazing partnership and I can't wait until the next event!


Until then ... cheers!




Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How to Have the Best Rams Fan Experience

I am pleased to announce that a few weeks ago the St. Louis Rams invited me into a special partnership with them. In exchange for getting to participate in some of the various experiences offered to Rams Fans at the Edward Jones Dome, it will be my pleasure to report back to you on all of the opportunities that are available to football fans in St. Louis

My first such opportunity is this weekend when the St. Louis Rams face off against the Dallas Cowboys. As a Rams season ticket holder I know what it's like to enjoy the game from my current vantage point, but this weekend I will have a chance to view the game from a VIP Suite. I am very much looking forward to sampling a variety of food from the new restaurants opening up in the Dome this season.

I am also going to get to check out the Lady Ram program. The Lady Ram program is for women where "Football, Fashion and Fitness Meet."

Membership includes:

  • Unique Lady Rams Premium Item
  • Membership Packet
  • Monthly Newsletter
  • Monthly drawings for autographed items, tickets and special experiences
  • Exclusive invitation to: Girls Night Out Fashion Show

The game on Sunday also happens to be the 5th Annual Green Game. As a part of the 5th annual Green Game, the Rams have: 
  • Offset 100% of the electricity used as the Edward Jones Dome for the game with Missouri wind energy credits from Ameren Missouri Pure Power.
  • Offset all fan travel to and from the Edward Jones Dome with carbon offsets.
  • Offset the Dallas Cowboys flight to and from St. Louis with carbon offsets.

Keep an eye out for in-game features throughout the game highlighting the importance of sustainability as well as the Rams Green Team, who will be picking up recyclable materials in the stands! 

Also this Sunday, be one of the first 1,000 Rams fans to receive a $10 food and beverage voucher by presenting your validated same-day Metro ticket at the Metro table during the Official Tailgate Party in Baer Park. 

Stay tuned for more of my upcoming experiences as a St. Louis #RamsFan.

Cheers!



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

One, Two, Three ... Ginx!!


I had a chance to sit down with former Notre Dame strong safety Gerome Sapp this week about the new app he just released … *#Ginx . Oh, and some football talk, too!

Q: How did you become interested in the social media industry?

A: "It started when I was playing football in the NFL and I realized that social media gave non-professional athletes or the “average everyday Joe” an equal platform from which they could be heard. ESPN was my platform as a professional athlete but with the rise of social media the normal person, the soccer mom, the trainer at the gym now has a voice to speak to the masses very efficiently. That realization was very powerful to me and there is no limit to the reach a person can have via the social media platform."

Q: What do you think made your first social media venture “Fluencr” so successful?

A: "It was the right time. Everything is all about timing. It took off because it gave the 14-year-old girl a platform to express her point of view and to have people interact with her. It opened the door to micro endorsement. You don’t have to be a well-known celebrity or professional athlete. You just have to be knowledgeable about a particular brand or subject. It allowed people to quickly grow a following and receive perks from their favorite brands simply by being seen as an expert. Brands would rather see a soccer mom delivering a marketing message than someone like Kim Kardashian. My platform, Fluencr, came along at the right time to give people micro endorsements for doing what they were already doing. Talking about the brands they love."

Q: Tell me about your new app *#Ginx ? How does it work? Where can you get it?

A: "They always say that innovation happens when there is a lack of time and a lack of resources. For us it was a little bit of both. I wanted to be independent of always having to use Facebook or another API (application programming interface). I wanted to create an app and/or platform that didn’t need brand involvement in order for it to be viral.  Technology was created to make human’s lives easier. If you can create something to make human’s lives more fun and easier, you’ve got a win-win situation! I knew that people liked taking photos and using hashtags, and I also knew that flash mobs were a very viral thing."

"Flash mobs bring people together for a single initiative for a moment in time. They also help people create a maximum amount of awareness around an initiative."

"What if you could create a photo based flash mob around viral content? What if you could create/join flash communities around a hashtag? A place where you can be visually social with a group of people using a particular hashtag, for a period of time."

My team and I just launched a uniquely new photo-sharing app called *#GINX (search: ginx) in the Apple and Google Play Stores. The app combines our love for taking/sharing photos and using hashtags, with the fundamentals of a "flash-mob" which brings large groups of people together around one initiative for a moment in time.

So the app allows anyone the ability to create or join a photo-based VIRTUAL "flash-mob" (during a set time), around any funny thought, event or important initiative you would normally hashtag to bring attention to. Users participate in your *#GINX by uploading images that best visually represent the initiative (ex: *#MyCrazyVegasNight) and/or they can just vote on images to crown an individual "Star" of the *#GINX!

"After I did some research I found there was a huge problem in the visual/image space within social media. Hashtags were created to group like content together but every other platform stops there. They don’t take it further to be visually social. I wanted to create a way to bridge this gap. To allow people to be visually social around a hashtag and then for one person to own a hashtag after certain amount of time."

"I also learned, in my research around image based marketing that many marketers are turning away from Facebook and Twitter and are turning to the new media – user-generated content."

