Story by Ashley Beall
Visiting with war veterans, reading to children, volunteering at the Boys & Girls Clubs — all of these scenes aren’t the usual place you’d expect to see a football player, but the Drake football team breaks that norm.
Each player takes on a “Commitment to Excellence,” which includes personal team goals, academic commitment and community service. For the community service part of that commitment, the football team goes above and beyond what’s expected of it and splits into separate groups to cater to volunteer opportunities that interest each player. From there, the Drake coaches select two co-captains to take charge of the community service project and organize volunteer efforts.
“One of our program goals is to be ‘impact men.’ That’s one of the things we hope our guys leave from being a part of our program is that they understand that it’s not just about playing a game on the field,” assistant head coach Rick Fox said. “It’s not just about themselves. It’s how can we impact the communities of which we are a part of.”
One of the community service programs the team does during the season involves visiting local elementary schools and reading to students. The freshmen on the team spearhead this initiative because they do not go to away games with the upperclassmen.
“I really like reading to kids because one of our team goals is to (be) ‘impact men,’” freshman defensive lineman Dillon Krotz said. “We’re doing that to impact the lives of young kids.”
The team also makes regular visits to the Veterans Affairs Hospital. Sophomore linebacker Alex Thompson is one of the co-captains who leads the effort to volunteer with the hospital. During their visits to the hospital, the players talk and play games with the veterans. Thompson enjoys his time with the veterans, but he says volunteering has both positive and negative components.
“For me personally, going to the V.A., it’s been challenging because you hear different stories about war and how guys aren’t going to leave the hospital,” Thompson said. “Last year, a big group of us became really connected to one of the veterans, and he passed away, and that was hard for all of us.”
Besides some difficult experiences at the V.A., Thompson also recalls fond memories.
“The favorite part I know of everybody’s is, for us at the V.A., we get to hear some awesome stories that we wouldn’t get to hear anywhere else,” Thompson said. “It makes them happier, so it makes us happy that we know we’re making a difference.”
Many of the players also head up volunteer projects at the Boys & Girls Clubs, which includes playing sports with them and just getting to know the kids.
“We have a very unique culture to our team that is very unique to college athletes where any given week, we have a dozen or more people going and giving back,” senior linebacker Seth Hedman said. “It starts with the coaches and an understanding that football is an amazing gift and blessing and that we have been immensely blessed to be where we’re at. We don’t want to just create good football players (at Drake). We want to create good men, and that’s part of being a man of character. It’s really cool to see that developed in my teammates and in myself as well.”
While the list goes on, of all the community efforts the football team completes, one takes place at Drake Stadium.
Youth Day lets kids in the community meet with the football team and participate in activities. The boys dress up in their jerseys and helmets and do drills with the team while the girls work with the cheerleading squad and learn different cheers.
On top of team efforts, individual members of the football team have also been nationally recognized by the American Football Association for their community service, including senior offensive lineman Zach Bosch, who graduated last year.
The team not only volunteers in the community, but it also serves abroad. On a trip to Africa in May 2011, the team played the first game of football on African soil against a Mexican all-star team and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. It also volunteered within the community and helped orphanages and schools in Tanzania.
The football coaches stress that many players serve by choice and are excited to give back to the community.
“I think most of our guys understand that there’s power behind wearing a college jersey, and you only have a very limited amount of time where you get to wear that jersey, so they take advantage of it,” Drake head coach Chris Creighton said. “If I go into a third grade classroom, the kids aren’t going to care, but if one our players goes in there wearing his jersey, the hands are going to just start flying with questions. They’re great guys, and they want to make an impact. … We want to be a part of Des Moines, and we want Des Moines to be a part of us.”