Sounds crazy? Sounds like a huge dream? I write this post as an open message to all of the young men and women of Rutgers Scarlet Knights Football program. And Yes I included women. As in most College Football programs women are as much a part of the overall game as the men. As the Marching Bands and The Spirit Squads and The Student Sections are all a part of the overall team, so is the Team composed of male AND female students. And yes, lets remember that these Teams are all made up of College Students. But I digress. I tend to do that when I write. You have been warned. I make no apologizes. This post serves to deliver the same message to all that read it – In Life We Must Always Allow Ourselves to Believe in The Most Positive Outcomes. Or as we say at Rutgers bELieve.
Now understand simply believing that you can go out and beat Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State will not ensure that it happens. Simply bELieving that Rutgers can win the B1G this year is not enough to make it happen. However thinking that you can not win will certainly guarantee a negative outcome. Please take a minute to think about that thought. In addition to believing you must also set big, huge goals and dreams. Never allow yourself to think anything is out of reach. As proof of this theory allow me to share my personal Rutgers Journey. Take a few minutes to read to the end and see what it is that I am preaching here. I am certain it will be time well spent.
As a young man growing up in the City of Newark, NJ in 1980 I had some big dreams. I was going to be a writer. I was going to get out good ole Brick City. I was going to go to Rutgers University. Now you may not think that is a big dream in life but I had a few roadblocks to overcome. I knew I had not been the best student in freshman or sophomore year of high school. Didn’t study enough. Got in trouble. A lot. I am dyslexic which always made school work harder. I took longer to read than my classmates but always seemed to understand and retain what I learned. Having a learning disability such as dyslexia had it’s ups and downs. Way back in the olden days, the 1970’s & 80’s we did not have spellcheck. Heck we didn’t have computers. Most teachers would take one look at my handwriting and write me off. There were upsides as well. Like when a recipe calls for 1/2 cup of chocolate chips and you flip it and put in 2 cups. Tasty. Or, that time after I finally got into Rutgers and had been elected to lead the Rutgers-Newark student radio station, WRNU, and I misspelled my own first name. I wrote Brain instead of Brian. My executive council on the station had a good laugh and the nick name stuck. Not the worst thing to give yourself the nick name of Brain. But I digress. Hey I warned you.
So back to the start of my Rutgers Journey. Fall 1980. I set a big goal to get accepted to Rutgers University at the main campus in New Brunswick, NJ. I knew I would have to buckle down, study hard and bring my grades way up. I also knew I would have to stop getting in trouble. Stop running the streets of Newark with my big brother, Richie, R.I.P., and our friends. But I thought if I could get a decent SAT score and really good grades in junior year I might have a shot. I worked hard. I studied hard. I did it!!! Flash forward to the Fall of 1981. I got home from school, St. Benedict’s’ Prep, and found my acceptance letter on the kitchen table. I was so excited. I told my mom. She didn’t seem as excited as I had expected. When my dad got home I couldn’t wait to share the good news. My dad took a look at the letter and said congratulations son, but how the hell are you planning on paying for this? Hmmm? Had not really thought of that part. I just assumed I would get some sort of financial aid like the other kids in my school. My father explained that he made too much money for us to qualify for any type of assistance and he did not believe in taking help in any form. My father was an Actuary , a person that deals with risk assessment and life insurance. If you asked him he would explain that he guesses when people are going to die for a living. He had an odd sense of humor. He made decent money. Unfortunately he and mother had 16 of us children in the house. Yes 16. 8 sons and 8 daughters. Yes they had a TV. Not only wasn’t he going to be able to help out, he wasn’t going to help me to get financial aid as he didn’t believe in taking a hand out as he put it.
Needless to say I was a bit dejected but I allowed myself to keep thinking it would still be possible somehow. I bElieved. I had one younger brother, Matthew, that I was closest with at the time. Not that I didn’t love all my siblings but truth be told you get closer with some than with others in such a large family. Matthew had told my parents at the age of 8 that he wanted to become a priest when he grew up. My mother was over joyed. Oh did I mention we are from an Irish Catholic background? Wait did I have to explain after telling you about the 16 siblings? Anyway. Mom put Matthew on a pedestal for wanting to a priest. Not sure why as he was 8? By the time he turned 9 he announced at the dinner table one night that he now wanted to be a shark hunter. Mom wasn’t too happy. He told her he could do both. A shark hunting priest. I joked that he could give the sharks last rites before he killed them. Mom, being more practical told him he could not do both. He would have to chose. When Matthew and I talked about it alone I assured him he certainly could do both. I told him he could do whatever he wanted in life. As long as he allowed himself to bELieve.
Back to my writing. I had an English teacher in Junior year named Mr. Albright. He had encouraged me to start writing things down in notebooks and to stash notebooks all over the house so that I could pull one out and write whenever the mood struck. Kind of like the notes app in your smart phone but, oh yea, we didn’t have smart phones. I used to write all the time. I was going to be a writer. I was going to go to Rutgers. I began saving up my own money. I had worked since I was 10, delivering newspapers. Oh, newspapers, they were these big printed items, editors would gather all the “news” of the day and once every 24 hours they would print it and I would deliver it to your home. I know funny right? Anyway I used to stash my cash in a box in my dresser drawer. I had a saving account as well but I didn’t like to put most of my money there as it was an old school bank and they would regularly and freely provide my father with the balance if he asked. Bank manager said something about my being a minor?
So there I was working hard. Saving my money. Still dreaming of going to Rutgers. Dreaming of becoming a writer. Flash forward to the early morning hours of February 1st, 1982. Everything changed in the blink of an eye that morning. The family home caught fire in the middle of the night. I lost three siblings. Just like that. My Matthew was gone. At the age of 10. Theresa, age 6 and Owen age 4 also perished that horrible night. It felt like Boom. The end of the world as I knew it.