"Brands have a bunch of loyal fans, who are always taking photos of *insert brand or product here* … how do brands find a way to create a user-generated initiative around their product and have the user create the images that fuel the initiative? How does the user connect with other users who are hashtagging the same things? There is no way for the people who are hashtagging to be social with each other. How do you allow them to be visually social around the content they are hashtagging."

"The other thing I noticed is when you search a hashtag on a social platform, most of the time the images don’t have anything to do with the hashtag. How do you create structure around visual content on social media platforms? I wanted to create a platform that would let the community self govern the images they see and weed out the ones that don’t fit into the hashtag."

"So how does *#Ginx work? Here’s an example. For the next two hours, lets see who can submit the best photo for breast cancer awareness month. Lets see the coolest picture of an athlete wearing pink. You can do this for 2 hours (or up to 3 days). You can browse through the photos other people have submitted, upload your own photos and then the community votes."

"Foursquare did it great with the idea of a location having a “mayor” … I do it with a hashtag. The community votes on whether or not your photo best represents this tag, and if you win, you own the tag for a moment in time and are voted 'star.'"

"It creates a gamification to it in a fun, visual way. We have a company on board that is going to use it for a fun start-up competition.

The app’s original name was *#FlshTag, but last week we relaunched the app as *#Ginx. In our app you are being visually social around the same initiative and the same images at the same time and so you’re ginxing it (remember when you were a kid and you said something at the same time as someone else … Jinx!!) … so you “Ginx” your tag by putting an asterisk in front of it. You’ve just created a community around the hashtag."

Q: I hear you’re working with a military charity TAPS. Can you tell me more about it? And why you got involved?

A: "Yes, I am currently working with a charity called TAPS: Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. The program works to support family members of fallen soldiers. Some need financial help, but there are many other ways that the families can be supported. I became involved with TAPS back when I was playing in the NFL. I would invite family members out to watch my games, put them in a suite, go down and meet with them after the game. It’s a great way to take their minds off the everyday hardships of losing a loved one." (Want to learn more about TAPS and how you can help? Please visit their website: http://www.taps.org/)

Q: So … what do you think of ND’s 2014 squad?

A: "I know that we’re getting Everett Golson back and that will be huge for the team. With his type of talent and skill set, he can take a year off and not sustain any setbacks. The sign of a great running quarterback is how much time he can buy behind the line of scrimmage to best be able to throw the ball downfield. I think the year off will benefit him this season and I think ND will surprise a lot of people this year."

Q: What are your predictions for the season?

A: "9-3"

I’d like to thank Gerome for stopping by the blog this week. If you want to learn more about his app *#Ginx check it out in the Apple and Google Play stores!

Cheers & GO IRISH!!

Monday, July 7, 2014

You're Kidding Me, Right?

[Guest post by Oscar McBride]

Family – I would like to quickly give you some perspective on an article I read recently ... I hope you enjoy my spout.

(Featured image: Yong Kim/Philly.com Staff Photographer)

When I read sports magazines, articles or postings I usually try to keep an open mind … ya’ know … take a look at things from different perspectives and try to grow from what’s being shared in some way. I would guess that you, the ones who are actually taking the time to read this blog post, do the same thing or in part feel the same as I do.

My usual standard of delectation was completely thrown when I read an article in ESPN the Magazine’s July issue about the Washington Redskins’ recently signed DeSean Jackson.

Now let me be abundantly clear, I am not a Jackson fan… but did come to respect and understand him a bit more after reading the article. What I didn’t appreciate at all, was the incredibly insensitive, skewed, and racially charged quotes from Dr. Harry Edwards that obviously ESPN couldn’t wait to print as said quotes pertained to the future of the NFL and its players relating most specifically to Jackson and his alleged “affiliations.” Just in case you didn’t read the article, allow me to share the small but very poignant section that sent me through the roof … please … allow me to set the stage.

ESPN the Magazine writer, Cord Jefferson, had done a pretty good job of framing why DeSean Jackson’s path had been such a challenging one … from childhood, through college and now as a successful, productive professional with the latest trending topic being attached to him, Jackson had fared well in performing on the gridiron and staying out of the proverbial stereotypical pigeon holes of current or former NFL players. In my mind a great job by Jefferson … helping people get to know who Jackson is and why he is the way he is … bravo!

Here’s the section of the article that made me lose all respect for Dr. Edwards (who my very well be one of the most renowned sociologist and sports historians in the world) or anything he has to say moving forward:

An HBO Real Sports/Marist poll from October of last year showed that 66 percent of Americans with a household income of $50,000 or more had heard a great deal or a good amount about football head injuries, compared with just 47 percent of nonwhites had heard nothing about football-related concussions, compared with 12 percent of whites. ‘In a decade, the only people who are still playing football will be African-Americans and working-class people,’ says Edwards. Edwards predicts that as the talent pool skews even more black and working class, the “baggage” that comes with these players will only become more prevalent. So, he says, the NFL needs to find ways to better understand players’ struggles to balance career over background. ‘What the Eagles were dealing with in terms of trying to come to grips with DeSean is what the whole league should be preparing for,’ he says. ‘Because that’s who’s going to be playing football. To think you’re not going to find anybody in football with baggage is preposterous’[1]

What I don’t completely understand nor appreciate very much is where Edwards’ perspective is coming from and how he, of all people, could put such a slant on what will happen in the future of the league. First of all, who uses a “poll” that was taken on HBO’s Real Sports as a credible source for scholarly research? It’s all opinion … just like this blog post. Look people … I could always attach a poll to one of my blog posts, cite its results and throw some jargon behind it; does that make it (the results) worth anything more than the keystrokes it took to put it there?

