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Good exposure for UC in Northeast Ohio

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Nice UC football story in Cleveland Plain Dealer. Good exposure for Bearcats up north. Written by UC alum and former News Record staff member Branson Wright.

Also, Enquirer's Cliff Peale writes today about need for upgrade in Nippert Stadium.

Should the crowds remain sold out, this is going to become a bigger and bigger issue. It is a challenging experience going to concession stands and bathrooms right now (not to mention just getting to your seats). Especially with little kids in tow. Great quote from Athletic Director Mike Thomas: "I tell people we have more contact on the concourse than we do down on the field." Made me laugh out loud.

The practice is facility is huge for Brian Kelly and his program. Nippert improvements will be important for the fan experience.

Can you believe it's been 20 years since The Shoe debut?

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     Steve Sanders was a wide receiver from Cleveland, Ohio, who played four years for the University of Cincinnati football team. But that's not how he will be remembered on the UC campus.


     This is what made Sanders part of Bearcat basketball history: It was his 3-pointer from the corner as time ran out that gave Cincinnati a 66-64 victory over Minnesota in the first game ever at Shoemaker Center - and the first game of the Bob Huggins era.


     That was 20 years ago this week.


     Here is what led up to Nov. 25, 1989 ...


     Sanders' last football season was 1988. He knew he was coming back to UC for a fifth year to try and complete requirements for his degree. In the spring of 1989, Sanders was playing intramural basketball and caught the eye of new assistant basketball coach Larry Harrison. Harrison, who was on the lookout for players, asked News Record reporter Branson Wright about Sanders and another football player, Roosevelt Mukes. Wright was friends with Sanders, who played pickup games every off-season with UC basketball players, felt he held his own and often wondered whether he could play Division I basketball.


     The next fall, Sanders joined the basketball team for preseason conditioning, then had second thoughts.


     "That was the hardest thing I ever did in my life," Sanders said. "I talked to Coach Harrison and said, 'I don't know if I can do this.' We just ran so much. I actually stopped for about two weeks."


     When practices officially started, UC held walk-on tryouts. Sanders and Mukes both showed up.


     "Coming in, I didn't really expect to play a lot," Sanders said. "I thought maybe I could play five or 10 minutes a game and just enjoy the experience. But as time went on, I started feeling more and more comfortable. I thought to myself, 'I could play a lot.' "


     Huggins was beginning to assert himself as the Bearcats coach and certainly grabbed the attention of the players.


     "He was a maniac," Sanders said. "The yelling and the screaming didn't bother me. I came from a football background, and that's all football coaches do is yell and scream. But it was something to go through, just the hard work. Practice was so intense for 3½ hours. He never let us cheat ourselves. I was in the best shape of my life playing basketball."


     By the first game, the 6-foot-2 Sanders was in the starting backcourt with Andre Tate.


     "The whole time leading up to the Minnesota game, he never let us think that we weren't good enough to win," Sanders said of Huggins. "We had an awful lot of confidence, which he gave us. And the coaching staff did a great job with the scouting report. Everything he said that they would do during the game, they did."


     Sanders, who would average 7.0 points and 2.5 rebounds for the season, had four points all game. Until the very end.


     In the final seconds, Kevin Lynch of Minnesota tried to save a ball from going out of bounds and throw it off the leg of UC's Keith Starks. He missed, and the ball bounced down the court and went out of bounds right under the UC basket. Eight-tenths of a second remained on the clock.


     Huggins called a timeout. The first thing he said was, "You guys are going to win this basketball game."


     The play designed called for Tate to inbound the ball and lob it toward the basket for either Starks, Levertis Robinson or Lou Banks, all great leapers. As the huddle broke, Huggins grabbed Sanders by the arm and said, "Steve, if they can't get it inside, you have to break around because Andre's going to throw you the ball."


     Sure enough, Tate couldn't get the ball where he wanted. Sanders broke toward the ball, faked back, then went to the corner in front of the UC bench. Tate delivered a perfect pass. Sanders caught it and shot it, his first 3-point attempt of the night.


     "It felt perfect," Sanders said. "It felt like I just placed the ball into the basket. It had to go in. I saw it and when it went in, I was so happy. There was so much energy flowing through my body I cannot explain. I jumped up and down and ran, and they chased me and caught me. They dived on top of me. They picked me and then I got down and ran across the court and up into the stands. Everybody was off the court but me. I'm still running around in the stands. Then I run down back through the court again. When I finally got in the locker room, I was so hyped and excited, I just had to go lay down on the floor in the shower. ... It was truly amazing."


