A scandal-free story reminding us why we love college football
Tired of reading about scandal? Good, because I'm tired of writing about it.
Lying coaches, agent runners working as assistants and bogus scouting services have dominated the headlines -- and with good reason. But every once in while, we should step back and remember why we love college football so much.
We love college football because Shane Reveiz and Jake Storey play college football.
Never heard of Reveiz and Storey? Don't feel bad. You probably wouldn't know the Tennessee fifth-year seniors unless you're one of those deranged types who memorizes the personal protector on the punt team or the wedge setter on the kickoff return team at various SEC schools. Reveiz and Storey have toiled in quasi-anonymity, sweating and bleeding for the Volunteers since 2007. Wednesday, each walk-on linebacker got a text message from position coach Peter Sirmon. Head coach Derek Dooley wanted to see him.
At first, Reveiz thought the text meant trouble. But he hadn't done anything wrong. When he saw Storey's car parked at the football complex, Reveiz had an inkling the news might be good. He immediately texted Storey, asking if he'd also gotten a text from Sirmon. Storey replied that he had, but he refused to answer any other questions.
Storey already had met with Dooley on the field during a camp for high schoolers, and the meeting included this exchange:
Dooley: "We have a couple of open scholarships. I was wondering if you were interested."
Storey (dumbfounded): "Yes sir. Of course I'm interested."
In the next few weeks, coaches across the country will have similar conversations with similarly dumbfounded walk-ons. You probably won't read about most of those conversations or most of those walk-ons. But take a moment and read about Reveiz and Storey, two walk-ons who, despite playing for three different head coaches, clawed their way onto the field and then onto the scholarship roster. For a few minutes, you'll forget the scandals.
Reveiz's last name should sound familiar. His father, Fuad, kicked at Tennessee and in the NFL. His older brother, Nick, walked on at Tennessee and played his way into a scholarship and a starting job. But Shane, all 5-foot-10, 215 pounds of him, did not originally seem destined to grab a scholarship at any point in his career. Hardly anyone recruited him out of Farragut (Tenn.) High. His next best option was a walk-on spot at Furman. So he decided to follow his brother to Tennessee, where Coach Phillip Fulmer's staff figured that if one Reveiz could contribute as a walk-on, so could another.
In December of his freshman season, Reveiz and his teammates took echocardiograms. The test revealed a growth on Reveiz's heart. If the growth wasn't removed, it might have broken free and killed him. Unfortunately for Reveiz, that probably meant the end of his football career. "I was going to have to have open-heart surgery," Reveiz said. "They were thinking that they were going to have to cut my sternum completely in half." But research by Fuad Reveiz led the family to an Atlanta surgeon who had pioneered a technique to remove such tumors with a less invasive surgery. Instead of ending his career, the newer technique would sideline Shane for only four months.
For the next three years, Shane would prove the strength of his heart. He excelled in the weight room. He devoured his playbook. When a coach asked a question, he knew the answer. He knew he wasn't as fast or as strong as the teammates Tennessee spent millions to recruit, but he wouldn't let them outwork him. "I've always tried to control myself," Reveiz said, "and not let my surroundings control me."
That isn't easy when the coach keeps changing. Reveiz and Storey played two seasons for Fulmer, and then he was fired. They played one year for Lane Kiffin, and then he bolted for USC. Now, they play for Dooley. Each time the coach changed, all the walk-ons' progress was erased. Each started from scratch. "Kiffin actually gave us a shot," Storey said. "That's when we started playing. Next thing you know, Kiffin's gone, too. Here's Dooley, and we've got to prove ourselves all over again."
Like Reveiz, Storey (5-10, 219) makes his living on special teams. He specializes in delivering blocks with extreme prejudice for the Vols' kickoff return men. Unlike Reveiz, Storey had scholarship offers coming out of Astronaut High in Titusville, Fla. Storey could have played for free at an FCS school, but he chose to join high school teammate Rufus Williams, who had signed a scholarship with Tennessee, in Knoxville. "I wanted the true college experience," Storey said.
Williams never made it through the NCAA's initial eligibility clearinghouse, so Storey wound up on his own at Tennessee. He quickly earned the respect of his teammates and coaches with his play on the scout team and with his willingness to do anything on special teams. He also piled up student loans.
He won't have to apply for another one. "I was living off of loans just trying to get through school," Storey said. "Now I don't have to ask my parents for anything. My dad and my mom supported me the whole time through. I called them and told them I was on scholarship, and my mom broke down and cried. My dad was so proud. That was the best part for me."
Now Storey can finish his hospitality management degree on Tennessee's dime, and he can use that degree to chase his dream of becoming a chef and running his own restaurant. For now, Storey's best customers are the teammates who come to his apartment and throw in a couple bucks to inhale Storey's take on his mother's shepherd's pie recipe. "She'll kill me for this," he said, "but I put my own tweaks on it."
Come September, Dooley may have to tweak the roles of Reveiz and Storey. Injuries have left the linebacker corps depleted, and each may have to contribute beyond special teams. That's fine with the former walk-ons. If they bring the attitudes that earned them scholarships, they'll succeed at anything.
"For kids that want to walk on, they need to go in knowing the situation, knowing the scholarship guys are going to get more opportunities," Reveiz said. "But at the same time, they need to have it in their mind that they're going to beat them out. They're going to work that much harder to prove those coaches wrong and prove they can play."