How Did We Get Here?

The title of this blog sounds like the moment a couple realizes a relationship is over. The couple starts analyzing things and remembering all the good and bad times. If you follow the United States Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT) then that’s where they or we are this morning. How did the USMNT fail to qualify for the 2018 World Cup? The answer to that question is too broad and too tough to come up with right now. There are a lot of contributing factors. Last month Alexi Lalas went at the team but it didn’t help.

 

 

On September 29, I was invited to join U.S. Soccer Voices. If I remember correctly the group will consist of about 10,000 “fans”. I had to answer a series of questions in order to join the group (before they sent back an email a week later saying I was accepted”). They asked questions about age, race, sex, etc. along with questions about my knowledge of US Soccer. This is one step in the right direction. I don’t think 10,000 fans have the answer. I do feel listening to us will help. I also think that having a diverse group to receive feedback from will help. Soccer in the United States of America – especially at the youth level – is a rich man’s sport i.e. predominantly white while in other countries it is played by all. An effort has to be made to get more people in the United States interested the game. From youth all the way to adults.

The next thing I’ll touch on is how and where we play soccer. For the most part soccer in America is confined to 11 on 11. A friend jokingly asked me “what is the term for a ‘pick up game’ of soccer?” I could only laugh because I had no answer for him. To his point though, where are the ‘pick up games’ of soccer being played? On some days you may be able to ride by a field and see some people kicking about. That’s nice but it’s nothing like that in other countries. They play soccer the way we play 3 on 3 basketball…anyway or anywhere possible. It’s a part of their culture. I watched a documentary called Concrete Football a few weeks ago. Nike went to different parts of France and looked at the way they play “5 a side”. 5 a side is a 5 on 5 game of soccer played anywhere possible. In the documentary they showed how the games were very similar to pick up games of basketball in America.

 

 

Since diving into soccer I’ve become familiar with a bunch of terms related to the sport. Two terms that stick out are technicality and tactics. It has been stated at nauseam that the USMNT often walks into major International competitions with average talent. The lack of talent leads to another tricky debate so I’ll stay away from it. I mentioned technicality above, in soccer this term refers to a player that is able to dribble, pass, think, and create with ease while the ball is at his or her feet. Basically skills. The USMNT don’t have many players that can do that. At this moment, many will argue that they only have one – Christian Pulisic – that can. The other term I used is tactics. Tactic or tactical ability can also relate to a player’s ability to maneuver with the ball. In this case I’d like to use it as it relates to setting up a team to play a match. The USMNT has no idea of how they want to setup tactically. Meaning they don’t adjust or show any ability to adjust to their opponent. The USMNT has been credited for their ability to win the endurance side of matches but that’s not enough against the best. Matter of fact it hasn’t been the enough to win against what many consider to be inferior opponents. Running around the field like the Road Runner doesn’t help if you don’t have technical skills or tactical awareness.

The takes will be sizzling over the next few days and that’s to be expected. It’s what happens when things cool off that will matter. I bolded four words for a reason: Diverse, Culture, Technical and Tactics. They all go hand in hand if the USMNT wants to move forward. Like every good relationship you need a solid foundation to stand on. Not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup has rocked the USMNT’s foundation so I leave you with this from Deborah Cox. USMNT please change our minds…

 

 

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How Did We Get Here?

Hall of Fame or Nah?

In recent years I’ve done a few posts that would celebrate the return of football. It won’t be happening this time around. I’m sure I’ll be watching when everything starts but my enthusiasm for the sport has waned a bit. One day I’ll go into further details about that but for now I’ll get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Class of 2017 was inducted the first weekend of this month. As usual there were questions of “How did he get in?” and many statements of “If _____ is in then ____ should be in.” There is no set criteria for players to make the various sports Hall of Fames. The Basketball Hall of Fame is the easiest of the three major American sports. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a lot tougher. Not only does the player’s stats and accolades come into play but apparently his interactions with the media can cause hiccups. The toughest of all is the Baseball Hall of Fame. There are too many variables that get in the way when discussing who gets in and who doesn’t get in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The most ridiculous of them all is the “hard nose” approach that some baseball writers choose to take when selecting the honorees.