   It's now 2009. Sanders laughs when he gets the call for this story.


   "When you say it's been 20 years, my first thought is, Wow, I'm getting old," he said laughing. "My second thought is, I always go back to a conversation I had with Coach Harrison right after the game. He told me I would go down in UC history, and I told him that in two weeks nobody would remember that shot. So here we are 20 years later and we're talking about it.


   "What I see now is that it was the beginning of the resurgence of Cincinnati basketball. I know what it was before I played, and I see how it is now."


   Sanders, whose daughter Brianna was a star at Princeton and now is on Ohio State's women's basketball team, remains in Cincinnati. He is a senior program director for the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati working at the Carl H. Lindner YMCA in the West End. He's worked with the YMCA for 17½ years, including stops at branches in Lincoln Heights and Madisonville.


   "It just feels like it gives me a chance to give back to a community that's similar to where I grew up (in East Cleveland) - a lot of single-parent homes, families that are not as fortunate as they would like to be," Sanders said. 


   "We're in a $10 million state-of-the-art facility. The kids have a chance to feel good about where they're going and what we're doing for them. I just love what I am doing."



New president's childhood sports hero? How about the Big O?

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Make no mistake; the University of Cincinnati's new president is a sports fan. Gregory Williams checks out ESPN, loves to watch the Super Bowl and Final Four and enjoys watching college football and following coaches with whom he has crossed paths at previous stops.


He's witnessed big-time college athletics during years as a student or administrator at Maryland, Ohio State and Iowa, where he served on the Board in Control of Athletics. During his tenure as City College of New York president, the Division III school added baseball, and Williams talks about attending volleyball games where the announcer spoke Spanish because of the school's diverse student body. He also enjoys pointing out that CCNY is the only school to have won men's basketball NCAA and NIT titles in the same year (1950).


Williams discussed a wide range of topics in close to an hour and skillfully handled questions about the college football playoff debate, the money and attention lavished on college sports and, of course, whether Cincinnati and Ohio State should play every year in men's basketball and football (I had to ask, right?)


On Ohio State, he said, smiling, "I'm going to leave that up to the athletic directors and coaches. (Ohio State) President (Gordon) Gee is a good friend of mine, but I don't think neither he nor I will be scheduling games."


Here are questions and answers from the session related to sports.


In the context of higher education, how do you view college athletics?


"I think college athletics have an important role to play in an institution. Obviously it's an opportunity for the school (and) the alumni to really come together and show pride. A common purpose and a common goal can be a great unifying factor and bring prestige and recognition to the institution in a way that is very hard to emulate in other things that you might be doing."


Impressions of athletics here at UC?


"From what I've seen so far it certainly is a unifying factor, not only on the campus but in the entire city, and throughout Southwest Ohio folks are very supportive of UC athletics. That's obviously quite gratifying."

You have many priorities. Where do sports fit in? When do you start to think about your goals for athletics here?


"I think sports play a big role. Obviously it's hard to figure out where they are on the priority list. No. 1 the university is an academic institution. The No. 1 priority is to be the best we can be academically - that means in the classroom, in the programs that we offer students, in the research that we do and that the faculty is engaged in. We want to be a complete university, and part of that is the opportunity for students to participate in athletics, as well as for students to be involved and engaged in following the teams and being supportive of the teams."


Do you have goals in mind for UC's athletic program?


"I want us to be the best we can be."


Are you familiar with the drive for the indoor facility and potential stadium expansion?


"I have some familiarity with that." (He laughs)


How do you view that need and where that fits into things?


"There are certainly needs that we're going to try to address. A number of those are being addressed right now. I would anticipate we'll be able to move fairly quickly on addressing the most urgent needs. I want to emphasize that Athletics is pursuing private dollars for these needs so that the financial burden does not fall back on the University's general fund."


There's always the debate about college athletes - that coaches get huge salaries and there is a disproportionate amount of attention paid to athletics. How do you view where athletics is, the priority it gets and the money spent?


"The priorities, of course, are clear. As I said earlier, we are an academic institution. That's what we are and that's what we always will be. In fact, we don't call them 'athletes,' we call them 'student-athletes.' Ultimately they're going to graduate and go onto a number of different professions, and we want to be supportive of that."


