Pete Barrows

Sports Journalist — Pete.Barrows12@gmail.com

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Back to school

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Jamie Potts is back in town, GV couldn’t be happier


GVL / Robert Mathews Sophomore Jamie Potts


Pete Barrows
Featurist

Matt Mitchell stares on solemnly from the sidelines behind a strategically tinted pair of aviators. His squad at Grand Valley State – named the No. 14 Division II football team in the country by the latest American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) poll – has been temporarily shipwrecked by No. 4 ranked Ferris State. So, too, have been any national championship aspirations he may have held.

With his team huddled around him on bent knee at halftime, Mitchell suppresses the growing lump in his throat as he attempts to bark life into his players. Mitchell has convinced himself that his Lakers still have a chance to best their arch-rival for the first time since Muskegon-area coaching legend Tony Annese took over at FSU in 2012, but in his twisted-up gut, he’s re-living 2014’s nightmare: a 42-17 defeat that moved GVSU to 0-3.

At the the conclusion of Mitchell’s impassioned, yet thinly veiled, pep talk, the locker room falls silent. Deathly so, until a muffled click-clack of molded cleats over carpeted concrete echoes from down the hall. The figure attached to the cleats grips a helmet in his right hand as he lightly jogs towards the room. His face, as if for dramatic effect, is shrouded in shadow.

With notice to the inquisitive whispers now spreading from player to player, Mitchell slowly rotates his head over his shoulder to gain a better vantage. As he turns, he double-takes as he rips off his shades. It’s prodigal son Jamie Potts that has implausibly returned, and Mitchell’s sternness melts away.

Playing the part of smooth operator, Mitchell beams.

“What took you so long, kid?”

Led out by Potts, GVSU pours back out onto Lubbers Stadium in front of a record crowd re-invigorated. An incredulous Annese and his defending Harlon Hill winning quarterback Jason Vander Laan – who in this rendition is played by Billy Zabka – sprint spiritedly out to midfield to contest Potts’ eligibility. They are debunked on one condition: Potts – GVSU’s star receiver — can play, as long as he declares the route he’s going to run before the snap. Tough, but fair, thinks Mitchell.

With a confidently coy grin, Mitchell acquiesces.

“Potts will be running the Tripppppple Lindy. And he’ll be running it all night.”

As the ruling is announced by the head umpire over the PA system, Annese and Vander Laan exchange a bewildered glance, shrug and then about-face back towards their sideline. A shirtless GVSU student, painted as if he had an interview lined up with The Blue Man Group, is equally confused, and turns to a peer in the student section to discover how difficult a route the Triple Lindy is to run. He’s promptly informed that it’s impossible.

After GVSU receives the kick, Mitchell sends out his offense. Potts lines up in the slot, rotates his trunk in a stretching motion, performs a  few armpit farts for good measure and licks his thumb before dragging it out across the length of his frame to sample the wind. A befuddled defender adjacent Potts stands slack as the crowd falls silent in anticipation.

At the snap, Potts pounces.

Instead of charging downfield as is the standard operating procedure for receivers even as talented as Potts, he plants his feet and flips latterly over the entire offensive line. The entire Ferris State defense is aghast even before Potts lands and immediately springs back again across the offensive line to his initial alignment. As quarterback Bart Williams hits the back end of his seven-step drop, he hitches up into the pocket, and watches mystified as Potts first backflips behind the line of scrimmage and then front flips over an unsuspecting defender in what appears to be one fluid motion. Bart fires into the middle of the field to a wide-open Potts, who proceeds to fly downfield with the speed of a hanging curveball off the sweet-spot of a bat.

His path was so clear, he could have Ickey Shuffled.

GVSU wins big, the Laker faithful swamp the field en masse after the game and Potts is carried off into the night triumphantly on the shoulders of his teammates as streams of fireworks burst into the sky. It’s at that moment that Mitchell awakes with a start from a nap in his office; his cellphone is vibrating across his desk and the caller ID reads “Spokane, Washington.”


Dearest reader:

I hope you enjoyed that admittedly over-cooked, Rodney Dangerfield-inspired interlude enough that it still stands up when I level with you. I dig Dangerfield, old movies, football and combining them all in prose when the opportunity presents. I also have no reason whatsoever to suspect Mitchell day-dreamed this summer about Potts’ return. It’s pure speculation. But if he did, who could blame him?

It’s not that GVSU’s skill position cupboard was bare sans Potts – both junior Matt Williams and sophomore Brandon Bean have shown promise at receiver and the Laker backfield, spearheaded by senior Kirk Spencer, is well-stocked. It’s that Jamie Potts is a different (read: Division II Bo Jackson-esque) brand of athlete.
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At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, not only is Potts physically imposing. He’s productive, and led GVSU in 2014 in both catches (54) – more than double anyone else on the roster – and touchdown receptions (10). A jack-of-all-trades and a master of many since high school, Potts quarterbacked his team at Muskegon Oakridge High School, took care of all kicking duties and probably would have filled up the Gatorade cooler, walked the dog and painted the back porch had he been asked.

Potts also has a long-running penchant for baseball, and compiled a successful dual-sport career in his four years as a Laker. Last spring – his final season of collegiate baseball eligibility – he was named a first-team member of the Daktronics All-American squad.

So when Potts pulled a Russell Wilson as a football star drafted by the Texas Rangers, it came as only a mild surprise. Potts had expected he might get a call from the Detroit Tigers on draft day, but instead was selected this summer with the 918th overall pick in the 31st round. With little hesitation, Potts inked a deal to play for the Spokane Indians – a Class A Short Season affiliate of the Rangers — and flew out to Washington for his first season of professional baseball.

