Bobby Gray became my favorite high school football player of all time Tuesday afternoon.
I couldn't put my finger on why. I just couldn't help but feel anxious to meet Bobby Gray on Tuesday. Something told me that meeting him was going to change how I look at life.
I was right.
After arriving at Mike Papoccia's office at Newman high school, Bobby strode into the room. He'd been busting his butt in the weight room. He took a breather to chat about his season-ending carry Saturday afternoon.
His voice isn't loud. But it speaks volumes. Just ask his teammates. His coaches.
Bobby and I talked football for a bit. The young man, who was failing classes at Reagan Middle School in Dixon before making the move to Newman, was incredibly eloquent. He spoke about his football family, and how a senior class took him under a protective wing. Over 4 years, that protection has never faltered.
That's why Bobby does anything and everything in his power to build up those who feel like they're about to crumble. Coach Papoccia and his assistant/athletic trainer, Andy Accardi, told me about Bobby's speech before the playoffs got under way.
One of Newman's most powerful traditions – which is kind of like saying one of Pink Floyd's best albums – is each player saying what they plan to dedicate to the team while adding a link to a chain.
Even having gotten to know him for only about 15 minutes, I would've given anything to have heard Bobby's speech. I was told there wasn't a dry eye in the room, and that Bobby borderline sobbed while telling his football family that they saved his life. It took the coaches longer to leave the room to deliberate than it took them to decide Bobby would be the Tender of the Chain on the sideline throughout the playoffs.
This is a young man who, just because he's physically challenged after nearly losing his life as an infant, was given hell by his peers at Reagan. The coaches told me I don't know the half of it, and I'm rather glad I don't. I can't handle the thought of kids ridiculing those who overcome physical and mental challenges every day. That's pretty much the definition of spineless.
But Bobby sat before me today a transformed person. He says Newman football saved his life but, as Coach Papoccia pointed out, he's taught his teammates and coaches more than they could ever teach him.
How cool is that? Story's like Bobby's are why I love my job. They inspire me. And they point out that I waste an awful lot of my time unnecessarily fretting trivial matters.
It took 15 minutes for him to inspire me to change. To become better.
I'm going to start small. Bobby went back to the weight room after our conversation and rattled off a batch of chin-ups. Not sure how many. I lost count. I can do three. I will do more.
I will do more because of people like Bobby.
Usually I write a story first, then post one of these blog entries. I couldn't wait until Friday to tell you at least a little bit of Bobby's story. I feel honored to share it.
Be sure to pick up a copy of Friday's paper and read up about him.