Who cares that over 60% of the NFL is African-American versus only 12% in 1959? What does that even mean? Have we truly returned to the age-old stereotype of “there goes the neighborhood” since the African-Americans (code for “Niggers”) and working class (code for “White Trash,” “Beaners” and anyone else who isn’t of means) have arrived? Why is it important to underscore what’s already being over publicized? I mean … did you really need to use Aaron Hernandez as an example?[2]

Just so I’m clear … Is the implication here simply that African-Americans and Working Class People have more “baggage” than people of means? You’re kidding me right? That may be the single-most unrealistic, uneducated thing I’ve ever heard a supposed scholar say. EVERYONE has baggage … even those with means … the difference from my opinion is that African-Americans and Working Class People don’t have the strength, time, energy, power, clout, standing, nerve or patience to ignore the issues they have. They simply deal with them the best they have the capacity to and move forward.

Just because a class of people has the wherewithal to live in a comfortably uncomfortable state of plausible deniability doesn’t mean they have less baggage! C’mon Harry… dammit; you’re from East St. Louis for cryin out loud!

Why in the world would anyone believe that all of a sudden gang-related activity is becoming a threat to the NFL? Really? Pssshhh … I’m not even going to dignify that thought with a response other than ---> get a grip! As long as there have been gangs, are gangs and will be gangs they had, currently have and will have some influence on the student-athletes who participate in sport; whether it be in high school, collegiate athletics or professional sport.It is what it is… and at the end of the day the decision lies with the individual.

What’s even more disturbing is the supposition that the NFL would actually take the time to “better understand the players’ struggles.” Anyone who’s ever played a down in the NFL knows it’s a business … just that … nothing more.Some may even go so far as to say it’s modern day slave trade wrapped up in a pretty little bow consisting of great ad campaigns, social media and billions of dollars … but hey … what do I know? I’m high school football coach.

You know what ..? I may be overreacting a bit … I get that … I just have a hard time hearing an African-American man make sententious remarks about the very culture he came from as if it’s some form of inoperable cancer.

People make choices every day ... some good and others bad. At the end of the day as young people we didn’t have a choice about where we were raised or where we came from … but we do have a choice now … we can ascertain with absolute certainty how far we allow that culture to penetrate who we are and who we want to become.

DeSean Jackson obviously gets that … I would think a learned man more than four decades his senior would get it too… especially being a professor emeritus in sociology of sport at the very university Jackson attended …. Oh yeah … and played football with all the other Working Class People and African-Americans.

Please ... subscription cancelled.

Sport is Life  Oscar McBride 

[1] ESPN (ISSN #1097-1998) (USPS #016-356). Volume 17, No. 13, July 7, 2014, P.50.

[2] Ibid. p.50.

Cheers!



Thursday, May 15, 2014

Your Starting Quarterback ... George Plimpton?

Okay, George Plimpton may not have been a starting quarterback for the Detroit Lions ... but he did play for them at quarterback. He also played goalie for the Boston Bruins, got Willie Mays to pop out in Yankee Stadium, boxed against light-heavyweight champion Archie Moore, acted alongside John Wayne, Warren Beatty and Matt Damon; photographed Playboy models, and authored more than 15 books, including Out of My League (1961), Paper Lion (1966) and The Bogey Man (1967). Who is this George Plimpton you ask?

Famed participatory journalist George Plimpton (1927-2003) was a writer, editor, amateur sportsman, actor and friend to many. The American Masters series is showcasing his remarkable life in Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself, premiering nationally this Friday, May 16, on PBS (check local listings).

Fellow Notre Dame author, Jerry Barca, author of Unbeatable was one of the producers (along with another ND Alum) of this feature on George Plimpton and gave me the opportunity to view it in advance of its airing. Seeing as George Plimpton's writing style was a lot like my "Where Are They Now" pieces in a Q&A writing style ... I thought I'd do a little Q&A with Jerry Barca to let you hear more about this upcoming documentary.

Q: Why did you decided to do the documentary about George Plimpton?

A: "Well, I became involved in the project in early 2010. The film is the brainchild of the directors Tom Bean and Luke Poling. Luke had the light-bulb moment when he took a look at his book shelf and noticed Plimpton's Open Net and he realized no one had done a film on Plimpton. Luke spoke to my business partner and the co-founder of Joyce Entertainment, Dennis Joyce, a double Domer, '98 and '03 MBA. They were at dinner in 2008, Luke pitched the idea. Dennis loved it and provided funds for the project to begin immediately."

Q: What drew you to George Plimpton?

A: "The man lived an amazing life. It is remarkable and inspiring when you realize all he did and all he accomplished, from his writing, his groundbreaking sports journalism, his literary exploits and even his relationship with the Kennedy family. His life is the type of story that begs to be told."