Will you be visible? What kinds of sporting events will people see you at?


"I try to attend as many sporting events as I can. You might see me wearing my Bearcats jacket."


What kind of relationship will you have with Athletic Director Mike Thomas?


"We're very fortunate to have a great athletic director. As the president, I have responsibility for everything. While I am not a micromanager, I expect to be informed as to what's going on, and Mike has done a tremendous job in keeping me informed and abreast of what's happening."


Will you have face-time with UC student-athletes? Will you meet them? Will you be available to them?


"The basketball coach wants me to speak to the team, and I look forward to that. I've already had the chance to meet some of the football players. I enjoy meeting athletes. Every place I've ever been I've had the chance to interact with athletes. That's always a fun experience to hear about the challenges they're facing and talk about their goals and aspirations."


What advice or thoughts do you share with them?

"Student-athletes really face great challenges. When I was on the Board in Control of Athletics at the University of Iowa, we did a study on what time it took to be a student-athlete. For instance - this was a long time ago; I don't remember this exactly - but in a week that the football team would have an away game, we found that students were spending over 48 hours that week on things related to athletics and football. Obviously they aren't practicing all that time. It was like having a full-time job. You really have to have your priorities in order. I think athletes that are successful learn to establish those priorities and learn how to negotiate that. It is very difficult and it requires a single-mindedness if you're going to be successful both in the classroom and in the field."


As time goes on, what are people going to learn about you as a person?


"I think they're going to learn that I'm a very hard worker. I'm very dedicated. I'm focused. I am competitive, and I think that comes from my own time as a student-athlete. From my own background, I understand many of the struggles that our students have in terms of facing financial and other obstacles to pursuing their education."


How was attending the Big East meetings on your first day on the job (Nov. 1)?


"It was great. The reception was very warm from my fellow presidents. I knew a couple of them and had had good relationships with them before I started. They were very excited to a person about the great things that are happening with UC football right now. The Big East members take great pride in that. I didn't have anything to do with that, but it's on my watch." (He smiles)


How familiar are you with the Big East overall?


"I am familiar with the conference, I am familiar with some of the challenges that they face. I came away from that meeting feeling that the Big East is a very strong conference and folks are very committed to it. The presidents are excited about the conference and what the potential is in the future. There was a real energy and enthusiasm in the room for the Big East among the presidents."


I know you played football and basketball as a kid. Do you still play anything?


"I played basketball up until a few years. I don't do much basketball (anymore). I try to work out pretty regularly. I do a lot of aerobics, as well as weight-lifting. I try to do bicycling from time to time. My wife and I were avid bicyclists."


Sports heroes growing up?


"Sure. Growing up in (Muncie) Indiana, it was basketball, and one of my heroes was Oscar Robertson, who was a few years older than me."

Have you met yet?


"Yes, actually we have met and we have a number of friends in common, folks I know who live in Indianapolis, who grew up in Indianapolis and other people he played with over the years, particularly from my hometown of Muncie. ... I think we met at an alumni gathering. It was great. Absolutely I was l looking forward to meeting Oscar Robertson; no question about it. Once the decision was made for me to come to Cincinnati, I was thinking of folks I was looking forward to meeting and obviously Oscar Robertson was one of them."


Pro teams that you follow?


"Since I have two cousins who are assistant coaches with the Cincinnati Bengals (Jonathan and Jay Hayes), I root for the Bengals."


How are they related?

"Our grandmothers were sisters. "


Were you a better quarterback or a better basketball player?


"In retrospect, I was probably a better football player than I was a basketball player. But in Indiana, in those days, it was all about basketball. As I look back on it, I certainly had more success playing football because I played quarterback and I played linebacker, as well. Those were the days when you played both ways. But I loved basketball."


This is Part I. Part II will deal more with Williams' background and his book, "Life on the Color Line." I expect to post that the week after Thanksgiving. I've got a fun story for next week which should bring back some fond memories.

Looking on the bright side ...

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Got a little nervous watching the first half of last night's UC basketball opener against Prairie View A&M. Bearcats didn't look excited to play, which was surprising.

Not to put too much stock into a single play, but Yancy Gates missed an easy dunk on the opening possession, and I thought that set the tone. If Gates dunks and scores, maybe the team and crowd get into the game sooner. As it turned out, it took the Bearcats five minutes to get their first field goal.

