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KNOXVILLE, TENN. — After producing one of the most unusual statistical accomplishments in recent college football history last year, Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson doesn’t expect to get a chance to repeat the feat.
Johnson led the Volunteers in tackles (138) and touchdown runs (six).
Although Johnson spent nearly all his time on defense, he also took snaps out of Tennessee’s “Beast” formation in short-yardage situations and ran for 21 yards and six touchdowns on only 12 carries.
New Tennessee coach Butch Jones isn’t saying whether he plans to use Johnson on offense this season, but the junior linebacker has his doubts.
“The coaches haven’t said anything about it, so I don’t think so,” Johnson said.
For the time being, the Volunteers want Johnson to focus on improving a defense that ranked among the worst in school history last year.
Johnson led the Southeastern Conference in total tackles last year and ranked fourth nationally with 11.5 tackles per game. Johnson made 52 more tackles than anyone else on Tennessee’s roster.
But he couldn’t stop Tennessee’s defense from giving up the most points (35.7) and yards (471.4) per game of any SEC team.
Tennessee hadn’t allowed that high a scoring average since 1893, when they gave up 42.7 points per game while playing a six-game schedule. Tennessee hadn’t given up that many yards per game since at least 1950, the earliest year its sports information department has that statistic on file.
The Vols ranked 104th nationally in scoring defense and 107th in total defense.
“We know we aren’t going to be the one (hundred) something defense,” Johnson said. “That’s not going to happen this year. We’re going to come together as a team and just get better.”
Jones’ staff has used plenty of unique motivational techniques to fire up a team that has endured three straight losing seasons. At Tuesday’s practice, the sound of a crying baby and blaring siren aired over the loudspeaker during red-zone drills in an attempt to improve the team’s focus in hostile situations.
Their message to Johnson is that he must deliver more big plays.
Although Johnson was one of the nation’s most prolific tacklers last season, Jones noticed that many of his stops came at least four or five yards downfield. The Vols won’t mind if Johnson’s tackle total drops this season, as long as he makes more of an impact.
“What we’re preaching this year is not so much tackling as production,” linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen said. “Would you rather have 80 tackles, nine sacks, three picks and a couple more tackles for loss? Or do you want just 100 tackles?”
Jones has asked Johnson to improve his “eye discipline,” a term that Johnson describes as being able to see the whole formation rather than locking in on one person. Jones also wants Johnson to do a better job of shedding blocks.
Johnson also must step up as a leader, particularly as fellow linebacker Curt Maggitt recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Jones believes Johnson has delivered in that regard.
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Organizations are re-evaluating their ties to former Olympic runner Suzy Favor Hamilton after it was revealed that the Madison-area resident had been living a secret life as a high-priced prostitute.
Spokesmen for the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education, the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, Foot Locker and the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon series all said they were reconsidering Favor Hamilton’s promotional work for their groups in light of the bizarre revelation.
Favor Hamilton’s self-described “double life” was revealed Thursday by The Smoking Gun website. In tweets and an email with the Wisconsin State Journal, she admitted the explosive story was largely true.
The Smoking Gun reported that Favor Hamilton, who ran in three Olympics and won nine NCAA championships for UW-Madison, had been working as a $600-an-hour escort under the name of “Kelly” through a Las Vegas-based agency. She called the episode a “huge mistake” brought on by a lifelong struggle with depression.
Peter Henkes, who runs Foot Locker’s Midwest regional running series, said it’s unlikely Favor Hamilton would be allowed to work — even as a volunteer — for company events involving children. He said Favor Hamilton had appeared as a volunteer in numerous Foot Locker events, often mentoring elite high-school runners.
“Things will never be the same,” Henkes said. “Unfortunately, some bad decisions have hurt not only her but kids in the future because she can’t be that role model again.”
Henkes, who considers Favor Hamilton a friend, said she normally has a calendar filled with motivational speeches, clinics and charity races, and that likely will now end.
“There is not a person in my opinion who has given more back to the sport of distance running than she has,” Henkes said. “That’s why it’s so tragic. We’re losing Suzy.”
Duane Maatz, executive director of the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, said his organization was re-evaluating its contractual relationship with Favor Hamilton, who had served as a promoter for the Antigo-based group since 2011.
