Wake Forest Beat: Athlete Aspirations

Michael Hoag (#75) in his playing days at Wake Forest.

Deep down inside every one of is a motivator. If not for that inner inspiration most of us would not get out of bed each morning. For some it’s greed, for others it’s desire. Whatever your motivation is, whether you know exactly what it is or not, comes from somewhere.

I firmly believe athletes succeed because of their internal motivators. You couldn’t survive athletics with only talent. Somewhere there has to be a desire, a trigger, that something that makes you tick. Without it, Michael Jordan would not have dominated the NBA. Adrian Peterson wouldn’t be making a mockery of the dreaded ACL tear.

Having played at the collegiate level, I was blessed to become great friends with many of my teammates, as well as players from other sports teams. One of the things that always fascinated me the most was trying to figure out what motivated them to succeed. There are 85 players on scholarship in college football, but only 22 starting positions. Simple arithmetic tells you that not everyone is going to play; some scholarship players never play a down, but they all came to their school with their minds set on playing.

Perhaps even more interesting was seeing how that motivator or drive changed throughout their careers. No one would expect a bench warmer to have the same expectations as a starter, but I have been teammates with some guys that do have those same expectations.

My theory is this: Everyone comes ready to play and at some point everyone’s motivation changes. To expect nothing to change in a person’s mentality after five years is simply foolish. What triggers that change in mentality is what interests me.

Some of my teammates came to school highly recruited with dreams of playing in the NFL; school was their least concern. College football hit some of them right in the mouth, HARD, and they quickly realized that school might need to become a priority. Their motivation to play on Saturdays never changed, but their mindset about school certainly did. The lucky few were able to barely get by in school and still make it to the NFL … this didn’t happen often at Wake Forest.

Other athletes came to only school that offered them a scholarship. Their motivation in high school might have been to earn that one scholarship, but once they got to school those athletes set out to prove all the other schools wrong. Former Wake Forest Linebacker Aaron Curry did just that; he demolished his opponents for four years and went on to become the number four overall pick in the 2009 draft. I’d say he proved them wrong.

The athletes who came from the poorer families looked at college athletics as an opportunity to provide for their family. Most hoped to do that by making it professionally, others envisioned themselves receiving a degree and securing a great job. That second mindset is what attracts a lot of kids to Wake Forest. I know it had a lot to do with my decision.

I’ve had friends who used athletics simply to get a scholarship. They dominated in high school and realized quickly thereafter that college was the highest level they wanted to play at. These players often had success on the field in college as well, but were mostly focused with school.

The guys I never figured out were the players that did not seem to care much about playing time or academics. The competitive nature inside athletes is what earns them scholarships to Division 1 schools. That competitive nature usually spilled into the classroom for me, but these players seemed to have no desire to go to class or to compete for a starting position. It truly baffled me. How could a person show enough desire and skill at the high school level and then suddenly forget it? These guys are rare, but they do exist.

I was the type that was lightly recruited, thought I could play college ball, and hoped I could play in the NFL. Every day I woke up at Wake Forest I wanted to get better. After redshirting I worked my way into playing time as a redshirt freshman, continued playing as a sophomore and became a starter my junior season. Academics had always been big for me, because I knew the NFL wasn’t guaranteed, but after I became a starter I began to think even harder about the NFL. My focus was starting to shift. I started all 13 games as a senior and after some evaluation I decided to go all out for professional football.

I trained for months and got in the best shape of my life. Unfortunately, my professional football career ended after brief stints with the Detroit Lions and the New Orleans Saints.

Suffice it to say, I’m glad I focused on education throughout my career. I became one of the many athletes whose career aspirations changed without my consent.


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Michael Hoag played football for Wake Forest from 2007-2011, wearing #75, and was the starting right guard in his final 23 games as a Demon Deacon. He is currently a part-time sideline reporter for Wake Forest football radio broadcasts. He is an avid sports fan cheering for the St. Louis Rams, the Chicago Cubs, and the Chicago Bulls. Michael’s favorite Wake Forest moment was beating #23 Florida State in 2011 at BB&T Field 35-30, especially since he was on the cover of that game program. He says the best player he’s ever played against was Luke Kuechly from Boston College. For more commentary, follow Michael on his personal blog awakethesideline.com, and on Twitter at @Michaelhoag23.

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