“I’ve thought for a while now that I probably have a better chance of making it up to the highest level in baseball than I do in football,” Potts said. “I’m a little undersized to be a tight end in the NFL, which I would have to be if I went that route.

“Baseball – besides being fun to play – is also a lot easier on your body than football. There’s a lot less health concerns, you can play a lot longer and I knew that if I got the chance, I’d play professional baseball.”19384_pottsheaderphotoo

In 57 games with the Indians – most of which Potts hit cleanup and started at right field – he finished with a .217/.290/.311 slash and four home runs. He didn’t commit a single error.

It was a promising start – especially for a Division II prospect like Potts that had nary before been exposed to big league caliber pitching. It was the sort of start Potts was expecting to build on in fall instruction league and in workouts back home. At least, that was the plan until Potts received a fateful text from Mitchell in late August.

“I was in contact with coach Mitchell on and off throughout the summer, and toward the end of my season with the Indians, he sent me a text to see if there was any possibility that I’d be able to come back,” Potts said. “I had previously heard from some other people in the Ranger organization that it would be very unlikely that I’d be allowed to play football, but I decided to check one last time.”

After the text exchange with Mitchell, Potts got in touch with the Rangers’ minor league director of player development, Mike Daily. What happened next was unexpected. The kind of thing that defies the laws of opportunity cost, and is generally reserved for overly optimistic day dreams.

“Mike was very supportive of my desire to come back to finish my degree and my football career, which was a little bit of a shock for me,” Potts said. “I have been at GVSU for four years and with two older brothers that went to school here before me, I’ve been around the program for even longer. Getting the opportunity to finish up the right way was important to me, and it’s special to me that I was granted that opportunity.”

On Sept. 7 – the day after the second half of the Northwest League ended – Potts was on a plane back to Grand Rapids. The day after that, he was enrolled in the 13 credits he needed to complete his degree in allied health sciences, had cleared his eligibility with both GVSU and the NCAA and was back to practicing with the football team.

Potts dressed, but played sparingly, in GVSU’s 27-24 come-from-behind, payback victory against No. 7 Ohio Dominican on Sept. 12. That won’t be the case Saturday in a critical game against Ferris State that GVSU officials predict could be played  in front of one of the largest crowds in Lubbers Stadium history (the current record is 16,467 against  Saginaw Valley in 2009).

“Any time the Anchor-Bone trophy is on the line, it’s a huge game for both programs, and I’m excited to be at full go for it,” Potts said. “It’s Ferris State. There doesn’t have to be a lot said about it. They’re a good football team, and I think we are too. It’s the biggest rivalry that we have, and there’s major implications on the conference championship race.

“We want to win. I’m sure they do too. We’ll have to see who wants it more.”

After a summer vacation spent without picking up a pigskin and only a week’s practice to sync up with the flowing-haired, big-armed incumbent quarterback Williams — a player Potts has no prior game experience with — there’s no guarantee that Potts will make the difference for GVSU, even if he does unleash a few Triple Lindys. Just as there’s no guarantee that Potts will make it up to the Major Leagues or that the Lakers will redeem last year’s disappointing 6-5 season with a national championship.

For now, that’s too far into the future for Potts, who is elated just to be a college student again. And for now, just having Potts back in school is a dream come true for Mitchell and the entirety of the GVSU football program that is tired of getting no respect.

“It’s great being back here,” Potts said. “I really missed it all. Even playing pro baseball – and we’d fill our stadium just about every night – nothing compares to college athletics. As cool a spot as Spokane is, it’s not college. There’s a special feel you get when you’re playing for your school, and it means a lot to me to be back for my senior season.

“I try to make it a practice not to look too far ahead – our approach at GVSU has always been to take everything one day at a time. I still can’t help but to be excited to see where we end up at the end of the year if we take care of business every week.”

sports@lanthorn.com

To read the original post “Back to School”, click here at the Lanthorn online.

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Written by peterdbarrows

September 17, 2015 at 4:16 pm

FIN

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When you think you’ve got all figured out and everything collapses, trust me kid, it’s not the end of the world. 

GVL / Robert Mathews

Pete Barrows
Columnist

I used to wander aimlessly in and out of the paintings that adorn the halls of the Detroit Institute of Art before finding my way to my film class to screen the Detroit Film Theaters weekly showing, sponging up every brush stroke, ceramic curve, cinematography choice and grand design I could identify before furiously splattering all that I saw against the back of retina like an untrained speed painter performing in the street.

My formal training in art can be reduced to the “happy little trees” I observed being puffed into canvas by Bob Ross and his majestically coiffed afro, slam poetry sessions where burned CDs with generic labels were traded after the show I watched – performed in dank conference rooms for extra credit – a 35mm photography class I barely passed as a freshman in high school and occasional visits to a self-curated library of quality reads with bookmarks long ago – abandoned halfway in between the pages that wastes away in my room collecting dust.

I am not an artist – this much is clear to me – but every time I made the desolate drive back home from the DFT along an impossibly deserted 75N expressway in that dark part of the night, after midnight and before 4:30 when it’s hollow digesting the splutter of art I’d just observed, I couldn’t help but to contemplate how an artist could know when a work was done.

I still wonder every time I sit down at my laptop and bleed out a story for the Lanthorn. If not for a deadline that I milk for all it’s worth, like a classroom of punk middle schoolers does a substitute teacher, I might battle to cover up my brushstrokes for eternity. I’ve come to terms with the sentiment that done is better than perfect out of necessity, but sometimes it feels like I’ll never drum up an ending I can be satisfied with. If I always waited, I might never go to print.

Understanding how rare they are, I’m sucker for a good ending. And even when I can’t nail one down myself, I know a quality finish when I see one – particularity in film.