Made me think of the 1991-92 season when, if you recall, the Bearcats LOST to Athletes in Action in one of their exhibition games, 82-79. UC blew a 20-point lead in that game. Talk about shocking. "This is a great lesson for us," then-coach Bob Huggins told the team afterward. Among other things.

How did the Bearcats respond? They stayed in the locker room by themselves for hours after Huggins' outburst ended. The leadership of the team emerged. The players wrote down the goals they wanted to achieve that season. Aside from winning the Great Midwest Conference and advancing to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, the goals included "Work hard every day in practice" and "Leave the attitude at the door."

Of course, you know how the story goes: UC advanced to the Final Four that season.

Be fun to see how this season's team responds to Monday night's less-than-impressive showing and whether leadership emerges.

Coaches like to quote Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, who once said, "A season is a lifetime."







BCS questions and answers

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Helpful explanation of Bowl Championship Series selection process and where UC fits into it all by Enquirer:



Some observations ...

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Was around UC a lot in the past week. A few observations:

1. Caught the women's basketball exhibition Monday night against Kentucky Wesleyan. The Bearcats won easily 72-36 but I came away even more impressed with new coach Jamelle Elliott. Afterward she and her players talked about her insistence that they play with intensity at all times in practice and in games. Elliott backed that up by pulling senior guard Kahla Roudebush with 7:26 left in the first half and having her sit the bench the rest of the half. Why? Elliott thought Roudebush, last year's leading scorer, stopped playing after committing a turnover. Sent a good message to Roudebush and the team. I liked it. I should mention there were more people in attendance than a home game against Providence I saw last season.

2. Got a chance to spend almost an hour with new President Gregory Williams. Really enjoyed it. Soon I will be posting stories from that interview. He was very easy to talk to even though it was an interview. My take: He is far more interesting talking about non-sports-related topics than about athletics. My stories will cover both.

3. Win or lose, UC football is fun to watch. Amazing perspective to think that now fans are "worried" about the defense after allowing 40+ points and were sweating out a two-point victory. It's no longer "will they win?" but "by how many points?" ... Wouldn't want to be Coach Kelly having to make the decision on which quarterback to play. Nothing like a win-win situation, though.

4. UC volleyball team might be one of the better kept secrets in town. Coach Reed Sunahara is in his 10th season as head coach, and his teams have never had a losing record. This is the ninth time UC has won at least 20 matches under Sunahara. Five of his last nine teams have gone to the NCAA Tournament, and this year's team has a chance, too. The Bearcats have a set a school record by winning 25 consecutive times at home. Not much more you could ask for from Sunahara's program.

OK, back to work on the President Williams stories.



Jill Stephens well-prepared for life after basketball

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There's always something gratifying about hearing that a student-athlete has prepared for life after sports.


In some ways, Jill Stephens has been thinking about her future since shortly after she accepted a scholarship offer to play basketball at the University of Cincinnati.


"My mom was bound and determined that I come into college with a major," Stephens says. "She said you can't be undecided because you'll just take a bunch of classes that you don't need and you'll waste all this time."


Good advice. Not coincidently, Mom used to teach pre-school and kindergarten and is now an adjunct professor at Washington State Community College in Marietta, Ohio.


And so here is Stephens, 19th on the UC women's basketball career scoring list, still in college even though her eligibility has expired. She remains at UC working toward a Ph.D. in audiology.


Stephens, who expects to finish in June 2012, earned her undergraduate degree in communication sciences and disorders in three years (thanks to some AP credit from high school and summer school every year of college). There is no master's program for audiology, so she went straight to the doctorate program, which she started last year as a senior on the Bearcats.


"I was lucky," she says. "I knew what I wanted to do when I started."


When she was in high school in Mineral Wells, W.Va., Stephens thought she might want to teach but then decided she didn't want to work with large groups of children at once. Her mom suggested audiology. Stephens had never heard of it. But once she checked it out, she thought it could be a good fit.


"I knew that I wanted to work with children," she says. "Eventually I want to specialize in pediatrics."


Meanwhile, the 6-foot-3 Stephens went on to score 1,053 career points at UC. She averaged 12 points and 5.3 rebounds as a senior last year, including a career-high 30 points and 10 rebounds against Providence. She has the fifth-best career free-throw percentage in program history (.791).


Twice she received CoSIDA Academic All-District honors, and last year she won the BIG EAST Scholar Athlete of the Year award for a combination of athletic and academic success as voted on by the league's coaches.