Q: Do you feel your writing style took any guidance from George Plimpton?

A: "On the surface, Plimpton is known for stunts - playing quarterback for the Detroit Lions, goalie for the Boston Bruins, pitching to Willie Mays at Yankee Stadium - but I tell people if that is all you know, you're missing out on a lot. Those "stunts" are a literary device that serve as the entry point, one where George takes you into the world of each endeavor. My biggest take away from reading his work is to get out of the way of the story and let it, the story, be told. He did that so, so well."

Q: How was working on this documentary different from writing the book Unbeatable?

A: "While the focus of both is on telling good stories that people will enjoy, they're very different, especially my role. Tom Bean and Luke Poling, the directors, did a wonderful job telling George's story. They are really the "authors" and I'm a role player on a great team. Being the author of Unbeatable, that means I'm the one accountable to produce the research, interviews, and craft the story."

Q: What was your favorite story from the George Plimpton documentary?

A: "You know I love sports, and there is so much great stuff there from boxing to football to baseball and even the trapeze work. But the stuff Tom Bean and Luke Poling were able to unearth with regards to George's interviewing Ernest Hemingway and George's relationship with the Kennedy family is pure brilliance. Those parts just show you how big George's life was. He intersected with history that will forever be studied."

Q: What can we expect next from Jerry Barca? Another book? Another documentary?

A: "I've got another book cooking. A non-fiction sports book. I love immersing myself in the research and then crafting a narrative readers will enjoy. Thanks so much for taking the time to watch Plimpton! We are really so excited to share it with people, and thanks for taking time interview me."

Please do me a favor and check out this wonderful documentary about George Plimpton. It's a wonderfully crafted story of a participatory journalist who literally 'knocked himself out to get the story.' He had a never-ending curiosity about life and never let his fears govern him.

"George's life was about seeking out and trying new things, regardless of the outcome. And as an artist, life was his greatest work of art," said co-director, c0-writer and co-producer Tom Bean. "We hope Plimpton! inspires audiences to find that adventurous spirit within themselves and the desire to live life to the fullest."

"For the uninitiated, we hope our introduction makes new audiences fall in love with George Plimpton. For the people who knew and read him, we hope our movie brings him and his joie de vivre back for 90 minutes," added co-writer and co-producer Luke Poling (Twelve).

Okay folks, go check your listings on PBS and don't miss Plimpton!



Cheers!



Friday, March 7, 2014

Where Are They Now? Matt Shelton

Some of us land at Notre Dame because it has been our lifelong dream to attend (or play football at) Our Lady’s University. Some of us find our path drawn towards Notre Dame because of a significant influence in our life. And some of us find ourselves signing a letter of intent with Notre Dame because we simply trust in all that it has to offer. That third option is exactly how wide receiver Matt Shelton found himself playing football for the Fighting Irish. During his tenure at ND, Matt totaled 47 receptions for 890 yards and seven touchdowns, all while averaging 18.9 yards per catch. In 2005, Matt graduated with a degree in Marketing from the Mendoza College of Business. Now a successful team leader in the sales department of ‘The Bouq’s,’ Matt’s journey has been quite a colorful one. Take a walk with me and discover the journey of former ND wide receiver, Matt Shelton.

Q: Growing up in Collierville, TN how did you end up playing football at Notre Dame?

A: “Me ending up at Notre Dame had a lot to do with luck. One of the Notre Dame recruiters was in Memphis talking to high school coaches in the area -- ND has a great “farm system” in Memphis if you will. One of my high school coaches told the ND recruiter (along with other Division I recruiters) that he needed to come to Collierville to see me in person. As a result of my coach going to bat for me, recruiters from several schools came to Collierville to see me play. I was being recruited by Ohio State, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Memphis, Ole Miss, and of course, Notre Dame. I really hit it off with the recruiter from Notre Dame and so that moved it to the top of my list.”

“How many schools did I take official visits to? Only one. Notre Dame. When it came time for me to start taking my official visits the unthinkable happened: during the fifth game of my senior year I tore my ACL. Pretty much every school who was recruiting me tucked its tail and ran. A few kindly called and wished me well, but most ran. After an ACL, nobody ever knows if a kid is really going to ever recover. What attracted these colleges to me was my speed, and there was no telling whether or not that would ever come back. And then I received the call from Bob Davie letting me know that Notre Dame’s offer was still on the table. Coach Davie said to me, ‘I don’t care if you ever step on the field again or not. You will graduate with a four-year degree from Notre Dame.’ That spoke volumes to me that the University was willing to stand behind its offer and support Coach Davie’s actions. After that phone call there really was no question in my mind, I was going to Notre Dame.”

Q: What is your best Notre Dame football memory?

A: The following play (play #5 in the top 10) against Michigan State may be one of the bigger plays that Matt Shelton is known for, but one of his favorite Notre Dame football memories is that classic moment ‘when the cleats hit the cushion.’