I’ve wallpapered my room with posters of my heroes ever since I was a kid and have enjoyed the aesthetics of a variety of different stills, but I’ve never been struck by any work quite as much as the guns-blazing sepia portrait of Newman’s Butch Cassidy and Redford’s Sundance that fades into credits as the pair makes their last stand.

Speak “Rosebud” when discussing cinema’s most famous lines and you’ll get a spark of recognition from most everyone in the audience and their mother, but tell me “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” when you and I first meet and shake hands and it really will be.

I still get chills watching Tommy Lee Jones read Cormac McCarthy to send out No Country For Old Men, and if I ever make it to Zihuatanejo, I’ll make it a point to send back a postcard from wherever it is that I cross the border. Whenever I watch a Rapid bus pull away from a stop, it occurs to me that there might be a pair of Elaine Robinson and Ben Braddock riders in the back with no destination in mind, overwhelmed with concern about their futures just like me. A cold-sweat begins to stir me to panic until a clunky muffler shocks me back and reminds me that sitting on the back of the bus bound for destinations unknown beats sitting in a room staring into a fishbowl.

I’m a sucker for a good ending in sports too, whereas it is in film and literature they can be equally defining, if not more organic. I always pocket the ones I like best in literal clippings from the paper.

The blue collar Detroit Pistons team that subjugated the star-studded LA Lakers and all of Hollywood in 2004 will forever be my team, just as the ’68 Tigers that soothed Detroit with a World Series crown after a summer of race riots will forever be my pop’s. Both front pages of the Detroit Free Press announcing those titles hang framed side by side in my basement.

When Jerome Bettis retired as a Super Bowl champion is his hometown, it was something out of a movie – only better, since it really happened. I still have the copy of SI – and boxes full of other endings in the form of magazines and excerpts I’ve collected over the years – to prove it. The same is true for the Grand Valley State girls soccer team that won the a national champions before graduating coach Dave DiIanni to Division I; I know because I wrote that clipping myself.

One of the beautiful elements of sports is that, sometimes, the endings write themselves, and I relish the moment every time I’m gifted a joyous conclusions to report upon. Some endings are painfully cliché, others wildly unpredictable or thought-provokingly twisted, and the right one can privy fans to absorb the moment right through the copy. But for every story about GVSU product Charles Johnson catching on in the NFL punctuated with optimism about what could be, there’s another about Cullen Finnerty dotted with tragedy about what could have been.

Some endings are difficult to bare, and as a writer, I sometimes like to pretend that I have a supernatural control over blank pages on Open Office. That somehow by putting finger-tip to key, I could make my words so. That I could re-write what’s already come to pass with a few smartly placed revisions, and could determine with a few paragraphs what the future holds. And that when I got the ending right, a light would flicker on right next to the over-extended word-counting tool on the bottom of screen to signal me.

Until that technology is developed, one thought provides simultaneously comforts and excites me every time the lights come back on in a theater, I lose a good friend, finish a book, submit a story, a season closes or a school year inevitably comes to end: The next ending will come soon enough.

sports@lanthorn.com

To read the original post “FIN”, click here at the Lanthorn online.

Written by peterdbarrows

April 16, 2015 at 12:53 am

Paper Laker

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Pete Barrows
Columnist

I have a confession to make.

I’ve been writing this column for a semester now, but something’s missing. I know it. You know it. Louie knows it. I stretch my imagination across a salt water taffy puller every time I sit down to write it, but my creations aren’t anchored in the palpable. It’s all just dust in the wind once you clip out my article and use it as kindling.

If only my pen was sharp enough to write the right words. If only I could pluck the day dreams that float around my car like skyward Chinese lanterns on my drive home from work out of the air, and pin them down to paper with a fistful of thumb tacks. If only I could make my visions real.

But I’m no George Plimpton, father of participatory journalism and patron saint of Walter Mitty sport writers. I’m not even Plimpton imitator, Ben Malcolmson, USC sport editor turned Rudy. Type “Pete Barrows” into Google, and you’ll find my Baseball Reference page at the top of your search. It claims I’m a 6-foot-5, 205-pound outfielder that batted .283 with the Independent League Sioux City Explorers last season. It’s a great conversation starter, only (shhh, don’t tell) it isn’t me.

It’s not that I haven’t covered plenty in my time with the Lanthorn worth covering. I trekked down to Augusta, Ga. to watch the Grand Valley State University girls soccer team take home a title. I’ve traveled to the Breslin Center in East Lansing to cover the lady Laker basketball team, and sat alone on Tom Izzo’s bench as I wrote under dimmed stadium lights. I was there when the Grand Rapids Griffins set up their Calder Cup victory at Van Andel Arena against the Syracuse Crunch. But I’ve never made the Plimpton plunge.

Not that I was a notable athlete in high school, but Malcomson hadn’t played football since fifth grade before earning a spot on Pete Carroll’s dynasty. Plimpton wasn’t much of an athlete either, but that didn’t stop him from working through the bucket list of all bucket lists, tailored explicitly for sports fans.

He went three rounds with Archie Moore at Stillman’s Gym in 1959, earning himself a bloody nose, and spared with Sugar Ray Robinson in the ring. He threw the hook to Jackie Robinson in a NL/AL exhibition game, and managed to pop up Willie Mays before exhausting his untried arm. He put his 18 stroke handicap up against Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus (who at 75 years of age, knocked in a hole-in-one at Wednesday’s par-3 contest), and was outdueled badly. He challenged pro Pancho Gonzalez in tennis, Oswald Jacoby in high-level bridge, tried out as an aerialist with the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus and never made the cut. He trained with the Boston Bruins as goalie, slicing open a pinky in a preseason game, engineered the preeminent Aprils Fools gag ever concocted when he detailed Buddhist Sidd Finch’s 168-mile per hour heater in Sports Illustrated and famously walked-on to the Detroit Lions as a “professional” third-string quarterback in 1963.

