Dear Peyton Manning

Many of you know that I went to the University of Tennessee for both my undergraduate and graduate work many moons ago. Some of my dearest friends I made during those college years I still call friend today, some 18 years later. Some know the story of how Tennessee came into the picture as a college for me to consider, but most don’t. Today, I wanted to share this letter because it seemed fitting given that the person it is to is being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Dear Mr. Manning,

I could’ve called you Peyton I guess but first of all my momma taught me better and second of all we aren’t that acquainted for me to use your first name. Although I have to admit, I have yelled it a time or two on some Sundays over the years. Many years ago, almost two decades ago (how are we that old?) this small town girl was looking at the possibility of going to college after high school. I was only a sophomore at the time but with an older sister already through college the path was set that I should be considering it as well.

My mom was pretty insistent that I would head to college but she never pushed a certain school on me, only that I weigh options available. So I started looking around at colleges outside of my home state of Tennessee. This Tennessee born and bred girl wanted as far away from the state as she could muster, giving considerable weight to both the University of Maine and Illinois Wesleyan for college. I used the guise of good teacher prep programs at these two institutions, but frankly I just wanted away from the small town I lived in.

screen-shot-2015-01-15-at-8-47-51-pmOne day I came home from school, and happened to catch a press conference going on for this guy in college. It was decision day on whether he was going to return to school for his senior year or opt out for the professional league. I was intrigued by this, as a high school athlete myself (but no where near collegiate level play) because I was seeing the money awaiting this guy. It was a lot from predictions and I wouldn’t have blamed him one bit, and he was on track to graduate in three years anyway. But that’s where you proved us all wrong didn’t you? You showed us that it wasn’t about the money or the prestige of it all. It was about your character and your heart for the game and the University of Tennessee.

I remember thinking, “There must be something pretty great about UT for a guy to want to stick around there.” It also had me thinking that a guy not much older than me took wise counsel and weighed that against his own beliefs and character to decide to stay in college. I became a fan of you in that moment too, because that’s a hefty decision to make at 21 years of age.

Several years later, after cheering you on in the pros as a rookie I would be working in the student-athlete center one summer and meet you by chance. You had come to award a scholarship you had established, not in athletics but in the department you had majored in. I stood silent and wild-eyed at the guy who had impacted my decision to check out my state’s flagship university, and ultimately become a fellow Vol. You shook my hand and thanked all of us student workers for the time we put in helping student-athletes with being students first.

I think back on all of this as I write this because I wasn’t looking at UT for my education until that moment, and I know for a fact I would not be sitting where I am today in Nashville if it wasn’t for all of those steps that followed. I wouldn’t be able to call so many amazing people friends, nor would I have such great memories of time spent on campus at the University of Tennessee. But it started with giving thought to a 21 year old’s decision to stay at a university. It started with you.

So thank you Mr. Manning for an influence you didn’t know you had on a 15 year old girl from East Tennessee twenty years ago. Congratulations on an excellent collegiate career in the classroom and the football field. You impacted so many and inspired a generation as well.


A fellow Vol for life

Throwback Thursday

Photo owned by Sara Stacy
Photo owned by Sara Stacy

Every once in a while I share some photos and stories on Throwback Thursday. Today I wanted to share this photo. That’s me at my college graduation…ten years ago. It amazes me that it has been that long. As I return this weekend for Homecoming at UT (the real UT people…we were established first), I have been growing quite nostalgic this week.

I found my journal from Senior year and the year of my internship. It is crazy to me to see the changes in my life from that time, and some things that haven’t changed. I couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculously boy crazy I was then, and the extremes of emotions at that time of great transitions in my life. It was a little comforting (and alarming) to see my emotions have been such a staple of what I write about for years. Maybe that’s the healthy outlet for them after all.

I laugh when I look back at my graduation picture because I remember certain parts of that day. Most vividly I remember my sister being 7 months preggo with my oldest nephew, and her having to sit during the whole ceremony since my college was one of the largest. I remember the nursing students being wild at graduation, and rightfully so. I remember being terrified of what was next for my life. I never shared that with anyone, but I see in the photos the scared eyes of uncertainty…of a life not quite sure where it was going…but a girl determined to figure it out for herself.

I am definitely not who I was then, but there are pieces left. The diehard, alma mater loving Vol. She’s still there. The cook in the basement of Melrose, experimenting with different recipes. She’s still there. The student who went to find herself, and got so much more in return. She’s still there.


Top Five Friday, the College Football Edition

The other night at dinner, The Dude and I got into a discussion of who our favorite players were in various sports and for various teams. Being a UT alum (twice over) and with him being a huge fan of UT, it inevitably rolled back around to our Vols. So I thought, in honor of National College Colors Day and it being the first BIG ORANGE FRIDAY I’d talk about my top five favorite UT players.