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PHILADELPHIA — Brian Dawkins said he doesn’t know how he’ll react when his No. 20 is officially retired at halftime of the Eagles’ game Sunday against the Giants.
He doesn’t know if he’ll become “a mushy tear machine” while he’s on the field addressing the crowd or if he’ll revert to his game mode, when he would release what he called his “inner idiot.”
Either way, Dawkins, who spent 13 seasons with the Eagles from 1996-2008, knows he’ll get a loud standing ovation from the crowd. He was considered the best safety in team history and beloved by the fans for his work ethic and leadership, and the way he played the game.
“I really feel like I played the game the way (the fans) would really love to play the game if they had a chance to,” Dawkins said. “If as a fan, you got a chance to go on the football field, what would you do? How excited would you be before the game? Would you do a flip? Would you crawl? Would you do those things? Probably so because you’re so excited.
“I played the game in a way that they could see themselves in it. I played the game with my emotions on my sleeve. So whatever I was feeling at the time — dancing, singing, whatever I was going to do — I did those things. All of that invited them to see things from my vantage point, which looking back, I must admit, I was a crazy man sometimes.
“But I can dig it. I loved it.”
And the fans loved him back.
Dawkins is the first player of this era to have his number retired, and that means a lot to him.
“I really feel like sometimes … I’m living somebody else’s dream,” he said. “I really do because I didn’t dream this. I didn’t dream about playing in the league 16 years. I didn’t dream meeting the people I met, having the influence, the name the Lord has blessed me to have. I didn’t dream those things. So sometimes I feel like I’m living someone else’s dream.
“It’s a humbling feeling.”
Dawkins spent his last three seasons with the Denver Broncos after the Eagles wouldn’t match the salary offered by the Broncos. While former Eagles president Joe Banner once said letting Dawkins go was his biggest regret, Dawkins said he doesn’t hold any grudges against him or the Eagles.
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Tony Dungy, who turned Tampa Bay from one of the league’s worst franchises into a Super Bowl contender, believes Pagano is on the right path because he’s sticking to his principles.
“(The key) really is probably just being resolute more than anything else,” Dungy said after visiting Colts camp last weekend at Irsay’s invitation. “You think it’s going to go well, you believe you’ve got the answers, you really believe in what you’re doing. I thought that too, and we started out 1-8 (at Tampa Bay). So whether you start out 8-1, or 1-8, you know what you want to get done. I just sense that from Coach Pagano; that he has a plan and he’s not going to deviate from it.”
His father, Sam, won 164 career games and three state titles as the head football coach at Fairview High School in Colorado. His brother, John, is now the San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator.
And growing up in a coaching family came with some hard lessons.
“It was a special deal, kind of like me when I was growing up watching him run the show for so long and all the things you learned along the way,” Pagano said after his father watched Saturday’s afternoon practice. “I had an opportunity, growing up, around what I think is the greatest team sport in the world.”
Dad’s advice: “Don’t mess it up.”
By all accounts, Chuck Pagano is a player’s coach.
Defensive lineman Cory Redding said when he and Pagano were in Baltimore, Pagano listened to the players’ concerns and addressed any of them. It was one of the reasons Redding, defensive tackle Brandon McKinney and safety Tom Zbikowski left one of the league’s top defenses to help rebuild the Colts.
So far, they’ve seen the same, old guy.
“I’ve seen him step back and let the coaches do their jobs,” Redding said. “Every once in a while, you’ll see him grab a ball, roll up his sleeves, put his hat on backwards and run some drills.”
Those with longer ties to Pagano have detected a difference.
When receiver Reggie Wayne arrived at the University of Miami in the late 1990s, Pagano, the secondary and special teams coach, was loud, direct and demanding. While those traits still exist, Wayne said Pagano has a found a way to send messages a little less vocally.
“He’s toned down totally. This is a different Chuck Pagano than the college days. At the same time he’s still fun, he still loves the game, still loves to teach, still gets a kick out of guys improving and getting better each day,” Wayne said. “That’s always good. As long as he keeps that edge I’ll take any Chuck Pagano any day.”
Pagano’s unassuming personality and folksy comments seem to be a perfect fit in Indy, too.
