A lot has happened in the past year. I traded in my helmet for a headset, became a Rhodes Scholar finalist, wrote a screenplay, ran a half-marathon and was elected Student Body President of the University of Notre Dame. As I look back at my time in college, a clear theme emerges: service. The greatest honor in my life has been to serve those around me. Service to my team and university taught me how to lead, listen and leverage my talents to push for positive change.
When I gave up the game and became a coach, I had to learn an entirely new aspect of football. There was no more running routes, catching third-down passes or scoring touchdowns. Now it was teaching offensive schemes and concepts to young wide receivers. Without question, coaching was far more difficult than playing the game. The most difficult part about coaching was my inability to directly affect the game’s outcome. All my work came down to preparing the players to perform on Saturdays. Learning to trust players with the outcome of a game is not easy. Over time, I learned how rewarding it is to see others perform at a high level and achieve their dreams. Some of my favorite memories from college football are not me making a big catch, but celebrating with my teammates who made a great play after weeks of preparation. Watching them soak up the moment they worked tirelessly for beats any of the catches I ever had.
Coaching basically comes down to communicating effectively. Watching Coach Mike Denbrock work with the receivers taught me the nuances of coaching. Each guy is different – they learn differently, they respond to different coaching styles, and they handle failure differently. Since each player is unique, each player demands a unique approach to coaching. For example, I was a cerebral player who needed to understand a concept in the film room before performing it. Other guys on the team like Will (Will Fuller) or Breezy (Chris Brown) could just go out there and run the route against live coverage. I was never that talented. Once I understood the way I learned best, I could tailor the way I consumed and applied information. Using my personal experience as a guiding post, I began testing different teaching styles with the receivers. It wasn’t easy, but eventually I started to pick up on each guy’s different learning style and learned the first big lesson of the year: communication, and ultimately the retention and mastery of information, begins with a leader’s ability to listen to the team. It’s a lot easier to lead others when you actually listen to them. Most people will tell you how they want to be led if you simply listen.
Student Government taught me the importance of forming a good team. Talent never beats commitment to the cause. With our Student Government cabinet, Becca Blais (Vice President), Michael Markel (Chief of Staff), and I got lucky–we had a team of all-stars who cared more about the team and the students they served than themselves. As a result, we accomplished more than I could’ve imagined and had a blast doing it. Our administration introduced the first sexual assault survivor support group on campus and organized the first student-led Race Relations Week in Notre Dame’s 175-year history. We followed Race Relations Week with continued dialogues on race and diversity led by Branch Rickey III, grandson of legendary Los Angeles Dodgers’ owner Branch Rickey, and Rosa Rios, the 43rd Treasurer of the United States. We spearheaded several campaigns for awareness on international issues such as Notre Dame for Syria Week and a Prayer Service for Refugees and Immigrants. We worked closely with the university to reform student housing and resources for undergraduate entrepreneurship on campus. The crazy part? This is just a small snapshot of the work our incredible student leaders have worked diligently on the past 12 months. My Student Government team taught me the second lesson of the year: When you have a great team of passionate, hard-working, and egoless individuals, the sky is the limit.
The most difficult challenge of the presidency was managing the timeline of our projects. In football, your actions have an immediate effect with instant feedback. If I catch a third-down pass, the chains move, 80,000 fans in the stands cheer and millions more around the world go wild in front of their television sets. If I drop it…well, you know what happens. In Student Government, we could spend three months planning an event that ultimately goes poorly without knowing exactly where we messed up in real time. The mistake could’ve occurred in the planning, marketing, paperwork or a plethora of other possibilities. We won’t know until months later at the date of the event. The worst part is that there is no record tallying up our wins and losses for the year. As an administration, we’ll never know how we measure up against the past Student Government administrations or accurately measure the overall impact we’ve had on the present student body and those in the years to come. All you can do at the end of the day is know that you’ve acted with integrity every step of the way and left it all on the field. History does the rest. Thus, Student Government taught me the third lesson of the year: If you do everything with integrity, you can be confident in your work, even if it takes a little while to bear fruit.
Working with my peers this past year, I’ve seen first-hand the power my generation wields. Students can do anything we put our minds to. It only takes passion, discipline, commitment and direction for a dorm room idea to turn into a national non-profit or a thesis to turn into policy. Yes, I’ve seen Olympians and Rhodes Scholars change our local and national communities but I’ve also seen a sophomore in Knott Hall act in a full-length feature film. It took me two years to realize the difference I could make at Notre Dame. As I walk away from coaching and the presidency, I write directly to my peers–the dreamers, leaders, change agents, revolutionaries, and visionaries across the country. We, as young people, are positioned to make an incredible impact in our local communities. All it takes is the willingness to jump in and the courage to face the prospect of failure. Your idea can change someone’s life. Don’t wait until you graduate–try it now! After all, now is the best time to change the world. And after you jump in, you’ll see that it’s by far the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done.