Property of Sara Stacy
Property of Sara Stacy

1. Peyton Manning

As if that wasn’t totes obvs. I mean seriously, do I have to explain this one? He’s a legend. LEGEND. and I got to meet him once. He shook my hand. I stood there dumbstruck as a college junior, with my mouth gaping open. I skipped tennis practice in high school to watch his press conference announcing he was staying at UT for his Senior year.

Photo by Sara Stacy
Photo by Sara Stacy

2. Will OverstreetMost of you might not have heard of him. Great defensive end for UT for four years. Drafted by the Falcons, where he played through several injury-plagued years. This guy was a beast on the field. Incredibly intelligent student as well, and incredibly nice. I not-so-secretly had a crush on him for about three years straight. He worked on the All Vol Call-in show for a while during pre-game and then the Sunday morning show on the local news station as a recap and analysis person.

3. Raynoch Thompson  Dude was insanely talented and an amazing player. You cannot get a better defensive player than him these days. He was a force on the field, and one that many teams realigned their offenses to play around.

4. Jeff Hall Yes he was the kicker. But man you couldn’t get a better kicker than Jeff Hall on a team. He led FCA and really led on the team in ways that a special teams player just didn’t normally do. I got to hear him speak at FCA my freshmen year and was just blown away at his testimony and maturity in his faith as he walked it daily in a pretty substantial spotlight.

5. Jason Witten I had to give a shout out to my hometown boy! It is crazy to me to think Jason and I are the same age, and he’s a starting tight end for the Dallas Cowboys. Jason used to pick on me in class, as we had almost all of them together since we were in the same major and the same year at UT. He stepped in between me and Kevin Burnett on the golf course when we got in a shouting match over garbage at an event we were running for class. I watched him encourage and uplift, while also being a down-to-earth guy we all knew him to be. He played with great heart and devotion and I know he is enjoying the fruits of his labor and God’s blessings now.

Now, I am heading off to enjoy a football weekend in Knoxville…who will you be rooting on this weekend? Football not your thing, what are your plans?

A Letter To My Former Self

Ten years ago I officially graduated from the University of Tennessee (Go Vols!) with my Bachelor’s degree in Sport Management. I had the fortune of completing my coursework early, thanks to busting my butt in summer school, and had already walked across the stage in December of 2002. However, with it being graduation season and the tenth anniversary of my graduation, I felt it was worth taking a moment to write myself a note to the 21 year old who thought she knew it all.

Wow, congratulations kiddo on a big accomplishment today. You’ve come along way in four short years, when you were scared of driving to Johnson City. Now look at you! You live in Birmingham, where you didn’t know anyone and are pursuing your dream in baseball. As your future self, I would like to pass along some words of wisdom for you…it might save you some hassle and maybe even some heartache.

DanFirst of all, stop coloring your hair red, and letting it grow out. It’s not a good look and it will take you far longer to realize this than it should. Seriously sister, it’s a big reason you don’t look fondly back onto some pictures from Senior year.

Second, your plan isn’t God’s plan. It will take you years to figure this nugget out. What you have mapped out, isn’t necessarily all God’s got in store for you. There will be days you will question whether you can do it, trust in God that you can. He’s stood by you while you’ve made some serious foul-ups. He’ll be there each and every time because He knows you…better than you think you do.

It’s okay to let people into your life. You’ll question why and wonder what the purpose for them in a particular season is for your life. Some you’ll understand, others you won’t. Just enjoy the friendships and relationships you have over this next season of life for what they are and stop trying to read so much into them. And while we’re at it, you know better than to think you can change a man. If he treats you that way in the first few weeks, he’ll treat you that way for far longer. Don’t settle, there’s something better on the way.

You don’t need that pair of shoes or that outfit right now. Save your money, don’t charge it. You don’t need to keep up with everyone else, just be who you are and live into that. Read a little more than you are right now…because you’ll love it in a few years and just won’t have the time to do it as often.

Don’t allow the past to dictate your present, and that includes your feelings about church and God. You’re headed towards years of questions, hurts, doubts, and fears in so many ways and you need a community to heal in. While we’re on the topic, stay away from that one. You’ll know which one I am referring to when the time comes. It was OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAdeceptively good but led to far more damage in the long run. 

Spend more time loving on your family. Cherish the time you have with all of them as some you’ll have the misfortune to lose in the next few years. You’ll gain some new family but there’s still a hole where others have gone. Be kind and understanding a little more. Cheer for the Vols, they’ll need it over the coming years.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASay yes a little more…to the right things and no when you feel that nudge. Trust me, it will benefit you far more than you know now. You’ll be surprised where God leads you in the next decade, because you opened up and allowed HIM to lead you. You have no control over life, and that’s okay. You know Someone who does. Rest in that knowledge. DSCN0014

You’re going to have bad days and good days. You’re going to meet some amazing people, some of which will still be in your life in ten years and they will surprise you as to who sticks around. Remember that most of all it’s about the small decisions every day that lead you to where you are now. Don’t look back with regret or sadness, but with joy at where it has led you to currently. You got this sister with God’s hand guiding you.