Defensive players have embraced Pagano’s motivational techniques and earthy approach to the game. Offensive players like seeing all those defensive looks, which is giving rookies such as Andrew Luck an opportunity to learn the ropes of NFL defenses.
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SAN JOSE, CALIF. — He’s known as one of the top motivational speakers in the the world. But Tony Robbins’ fire walk experience didn’t go so well for some this week, resulting in almost two dozens injuries. They trusted Robbins to walk over hot coals, but got burned.
Fire officials said 21 people at an event hosted by Robbins suffered burns while walking across hot coals, and three of the injured were treated at hospitals.
The injuries took place during the first day Thursday of a four-day event at the San Jose Convention Center hosted by Robbins called “Unleash the Power Within.” Most of those hurt had second and third degree burns, said San Jose Fire Department Capt. Reggie Williams.
Walking across hot coals heated to between 1,200 to 2,000 degrees provides attendees an opportunity to “understand that there is absolutely nothing you can overcome,” according to the motivational speaker’s website.
Robbins Research International said in a written statement that 6,000 attendees of the event walked across the coals Thursday.
Organizers had an “open burn permit” and medical staff at the event, and there was also a fire inspector on the scene, Williams said.
“Once they (the medical staff) became overwhelmed, our inspector called for us,” Williams said.
Witness Jonathan Correll told the San Jose Mercury News that he “heard wails of pain, screams of agony.”
One young woman appeared to be in so much pain “it was horrific,” he told the newspaper. Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Correll were not immediately successful.
Participant Sahar Madani told KTVU-TV that attendees warned that they might get burns or blisters.
“The intention of the event is to get your focus and your attention away from that and look into the power within yourself and focus on just walking on the fire,” she told the station.
Robbins Research International said Friday, “We have been safely providing this experience for more than three decades, and always under the supervision of medical personnel … We continue to work with local fire and emergency personnel to ensure this event is always done in the safest way possible.”
Williams did not have any additional details, such as the ages or names of those hurt.
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In 1988 Dravecky was at the top of his game and life. Not only did he have a wonderful family but he was reaching his all-star peak playing the game of his childhood dreams. His 5-1 opening day victory over the Dodgers was overshadowed later that fall by the discovery of cancer and the removal of half of the deltoid muscle in his pitching arm.
Dravecky came back to pitch once again in the major leagues, but suffered a broken arm while delivering a pitch and eventually the cancer returned. He retired from the game in 1989 and eventually had the arm amputated.
Dravecky’s award-winning book, “Comeback,” sold more than 650,000 copies. He and his wife, Jan, later wrote another book dealing with the loss of his arm and career, “When You Can’t Come Back.” He subsequently authored another book, “The Worth of a Man.”
Because of the overwhelming response to their story and their desire to walk along side others who suffer, the Draveckys founded Dave Dravecky’s Outreach of Hope, a nonprofit organization. His messages range from motivational to inspirational to evangelical. Dave Dravecky genuinely relates through his own experiences with loss and suffering, and he powerfully inspires through the encouragement he gathered from the faith and hope he discovered along his journey.
Blatnick was an Olympic gold medalist wrestler in 1984. The two-time member of the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team had discovered in 1982 that he had Hodgkin’s Disease. After a series of daily radiation treatments, he resumed training and eventually won the gold medal.
Just one year after this remarkable athletic achievement, Blatnick was again diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease. This time, six months of chemotherapy were prescribed to put the cancer into remission.
Today, Blatnick is one of the premier motivational speakers in the country. His enthusiasm, sincerity and love of life have kept him focused on a single purpose: overcoming adversity.
Blatnick has kept extremely active as a spokesperson for the Leukemia Society of America, United Way, American Cancer Society, US Olympic Committee, National Fitness Leaders Assn and the New York State Dept. of Education. He has also served on the Board of Directors of USA Wrestling and continues to assist in policy setting, promotion, wrestling clinics and fund raising efforts.
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As he heard the teams being ticked off, Everblades president/general manager Craig Brush said, “Isn’t that something? You could probably analyze each one and say this changed or that changed and it would all be different each time.
