Former Penn State tight end Keith Olsommer had some sobering words for the scholar-athletes who were being honored at the Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Football Foundation banquet Sunday at the Penn Stater.
“The second you put your pads on for the first time, the clock on your career starts ticking,” he told the players in attendance, some of whose clocks had already stopped. “You can’t go put on the pads and play football when you’re 50. Your football career really covers about an eight- to 12-year span. It’s not like basketball or golf or softball or tennis or softball where you can still go play those sports when you’re 50.”
Fortunately, Olsommer had prepared himself for life after football, graduating from Penn State with a degree in education in 1997. He was in preseason camp with the Baltimore Ravens in the summer of 1997 when he decided the NFL wasn’t’ in his future and went home and began looking for a teaching job. He was fortunate enough to find one in the Delaware Valley School District and has been teaching and coaching there ever since. His football career lasted 11 years, from middle school through Penn State.
But the life lessons he learned from the game have stayed with him, and his message to the audience was that those lessons can’t be learned anywhere else.
“You learn how to deal with adversity,” he said. “You’re tired, it’s 95 degrees out , you start walking back to the huddle — but you know you know that your teammates need you to give 100 percent on the next play. In football you experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Your teammates pick you up when you’re having the lows and tell you that better days are ahead. And when you’re the highest, they will knock you down real quick.
“But there’s no place like the huddle where all 11 guys have the same goal. There are no huddles in life. You might find yourself having to deal with someone who will step all over you to get where they want to go. But you learn from football how to deal with that kind of adversity. And the adversity you experience on the field is nothing like what you will go through later on in life. That’s when you either overcome it or get run over.’’
Current Penn State head coach James Franklin also addressed the gathering, delivering some opening remarks. Not surprisingly, he extolled the virtues of the game he has played and coached most of his life.
“I can’t think of any other event that can bring a community together like football,” he said, “whether it’s high school or college.”
He also urged those going on to college to continue to play the game for the benefits it offers.
“Football is safer now than it has ever been,” he said, “So I urge you to continue to play the game. I’m a big believer in higher education. I have a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, and I’ve found that what I have learned in football has complemented what I learned in the classroom.”
Players from five the Centre County’s six high schools were recognized at the banquet. They were Garrett Rigg, BEA; Cade Fortney, Bellefonte; Justin Sands, Penns Valley; Blake Murray St. Joseph’s Academy; and Ian Barr, State College. Philipsburg-Osceola was not represented.
Scholarships were awarded to Aaron Wagner, Mifflin County, Nittany Media; Nick Peretin, Forest Hills, the Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame in honor of the late Robert Mitinger; Josh Krieger, Shikellamy, Fulton Bank; Ryan Oliver, Mifflinburg, Citizen’s and Northwest Bank; Nicholas Michelone, Williamsburg, Drayer Physical Therapy Institute; Joseph Zola, Bloomsburg, HRI Inc; Ian Barr, State College, Gardner’s Candy; Reed Williams, Kane, Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Football Hall of Fame and Football Foundation board of Directors; Josh Dasher, Northern Bedford, M&T Bank; and Nick Cherico, Clarion, Central Pennsylvania Football Coaches.
Scholarship winners were selected based on academic achievements, athletic achievements and extracurricular-community service and participation. Each school was asked to nominate one senior member of the football team for the honor.
Cherico was also the winner of the Joe Sarra Award for community service. Sarra, who is deceased, was a member of the Penn State football coaching staff for 16 years under Joe Paterno.
Six collegiate players were also recognized for their athletic and academic accomplishments. They were Mark Pyles, Bucknell; Benjamin Gemballa, Juniata; Austin Heinbaugh, Lock Haven; Eric Wagner, Lycoming; Brandon Smith, Penn State; and Cameron Ott, Susquehanna.