Pick a Direction and Go!

October 16, 2009

Football Victory

When I came into the life insurance industry, I was blessed with great success—success that many never thought possible.  Much of that success was due to mentors who took a direct interest in my dreams and goals and worked hard to help me see them to fruition.

One of those mentors was Chuck Cutler.  In college, Chuck was a great wide receiver for BYU, and as such had already won my adoration.  But, it was in his personal interest in me, and my success during my work at Mutual Of New York, that he won my respect.

I learned many things during my time under Chuck’s management, but one of the things that had the most lasting impact came from a story he told me on our way to an appointment.

Now, this wasn’t your regular “across town” appointment.  This sales meeting was at seven-thirty in the morning in the little town of Montpelier, ID—just over three hours away from our offices in Salt Lake City.

I picked Chuck up at our offices at 4:00 a.m. so we could be on time and prepared for the appointment in Montpelier.  We had both been working into the late evening the night before, so in an effort to stay awake we tried to keep the conversation lively.

As we made our way, the conversation eventually turned to his football days at BYU.  With him being a former athlete at the Y and me having been a Brigham Young fan from essentially birth, neither of us was surprised. We both knew it was bound to happen.

Reminiscing about his time playing ball, he came to a story from the early days of his career at BYU.

It was the middle of practice, and what with him being a young wide receiver in a program filled with great receivers, he wanted to make sure to make a statement from the get go.

He lined up in front of one of the team’s senior defensive backs, the quarterback called the signal, the center snapped the ball, and Chuck was off.  As he ran his appointed route he worked hard to juke left and right in an effort to lose the defensive back.

The longer the back stayed with Chuck, the harder Chuck worked to lose him.  He pulled out all his best moves, shucking and jiving down the field. Eventually all this work brought forth some results.

As Chuck moved back and forth, he eventually slipped and twisted his ankle.  The play ended, and the coach walked over to where Chuck was on the field—an embarrassing situation that Chuck had in no way intended for.

The coach pulled him up from off the ground, and simply said (as much as any football coach can simply say anything), “Pick a Direction and Go!”

I think often about this story and it’s message.  Sometimes as we work to gain success in our lives, we end up doing just what Chuck did; we shuck and jive our way through life, trying to go in too many ways at one time, leading to a lot of movement, but little progress.  When try to focus on too much all at once, everything just ends up blurry and we end up with little more than an embarrassing story and a twisted ankle.

Conversely, when we pick our direction and go, our chances for success increase exponentially.  We become dedicated to one destination and with that in mind we are more likely to complete our routes and catch the ball.

Try it; pick one area of your life, then pick a direction—and go. If you will, your ability to succeed will increase, your life will be littered with achievement, and you’ll end up with an “All-American” attitude will make you unstoppable.


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Number 12

February 28, 2009


It seemed that every elementary school year I ever had was one I couldn’t wait to arrive. Each one from kindergarten through the sixth grade brought with it little more responsibility and new opportunity. The fourth grade was one I remember had a unique excitement about it–a special anticipation.

Being old enough to attend a fourth grade meant I was also old enough to play Little League football. Growing up in my home this was something I was really excited for. My dad played high school football and always felt like he may have been good enough to play college ball. This meant a lot of talk and instruction about football from the time I was very young. He was never out of control and didn’t ever exert an inordinate amount of pressure but his excitement seem to breed a little more excitement in me.

So my mom signed me up, I got my gear, my helmet, my jersey and I was off to my first practice. It was great! I loved every minute of it, and couldn’t wait to go back.

Every day after school I had football practice. Now, some kids go hoping for the coach to tell them what positions they’ll be playing and others go with their dream position set in their mind. I was most assuredly the latter.

My favorite team in the whole world was the Dallas Cowboys, and my favorite player on the Dallas Cowboys was Roger Staubach. So on the first day I showed up for practice I knew I wanted to be number 12 and I knew I wanted to be quarterback.

This worked out great. I had always been able to memorize things well which made it easy for me to memorize the plays. In the first year of Little League football pretty much all the plays are running plays. In the fourth grade you rarely have anyone well developed enough to accurately throw or accurately catch the football. This meant that my job as quarterback was to remember who to give the football off to and which “hole” they were going through.

It was perfect. We had some good running backs and I always remembered exactly where to put the ball. This led to a season filled with wins and high expectations for the season to come.

It seemed like forever but eventually it was football time again. I don’t know if it was ingrained in me genetically but every time you taste the crispness in the air and smell the leaves beginning to change my body craves football. So it was with great anticipation that my teammates and I showed up to that first practice of our sophomore Little League season in the fifth grade.