His quarterback career concluded as he lost 30-plus yards in a scrimmage against Alex Karras and company, just as mine had with an interception in an IM game against a rival fraternity (alright, it isn’t quite apples to apples). He consistently got knocked around in his bouts against the best in the business, but where most Mittys envisage away their afternoons with visions of grandeur, Plimpton lived the gritty realities while chronicling his forays in his works.

Plimpton opined that he could not write accurately or vividly about a sport unless he experienced it first-hand. Who am I to disagree? If anyone has ever better encapsulated the essence of sport better than him in this excerpt from the Paper Lion, I haven’t read it.

“The pleasure of sport was so often the chance to indulge the cessation of time itself – the pitcher dawdling on the mound, the skier poised at the top of a mountain trail, the basketball player with the rough skin of the ball against his palm preparing for a foul shot, the tennis player at set point over his opponent – all of them savoring a moment before committing themselves to action.”

The trick for me in taking my next step in sports journalism was determining where to begin.

I considered going for the Mark Titus, author of “Don’t Put Me In, Coach,” but every time I play a pickup game, I’m reminded that my jump shot is more broke than my bank statement. It’s safe to say that I won’t be riding Ric Wesley’s bench any time soon.

I also deliberated following the Plimpton/Malcomson/Ruettiger model directly by trying out for the football team. Although last I heard, Chad Pennington arms aren’t in vogue. I think I’ll pocket that venture for another column.

Amid my brainstorming, somewhere between asking Moriah Muscaro to train me and throwing on some Harry Potter to brush up on my Quidditch, it struck me that I might be more Plimpton than I originally presumed. All that was left for me to do was to write about my experience.

Ever since I enrolled at GVSU eons ago, I have coached in a Panhellenic sanctioned powder puff football tournament known as Battle of the Valley Girls that pits sororities against each other on the gridiron in a single elimination bracket.

The official premise of the contest is to promote Greek unity while raising money for charity, and both ends have been dependably met. Tournament host Sigma Kappa raised $1,858 for Alzheimer’s research last year, while an additional $300 went to the communal Panhellenic philanthropy fund. There’s also an underlying, unspoken secondary purpose.

The tournament title sounds a bit like a promotion for an underground slap fight between Julie Richman and Shelly Darlingson, but my disillusions promptly disappeared in my very first practice when I witnessed one of my girls eagerly continue to play with a bloody nose after taking an elbow to the face. Make no mistake; this was football, and I’ve always dreamed of being a coach.

Many of the participants attend practices without much of a background in sports, while others could easily best me in a 40-yard dash (which admittedly, isn’t saying much). It makes no difference where they start. Year after year, I’ve watched girls that couldn’t pick any NFL player except Tom Brady out of a lineup transform into fearsome, flag-pulling linebackers and fearless, turf-cutting running backs.

Teaching powder puff football wasn’t a skill in my wheelhouse and I don’t always know what to leave in or out of my instructions, but when I watch a player master a new skill or celebrate a touchdown, I can’t help but grin. I have yet to win the whole thing – I might never – and this might be as close to being a college football coach as I’ll ever come. But every time I step on the field to with a whistle around my neck and a Steve Spurrier visor on my head, I’m overwhelmed with joy that isn’t just experienced vicariously. As much as I enjoy watching sports from my Lazy Boy, the hairs on your back only stand on end during a breakdown when you’re in the huddle.

That’s the power of immersion, and the thrill that must have hooked Plimpton. I can understand why. The next time you jump in to something entirely new with no regard for your comfort zone, to do instead of dream, you will too.

The tournament will kick off at 9 a.m. Saturday at the turf fields, and is open to the public. The forecast predicts an idyllic 60-degree afternoon. Wish me luck.


pbarrows@lanthorn.com

To read the original post “Experiencing the Game”, click here at the Lanthorn online.

Written by peterdbarrows

April 9, 2015 at 12:48 am

Staying ahead of the pack

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Four reasons GVSU should welcome wild wolves to Allendale Campus18527_zumbergeo

But now is not the time to rest on laurels, to succumb to complacency or seal the envelope. Now is the time to stick out a proverbial tongue, Miley Cyrus style, and continue to improve upon a rising stock.

Now is the time to introduce multiple packs of wolves onto GVSU’s Allendale Campus.

You might be asking yourself why in the world someone would want that, or perhaps why the Lanthorn allows a rambling hermit with a screw or three lose to write a weekly column. But think about it.

When allocating straight cash money toward frivolous projects like a new state of the art library, a fresh out of the box science building, a renovated Fieldhouse and housing developments, the real question is why the powers at be wouldn’t invest in a program with the potential to be truly transformative? Before you have me committed, allow me to defend my terms.

Reason No. 1: No more Department of Public Safety

DPS is allotted a sizable allowance in the annual budget, and it makes sense. You try corralling an unruly herd of hotheaded, snot-nosed and possibly, but most likely not, intoxicated students without a Segway scooter.

With wolves roaming around campus, public safety will no longer be an issue.

Predators out lurking after dark, beware; these wolves are well aware of their place on the food chain and will be all to happy to remind you of yours. Not to mention alcohol, drug and bath-salt use will drop almost completely off the charts. No student will want to leave their apartment, sober or otherwise, with rabid wolves running around campus.

Tuition will also decrease with the newly freed budget money that used to go to DPS. We’ll all miss the regimented enforcement of parking regulations and the late night speed traps, but a safer, more cost effective campus is a selling point for prospective students and parents alike too good to pass up. Higher enrollment means more collective dough from students, plus increased endowments from the state, and the cash cycle will keep spinning like a dilapidated Laker Village washing machine.

