2 Days in the Mountain West

Eric Purdy traveled to Las Vegas for the annual Mountain West Conference Media Days July 22 and 23 to interview players and coaches.

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LAS VEGAS (C+P) When I was assigned to the Mountain West Conference by Coach and Player Magazine, I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to cover a conference that stood for everything I believed college football was built upon.

I packed my bags Sunday, kissed my wife goodbye Monday, and boarded a private shuttle for a two-hour drive to Las Vegas. When I left, I debated jumping out of the van and walking home and risking the chance I would be fired. When I left Vegas Wednesday afternoon, I wanted to go back and just hang around the hotel and pickup pieces from two days I will remember for the rest of my life as something special.

I had thrown out the first pitch at a Twins game and played professional arena football at the age of 34. I had witnessed war in the Middle East and traveled the world before I was 24 years old. I’ve been down a road that even hell would have voted to remove. The two days I spent at the Mountain West Conference media days in a place I hated the most is now the top achievement on my bucket list!

 


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From the moment I walked into the conference room at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and the ladies at the registration desk said, “hello and welcome” I was a kid again, living the life I had forgotten behind a wall of darkness. I was there for a magazine that is just building a positive reputation and as somebody the world no longer knew, pursuing my dream of being a college football journalist, which is the next best thing when you can no longer play the game you’ve loved for 38 years.

The conference staff accepted me with open arms and without question or how big the media group was that I represented. They did not care. They only knew I was there for their players, staff and conference which is all they’ve ever done for anybody…care. They care about their schools and the programs those schools support. They care about their traditions being upheld with honesty and respect because they are honest and respectful.

I walked around trying to get a feel for how things worked in this crazy environment called media days, trying not to look like a rookie. I soon realized it did not matter because even the journalists attending were more than willing to help. The guys from ESPN-Fresno, former NFL players, were even approachable and willing just to talk about football. There was no arrogance or self-promotion in any single person holding court in that conference room. We were all there for one purpose, those young men playing for that small-town college that came from a place somewhere between a snow-capped mountain and the Pacific Ocean.

 


UTAH STATE (Slide Show)

The first players I saw were Chuckie Keeton (#16), quarterback at Utah State, and linebacker, Zach Vigil (#53). I walked up and asked them if I could get a picture and they did not even think twice. Chuckie Keeton is healthy, by the way, just a note to my friends at Tennessee so they can adjust their cleats accordingly to get a nice grip on their grass there at ole’ Neyland Stadium when chasing Chuckie all over the field Aug. 31. Somehow, I think Chuckie grew an inch!


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AIR FORCE

Then there were the cadets, Michael Husar (left) and Connor Healy. The memory of these two fine young examples of mankind will always stand strong in my mind. They sat on a bench with their staff members smartly dressed in their blues. When I approached the entire Air Force group stood as one, smiling and addressing me as officers in our military do.

I expressed my gratitude for their commitment and service to our country and shook their hands. Of course, they were very modest and had that discipline you find only in our nation’s finest. To this day I cannot understand why the media does not give these gentlemen the attention they deserve. Not only do they swear to protect us and our freedoms, they play football for the Academy.

NCAA Football: San Diego State at Air Force

“If you think playing college football at a standard college is tough, try the Academy!” (Eric Purdy)

I respect these young men with admiration for their commitment and courage. Shaking their hands was the same to me as standing aboard the USS Arizona memorial honoring the fallen of Dec. 7, 1941…extremely humbling.

I probably annoyed Beau Yap and Junior Iosefa of Hawaii with my requests for a picture. I went to high school on Maui and fought for every inch of beach at Fleming for the right to be respected and surf. These two guys are as strong as they come, Mac trucks with legs. I knew they were tough because I know how hard Hawaiians hit!  Do you?  Trust me, there isn’t a friendlier culture on the planet that when angered can erupt like a volcano in a split second with the energy and power that a Pacific Islander brings to the table. I was honored to have my picture taken with these two young men, all 10 times.