There were a lot of great things that happened on that first day. First, you could tell that everyone had grown. That meant we were going to be stronger, faster and just all around better. Also, the coach pulled out the playbook and there were pass plays all over the place.
This was wonderful. Now our strong ground attack would be complemented with an air assault as well. I went home after practice and began to memorize the plays for the upcoming season. The following day at practice we learned that there was going to be one problem with the new approach. I couldn’t throw the ball.

Try as I might I could not get the ball into the receiver’s hands. Over and over I worked on getting the ball from my hand to the receiver. Over and over balls kept ending up too far ahead, too far behind, too high above or too far below their targets.

I went to the coach and worked to convince him that I could change this. I told him that I would practice as hard as I could and learn how to throw a good ball. The coach gave me my chance and determined to succeed I went to my dad.

In the backyard, he set up a litany of drills for me to work through to improve my ability to throw the ball. There was a tire swing, a target drawn on the fence, and even time set aside to throw the ball to my brother.

After nearly two weeks it became painfully evident that no matter what I did I was not going to be able to throw a straight ball. The coach pulled me aside to let me know that being a quarterback just wasn’t in the cards for me. With all his powers of persuasion he worked to convince me that quarterback wasn’t the only position of importance, and that there were many other places I could contribute to my team. But it fell on deaf ears. All my life I had dreamed of proudly wearing number 12 and now it looked like those dreams were dashed.

A few days later my dad asked me why I like to play football. I of course told him that about all the accolades and glory that the quarterback received, but I also told him how much I loved the drills that allowed me to hit somebody. My dad told me that maybe I should concentrate on that part and move on from the glory.

My coach, seeing the similar thing in practice the following week had me work out at nose guard. This required a whole new set of skills. I wasn’t the biggest guy on the team and not the natural choice to play this position. But, my coach felt that I could combine my love of hitting and my brains to be an effective defensive lineman.

He was right. I used everything I had learned to be an effective quarterback against the quarterbacks I lined up against. I would watch their feet, and knowing what it meant when I put my feet in that position, would be able to detect which direction the quarterback was going to go. I had a season filled with sacks, lining up on the defensive line in my number 12 jersey.

I thought I could only be happy wearing number 12 lining up behind the center. But circumstances didn’t allow that and I had to find a way to maximize my abilities. No matter how bothered, frustrated or annoyed I was at the fact that I couldn’t throw the ball didn’t change that fact.

 One week after my diving accident.

One week after my diving accident.

The importance of this lesson was only reinforced when I broke my neck. As a quadriplegic, circumstances didn’t allow me to do many of the things I loved to do prior to my injury. There  were countless physical activities that although previously a regular part of my life could now no longer be accomplished. Not only things I enjoyed recreationally, like skiing, football, and running, but normal every day things as well, like dressing, showering and getting up out of bed.

Just like my inability to throw the ball, no amount of frustration or anger was going to change my plight. I had to decide to maximize my abilities; to play the game of life with the same vigor as a quadriplegic as I did an able-bodied person. I couldn’t just quit because I didn’t have the “skills” to play the “position” I was used to–the cost of that decision would have been unthinkable. I had to learn to find how I could contribute to the “game” with my different skill set.

We have to approach our lives in the same way. They are many goals we want to accomplish and things we want to do. Most of them can be accomplished with hard work, discipline and dedication. However, there are some that, regardless of how hard we work, cannot be achieved . When we encounter these situations we have to be willing to make adjustments; we have to be willing to change.

In today’s economy we see this everywhere. Hopes, dreams, and aspirations that just six months ago were well on their way to being realized now have been dashed. Much like the change between my first and second season of Little League football things are different and no matter how much we wish they weren’t doesn’t change how much they are.

But we can still find a way to success, we just have to be willing to look at new ways we can contribute; at different “positions” on the team. We have to look at how we can maximize our talents to net the greatest results–even if that maximization means changing our goals and dreams to ones that can be greater served by our abilities and situation.

From that first day in my fifth-grade year that I made the change to the day in July of 1986 that I was no longer able to play football, I played on the line and loved every minute of it. Had I not been willing to look at things differently my football career would have been even shorter than it was and memories that I hold onto with such fondness never would have happened. We have to be flexible. Sometimes we have to be willing to make changes in our dreams to suit our strength and circumstance.

Doing so will lead to winning seasons and ultimately, happy days.


Move Your Feet

December 6, 2008


When I started playing Little League football all I wanted to be was the quarterback. My favorite professional team with the Dallas Cowboys and I wanted to be just like Roger Staubach. On one of our first days of practice we each got to go and pick out our number from a pile of jerseys. With dreams of playing like my hero I picked out #12.

