Life lessons

Life lessons
by Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports
September 21, 2004

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports
You are Lee Brown, football coach at Cheyney University, and you have just watched West Virginia State drive to the verge of your goal line.

This is no surprise. Over the last two-plus games only twice has an opponent had the ball and not scored. Two weeks ago, Northeastern punted once. It was the lone highlight in a 71-0 loss. The next week, in a 98-7 loss, you didn't stop Western Illinois a single time.

You are Lee Brown; you coach a humble program at the nation's oldest historically black university. You have perhaps the worst defense in the nation and it is fourth and goal at the 1.

West Virginia State hands off to Brandon White, who appears headed for pay dirt until one of your guys, Cavanaugh Nweze, steps up and stuffs the play.

Your bench celebrates the goal-line stand like it had just beaten Oklahoma.

"Chills," Brown said of his feelings at that moment. "Just chills. Then I thought, 'Oh, this is turning around now. They are beginning to believe.' "

A team that gave up 169 points in two games turned it around Saturday to the tune of a shutout. In the aftermath of that goal-line stand, little, lowly Cheyney rose up and beat West Virginia State 6-0.

Far removed from the giant stadiums and bright television lights, this school just outside of Philadelphia reminded everyone what college sports are really all about: teaching life lessons, learning resiliency in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, sticking together even as times get tough.

A lot of teams get drilled as Cheyney did in its previous two games and players stop listening, stop learning, stop caring all the way to an 0-11 season. But not this team. Not these kids.

"If you can endure a 98-7 loss, mentally you can endure almost anything life throws you," Brown said on Monday.

"I think every coach's ultimate aim is to produce better citizens for society … This is Division II. Most of our guys will go on and pursue careers outside athletics. We say here there are two types of education: One type teaches you how to live. The other teaches you how to earn a living."

Cheyney struggles just to be competitive in D-II. It recently ended a 30-game losing streak.

But Brown, 41, didn't get into coaching to get rich and famous. He just wants to teach through athletics. His team's record last season may have been 2-9, but its GPA was 3.0. He is ever positive, always pushing.

A weak program hasn't changed Brown's core philosophy. He believes challenges force people to grow. So, despite starting 15 freshmen, he scheduled two games to start this season versus teams that were bigger, faster and better.

The third-year coach never second-guessed himself even when the wild scores caused people to wonder. Football doesn't generally garner a lot of attention on D-II campuses, but scores like those first two can put an unwanted spotlight on you. Not everyone saw in them what Brown did.

As the scores widened, the team was growing tighter.

At halftime of the Western Illinois game, already trailing 70-0, Brown challenged them to score a touchdown – "Let's show we have some life and fight in us," he said. On their first possession of the second half, they did just that.

After the game Western Illinois coach Don Patterson, who was playing his fourth string in the fourth quarter, wrote Brown a letter marveling how Cheyney never quit.

"I told my team the point is you fought for 60 minutes," Brown said. "I had to keep the future in front of them, not the present. Ultimately, this was going to pay off."

This past Saturday against West Virginia State, a more reasonable opponent, it did. Once the Wolves tasted that goal-line stand, they played better and better. In the second quarter they took the lead. In the second half the defense bent but never broke.

At the final gun, the team that never quit celebrated like it had just beaten Southern California. "The locker room after was ecstatic," Brown said.

They'd gone from yielding 169 points to zero in four quick quarters. From shamed to a shutout. From humiliation to hallelujah.

From learning lessons in perseverance and possibility to teaching them.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Tuesday, Sep 21, 2004 11:51 am, EDT

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