This past weekend I went back to college. Not to enroll in class, but to spend time with my college teammates. I spent four years in Alva, Oklahoma as a student athlete at Northwestern Oklahoma State University, home of the Rangers.
In 1999 our football team won the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics National Championship. We were loaded with talented coaches and players. Backup linebacker Chris Toney transferred to Oklahoma University and started every game at full back on the Sooners 2001 BCS National Championship team. Another backup Preston Hartfield transferred to Texas Tech and started at linebacker and fullback before spending time in the NFL.
We had six other players who spent time in the National Football League: Brandon Christenson (Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders), Dustin Loveless (San Francisco 49ers), Ron Moore (Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons), Isaac Harvin (Jacksonville Jaguars), Lynn Scott (Five years with Dallas Cowboys) and Patrick Crayton (six years with Dallas Cowboys, San Diego Chargers).
Our head coach Tim Albin went on to be an assistant at Nebraska and is the reigning national running back coach of the year and offensive coordinator at Ohio University. Garin Higgins our offensive coordinator is a successful NCAA Division Two coach. The running back on our championship team Matt Walter, is currently the head football coach at our alma mater.
Although we had a special season and was part of a 31 game win streak, the real reason we came back was the love we have for each other as teammates and the love we have for the people.
What makes Northwestern special is Angelia and Valerie Case who have treated me like family and have been an active part of my life since the day I met them in 1998.
What makes Northwestern special is Terry Ross who calls to check on my family often and helped me buy my first house in 2003 (who I still owe money actually).
What makes Northwestern special is our teammate Travis Fox calling us all out this weekend and making us pull out our wallets to help the football program. What makes Northwestern special is Annette Schwerdtfeger giving me a hard time my first day on campus and not letting up every time I saw her for the next twenty years during my return visits.
What makes Northwestern special is Dr. Cheryl Evans encouraging me to be more than just a football player and making sure I graduated. Since graduation she has allowed me to come speak at her university several times since she left Northwestern and became University President at two other institutions.
What makes Northwestern special is Dr. Yvonne Carmichael remembering my name although she is 85 years old and even though I never had her as a professor.
What makes Northwestern special is the phone calls, gift cards, money and supplies I received for the victims of Hurricane Michael in my hometown of Panama City Florida eleven months ago.
What makes Northwestern special is 81-year-old Thelma Crouch standing at the tailgate waiting to meet former players with large bags of her homemade chocolate cookies just like she used to make us for every away game. What makes Northwestern special is Steven Valencia our sports information director who doesn’t work at the university anymore but taking the time to organize, plan and facilitate this reunion.
What makes Northwestern special is the people.
Whenever I choose a job, a church, a neighborhood or an organization to join I focus on the people. Not the money, facilities, prestige or status. The people.
Who are the people in your life? You get to choose your circle. Choose wisely. Choose people who bring you joy. The people at Northwestern changed my life.
People have the power to influence you in a positive or negative way. What people are in your life?
Willie Spears is a teacher, coach, author, minister and motivational speaker. He has been awarded teacher and coach of the year. He speaks to thousands each year through his business The Willie Spears Experience. Willie may be reached at www.williespears.com.