As I mentioned above the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrined some new guys. For another year, they left out former All-Pro Wide Receiver Terrell Owens. Every statistical category related to wide receivers will tell you that T.O. is worthy of the Hall of Fame. For example Owens is currently 5th in total touchdowns scored (156) and 3rd in receiving touchdowns (153). There are a slew of numbers I could continue to list to show why he should be in but that’s pointless. T.O. isn’t in because the voters – mostly NFL media – see him as a jerk. The Committee to select each Hall of Fame class consists of 48 members. Of those 48, it’s possible that only TWO may not be a member of the media. Owens was definitely a character during his time in the league but he backed it up with his play and was a true competitor.

Terrell Owens is just one of the many former NFL players on the outside looing in. The future selections for the Pro Football Hall of Fame won’t get any easier. At one point most discussions for players looking to enter the Hall of Fame centered around career longevity, career numbers, team success, impact on the game and things of that nature. Through the advancement of technology and demands from fans we now have more access to players. We’ve gone from seeing them behind the scenes in the locker room to following them 24/7. A player’s behavior should be taken into consideration when selecting Hall of Famers and in a similar tone the Committee’s behavior should be considered when they continue to hold grudges. I guess as fans all can do is continue to argue if Owens is “Hall of Fame or nah?”

 

Hall of Fame or Nah?

Super Week is Here

“Super Week” has arrived and man does it promise to be exciting for me. Not only do I get to enjoy the game on Sunday but my daughter will be turning one on Friday! Seems like the time flew by. There’ll be a party on Saturday. I can’t wait for the day when these two forces collide and we have a Super Sunday. Anyways we have the two teams in that game – Atlanta Falcons & New England Patriots – but there’s a bigger match to me taking place on Saturday in London between Chelsea & Arsenal. I care a LOT MORE about that one than the Super Bowl but I’ll touch on both along with some NBA.

The Super Bowl could be a shootout or it could be a blowout. Vegas had New England as a 3 point favorite after both teams won their respective Conference Championship. Matt Ryan has already received the MVP nod from a couple of publications. Matty Ice has been on a tear thanks to his slew of weapons on the offensive side of the ball. One of them – Julio Jones – needs no introduction if you follow the game. Atlanta’s young defense has stepped up and shown that they’re coming to bring some pain, just ask Mr. Discount Double Check.

On the other side, we have the boring and methodical cheat- my bad Patriots. Belichick and Brady have been here before (this will be their 7th Super Bowl together) and they’re looking to bring back their 5th ring. Brady’s Bunch is mostly a gang of no names with the exception of LeGarrete Blount and Martellus Bennett. Both of them are talented and have shown that they can produce on the field but both are guys that I enjoy for other reasons. Look for New England’s defense to grab, hold, chuck, and whatever else they can get away with. Malcolm Butler said he “dreamt of covering Julio Jones” though he never stated whether that was a sweet dream or nightmare. Guess we’ll find out on Sunday. If you’re a Patriots fan then look away because I’ve been known to jinx a team or two and it could be your team’s turn. Brady brings back ring number 5 as the New England defense and run game on offense slows the high powered Falcons. Score: New England 28-17

Saturday morning at 6:30 before I get to running around doing party stuff I’ll be up ready to watch Chelsea and Arsenal duel. This time last year Arsenal was in a similar spot. They had an early February match against Leicester City. On that day, Arsenal won on a last minute goal and closed the gap between 1st and 2nd. Unfortunately Arsenal collapsed afterwards and watched as Leicester claimed the League title. This time around Chelsea sits in first place with an 8 point cushion. Both teams have a match midweek with Chelsea going away to Liverpool and Arsenal hosting Watford. If the Gunners are to have any hopes of catching Chelsea then they’ll need to start by winning these next two matches. Some help from Liverpool would be nice too but their form leaves a lot to be desired. Chelsea has been the cream of the crop in the Premier League since getting thumped 3-0 at Arsenal in September. The Gunners have been knocked down since then but are trying to regain traction in what could be a heated title race. The same question still remains for Arsenal – Do they have the mentality to win the title? – as they head into this big match. I jumped the gun last year after they beat Leicester but it won’t happen again this season. Even with the best case scenario of Chelsea losing twice and Arsenal winning twice there’ll still be a long ways to go before the title is settled.

You know the NBA is heating up because arguments of various types have started. We’ve seen quarrels amongst teammates. We’ve had the annual who should/shouldn’t be voting for All-Star Starters debate along with who should/shouldn’t be on the team/starting. We know one thing is clear; Golden State is the hands down favorite to win the title. The Warriors have the best record, best offense, best defense, 4 All-Stars (2 of them starting), 2 MVP candidates, best crowd, a new arena in the works…need I continue? The ONLY thing that can stop Golden State from hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy will be themselves. Many games have to be played but the Warriors are buzzing and it could get ugly as they continue to fine tune things for the Playoffs.