 


Wyoming (Slide Show)

My mother-in-law suffers from multiple sclerosis, and she is the biggest Wyoming fan you will find to this very day. When I approached Dominic Rufran (33) and Eddie Yarbrough (55) for a picture and told them my mother-in-law threatened my life if I did not get her a picture of “them Cowboys” they laughed just like a young person with no worries in life, in their prime. It was not about them. It was about whom they represented and whom they played for, which being one is my mother-n-law. I will tell you now that I love those two Cowboys for everything they stand for and the way they carry themselves and represent the University of Wyoming.

If I was to go on about the amazing experience I had with coaches at the media days it would be long enough to write a novel. Standing beside the legend of the Dakota’s, Craig Bohl and Bama’s Jim McElwain?  I will not even go there. I will say that getting the chance to shake the hand of Norm Chow, a man whose picture with LaVelle Edwards I had as a kid, was like finally going to meet the Greek God all the philosopher’s told stories about for 500 years. Yes, Norm Chow is real.

 

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On Wednesday I had a chance to meet with players and staff from the West Division, including a picture of Fresno State’s Tim DeRuyter, the man who came up one-game short of taking FSU to a BCS game in 2013. Look at the bright side, they lost to San Jose State, a conference rival, not FCS Appalachian State or Fordham.

When I asked the assistant from San Jose State if I could get a picture of Travis Raciti and Tyler Winston, who were browsing the media guides in the media room, he casually escorted them in my direction, and as they approached, I will never forget this, they both put out their hands and introduced themselves like they were interviewing for a job with Microsoft or Apple. The professionalism in those two was admirable to say the least. I was nobody to these two players from California yet they greeted me with the same respect as a reporter from ESPN. Hey, these two guys just want to play football and be noticed for their talent. They were noticed by me, for whatever that is worth.

Nevada’s Cody Fajardo and Brock Hekking, where do I start? Those two players walked around and talked with everybody like it was a high school locker room where everybody was equal. Talking to them at lunch was like sitting around the cafeteria table with your high school or college buddies.

 


2days_mwc_sandiegoLast, but not least, San Diego State’s Terry Poole, a big, talented and athletic lineman who carried around his own gear moving at Mach Speed between media rooms. That was a lineman with some quick feet and good hands. Rocky knows how to pick them!  This young man’s parents obviously taught him courtesy for others because he called me “sir” when he almost bumped into me. When I asked Terry for a picture, he looked lost holding all that gear and asked me, “should I put this stuff down, sir, or is this ok?” You could not help but admire this giant of a man. Now, I’ve played against some pretty big guys in my day but Terry Poole would’ve been the first opponent I had asked to sit out against. Terry told me he wanted to play in the NFL which is no surprise when you talk to a college football player. I have just one thing to say to Terry regarding his dream:  “Son, I think you are going to do just fine after college.”

I would like to add that San Diego State is working very hard to build their program to equal what Steve Fisher has done with the basketball program. Rocky Long is the right man for the job. If they were paying players and Rocky Long could not pay, I’d still play for that man.

 

When I left Las Vegas, I had a deep admiration for the Mountain West Conference. If the rest of the country took the time to visit MWC media days, the country might change their tune. Who cares about how many games you win or whom you beat on media day?  After all, how can you like somebody and know the truth if you do not even talk to them for 5 minutes? That is the problem these days with the media, you cannot find a journalist who has the footballs to say what they truly feel because they are all scared of everybody at the top of the totem pole. Well, I’ll tell you how I feel, even if it means getting kicked out of the Football Writers Association of America. Might be easier just to fill my FB page with nice little comments about how the SEC and ACC and Big 12 are superior, and I don’t know anything about football.

To the nice ladies, especially the woman from Boise, who volunteered to help at media days because her daughter works for the Mountain West, we at Coach & Player, for what it is worth, thank you for your hospitality and time. I had some great personal conversation with staff of the Mountain West. Hopefully, I will be invited back next year.

be sure to follow Coach and Player Magazine this week for Eric Purdy’s upcoming feature on the Mountain West Conference, “RESPECT”, and for a list of past articles on the MWC in C+P be sure to check out the NCAA section.

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