Reason No. 2: The average GPA will skyrocket

Not only will students be privy to a live demonstration of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” outside of the classroom, the average student’s awareness of their surroundings, as well as their survival skills, will improve exponentially. Talk about gaining valuable life skills.

With the introduction of wolves, there will also be a “low­-man­-out” grade incentive policy instituted. Upon completion of every class, students will be dismissed by order of lowest GPA to highest. If there is a better way to motivate students to study hard and pay attention in class than to literally throw them to the wolves, I simply can’t fathom it. If you “accidentally” lose a few slackers along the way, well there is such a thing as addition by subtraction; remember when Diane Chambers finally got written off Cheers?

Reason No. 3: GVSU will boast the quintessential hospitality and tourism management program in the country

GVSU can (and should) open up its campus for tours, similar to the ones pictured in the nonfiction classic “Jurassic Park.” Use all of the budget cut/increased admissions/added government revenue generated by the wolves as a down payment on a guided Jeep tour track and boardwalk viewing platform, charge $10 a pop for a ticket and boom, tuition is thousands of dollars less. The wolves pay for themselves.

As an added benefit, students will be provided with invaluable real-life, hands-on job experience running the attraction and accompanying Good Wolf Lodge resort designed for visiting parents and tourists.

Reason No. 4: GVSU Athletics will peak across the board

With students left running for their lives in between classes, sports that emphasize speed, agility, coordination, endurance and instinct (so yes – all of them) will reap tremendous gains. No longer will the Laker athletic program be forced to vie with larger, more well-established athletic powers while recruiting externally. Instead, GVSU will have the unique capability to draw from an enhanced pool of potential recruits, while scouting every day right on campus.

Ex.:

Coach No. 1: Did you see that kid with the backpack hurdle that shrub?

Coach No. 2: Dibs. That had to be at least a 40-inch vertical. Damn that wolf looked hungry!

Coach No. 1: Fine, but I call that girl that just sprinted the length of Robinson field in 10-seconds flat.

Louie the Laker, hardened by rigorous treks across a campus affectionately known as the “Wolf Den,” will become the most feared mascot in the NCAA. Sorry, Sparty. Scholarships will be merit based and always up for grabs. And with the most athletic and competitive student base in the country, GVSU might finally have all the reasons and resources necessary to become a Division 1 powerhouse “by choice.”

If within five years tops of passing this proposal GVSU is not the premier institution of higher learning in the continental U.S., it’ll be because some bold school beat us to the punch. The time to act is now.

If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or wish to pledge your support, please feel free to email us at Gotcha@happyAprilFools.com

To read the original post “Mad for March”, click here at the Lanthorn online.

Written by peterdbarrows

April 1, 2015 at 12:41 am

Next

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Finding the next great GVSU athlete isn’t as easy as it looks

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Pete Barrows
Columnist

It comes as a surprise to most, but I don’t make enough through my Lanthorn writing alone to sustain my lavish lifestyle.

I keep waiting for ESPN to request that I weigh in with my hot takes, Mitch Albom to ask me to write the forward for his next book, Terry Foster to have me as a guest host on The Ticket or at the very least, Tony Reali to have me on to sweep up all the crumpled balls of paper he litters across the set after every episode of Around The Horn, but no one’s lining up for my services. Not yet, at least.

So to keep the off-brand hot dogs on the table and Elaine — my busted-up 2003 Pontiac Grand Am – swimming in fresh duct tape until my big break comes, I’ve worked odd jobs and schemed get-rich-quick hustles on the side.

I started a few summers back breading foxes with beagles, looking to break in to the exotic pet game. Only Boxes weren’t nearly as popular as I anticipated; they don’t listen to a word you say, and are almost impossible to catch.

I then tried opening a shoe-shine stand just outside of the Kirkhof Center, and it was going great until I spilt polish all over T-Haas. I told him I was an FBI agent as I bolted to squelch the heat, but Andy Dwyer did it best. If only I knew how to play the guitar.

I took to plumbing next, but there are only so many P-traps to unclog. I tried my thumb as a farmer, but my corn never grew beyond Barbie portions. I gave gambling the ole college try, but every scratcher I bought from Family Fare went bust, just like my bracket.

Out of ideas and work, I decided to take a job writing high school sports. It’s almost a real job, too, with plenty of office grunt work to go around. Despite my lofty status as a glorified office temp, I’ve never forgotten where I’ve come from. And I know that even through the multiple parking tickets and all the classes I’ve botched, that Grand Valley State University’s been good to me.

Good enough that I always try to give back when I can. Not with money, but with something better; my platform. During every high school sports season – from water polo to basketball to gymnastics to rugby — hundreds of games from across the state of Michigan are funneled through my desk, and with every game, I make mental notes of players to watch. The writers with the best flair. I monitor the stats, get the inside scoop from coaches and seek out the kids that are born playmakers and game-changers; especially the ones that might look good in Laker blue.

I’ve made some headway, too.

The sons of celebrities like Bobbie Hull, Calvin Hill, Barry Sanders, Ken Griffey Jr., Deion Sanders, Ray Lewis, Bruce Smith, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Snoop Lion, Will Smith, Wayne Grettzky Joe Montana and Archie Manning have all been heavily recruited, and Evander Holyfield’s son Elijah appears to be on the same path. One of the most highly sought after running backs in the class of 2016, GVSU won’t be on his radar, but if and when Koraun Mayweather – son of Money Floyd — starts playing a sport, the Lakers should be the first on the scene. I do have my doubts that a 15-year old who drives a Bentley golf cart can develop the work ethic requisite to fuel a successful athletic career, but bringing a Mayweather back to West Michigan could create quite a splash.