But that doesn’t mean the rest of the league will sit quietly and let GSW have their way. Russell Westbrook and James Harden continue to put on a show for their teams. Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers is running away with the Rookie of the Year. Will Carmelo be traded? The rumors continue to swirl but nothing solid has come up. Melo could swing things for a potential Playoff team. I saw John Wall live and in-person for the 2nd time this season. He’s very good and so are the Washington Wizards. Scott Brooks has done an excellent job with that team.

Dion “Waiters County” is heating up in Miami as they continue to win games for some strange reason. The Heat are on an 8-game winning streak and inch further away from a top draft pick. We’ll see how long this string of winning continues.

It’s an exciting week ahead to say the least. My weekend will be filled with two of my joys, family and sports. I look forward to both as the kids will be all over the place and I’ll be busy helping out. Also I’m sure the Falcons fans that know me will be happy because I didn’t pick them. It’s Super Week folks…enjoy!

Super Week is Here

Dumb Football Picks 2016

Football season is here and my wife can’t stand it! I admit I loathe the sport at times myself but like a fool I run back to it every late August/early September (I have no clue how some of you sit through preseason NFL games). With the seasons (NFL and NCAA) starting that means “picks” have to be made. Only thing I feel comfortable about in the NCAA is Christian McCaffrey  as the clear favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. After that just enjoy the chaos.

In the NFL, it’s a little easier to make blind picks for Division winners. I feel so gracious that I’ll also throw in a Super Bowl winner. So with no further ado:

AFC EAST – Miami Dolphins
AFC NORTH – Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC SOUTH – Indianapolis Colts
AFC WEST – Kansas City Chiefs
NFC EAST – Dallas Cowboys (In Dak We Trust)
NFC NORTH – Green Bay Packers
NFC SOUTH – Atlanta Falcons
NFC WEST – Arizona Cardinals
SUPER BOWL – Pittsburgh Steelers will beat the Green Bay Packers
My choice for AFC EAST was the most jaw dropping of all the Divisions. The Oakland Raiders have been discussed a lot in the AFC WEST but I’m not ready to “crown them” yet (RIP Dennis Green). In Dak We Trust is all I have to say about the Dallas Cowboys. My Super Bowl picks depend on both teams having better secondary play this season. We all know what both teams can do offensively when healthy. If I picked your team don’t get mad when it all goes downhill. Enjoy the football people…It’s Byke!
Dumb Football Picks 2016

Football Interview, Part 2

If you’re from Jackson then it’s likely that you’re familiar with Newell Field. It is currently used by Jackson Public Schools and Belhaven University. Most of my memories of the field center around JPS middle school and high school football games. I even shared a few personal memories on that field while I was in high school. I’m sure the stands will be filled the next 3-4 weeks as JPS Rival Schools meet to see who will have bragging rights in the City.

Today’s interviewee spoke of his time playing as a youngster and his time in college. One thing he mentioned was the transition from high school to college. He mentioned the term – redshirt – which is a common phrase for most incoming college freshmen (it may also be used by players that are sophomores/juniors/seniors). A redshirt is often designated for players that need time to adjust to college life on and off the field. It allows them to sit out a year and still have their remaining year(s) to play.

My interview today is with an individual that is a product of JPS. He used his talents to earn a scholarship to a NCAA “D-1” school and a college degree.

When did you first fall in love with football/earliest memory of the game?

Wow. 1st memory is easily going to a (I hate to admit this) JSU game. Family was/is huge JSU supporters. Well not so much now but more on that later. We traveled to all the games. Never missed a fall Saturday. I fell in love watching Wavy Dave (RIP) perform and hearing the 2nd best SWAC band perform. My mama never wanted me to play football which is why I didn’t play organized ball until 7th grade. I feel like that cheated me somewhat but I turned out ok.

What was your funnest time playing football? And what was your least memorable time?

Man, I’ve always had fun playing ball. Through the 8 straight losses my sophomore year and the 0-11 year the very next season. I always just wanted to ball. The blueprint was laid for me by very few guys and I tried to follow it. All in all, college was by far the most fun I had playing ball.