Our first season together the coaches felt I made an excellent quarterback. I was bright and it was easy for me to memorize all the plays. We were only in the fourth grade and so we didn’t pass much. In fact, the only pass we had in our playbook was a halfback pass where I would pitch the ball to the halfback and he would pass the ball down the field.

Things worked out great. I knew exactly where every hole was in the line and exactly which back I was supposed to hand the ball to on which play.

The following year teams began to pass. It was at this time when the coaches found they had a small problem with their starting quarterback. I couldn’t throw a ball to save my life. It wasn’t long after this realization that I was moved from standing behind the center as quarterback to kneeling in a four-point stance in front of the center on the defensive line–still wearing #12.

I spent the remainder of my football career on either the defensive or offensive side of the line. During all the time I spent “in the trenches” there were a few basic principles that were drilled into my head from every coach I ever had. One of those principles was to never ever stop moving your feet. Regardless of what level of football a person might ever reach one principle will remain true. The last person moving their feet will win out.

Nearly every day of practice is filled with some sort of drill to remind you to keep moving or “chopping” your feet. When I hit the dummies my coach would yell at me to move my feet. When I hit my teammates my coach would yell at me to move my feet. When I was running in place my coach would yell at me to move my feet. He wanted to make sure I knew the importance of moving my feet.

Moving your feet allows you to be prepared to “tackle” any problem you might on the field. Just like football, when we keep moving forward we stay prepared to take on the problems that face us everyday.

As I travel through my life and tell my story I often have people come up and ask me how I’ve made it through such difficulty in my life and if I have any tips for them. When they do I often think back to the words of my football coach, “Move Your Feet.”

If there is one secret or one key that I feel has helped me to succeed through some difficulty it is the idea of continually moving forward. When we “Move Our Feet” we leave little time to wallow in self-pity or become stagnant in self-doubt. Moving our feet keeps us going forward achieving new things and accomplishing new goals. I would ascribe the majority of the success I’ve had in my life to simply moving forward by “Moving My Feet.”

I have never found any benefit in my life in looking back and wishing things were different. It’s not that I don’t sometimes wish that my circumstance was different, it’s that I have never found any real benefit in spending time concentrating on that wish–for wishing won’t make it so.

I have however, found great benefit in moving forward and trying new things. Doing brings an incredible power that wishing never will. Doing keeps us moving while wishing keeps us still.

So when you’re hit with emotional difficulties, “Move Your Feet.” When you’re hit with physical difficulties, “Move Your Feet.” And if life is good and there’s little difficulty at all, “Move Your Feet.”


“Take a Knee”

October 3, 2008

Some of the happiest memories of my youth come in some way or another from football.  It didn’t matter if I was watching it on television, playing it at recess, or throwing the ball around with my brother Clint, I loved the game. You can imagine then how excited I was when I finally was old enough to play competitively.

I ate it up, all of it. The “two a days” when you worked so hard you are sure you had nothing left to give, game day, the thrilling victories and the agonizing defeats. To this day, crisp autumn Saturday mornings that have just a tinge of winters bite in them bring a smile to my face and remind me of the sport I love so much.

As I remember those practices I recall that regardless of the team I played for, whenever a time came that the coach wanted to talk to the team, he would ask everyone to gather around him and, “Take a knee.”

“Taking a knee” meant many different things. Sometimes, it meant a little encouragement, sometimes more information. The coach might have some advice or instruction to share with the team, or maybe he wanted to make it clear that we weren’t doing things as well as we should be and changes needed to be made.  No matter what the coach had to say, “taking a knee” meant that it was time to take a break from  whatever we were doing and listen carefully.  For, when we did the work was easier and the games more fun.

On July 13, 1986  at about one in the afternoon, I broke my neck. Less than four hours later I was lying in an emergency room in Grand Junction, Colorado and had a doctor tell me something that I will never forget. He came next to my bed, looked me in the eye and said, “Jason, you’ve broken your neck and you will never walk again.”

Some may say that my worst fears were realized, but this little nugget of information was so far out in left field that I had never even considered it let alone feared it. There I was,15 years old trying to digest what he’d said. My game began to look pretty bleak.

Needing coaching then more than I ever had before, I followed my football training and “took a knee.” I went to my God, the best coach I have ever had, hoping for some encouragement or instruction. True to form, on my spiritual knees, I received everything I needed to make it through that harrowing day.

No matter the day, good or bad, easy or hard, things always go better when I “take a knee.” I believe the same is true for everyone. No matter what God you believe in, or how you choose to worship, our lives will be better when we take a break from whatever were doing and listen carefully.

So, when the winds blow and the waters rise, when the darkness comes and you yearn for the light, when the adversities of life conspire to chase hope from your heart, take a moment and “take a knee.” It won’t rid your life of difficulty, but it will make the work easier and the game of life more fun. I know that it has mine.