“Greg preached this all the way: It’s momentum. When you get that thing going. … But momentum can be a positive or negative thing, right?”
Going through the negative momentum – otherwise known as adversity – helped steel the Everblades, Giants, Cardinals and Packers.
The Everblades blew leads, had key calls go against them, lost in shootouts. The Cardinals overcame blown saves by their closers, the Giants recovered from home losses to Seattle and Washington and Packers survived six defeats by a combined 20 points.
“There’s that old cliché of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Lopresti said. “In New York, if you are underperforming, you put up with so much negative press. If you can somehow survive that, you have the ability to overcome just about anything. You have that toughness. Unless you’re flat-out dominant, you’re going to get moments of adversity or doubt.”
Poss said motivational speeches are fleeting. He’s a big fan of Phil Jackson, who claims he never yelled or screamed.
“Every player is motivated in the short term but it’s never long-lasting,” he said. “It’s how situations are handled. If a coach has a big ego and when the players are losing and he thinks they’re making him look bad, that’s when bad times turn into terrible times.
“When a team is going well, you can ride them hard. If a team is not doing well, it’s very fragile. You need to help the players figure it out. If you ride them too hard, a player will say this is B.S. Nobody wants to be ragged on.”
At one point, the Everblades had the second-best record in the Eastern Conference but kept making trades. That seemed to send a mixed message to the players, although Poss, assistant Brad Tapper and Brush felt a couple of moves needed to be made.
“It lessened a little bit of the trust,” he said. “It created a lot of storming. Roles got muddled and guys didn’t understand why we were doing this.
“But once we got the group together we wanted and told them we were not going to make any more trades, at that point we got the players to calm down. It gave them piece of mind their jobs were safe.”
From that point, Brush said it was a runaway train. Trust was rebuilt. A new system, which focused less on thinking and more on using the team’s depth and speed, had almost immediate success.
Leadership came out in full force. Players took ownership in the team. Poss still guided it but for the most part, “stayed invisible” as Jackson often did late in the year.
“Small things decide winning and losing,” Poss said. “All we try to do is put ourselves in position to be lucky.
“When players jump over the boards, they’re not mine anymore. Of course we like to control everything. In reality, we control nothing. It’s the way it is.”
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The first time Pace High senior Alex Brandt entered a weight room, it was love at first lift.
Many of the elements required to become a successful competitor in weightlifting — self-discipline, grit and stamina — clicked and clanged with harmony.
“The weight room has always been my man cave, I guess,” said Brandt, laughing, who also played fullback and linebacker for the Patriots football team the past four years. “I have always enjoyed doing it since I started in the summer before my freshman year.
“Now, my friends and I like to come in and get away from everything else.”
His sanctuary has been filled with acclaim.
Brandt, the state runner-up last year at 199 pounds, heads into today’s Class 2A State Weightlifting Championships in Kissimmee as a co-favorite in the 219-pound division.
His 730-pound lift total, which combines the bench press and clean-and-jerk lift, is the state’s fourth-highest in any weight division.
Sarasota High’s Luis Aguillar, who won last year’s 199-pound title in a weigh-off against Brandt — Aguillar weighed 3.7 pounds less — leads the 219 class with a 745-pound total.
For perspective, when Trent Richardson won the 219-pound state title in 2009 as an Escambia High senior, he lifted 705 pounds.
And by now, everyone knows Richardson’s freakish performance in a weight room as he prepares to be a first-round selection in the NFL draft.
“Alex tied Trent’s record in a super qualifier. That was awesome,” said Pace football coach Mickey Lindsey, who doubles as the Patriots’ weightlifting coach. “His bench has gone from 340 (pounds) to 390 in one year. As heavy as he is lifting, a 50-pound increase says a lot.
“A lot of guys don’t love to lift. … Alex loves it.”
Brandt is one of five Pace weightlifters competing today. They will be joined by a group of Pensacola-area athletes, led by Tate High’s Chase Carroll, the state leader in the 183-pound class with a 650-pound total.
Washington High’s Aaron Strickland has the fifth-highest total in the 139-pound class.
Four of the top 11 competitors in the heavyweight division are from Northwest Florida, led by Crestview High’s Earl Reed, who has lifted 740 total pounds.