“I guess I have two ND football memories that are very memorable to me. The first of which is running out of the tunnel and onto the field for the very first time. It was simply breathtaking. After the preseason grind of two-a-days, being away from home for the first time, getting used to being a student and the whole college experience; it’s definitely an unforgettable moment, an unforgettable feeling. Right about at that point, the doubts start crossing your mind as to whether or not you can actually play football on such a big stage as Notre Dame Stadium. And then you run out of the tunnel, onto the field to 80,000 screaming fans. You are overcome with goose bumps and everything melts away. I still get goose bumps when the team runs out of the tunnel.

"My next favorite ND football moment is from the Insight.com Bowl. I tore my ACL at practice on Christmas day just prior to the Insight.com Bowl game. I needed one catch for better than negative seven yards to break the record at Notre Dame for most yards per catch during a season. The trainers wrapped up my leg and my coaches put me into the game so that I could get my one catch and I broke the record even with my torn ACL. I will never forget that moment."

"I ran off the field and could not even feel my arm because the hit on that catch was so crushing."

"My favorite off-the-field memory has to be time spent with the guys in the locker room. The incredible bonds that you make with the guys in the locker room prior to, during, and after games…they stay with you forever. I miss going out and playing football, but I really miss the camaraderie of the team. Hanging out, getting to know each other, goofing off, and having fun -- that is what I miss the most."

Q: Best road trip game?

[Photo from ND Club Memphis,
credit: www.msnbc.msn.com]
A: “Our trip to play the University of Tennessee was my favorite road trip game. Going home (even though Knoxville is six hours away from where I grew up), playing in that stadium which holds 100,000 screaming fans. It was so loud, the lights were so bright, and it was just such a great experience playing in my home state. The Tennessee fans treated the players and the Irish fans with great hospitality. Playing on the road is awesome, but playing on the road in your home state is something that is really hard to describe. You run out of the tunnel and they are booing you and you learn to really focus yourself and feed off of that energy.”

Q: What was it like playing for Tyrone Willingham? Charlie Weis? Differences? Pros? Cons?

A: “Speaking of what it was like to play for Coach Willingham and Coach Weis, I have to mention that I am writing a book myself. I am at about 55,000 words right now. My book details my experiences of playing for Coach Davie,  Coach O’Leary, Coach Willingham, Coach Baer, and Coach Weis. How many people can say that they played under five different coaches at Notre Dame?”

“When I played under Coach Willingham I still had a lot to learn. I still had a lot of work that I needed to put in, in order to become a better football player.”

“By the time Coach Weis got to ND, I was a better player and already had been given a chance to prove myself. I was already groomed, had proven myself on the football field, and was recovering from ACL surgery and a staph infection that almost killed me. Coach Weis was much more lenient with me than he was with most of the other players. He really treated me like a son.”

Q: What was it like being a student-athlete at Notre Dame?

A: “I played football and ran track in two of my seasons at Notre Dame. Running track was great for me because it was great speed training and additional conditioning for football.”

“Adding track to the fold didn’t really change my workload much as a student-athlete at ND. I was still going to be training during the offseason so it might as well have been within a second sport. Offseason training for football is just as important as preparation during the regular season. If you don’t train hard enough during the offseason then you are not ready for the grueling schedule that you have to face during the regular season. Track was very run-heavy so I didn’t work out as much with the football team as I otherwise would have. It really wasn’t difficult to play those two particular sports at ND -- in fact; it was very beneficial to me and the other football players who were running track with me.”

“One of the most difficult transitions of my life was the transition from high school to college. I didn’t understand the concept of time management as well as I thought I did. Notre Dame made us go to study hall four times a week and without that and the rest of the academic support which the University gave us -- freshman year of studies, making us go to class, study hall, meeting with our academic advisor -- I probably would have failed out of school. Study hall itself was crucial to my success. If I had gone back to my room instead of study hall, and had been given the choice between studying and going to bed at night, I would have definitely gone to bed. Study hall forced us to get our work done and use our time wisely.”

Q: How do you remember your NFL draft?

A:“I thought I was going to be drafted in the late rounds of the draft or at least by the last round. The Indianapolis Colts called to say that they would have drafted me if they would have had a pick in the last round (which they did not). I wonder how many other guys they said that to. In the situation I was in, though, it’s not a bad thing to be undrafted. Suddenly the tables are turned and if you have several teams looking at you, you get to decide. The Colts were offering me more money but I knew 98% of the offense currently playing with the Patriots and so I decided to sign with New England.”

Q: Did you get to start any games? What was your NFL experience like?

A:“Getting my shot in the NFL was an amazing experience. Coming from a school like Notre Dame with the level of guys whom I played with ON the team, and who we played AGAINST on a weekly basis, it wasn’t as big of a jump from college to the NFL as it had been from high school to college. Football in college was a full-time job and you get to the NFL and it’s just a full-time job again. The difference is that you’re working 60 hours per week in the NFL instead of 40 hours per week in college.”

“By the time I got to the NFL I had already gone through four knee surgeries, a back injury (I had to wear a back brace for months to allow my stress fracture to heal), and a staph infection. I pretty much got hurt right away after arriving in New England and was put on injured reserve. I was a Wes Welker-type of player and was drafted by New England the year before Welker got there. I’m not saying that I would have been the next Wes Welker, but I definitely had an amazing opportunity in front of me had I not gotten hurt. I was just physically worn out by the time I got to the NFL.”

Q: Where did life take you after football?