What was the recruiting process like once you realized you were talented enough to play D-1?

Good question. I had no idea. Lol. My earliest memories of recruiting is witnessing my high school coach hoard letters from schools that were coming to watch guys play. This was in the 9th grade. Let’s just say me and some teammates stumbled upon his desk and saw that scouts/coaches were communicating or trying to communicate with the seniors that season. And these guys didn’t know until AFTER the season had ended and we missed the playoffs by 1 game. This “by 1 game” would define my career actually. All that being said, led me to feel as if I (Mom and Dad) were going to have to do our own recruiting. I didn’t realize schools were actually noticing me. I mean I had been starting since my freshman year, played both sides of the ball. I even made an honorable mention all metro team. Back then, the paper only published the top 3 selections. I didn’t even find this out until I attended a scholar-athlete banquet. Smh. So when schools were recruiting me, I was shocked. Thing is the two schools that had the most weight for me (Miss State and jsu) were going through coaching changes. Miss State had been recruiting me and a teammate until Sherrill was fired. Croom said nope, lol. jsu and Judge were recruiting me also. Bell, said and I quote “I don’t want you, I’m going after junior college guys”. This. This here, rocked me to my core. I literally was shaken. The only SWAC school I ever knew. Ever cheered for.

swac-logo-football

Is it proper to say “college student playing football?” or “football player in college?”

Depending on the person. Both phrases apply. It’s funny because, people that don’t play sports in college don’t understand the sacrifices we make to just graduate. We do more stuff before 6 am than most do for an entire day. Lol. And then, we don’t have any free time unless it’s after the games on Saturdays.

How did you balance football and college life?

I didn’t really do anything special. It was never hard to manage for me. Football is what I did and I did whatever it took to keep playing. School has always been easy so I never really had a problem.

Describe the NCAA through your point of view

NCAA is trash. Too many rules. Too many ways to make money. Not enough help for athletes. Playing a sport in college, you’re held to higher standards. Almost professional in some places. Yet no one gets paid but the coaches. And ADs. And Presidents. But their not busting knees, dislocating body parts to play. Yes. It’s a choice. However everyone that plays a sport, doesn’t always “have” to play. For example, I could went wherever and just been a student but I wanted to play ball. New stadiums. Student enrollment. All can be attributed to athletics. Not the education majors. Not the IT guys. Not the chemistry majors.

What do you miss about playing football?

The locker room. The road trips. The grind. Having somewhere to be. Learning a new defensive scheme. Studying film. I miss everything about playing. The first practice before the first game. The Oklahoma drill (which I never lost). The competition.

Did you ever think about semi-pro or anything like that?

Yes. I did. Didn’t pursue it further. Was tired of playing ball at that point.

What advice would you give young guys playing the game thinking about reaching the college level?

Run. Run. And run some more. Do a bunch of calisthenics. Take your protein. Run some more. Work on your craft. Try not to get a part-time job. Hard to practice and make money. Gotta sacrifice one. And go where you’re wanted. You’ll have a much better experience. Don’t overthink the process. Forget about depth charts. To this day, I wish I had been redshirted.

Explain why you would’ve liked to redshirt.

Well, by the end of high school… I had only played football for six years. Never had a position coach. A strength coach. Nutrition advice was simply “eat ya vegetables”. My growth as a player was basically all me. Yes, I had coaches who pushed me but only to fit what they wanted. Came to high school not being able to lift 185 pounds. Was always a big kid. Worked my tail off to get stronger. Wanted to be the strongest on the team. I achieved that by my senior year. But even this was misguided. I was young and wanted to play. I started every year I ever played football except 7th grade because of weak *** rules but whatever. Part of not being redshirted was my fault too. I refused to be redshirted. I wanted to prove to everyone that I can play and that’s what I did. Being redshirted would have given me an opportunity to grow my body in ways that I hadn’t been able to before. Would have allowed me to develop my footwork, hand speed/strength and possibly allow me to be even stronger than I was. I mean I left college being able to lift 225 lbs – 36 times. And that was without any supplements or guided training. That was all me. Maybe I should add, being redshirted and receiving the proper guidance would have been beneficial for me.  I just feel as if I would have been that much better taking that shirt.

What are your overall thoughts on the “state of football”? (all the rules changes, injuries, etc.)