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“He’s like, ‘Holy crap, the real ‘Lt. Dan!’ ” Anderson tells his Misericordia audience. “I said, ‘No, you will always be the real Lt. Dan.’ ”
Therapists, veterans and oral historians say the shock of 9/11, the memories of Vietnam and the accessibility of social media have created a very different environment for returning troops.
“Our country (was) attacked on our own soil,” says Stephen Tolman, a Nashville agent who books speaking engagements for Army Spc. Robert (B.J.) Jackson of Orlando. Tolman says 9/11 led to a broad consensus that “no matter where you were politically, that these veterans were defending and protecting all of us.”
Jackson lost both legs and was severely burned in Iraq in 2003. Two of his uncles — both Vietnam veterans who never talked about their war — inspired him to go into public speaking.
“The most rewarding thing I have been able to do is learn how to relate my story, injury and experience and transform it to a message that will touch those that may be struggling with an illness or divorce or just the stress of life, or even those that just want to hear an interesting story,” says Jackson, the father of six.
He has named his public speaking company The Right to Bear Stumps. It symbolizes what some say is another difference of these wars.
“Amputees — they don’t cover it up,” says Dick McLane, Anderson’s mentor at Pride Mobility, the Pennsylvania-based wheelchair manufacturer for which Anderson is a national spokesman. “In previous wars, guys that suffered amputations always covered it up.”
Steve Maxner, who is leading a Vietnam vets’ oral history project at Texas Tech’s Vietnam Center, says the 9/11 attacks prompted many reluctant Vietnam vets to step forward to record their stories, in part to lay groundwork for veterans of the new wars to tell theirs.
“They were saying, ‘Let’s not make the same mistake with our current veterans (that) we did with Vietnam,’ ” he says.
Wounded Vietnam veteran Dave Roever, himself a successful public speaker, says he has trained about 500 wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in public speaking at his Eagles Summit ranches in Colorado and Texas. Telling their stories, he says, helps wounded vets “offload a lot of that stress before that becomes a disorder.”
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What does it take to become a leader?
Nearly 300 middle school students from the Visalia Unified School District and Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified School District were confronted with that question Friday at the Latino Youth Leadership Academy at College of the Sequoias.
The students — all 13- to 14-year-old boys — participated in the day-long summit filled with workshops, guest speakers and hands-on learning activities.
The purpose of the youth academy, the event’s organizers say, is to highlight educational opportunities available to students.
“It is critically important to reach kids at this age group,” said Frank Escobar, manager for after-school programs at the Visalia Unified School District. “Our younger kids are being exposed to more things at a younger age and so it’s important that we get them at this age group. Getting them here, getting them inspired and getting them equipped now is much more important today than it ever has been.”
Escobar noted the social pressures that students face daily, but he stressed that students seek positive community resources.
“There is so much negativity going on in their schools and in their communities that it’s important
for them to know that despite what’s going on around them, they can achieve,” he said.
Escobar was one of about half a dozen Hispanic community leaders who gave presentations stressing the importance of an education.
Presenters included Raymond Macareno, publisher of Nuestro Tiempo magazine and a 2011 City Council candidate, and Marcy Huerta, a coordinator at COS.
Interim COS Superintendent Brent Calvin and Tulare County Supervisor Phil Cox also addressed students attending the academy.
Bill Scroggins, superintendent/president of COS before Calvin, was instrumental in establishing the youth academy along with the Latina Leadership Network, a statewide organization for women with chapters at local community colleges.
Anna Williams, a counselor at COS and coordinator of the event, said the program was created to address the high dropout rate for Hispanic high school students. Curbing gang activity, she said, is also a goal of the program.
According to statistics compiled by the California Department of Education, nearly 25 percent of Hispanic students in Tulare County who started school in 2006 failed to graduate. The dropout rate for all races countywide is about 19 percent.
“We want to instill early the importance of staying in school, graduating from high school and going to college,” Williams said.
She said Friday’s academy in some cases was the first exposure to college for students. And in some cases, she added, the students will be the first in their families to graduate from high school.
“Because of what we did [Friday], we are hopeful that we made a difference to the 300 young men who attended,” Williams said. “We expect to see them all one day graduate.”
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