Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Remembering Eli's Sacrifice

When I was in college writing for the school paper, there was a football player, Eli Herring, who was one of the highest ranked offensive linemen in the nation. During his senior year, we was projected to get drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. He weighed 340 pounds and was very nimble and adept and protecting the quarterback. Additionally, he had a 3.5 GPA in math, and wanted to be a high school math teacher. When Eli was younger he made the commitment to himself that he'd never play sports on Sunday. This was fine in college because most college games are on Saturday...and none of BYU's games are on Sunday. But, during his senior year, his results were good enough to warrant a one-way ticket to football's biggest game--the NFL. The college was buzzing with excitement. BYU has had some standout players make a name for themselves in the NFL: Steve Young, Jim McMahon, Ty Dettmer, and a couple others. These people were BYU sports icons from a previous era. With Eli's guaranteed high draft pick, he was the campus icon from our era--our peer. We could legitimately say, "I had a class with him, he was down the hall from me in our dorm, or I was his TA." It was so exciting.

There was one snag though. Regardless of the sacrifice, he would not play on Sunday. Word spread all over campus. "Is he crazy!" No one could understand why he wouldn't budge on the one issue. What further complicated things was the San Francisco 49ers, with BYU alum quarterback Steve Young, had just won the Superbowl the year before. Steve Young didn't seem to be conflicted about playing on Sunday, and he shared the same faith as Eli.

Pro scouts came to campus and tried to convince Eli to back off of not playing on Sunday. He did not waiver. Afterwards, the word was out. All the pro teams knew it was useless to draft him. He wouldn't play.

One of the scouts did convince him to, at least, put his name in the draft to see what would happen. The draft came and he was picked by the Raiders in the 6th round. The Raiders knew he wouldn't play; they just hoped he'd come to his senses and be required to play for the Raiders when he did. He never did.

Eli ultimately became a high school math teacher and an assistant football coach. His starting salary was $20k and year.

It's been more than 10 years since Eli made his sacrifice. There are probably a handful of people that still remember Eli's sacrifice--except Eli. Eli remembers. I wonder if he has wrestled with this decision every day since. He has four kids; the cost of living has gone up dramatically in the last 10 years; and, a teacher's salary still remains scant. Given the choice today, would he budge? We will never know.

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