When I was five years old, I wanted nothing more than to one day play football for the West Virginia Mountaineers. Growing up in a state without professional sports, these guys were larger than life figures. In our small community, West Virginia student-athletes were our role models, the epitomes of hard work and dedication. Many of my favorite memories from my early childhood came from having players sign jerseys or take pictures with my friends and me.
"These eighteen to twenty-two year olds who likely thought nothing of our interactions made me feel like the coolest person in the world."
I remained a huge fan of collegiate sports throughout my adolescence, but any aspirations of playing at that level faded and died over time. I began to focus instead upon the way in which I could use my current athletic position to help others.
"Through the help of some incredible mentors, I began to recognize how incredible of an opportunity it was to pay my fortune forward towards those younger than me. "
I spent much of my time in high school working with the youth in my community, and it became a huge part of my identity. While situations changed and I was fortunate enough to continue to play football in college, I found myself missing these opportunities in the rush that is freshman year. My ability to pay it forward was blocked due to a false sense of business that could have been easily fixed through some simple reprioritization. Luckily, I was able to join ACE at the end of my sophomore year and be reminded of the impact that mentoring can have on both parties.
I left ACE in Place: Vietnam with a singular goal in mind: to reintroduce an obligation within our campus to coach and mentor the youth. This is not to say that we did not have plenty of incredible student-athletes who were already doing so, but I wanted to help remind others how important it was to utilize our platform. In the wake of this revelation, I was connected with Team IMPACT, and my college career completely changed.
"Working with Creed helped me to grow in a way that I never would have expected. My relationship with him and his family allowed me to understand the true meaning of strength, positivity, and care."
For those of you who are unfamiliar, Team IMPACT is a service group that pairs children with serious illness or disability to collegiate sports teams. Team IMPACT reached out to Duke Football regarding a potential match, and we were lucky enough to paired with Creed.
I began the work with Team IMPACT hoping to give back and pay my good fortune forward, yet with Creed I also learned the value and lessons that stem from being a mentor. Our past football season was amazing for a variety of reasons, but far and away the most incredible part was our time with Creed. In the same way that he looks up to us, it is undeniable that our team was also inspired by him, and I think that speaks more to his impact than anything else. I spent my time as a young kid dreaming of celebrating a bowl win, the thought of donning a “bowl champion” hat and being surrounded by friends and family was a cherished goal. While it was certainly a rewarding experience in and of itself, the moment that sticks with me from the entire experience was being able to hand Creed the trophy. In reflecting on the entirety of my football career, it is that singular moment that made it all worthwhile.
"If you ever have the fortune of meeting Creed, you are immediately struck by the warmth and care of his personality, and having the chance to win for him was something that I know I will carry with me for the rest of my life."
I think a lot about the Brian Scalabrine interview. For those of you who might not know, he was a bench player for the Boston Celtics when they won the NBA championship in 2008. He was asked by a reporter to comment on how it made him feel that although he won a championship, he played minimal minutes. Scalabrine responded rather wittily, but essentially his argument was that the statistics and actual details will fade away, and the history of the series will eventually become whatever narrative the players want it to be. If you watch his interview, he means this in a very obviously joking manner, but I would like to take it one step farther: your experiences in life are whatever you make of them, and impacts can be made in ways far beyond your on the field product.
"It was never my goal to start, it was my goal to make a difference."
If you collected stats from all of my (one) games played at Duke, you would be left with what was essentially a blank sheet. With that being said, I look back on my four years here and am extremely satisfied with the way things have gone. It was my goal to prove to the five year old version of myself that I could play collegiate football. It was my goal to make my countless mentors and my parents proud, and show them that the sacrifices they made had a major difference in my life. Lastly, it was my goal to use my platform to offer kids the same excitement and inspiration I used to have in meeting the college athletes that were my heroes growing up. I never cared how good the players were, and it didn’t matter whether or not I knew their name. What mattered to me was that these larger than life figures took time out of their day to smile at me, say hi, or sign a jersey. I think sometimes we get so caught up in equating our value as individuals to our physical abilities that we forget about how fortunate we already are.
It wasn’t until ACE that I realized I certainly fell victim to this kind of thinking, but now, at the end of my college career, I would like to think that I made a difference. That, for me, is the best thing I could have wished for in my four years at Duke.
- Anthony Hinton
Photo Credits: Anthony Hinton, Duke Athletics