Somehow I forgot all about being a writer. All of my notebooks were gone. I was 16 years old and a senior in high school. My world was upside down. One thing I will never forget is the good people of The City of Newark. They rallied around us. They brought us clothing. They feed us. They weren’t all good though as someone helped themselves to all the college money I had saved up. Was not really a big concern at the time. Seriously, didn’t give a F. My mom ended up with a broken back from her Fire injuries and was told she would never walk again. She told them No. She had small children still to raise and that she would and did walk again. What do doctors know anyway. I have a good friend with a spinal cord injury. He knows he will walk again. I know he will walk again. We just HAVE to bELieve.
Somehow I managed to fail only one class Senior year. Senior English. Funny right? I was going to be a writer and I had failed Senior English. The Headmaster refused to let me walk in the graduation ceremony. I was told to turn in a few book reports and that my diploma would be mailed to me at a later date. Thanks Fr. Edwin. I was so lost. I knew in my mind that I would still get to Rutgers. Someday. I started working in NYC as a printer for the A.I.C.P.A. I found out that hey would pay for night school. I applied to Rutgers in Newark this time. I wanted to attend night school. I had filled out the tuition forms with my employer and thought I was on my way. Much to my surprise I was informed by the nice lady in the admissions office that I had in fact not graduated from St. Benedict’s’ Prep? This was news to me. I checked back and was told that the English professor at St. Benedict’s’ didn’t like my reports. Now I was in a bind. I didn’t want my employer to find out I hadn’t graduated from high school. I worried that if they did I would loss the job and my shot at paying for Rutgers.
I went to find someone in the admissions department that would help me get in right away as opposed to having to wait until after I tool my G.E.D. I meet one of my greatest life coaches, Dean Annette Allen of Rutgers Newark. We became very close over my 10 years of night classes at Rutgers-Newark. The first day I meet her she explained that she could not help me. But I bELieved she could. I went and knocked on her office door almost every day after work for two months until one day she finally made me a deal. She would take my check and my paperwork and let me start taking her class at night with out officially being a student. She would keep all of my paperwork and payment in her desk drawer and when / if I passed the G.E.D. she would turn it all in and simply state that she had misplaced my file. If I failed she would give me back my check and send me on my way. Deal. Life was simpler without computers in many regards. Dean Allen taught Freshman English. About half way through my first semester at Rutgers- Newark I passed my G.E.D. and was officially admitted. I was on my way. I bELieved. I am certain that had I not allowed myself to think it was a possibility then it would not have been. Eventually I left the job in NYC and began working for a company name New Jersey Bell. I was a lineman. Just to explain to my original target audience here, NJ Bell was known as “The Phone Company”, and they operated landlines, we used to have this cool old system where by we connected each house and each telephone by a set of copper wires, we strung them all over, from each home and building up to telephone poles and all over town. And this was how people communicate with each other. Basically two cans and a string times a million. It worked well for about a century before cell phones. NJ Bell paid for school as well and had a much better tuition assistance program. They paid 100 % up front. It took ten years but I finally got my Rutgers diploma. A BA in Economics.
I never gave up on my dream of going to Rutgers. Somehow after The Fire I forgot about my desire to become a writer. I became much more interested in photography as time went passed. As fate would have it I was in Paris France on a short vacation with my wife when the Cathedral of Notre Dame caught fire. As my wife and I came up from the metro on our way to dinner our children texted us to check on us and to tell us the bad news about the famed church burning. Being a part time freelance photographer with the USA Today Network, I snapped a few photos and sent them to the newspaper. We went inside a restaurant to have dinner. Just as our food arrived my cell phone rang with a call from an editor in NYC. The man says, “Hey these are great photos. Now I need you to get back out there and interview some people, Parisians and Americans if you can, you have 45 minutes, now Go, Go, Go.” I explained that I was “just a photographer” and that I mostly covered high school football. The man said, “you are my person on the scene, Now Go Man Go, Be the reporter. Be the writer.” So i did. I wrote up my part of the coverage, which by the way I would never boost about except that there was no loss of human life, and I sent it in to the editors along with a few more photos. About 15 minutes later I got a call back. The editor asked if I had ever had a front page A1 byline on an international daily newspaper? I said, “no?” to which he replied, ‘well you do now”. Wow, one fire snatched my dreams of becoming a writer and 40 years later and half a world away another fire had restored it.
So to wrap up my story here, do I Believe that Rutgers can win the B1G this season?
YES ! YES ! YES!
I BELIEVE that anything is possible in life if you can BELIEVE . And the right coaches in your corner don’t hurt. I have been blessed with many, many great coaches. Only mentioning the ones that got me to the point of graduating from Rutgers as I have had many more great coaches after that time. Dean Annette Allen. Fellow Rutgers Alumni and life long friend Kim Stevens-Redstone, NJ Books Owner Ed Muller. St, Benedict’s’ Headmaster Fr. Edwin. Professor Perez of the Rutgers Newark Accounting Department, Professor Bob White of the English Department, Fellow Rutgers Alumni Patricia Cabezas, And my biggest coach and supporter on the mission to graduate from Rutgers, my wife, and Fellow Rutgers Alumni, Marianne Albarez-Hester. So to the entire Rutgers Football Family, The Players, The Coaches, Rutgers Marching Band, Rutgers Dance Team, Rutgers Cheer Team, Spirit Squad, Marketing, Student Section and ALL The Fans out there – bELieve – that you can win every game this season. You have a great coach behind you as well.