It All Worked Out For World Series MVP Strasburg, Nationals

Long term planning in sports isn’t always something that pays off. There have been plenty of stories – plenty of ideas – that looked good at the time for a long-term solution but that never quite went the way fans and analysts expected.

It is much rarer, therefore, to see a long-term plan fall into place. Yet that is exactly what we saw as Steven Strasburg put in a World Series MVP performance as the Washington Nationals won their first ever World Series title in 2019.

Strasburg was a baseball phenom before he even got close to the Major Leagues. This premier player was the first pick overall in the 2009 amateur draft, a position that shows what was expected out of his career. The expectation was basically blown through the roof a year later after Strasburg struck out 14 batters in his big league debut, the most of any player starting his first game since back in 1971.

Twelve starts into his career came the unfortunate news that Strasburg needed Tommy John surgery. It is a surgery that has been perfected over the years, but it is still one that kills more careers than it saves. Strasburg seemed to be stopped on his path to stardom, and that is when things got really interesting.

The Nationals were a good team in 2012 – a team with the potential to win the World Series that the nation’s capital craved. They also had an ace on a strict pitch count that they had to adhere to in order to save his career. That is why the team that won 98 games that season pulled Strasburg out of the firing line on September 8th in a move to protect his future. Without him, the Nats fell to St. Louis in the divisional round.

It all paid off in the end.

Strasburg was immense as the premier player in baseball this October. He went 5-0 in the 2019 postseason, the first player ever to hit that number. He made six total postseason appearances, all of them Nationals wins. He threw 14 1/3 innings in the World Series giving up just four runs while striking out 14 in his starts. At times he looked unhittable, pitching with a 1.98 ERA over a total of 36 1/3 postseason innings. He became an all-time great single postseason player.

The question now becomes “Where now”? The Nats could have won the World Series in 2012, destroying Strasburg along the way. They didn’t do so, they were playing for the long run, but for the long run to really work out there needs to be more World Series Titles in the near future.  Time will tell.

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Five Premier Players of The Decade For College Football

Year 2020 is upon us. Given that we aren’t all in flying cars and living in space this is something of a letdown. What is not a letdown, however, is the level of college football played over the last decade. Many premier players have run through the sport in that time, but here are five of our picks for the top players of the 2010-2019 decade in college football:

5. Jadeveon Clowney – DE – South Carolina Gamecocks (2011-2013)

Clowney played for three seasons at South Carolina where he was the main playmaker on the Gamecocks defensive line. He totaled 129 tackles with 47.0 tackles for a loss, 24.0 sacks and nine forced fumbles in three seasons where he terrorized the SEC. While his overall play is more than worthy of a spot on this list, the future No. 1 overall draft pick of the Houston Texans has an argument for inclusion based on one single play. In the 2013 Outback Bowl against Michigan, Clowney provided one of the highlights of the decade with a hit, forced fumble, recovered fumble on Wolverines running back Vincent Smith that will be played for years to come.

4. Jonathan Taylor – RB – Wisconsin Badgers (2017-2019)

In the 2010s Wisconsin really was running back U. Melvin Gordon and Montee Ball were great, but it was their last running back of the decade in Jonathan Taylor who was legendary. Taylor became the first player to hit 6,000 rushing in just three seasons when he passed the mark in 2019. He also finished in the top nine in Heisman Trophy voting – sixth, ninth, fifth – in each of his three years in Madison. Taylor won the Doak Walker award that goes to the best running back in the nation in both 2018 and 2019, with this premier player never rushing for less than 1,900 yards in a season.

3. Corey Davis – WR – Western Michigan Broncos (2013-2016)

Davis began his career as a high school player only deemed good enough to garner one Division 1 scholarship offer. Davis took that offer from the Western Michigan Broncos and finished the 2017 season as the all-time leader in receiving yardage, a record he holds to this day. Davis was quick out of the blocks as a freshman where he caught 67 balls for 941 yards and six scores. Over the next three seasons he caught an additional 46 touchdown passes while never having less than 1,408 yards or 78 catches in a season. His record of 5,278 yards receiving is going to be tough for anyone to top.

2. Baker Mayfield – QB – Oklahoma Sooners (2015-2017)

Baker Mayfield had a strange start to college life which saw him play in eight games for Texas Tech in 2013 where he passed for 2,315 yards and 12 touchdowns. It was a solid, if totally unspectacular debut season, but one transfer to another Big 12 school later and Mayfield became a decade level star. The Lincoln Riley offense was everything it needed to be for Mayfield who led Oklahoma to three Big 12 titles and a pair of CFP appearances. Including the season in Lubbock, Mayfield threw for 131 touchdowns and 14,607 yards as a college quarterback.