Stay tuned for more in the
“Where are they now?”
series!
A:“You grow up spending your whole youth and young adulthood wanting to play football and then when it’s taken away from you, you are kind of lost. That’s when the transition and transformation begins.”

“My first job post football was doing day trading. I had the opportunity to work for a small company where I learned how to work the day trading industry. It was during the tail end of the market crash and I was given five million dollars to ‘play’ with. Seeing that it was at the tail end of the market crash we did quite well and increased our holdings by 20-25% as we were able to buy in at a low price. Even though I was successful at day trading I quickly learned that playing with numbers was not for me.”

“So then I decided to try my hand at sales -- I used the Notre Dame network to get a sales job. I called a friend who knew of a company that was hiring and I moved back to South Bend and took a job in Medical Device Sales for Arthrex. I did sales for two years and really loved it, but didn’t love the weather in South Bend so much. After two years with Arthrex I was presented with an opportunity to move to California and do pharmaceutical sales for Ocusoft and I jumped at the chance to head west and enjoy some warm weather.”

The 'Killer Bouq'
“After a couple of years at Ocusoft I used the Notre Dame network once again and reached out to a gentleman who worked for Disney who introduced me to the owner of the company ‘The Bouq’s.’ We had lunch and a couple of conversations and he brought me onboard this year.”

“I am the head of the sales team here at The Bouq’s. When I came on it was pretty much me and now we have 10 sales reps in the department whom I manage. In addition to managing the sales team I call on florists, venues for weddings, event planners, hotels, spas, and gift programs.”

By the way, our goal isn't to deliver good flowers. How about amazing flowers? Fresher flowers. Brighter. Affordable. Easy to order. Longer-lasting. Flowers from farms that treat the environment and their workers with care and respect? Yep, sounds good to us too.

“What The Bouq’s offers is such a smart thing. Why would you go through all of these middle men when you can ship directly from the farm and get the freshest flower possible, flowers that will last 10 to 14 days. Right now is one of the busiest time of year for us (Matt was busy preparing for Valentine’s Day when we spoke). Right now my priority is getting the word out there that we also do weddings. It’s a do-it-yourself type of service. Brides can buy from us wholesale and design their floral arrangements themselves  and in the process save up to 50%.”

“I gave a price quote to a bride today and she responded, ‘Wow, that’s amazing. What a huge discount.’”

A: How has the Notre Dame family and degree been an asset post-football with what you are working on now?

A:“The Notre Dame network made my transition from football to the business world 100% easier. Being able to lean on the network, whether you are transitioning from football to the business world or from sales to engineering, it’s the same: to have a network that is in every city in the country is absolutely phenomenal.”

Q: So I hear you are working on a book …

A:“When I’m not busy giving people the freshest flowers that money can buy, I am working on finishing my book. I am trying to strike the right balance of good with juicy. I don’t want to put Notre Dame in a bad light, but there are some conversations that should be had, should be known, but it’s all about how you tell them. At the end of the day, though, I want to keep Notre Dame in a positive light. The University did so much for me.”

“When I was recovering from ACL surgery during my senior year at Notre Dame I got a staph infection. I didn’t realize truly how bad off I was. I lost 25 pounds in a week and a half, was barely eating a bite of food a day, and was running a fever of 105 degrees. When I finally was taken to the emergency room one of the doctors almost let me go home. Instead they decided to put a pick in my arm that went straight to my heart and I got Vancomycin twice a day.”

“While I was being treated for the staph infection I started putting down all of my thoughts, documenting my experiences from high school through my current point at Notre Dame. From them on I continued to document my story through the rest of college and the NFL, recording the ups and downs, the injuries, and everything that I experienced along my journey.”

“Fortunately for me the night I went to the emergency room Dr. Michael (Mike) Eyergler was on call. He was the one who realized how sick I really was and recognized the urgency to save the graft in my knee. He had me taken into surgery and spent two hours flushing out my knee, which is what ended up saving my ACL repairs, and most likely my life.”

“My plan for finishing my book includes interviewing some other players and adding their thoughts to mine. They may either contrast what I’m saying or agree with it, but I feel it’s important to add their thoughts to what I already have documented.”

Q: What advice would you give current student athletes?

A:”First, stick with it. You see a lot of student-athletes who commit to a team and then decommit even before signing day even arrives. If you have a chance to play a sport at Notre Dame, do it. It’s a LIFE decision, not a COLLEGE decision.”

“Second, stay there. Just because the first year is tough, don’t leave. Fight through it, own your decisions, and it will be the best decision you will ever make.”

“Third, soak in every moment you have during your time in college. When it’s gone, it’s gone, and it will never be the same again. You will always have memories that other people don’t -- make sure to cherish those memories.”

I’d like to give a big thank you to Matt for stopping by the blog. It was an absolute pleasure to walk through his journey with him. Stay tuned for many more great stories in the “Where are they now?” series! If you enjoy this series, you can also read more stories in my new book, “Echoes From the End Zone: The Men We Became”available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Nobel and through my website www.TheMenWeBecame.com.

Cheers!