As the Michigan high school basketball playoffs move to the Breslin Center for the Class A through D championships, I’ve also been scouting prep hoopsters in hopes of finding the right player to supplant All-GLIAC second-teamer Ryan Sabin. Justin Greason’s 28 points and spot on Willis Reed impression in Eisenhower’s 61-52 Class A district final victory against Utica on Mar. 13 was impressive, and  the promising 6-foot-10 post will play his ball at GVSU next season. So will Zach West, a Sabin-esque slashing guard from Illinois, but why stop there?

When reigning Mr. Basketball Deyonta Davis led defending Class A champ Muskegon up against Magic Johnson’s alma mater and Mr. Basketball finalist Trevor Manuel, it pained me to know that Davis was bound for MSU while Manuel had committed to Oregon. It’s equally disappointing to know that third Mr. Basketball finalist Eric Davis of Saginaw Arthur Hill – who Manuel will play in a state semifinal game Friday – is got roped in by Texas, but junior point guard Cassius Winston of U-D Jesuit – who will play in the other semifinal — is still uncommitted. It’s a perfect opportunity for Louie to pounce.

If my study abroad exploits ever extend beyond a day trip to Canada, I promise to diligently scout for the next Serge Ibaka/Manute Bol/Yao Ming/Saleh just like Kevin Bacon did in Air Up There. See I really do hope to one day repay my debt to GVSU by guiding an athlete or writer much better than myself to become a Laker, elevating the program, and if the powers at be wished to build a statue of me in homage next to the M.I.P. library for all of my innovation and assistance, I wouldn’t say no.

It’s a nice sentiment, if I do say so myself, but the truth is GVSU doesn’t need it. Unlike me, the athletic program nor the Lanthorn is dependent on harebrained plots or pipe dream efforts to get by. The Lakers might steal away the occasional borderline blue chip prospect like Jamie Potts or Jimmy Berezik, or produce an award-winning writer like Brian Beaupied, but most of the program’s brightest contributors are home made. GVSU’s elite coaches like Jerry Baltes (and formerly Doc Woods and Dave DiIanni) are known for their ability to bring out the best in their athletes, and it’s the students that for one reason or another were overlooked by bigger schools eager to prove themselves that so often excel.

When I’m not off trapping furs or digging ditches, I’ll keep looking for GVSU’s next big thing. Besides, it’s my job (some of the time) to deliver the scoop. I’m sure GVSU will keep looking, too. Until then, expect the next big thing from GVSU to be unexpected. To be drawn to GVSU, and not the other way around. And when he or she emerges, expect me to be ready to shine their shoes.

pbarrows@lanthorn.com

Written by peterdbarrows

March 27, 2015 at 1:58 pm

Mad for March

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A six-step guide to filling out your bracket

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Pete Barrows
Columnist

Scene: Breslin Center, East Lansing – Nov. 2, 2007:

Callistus “Bean” Eziukwu collects a dish from a driving Jason Jamerson in the paint with his left hand, throws up a runner with his right and strikes the heel of the rim. The ball bounces straight up into the air, and then gently and purposefully cascades through the net with 10.4 seconds showing on the clock.

Preseason Big 10 Player of the Year Drew Neitzel’s desperation 3-pointer on the other end falls ‘Muggsy Bogues’ short, and the Grand Valley State men’s basketball team escapes with an 85-82 victory in double overtime over No. 8 Michigan State.

Eziukwu, GVSU’s career leader in blocks (329), scored eight of his 15 points in the second overtime while Jamerson, the program’s career leader in 3-point makes (303), netted 19 points in the stunning upset victory.

It was just an exhibition game, but it was magic and still stands out as one of the most storied moments in the history of GVSU basketball.

“Remember that time GVSU beat MSU at something?” Lucy Laker will remark as she strolls out of the Mary Idema Pew library with her study buddy.

“GVSU beat MSU?” Johnny GVSU exclaims. “Where was I?”

“Don’t you remember the 30-second clip on Sports Center that aired back when we were freshman in high school?” Lucy said. “It was rad.”

Johnny and Lucy segue the conversation by professing a shared love for college basketball. Johnny proclaims that he expects GVSU to win it all this year, and Lucy boasts that her bracket selections will decimate Johnny’s. The pair continues talks at the Connection, where Johnny offers to spring for the five-plus debit dollars Lucy needs to buy a regular sized salad.

What a guy. Johnny is in like Flynn – atta boy, Johnny – and March Madness is kept alive and well at GVSU. Only that conversation never happens.

The Lakers’ multiple Elite 8 appearances in the Division II tournament, as well as a Final Four finish in the 1977 NAIA Division I tourney, aren’t readily mentioned, and GVSU basketball pillars like career rebound leader Danny Poole are enigmas that exist to the Laker faithful only in record books.

Students and water cooler-gathering office workers across the country are just as likely to fill out a NIT bracket as they are to enter a Division II bracket pool, and it would be all too easy for all the “Johnny and Lucy/general population” students enrolled at GVSU to miss out on the majesty of March Madness.

The joy that can be exhumed from finding a basketball game every time you flip on a T.V. for a week, the vicarious energy shared when an underdog upsets a power, the satisfaction experienced every time one of your bracket picks moves on and the devastation felt when one of your Final Four teams bows out before the Sweet 16.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Do it for Dickie V. and all the diaper dandies. Do it for yourself, and for Louie. For all the Lucys and Johnnies out there, in tribute to the memory of GVSU’s one shining moment against MSU, and start here with the official Lanthorn-sanctioned guide to March Madness.

STEP 1: Print off a bracket

It can be men’s or women’s (or both) – whatever floats your boat – but fill out one and only one of each. Sure, there are over 9.2 quintillion (that’s 9, followed by 18 more digits) possible brackets and if you filled out one bracket per second, it would take you 292 billion years to fill out every possible outcome – but have some pride. Be confident and brash as you sit down to make your picks as LSU Shaq dunking on everything that moves, spike your pen on the ground, pick it back up and then taunt your bracket with gusto about how perfect it’s about to be.