1. Deshaun Watson – QB – Clemson Tigers (2014-2016)

Watson had a nice enough freshman season – 14 touchdowns, two picks, 1,466 yards in limited action – but few could have seen from that snapshot what a monster player he would become over his sophomore and junior campaigns with the Clemson Tigers. This premier player exploded onto the scene in 2015 where he passed for over 4,100 yards and 35 touchdowns, before bettering those numbers as a junior with almost 4,600 yards and 41 touchdowns to 14 picks. He was a true dual-threat too, with another 629 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. The upshot of this was Clemson winning its first national championship in 35 years with Watson at the helm.

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Duvernay-Tardif Hard Work Makes Him A Starter, Doctor

There is a stereotype about NFL players – and athletes in general – that is simply not always true. While many conform to the same likes and the same lifestyles, there are others that walk to a slightly different beat and that are still premier players both in the league and in life.  One such player is Kansas City Chiefs guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.

You have probably seen Duvernay-Tardif play and paid little attention to the 321 pound, 6-foot-5 offensive linemen. Linemen – after all – do kind of blend in with one another on the field unless they have some kind of distinctive hairstyle or other noticeable feature. On the field Duvernay-Tardif doesn’t really have this, he is just a solid pro who has worked his way into the Chiefs starting lineup after originally being drafted in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Where you may have noticed Duvernay-Tardif is when he introduces himself on the Sunday Night Football broadcast where the players say their name and their college – or at least they should, but that is a debate for another time. In a world of “Alabama” and “The U”, Duvernay-Tardif is alone in coming into the NFL from McGill. He is also alone in having a heavy French-Canadian accent as he hails from the town of Mont-Saint-Hilaire in Quebec, Canada.

Even that, though, isn’t what truly sets the Chiefs’ player apart. What would do so is that somehow between 2010 and 2018 he was able to transition his college career in Canada into an NFL career in the Midwest all while pursuing the medical degree that he graduated with in 2018.

If the NFL was cool, then Duvernay-Tardif M.D. would be on the back of the big Quebecers jersey every Sunday afternoon. This is the type of player that the NFL should celebrate, a guy who was able to stretch a traditional four year medical degree into an eight year odyssey and fit in lessons on physiology and anatomy around learning an NFL playbook and schemes on a weekly basis.

Duvernay-Tardff was the first – and so far only – active NFL player to graduate to becoming a physician from medical school. This meant hours spent shadowing doctors and taking care of patients, all while still working gym sessions and staying in NFL shape. Duvernay-Tardif has been able to achieve all this – and is an example to all – because of his combination of insane work ethic and a thirst for knowledge and culture that we could all strive to work towards.

This premier player also sees his role in educating and being transparent on the subject of concussions in the NFL as important. He is an advocate for new technologies and more openness about the issue, noting that keeping youth players out of tackle football until there are in their teens – and thus understanding aspects like tackle technique and force – would be a step in the right direction.

Duvernay-Tardif will likely never be classed as anyone’s favorite player – the guard position doesn’t get a lot of love like that – but he is a player that all fans should be aware of for his approach to life and his leadership in showing just what is possible if you apply yourself.

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Navy Coach Turns Season Around With Changes To Staff

It can be argued that the three most difficult coaching jobs in the FBS are at the military academies.  Coaching at Air Force, Army, or Navy is often a life-long dream for the man in charge, but given factors such as military service (voiding players an NFL shot), the extra work that comes with being a military student, and mandatory fitness requirements, the job certainly isn’t easy when it comes to the basic college football ideas of recruiting and game-day preparation.

That is why it is important to note just how impressive Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo has been during his decade in charge of Navy.  The coach has put together a program that easily marks him as one of the premier coaches in the FBS today.

In 2018, Navy went 3-10 and lost to Army for a third straight year.  While the Black Knights were trending up, the Mids were trending down, something that hadn’t happened often since Niumatalolo took the reins from Paul Johnson in 2008.  The winningest coach in the history of the program – with many other accolades to go beside his name – Niumatalolo responded by shaking up his staff and making some key hires.

One of those hires was a full-time nutritionist as Coach Niumatalolo realized that his players needed vital nutritional guidance in line with the top programs in the country if the Mids were going to get back to the level he expected.  He also gave the keys of the offense to QB Malcolm Perry, a player who excelled as a sophomore but who Niumatalolo felt he hadn’t push to his next level as a player.

Navy runs a triple-option offense that is a throwback to a day before the forward pass was even invented.  Niumatalolo knew that he needed to make changes here too, bringing in a passing coach (Billy Ray Stutzman) to work with Perry and make him a competent passer to go along with the running ability he had already shown.

Part of being a premier coach in any sport is knowing when you have to shake things up and – more importantly – knowing when you are doing something wrong.  It is easy as a coach to think that you know best at all times, especially when you have been at a job like Niumatalolo has for over a decade. The problem with this is that ideas get stale and coaches end up tapering off to nothing.

Every budding coach out there can learn something from the way Niumatalolo has conducted himself at Navy. From his initial burst phase, through the bad seasons, to reinventing the team with some key staff changes and additions in the 2019 season.  The future is always in question, but Navy has one of the premier coaches in the country leading their team and – as such – they seem to be in very good hands.

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