Thursday, February 13, 2014

Where Are They Now? Toryan Smith


What is a Notre Dame man? When I asked a friend and teammate of Toryan’s to describe who he is, he pretty much defined exactly that: ‘Toryan is as passionate as they come. What you see is what you get. Loyal to those he calls friends and family. He wants to impact those around him and create a positive change in the world. He isn't afraid to "rock the boat." He stands up for what he believes in. He is serious, but doesn't take things too seriously. He enjoys life.’

Toryan Smith, son of Charles Smith, a Georgia Bulldogs football player and assistant high school football coach at Rome High School, decided not to following in his father’s footsteps and play at hometown favorite UGA but to instead travel north and don the gold helmet of the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. During his time at Notre Dame, he not only impacted the Irish defense but the special teams squad as well as a hard-hitting inside linebacker who loved the contact and physical aspect of the game. What is Toryan up to these days? Come with me and walk the journey of Toryan Smith.

Q: After growing up in Rome, Georgia, how did you end up playing football at Notre Dame and not near home at UGA?

A: "When I was making the decision whether or not I was coming out of SEC country,  it really came down to the invitation that I received from Notre Dame. I was really sold on Notre Dame and what it had to offer. The biggest selling point? Give us four years and we’ll give you 40. The ‘40 years’ pitch was what got me. Not only that, but I also felt so comfortable when I made my visit to South Bend, I knew it was where I wanted to be.  I was so excited about going to Notre Dame that I literally could not sleep at night -- that’s what ND does to you. My host during my visit was Darius Walker, another Georgia boy -- he helped to reassure me that the transition from Georgia to South Bend was doable. I received offers from every school in the SEC but my top four schools were Alabama, Florida, Michigan, and Notre Dame."

Q: Do you think starting players as freshmen is a good thing or a bad thing?

A: "I think you can look at starting players as freshmen two ways. First,I definitely think starting players in their first year can be a positive experience. Most of all it depends on whether or not the player is ready. If they are ready to contribute, I see no problem starting them right away. In the long run, as a team, you want to have enough depth that you don’t HAVE to start players as freshmen. I think if your team is in the position that you have to start guys as freshmen, especially if they are not quite ready, then that can be a negative experience and you can be doing a disservice to your players and team. Being thrust into such a situation without the adequate preparation can be very damaging.

There are so many expectations that a player is under to perform, to handle the pressure, and to succeed; not only from the coaching staff but also from the fans and the alumni. If they are not ready to handle those expectations,the resulting experience can affect their ability to succeed in the long run. If you look at a team like Alabama, they rarely start freshmen players, but that is because they have developed the depth that they need to not have to start them right away. That is the ideal situation for a team to be in. If they are ready, though, it can be an empowering experience."

Q: What is your best Notre Dame football memory?

A: "My best Notre Dame football memory was playing Michigan State in East Lansing my freshman year (2006).


"My freshman year we played Michigan State on the road and came from 21 points behind to beat MSU. That’s when I really felt the magic of Notre Dame. It was a big-time game and we had a quarterback competing for the Heisman; simply put, it was an epic game, an instant classic. I was just getting used to playing football, the hectic schedule, balancing football and class work. That game really solidified to me that I was an integral part of a big-time football program."

Q: What is your best football road trip experience?

Toryan Smith
A: "My best road trip experience at Notre Dame was playing UCLA at the Rose Bowl. We were having a rough season up to that point and hadn’t won a game yet, but traveling to Los Angeles was unbelievable. We stayed at the Beverly Hilton, were living the high life in LA, and we upset UCLA on its home turf. It was the first win of our season, on ABC, and in primetime at the Rose Bowl. It was also my first start of that season. Definitely a road trip that I won’t soon forget."

Q: What was it like playing for head coach Charlie Weis? How did Weis change during the time you were there?

A: "It was a great experience playing for Coach Weis. He was a great X’s and O’s coach. He was an NFL-style coach and was very business-like in his coaching mentality and how he handled the ups and downs throughout the season. I think in Coach Weis’ first two years everything really clicked. We had an experienced group of players and went to two BCS games. Then in Coach Weis’ third year we had a new quarterback and a young team and went 3-9 and that is when the pressure started. For some reason we just were not able to deal with the ups and downs and the challenges that were put in front of us. Coach Weis did a great job at preparing us for life with his business-like style of coaching. I will always have his back because he gave me the opportunity to go to Notre Dame."

Q: Were you expecting to get drafted to play in the NFL? What was that experience like?

A: "I wasn’t expecting to be selected in the NFL draft being that I was predominately a backup player. I was not on the field with enough consistency for people to really see what I could do. I played through three different defensive coordinators and that didn’t help either. I tried out at the Pro Day and had a few calls but couldn’t get anyone to make an offer. At that point I just wanted to get into the business world and make something of myself. The whole process of trying out for the NFL was amazing. I got to go down and do some serious NFL training, really body-specific training. I learned a great deal about my genetic make-up and learned a lot about my body and how it works/what it can do, and I really enjoyed going through the NFL workouts. I also got to see another side of the NFL: the business side. You have to be able to ride the ups and downs, work through the pain, and maintain your sanity to survive and succeed in the NFL. What I also realized is that this applies to the rest of life as well. The NFL at its core is just another business like anything else!"