STEP 2: Pick a method

You can go as complex as re-watching game tape from the season while digesting advanced metrics and statistical trends. You can go as simple as siding with which team has the cuter uniform. You can flip a coin, draw names from a hat, close your eyes, copy Obama, go chalk, honor the spirit of Che Guevera with upset picks, let the mascots decide or use some combination thereof. Just make sure whatever method you apply is plenty mad.

STEP 3: Make your picks

No. 1 seeds never lose game one and advance to the Sweet 16.88 percent of the time. No. 5 seeds often do, and you’d be smart to pick at least one No. 12 seed in the first round. Vegas is putting out 20/1 odds that Kentucky never trails in a tournament game, and you’d be smart to ride the Wildcats all the way to the title game. Play the odds when you can, but being smart only takes you so far in March. Conviction, intuition and blind luck are equally essential parts of a balanced bracket, and remember – you have to be different to win.

STEP 4: Show off

Once you have your winning picks in place, brag like it’s your job. Enter a pool, and explain why it’s you and no one else that got it right. Make outlandish bets with your friends, and expand your experience by doing a player draft. Grab Jerian Grant, Buddy Heid, Devin Booker, Seth Tuttle and Jordan Mickey and laugh. Most importantly, submit your bracket to the Lanthorn and see if you can beat our carefully and collectively analyzed picks (I doubt it). Repeat until your interest is entirely vested.

STEP 5: Watch

Should you skip class to watch a game? Probably not. Should you not not skip a class to watch a game? Only you can answer that. Adopt a rooting claim in a team or player that strikes you, and don’t confine yourself to cheering for or against Sparty. Keep a trained eye for the next Steph Curry, remember what it was like to watch Mateen Cleeves cry tears of joy and do so in a group whenever possible. The impact of a game-winning shot pulsates through a crowd, and can be felt tangibly through a T.V. miles away.

Step 6 (for good luck): Enjoy

There are only five or so weeks left in the semester. I say this not to send you into a spiraling panic, but to gently remind you that college is about balance. About knowing when what must be done must be done, and when what must be done can wait. So study for your exams, apply for your internships, write a letter to your state rep and then go out to enjoy the sun by working a White Men Can’t Jump hustle on someone at an outdoor court. Challenge your roommate to H-O-R-S-E, and shout “J.J. Redick” every shot you take. Make time to watch the “I Hate Christian Laettner” 30 for 30 and soak up all the pageantry March has to offer.

If you don’t stop to smell the freshly snipped nylon netting every once in a while, you might just miss it.

sports@lanthorn.com

To read the original post “Mad for March”, click here at the Lanthorn online.

Written by peterdbarrows

March 18, 2015 at 1:45 pm

Free Agent

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Pete Barrows
Columnist

10:23 a.m.: Late to bed, late to rise makes a man a writer. That’s a keeper for the file of dumb thoughts and stories that will never see the light of day. And by file I mean plastic box/fire hazard stored under my bed overflowing with papers. It’s a productive day already.

10:24 a.m.: Speaking of fires, never lean too close to a gas burner wearing a baggy shirt. No more need be said.

10:15 a.m.: All that filing tuckered me out. Just to be safe, I slide back into bed. How do the members of the normally functioning 9-5 crowd do it?

11:38 a.m.: Time to get up for real this time. Mmmmmmm…on second thought, better not risk it. The birds aren’t even chripin’ yet.

11:42 a.m.: Alarms are pointless when you can afford to wait until you’re hungry. It’s basic survival. Good mornin’ life. Good mornin’ bowl of fake Fruit Loops. I disentangle myself from flannel sheets, shuffle my feet across the floor and check my phone. Not a single missed call or text. That can’t be right. It must be the shoddy service out here.

12:01 p.m.: Only two hours and 59 minutes until NFL free agency officially opens. Requests for my services should come flooding in any time now, but I decide to bide with time with a little Madden until they do. I wonder what Darelle Revis would look like in a Lions’ uniform?

12:36 p.m.: I glance expectantly at my phone again. Still nada from the NFL, but at least it’s nice out (relatively speaking). Just being able to see the driveway goes a long way towards my mental health. I let the dog out, and she seems to be enjoying the sun just as much as me. The only difference is that while she prefers to hunt imaginary rabbits across the backyard, while I prefer to take naps on the couch imagining myself on a beach somewhere in the Bahamas.

2:12 p.m.: The only thing better than sort-of breakfast is sort-of lunch, and I just remembered I have leftover taco lasagna in the fridge. Boo-yah! I poor a sip of water out from my Matthew Stafford commemorative cup for Stu, and mosey on into the kitchen. There’s a slice of banana creme pie tucked away in there, too! Life is good.

2:13 p.m.: Having a microwave is a godsend. I mean it. Sure, there’s a chance it might give off a little cancer, but it’s worth it to not have to preheat the oven or risk catching on fire if you ever wish to consume hot to lukewarm food. Spend a year without one, and you’ll feel the same way.

2:14 p.m.: Chocolate milk is expensive, but I place it on a pedestal above all other beverages. So I buy the bulk mix Nestle makes and cut the cheaper regular milk to get my fix. As soon as the ink dries on that big contract I’m due, I’m installing a Mr. Deeds-style drinking fountain that exclusively dispenses chocolate milk. I also have visions for a rooftop skating rink, a la Lil’ Wayne, a basement basketball court, a real movie theater – not that fake Cribbs crud – and an aquarium bedroom complete with an infinity pool. Nothing too lavish; just the basics.