Football is in a great place. Still exciting to watch. I’ll admit, I haven’t sat in the stands for a college game in years. SWAC ball looks so different. Rule changes are just a reflection of trying to protect the game not the players. Players are meat in a meat market. Always have been and always will be.

Football Interview, Part 2

Interview with Aaron Lockett

As the new football season approaches I decided to come with some new interviews.  This time around I’m interviewing guys that played football.  My first interview was with former Kansas State All-American Punt Returner/Wide Receiver Aaron Lockett.  Lockett was a standout athlete – in track, football, and basketball – at Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  From there he showcased his talents at Kansas State where he was a member of the football and track teams.  Lockett set many records during his time at K-State and in the 2000 Big 12 Championship Game he had the first return TD in the game’s history.  Aaron played five years professionally in the NFL and Canadian Football League. His brother Kevin was also a standout player at Kansas State and played in the NFL. Lockett’s nephew Tyler Lockett continued the family’s tradition of great Wide Receiver/Returner play while at Kansas State.  Lockett is currently a blossoming talent – First Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl as a rookie – in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks. Check out the audio interview and a few of Aaron’s highlights from his time at Kansas State.

 

Interview with Aaron Lockett

2016…Be Great…Be Positive

We’re at day 7 of 2016 and things are “looking how they looking” as my wife would say.  We have the Presidential race to look forward to this year as well as the Summer Olympics in Brazil.  This happens to be a leap year so that means Wale will get to work an extra day this year.  I don’t know about y’all but I love off days.  Shout out to Wale tho.  All of that is fine and dandy but most importantly I’ll be celebrating something a lot more important within a few weeks.  I’ll blog about it when it happens.

Ok now on to a few sports thoughts…shout out to Ken Griffey Jr. for being 99.3% great.  He’s beloved by many that watched the game of baseball in the 90s.  “The Kid” best known for his sweet swing, home run saving catches, and wearing his hat backwards.  Thanks for the memories.  Congrats to Mike Piazza too.

In the NBA my Pelicans are still trash.  As of today they’re sitting next to last in the Western Conference at 11-23 but are only FOUR games away from the 8th seed.  This has caused a lot of confusion for fans as to whether the team should fight for that playoff spot or blow it up and acquire some assets.  I’m sure we’ll know by the end of this month.  Over in California, the Golden State Warriors (33-2) are still in striking distance of the best overall record for the regular season in NBA history.  Draymond Green has been a monster for GSW, he leads the NBA so far in triple-doubles with 7.  The 2 losses for the Warriors have been on the road and in both games the team was missing key players. With all of that GSW only has a 3 game lead on the San Antonio Spurs.  There’s space between San Antonio and Oklahoma City but the Thunder is picking up momentum and is looking solid.

In the Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers are still at the top.  Kyrie Irving returned from injury in December and he hasn’t disappointed as he gets in game shape.  Right on their heels are Da Bulls.  Chicago has had a few lumps this season but look to be getting things together.  Thanks in-large to the play of Jimmy Gets Buckets.  After a few ugly losses and some comments about head coach Fred Hoiberg, Butler has upped his game.  He and Paul George went at it on New Year’s Eve in an excellent game.  Butler ended that OT thriller with the game-winning points and a blocked shot/contest against Paul George.  After that the Bulls bounced the Knicks easily by 27.  Then on Sunday night Mr. Butler went for 42 against Toronto.  After a slow first half – with only 2 points – Jimmy dropped 40 points on 14-19 shooting to help his team pull off a close victory.  The 40 points in one half broke Michael Jordan’s old Chicago Bulls record.  The Eastern Conference race promises to be exciting as only 6 games separate the top 8 teams and only 6 games separate teams 8 thru 13.

In football news, we’re at the best time of the year.  The NFL Playoffs start on Saturday and in college football we get the National Championship game on Monday night.  I don’t like making picks but I’ll do so.

NFL Picks:

Kansas City over Houston

Cincinnati over Pittsburgh

Seattle over Minnesota

Washington over Green Bay

FBS Championship:

Alabama over Clemson

If any of the teams teams I chose to win are dear to your heart then be very afraid.

I posted the words “Be Great…Be Positive” in the title of this blog for a reason.  2015 while it had its ups also had a bunch of downs.  I don’t recall a year where I saw so many people so set on being divided and tearing others down.  I can point out a lot of examples of negativity but instead I’m challenging everyone that reads this blog to not only heed my words but to also encourage others to “Be Great and Be Positive.”

2016…Be Great…Be Positive