Q: What was your biggest challenge as a Notre Dame student-athlete? How did Notre Dame prepare you for life after college?

A: "My biggest challenge was being able to balance the academics and the athletics all at once. The endless hours each week just preparing for football and then on top of that you add the 25-30 hours in the classroom, homework, studying for tests, and being expected to perform at a high level in both arenas. There is such a high standard at Notre Dame in both athletics and academics. Notre Dame would never let you jeopardize your academic goals in order to achieve your athletic ones. It was not a tradeoff, it was not an either/or situation, it was always both. Most of the students at Notre Dame were either valedictorians of their class or big-time athletes. There were no tiny fish in the sea at Notre Dame -- it was a very competitive environment all around.

Being able to perform under such high pressure and intense scrutiny really molded me into a person who can handle just about anything. If I can perform in front of 80 thousand people, being instructed by three different coaches, being hit by my opponent, then I can perform anywhere. Being able to handle all of that pressure and still perform prepared me to face just about any work situation placed in front of me. The hardest part of my day these days is waking up. If I can wake up; physically, emotionally, and mentally, I can accomplish anything. Notre Dame shaped me into the person I am today and this helps me take myself to the next level."

Q: Where did life take you after football?

A: "After graduation I moved straight from South Bend to Los Angeles, California. That is where I wanted to go so I took a business management position with a tobacco company, Commonwealth Altadis, and my territory was in Ventura County and stretched from Santa Barbara to Santa Monica. My title was account manager and I was responsible for the entire business segment -- I was 100% in control of the business. I was leery about selling tobacco but it was a good business. I negotiated the deals with the chain accounts and worked with the purchasing managers of stores like 7-Eleven, Super K, Wal-Mart, and Albertsons to make sure our products were on their shelves. It was fun. I looked forward to doing it every day. And I loved living on the coast -- I almost felt that I was cheating by living somewhere that the weather was so good all of the time."

"In April of 2013 I decided to start a not-for-profit with some of my friends called the Bridges Society of America. It is what I really want to get into and so over the last nine months we’ve been spreading the word and are getting ready to eventually expand and launch it as a nationwide program."

Bridges Society of America (BSA) is a Kansas City, Missouri, based non-profit organization wholly committed to developing the character of young men in Kansas City’s urban center as well as young men across the United States. BSA acknowledges and appreciates the myriad of challenges facing disadvantaged youth and recognizes the pivotal role male mentors play in fostering the development of qualities paramount to a young man’s success in 21st century America. BSA’s mission statement proudly pledges to “help young men in urban areas across America build professional and social relationships that help them achieve their academic and professional goals.” The overarching theme is to employ a vast network of like-minded professionals in an effort to empower young men all over the country in creating their own destinies.

"We are going into urban neighborhoods to connect young men with their communities. We are teaching them how to network in order to connect with their goals both academically and athletically. We’re teaching them how to say ‘Yes ma’am and no ma’am,’ how to pull their pants up, how to dress for an interview, how to place themselves in the best position, and teaching them how to play the game of life. It’s all about presentation. You can set yourself apart from the rest by working with a career center and doing a resume. We are showing them how to strategically place themselves in front of other by being prepared. Preparation is the key to success in anything in life, both on and off the field.

I want to focus on the kids because they are our future. If we can turn a kid around, we can make the world a better place for all of us. If we can get the top kids in the community to become role models, and teach them how to lead in their own community, we can reach kids that we might not otherwise. If we can get one kid, we can get five; and if we can get five kids, we can get twenty -- the whole thing just snowballs! We’re just trying to impact the community any way we can."

Q: I’m curious to learn how you got involved with HuddlePass

A: "One of my teammates was telling me about HuddlePass. He basically gave me the information and introduced me to CJ Bacher, a quarterback out of Northwestern University. Their goal is to have a site where former student-athletes can interact with the fans."

HuddlePass is an interactive community for fans to connect with former student-athletes who wish to share and teach the game. Fans get an insider's perspective and behind-the-scenes access to their favorite teams. Join your favorite team's Huddle and start getting analysis from those who know the program inside and out.

"On most websites you have sportswriters who never gained a ton of playing experience covering the games, but at HuddlePass you are getting articles directly from former athletes and you are able to interact with them and get the story straight from the horse’s mouth. My job is to get former Notre Dame student-athletes involved and to contribute to the website."

Q: What advice would you give current student-athletes?

A: "Definitely get to know your classmates. Quite frankly, these are going to be world leaders moving forward. The people we went to school with are people of outstanding talent and character and will change the world. Get involved, use the network; especially the alumni network because it is so vast. Become active in the alumni network even before you graduate. Right now I consult a bit with the alumni association as well as help the monogram club attract younger members. We’re doing our best to get young people active in the alumni and monogram clubs sooner rather than later."

I’d like to give a big thank you to Toryan for stopping by the blog. It was an absolute pleasure to walk through his journey with him. Stay tuned for many more great stories in the “Where are they now?” series! If you enjoy this series, you can also read more stories in my new book, “Echoes From the End Zone: The Men We Became.” Signed copies of the book are available through my web site, contact me for more information!

Cheers!!