2:16 p.m.: I turn off my phone, and restart it just to be sure there are no mistakes. Maybe that “can you hear me now ‘ guy was on to something? It couldn’t hurt to take a few laps around the yard with my phone held aloft, could it? I should probably make a tinfoil antenna, too.

2:24 p.m.: After thoroughly baffling both the dog and the neighbor children by treading crop circles into the swampy mush that is my front yard with antenna and phone in hand, I make my way to the end of the drive to check the mail. No letters, no newspaper – just bills to take care of with my imminent new signing bonus. Does anyone still print newspapers anymore? I catch myself; this isn’t exactly a reaffirming thought for a wannabe sport journalist. I turn to Twitter instead.

2:35 p.m.: JJ Watt and Bryce Harper have this great Twitter schtick going parodying the mass hysteria that’s come to be associated with free agency. Watt reports that sources indicate that there’s a three-team, three-sport trade a’brewin’: Adam Banks to the T.C. Williams Titans, Henry Rowengartner to Mighty Ducks and Julius Cambell to the Chicago Cubs. Finally, a little action! Benny ‘The Jet’ Rodriguez, Jesus Shuttlesworth, the Bash Brothers, Nuke LaLoosh, Crash Davis, Greg Goldberg, Kenny Wu, Louie Lastik, Julie ‘The Cat’ Gaffney, Rick ‘Wild Thing’ Vaughn, Ronnie ‘Sunshine’ Bass, Uncle Rico, Boobie Miles, Tim Riggins, Johnny Utah and Air Bud are all mentioned in the conversation as Patrick Peterson and T.J. Yates join in, but the torrid wave of player movement doesn’t stop there.

2:59 p.m.: We’ve reached a point where we rumors merge with reality. I’m ready, and as giddy as Ndamukong Suh after liberally grinding a quarterback’s face into the turf.

3:00 p.m.: Speaking of Suh; hasta la later, man. WHO NEEDS YA? YOU SHOULDN’T EVEN BE HERE! BE GONE! BEAT IT! LEAVE ME ALONE!

3:01 p.m.: I’m sorry, babe – I didn’t mean that. I just yell sometimes ’cause I get so scared. Why don’t you just come back and sign with the Lions?

3:02 p.m.: It’s not official yet, but Suh is as good as gone. I know it, and he knows it. He’s taking his talents to South Beach (where have I heard that before?), and that’s all there is to it. GVSU alum Dan Skuta will be joining him in the Sunshine State by inking with Jacksonville. Don Shula and Brian Kelly are smilin’ somewhere.

3:05 p.m.: It’s quiet. Too quiet. The Eagles already made waves by swapping fantasy football star LeSean McCoy for the Bills budding linebacker Kiko Alonso earlier in the week, but that just whet my appetite for more.

3:10 p.m. – 4:10 p.m.: The flood gates swing open. Dinner is served.

Jimmy Graham is traded to the Super Bowl runner-up Seattle Seahawks for star center Max Unger and a pick, just as fully matured studs Andre Johnson and Frank Gore sign on with the Indianapolis Colts. The rich get richer, and Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson exchange joyous texts.

Oft injured Sam Bradford is swapped for Nick Foles; the Philadelphia Eagles get a quarterback (not Marcus Mariota) to run Chip Kelly’s offense, and the St. Louis Rams get a quarterback who might stay healthy enough to play in a few games.

Haloti Ngata is flipped from Baltimore to Detroit for a fourth and fifth round pick to help supplant the loss of both Suh and Jarryd Hayne. There’s no replacing Suh in the trenches or Hayne on the practice squad, but there are Ngata (< that’s why they pay me the big bucks) lot of 330-pound men athletic enough to play rugby. Haloti’s one of them, and he’s not bad at football, either.

The Arizona Cardinals sign guard Mike Iupati, inside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and defensive tackle Corey Peters, as well as former University of Michigan star Lamar Woodley. The Jaguars jump at Julius Thomas, and begin scouting Marshall Manning. The Kansas City Chiefs grab wide receiver Jeremy Maclin as the exodus of skill players out of Philadelphia continues, and Drew Brees is shopped…

AND, AND, AND…

4:12 p.m.: And my head is spinning. I can’t keep track. It’s the most I can ever remember the NFL player pool deck of cards ever being shuffled in one day. And it’s exciting to ponder the possibilities, which, of course, is what Madden is for. But Madden doesn’t always cut it, even when the player I created in my image excels. Time for some meditation.

4:19 p.m.: Where was my call? My text? I performed at GVSU’s pro day with current NFL players Charles Johnson and Tim Lelito just as defensive lineman Isiah Dunning, nickel Deonté Hurst, cornerback DeVonté Jones, defensive end Matt Mosley, punter Chris Picano, running back Chris Robinson and tight end Joe Wirth participated this year. Did scouts not see my article?

I even slammed burritos with Laker place-kicker Marco Iaderosa in preparation. I have a bag full of intramural football championship t-shirts, years worth of Lanthorn clips stored away in my firebox under the bed and a video of me throwing a football over them mountains. My resume’ speaks for itself.Surely, there’s a need for more NFL writers to shovel hyperbole on the hot stove, right?

But yet here I am, sitting on a couch in Allendale typing away, well-rested, well-fed and slowly but surely integrating myself into the real world. Being a free agent isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be – believe me – and becoming one is a near inevitable stage for the fresh out of college demographic in today’s market. Why not embrace it? You might not be able to swing the chocolate milk fountain right away, but do what you love and stay ready long enough, and the smart money says your call will come. Better yet, make the call yourself. Until then, enjoy the perks of a day in the life – whatever those might be for you – while you still can.

I wonder if there’s still another slice of pie left in the fridge?

pbarrows@lanthorn.com

Written by peterdbarrows

March 11, 2015 at 1:35 pm