Over the summer she played in Italy for 10 days with a USA Athletes International team. She played some open gym in the summer with the Bearcats and occasionally plays some pick-up ball. But otherwise, for Stephens, it's time to move on from basketball (other than cheering on her former teammates).


"It was a great experience," she says of her college career. "I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about how to get along with other people. I grew up a lot. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I think I'm a much tougher person now than I was before. When I first got here I was really homesick. I had a hard time being away from my parents. I let little things bother me all the time. I learned that you can't do that."

This quarter Stephens, 22, is working at Jewish Hospital, primarily with older patients. She's involved with hearing tests, basic audiograms, some specialized tests, hearing-aid fittings and helping people who show up with hearing-aid problems.


Next quarter she'll have a rotation at Children's Hospital. Her fourth year, Stephens will have a clinical externship that could be anywhere in the country. She would be like to be part of a cochlear implant team.


Will she wind up working and living in Cincinnati? Will she return to West Virginia?


"I haven't decided," she says. "I have long time to think about where I want to end up."


Start holiday shopping ...

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Good to chance this week to get some signed books for your holiday gift list.

Associate head football coach Kerry Coombs will talk football with authors Josh Katzowitz, John Baskin and Lonnie Wheeler as they discuss their books "Bearcats Rising" and "Cincinnati Schoolboy Legends" Thursday, Nov. 5 (7-9 p.m.) at the new LaRosa's in Colerain (3657 Stone Creek Boulevard, Shoppes of Stone Creek). Both books feature Coombs.

If you go, head to the family dining area in the back of the restaurant, Coombs and the authors will be on a panel to discuss the books and the history of football in Cincinnati. After the discussion, you can buy books and get them signed.

Artrell Hawkins works at new career

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Artrell Hawkins calls this his "demo season."


He is trying his hand at radio and TV, learning whatever he can and working with whoever will teach him. He wants to be part of the national media scene. And he's willing to put in the time and pay his dues to get there.


The former UC Bearcat football standout is becoming a regular on 700 WLW at 3 p.m. on Mondays with Eddie Fingers and Tracy Jones. He has his own show called 2 Deep Zone on

on 1530 WCKY every Tuesday night (6-7 p.m.) with former NFL player Charles Fisher and Mixed Martial Arts fighter Rich Thurston. Hawkins also joins Mo Egger at 4 p.m. every Friday for the Bengals Breakdown show live from Chi-nnati's in Madeira (3-6 p.m.).


"The thing that stands out most is he really works at it," Egger says. "He comes prepared. He doesn't wait for me to pepper him with questions. He has things he wants to talk about. You can really tell he wants to be good at this."


Egger says Hawkins brings a unique perspective. He played for Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. He played for Bill Belichick in New England. He has many existing relationships with NFL players and coaches, and he's not afraid to critique teams and players, which is important for a good broadcaster.


"He really adds an incredible amount of credibility," Egger says. "He just got out of the league; he knows just about everybody in the game. He really brings an insider's perspective.

Every week there's always something that comes up that he can relate to."


Hawkins was a sideline reporter for the UC football team's 2009 spring game and was an analyst in the booth for the UC-Southeast Missouri home-opener football game that aired on FOX Sports Ohio.


"Artrell did a nice job of 'getting the story' from the sidelines during the spring game," producer David Ashbrock says. "Artrell's player interviews were relevant and cogent. He got more relaxed as the game progressed.   


"When Artrell found himself in the booth in September, I think he was a little surprised. Now that he wasn't counted on for an occasional 'hit,' he was expected to have a comment after every play. I don't think he quite expected the job to be that difficult. ... Like football, 'reps' can make all the difference between a so-so career and a great one."

Hawkins knows he needs more experience. That's why he's started
broadcasting high school football games with Channel 19 sports director Brian Giesenschlag. They worked Princeton-Oak Hills together for the Princeton Media Network and will team up for Saturday's Princeton-Middletown game (airs live on Channel 19 at 2 p.m.).


"I'm just doing everything I can," Hawkins says. "Pay or no pay. I don't really care. I'm in it right now for the experience and the know-how."


Giesenschlag says Hawkins has the kinds of attributes that can't be taught: Great voice, intelligence, playing experience. "He's just raw," Giesenschlag says. "The good thing is he knows it, and he just wants to get the experience. He's in the process of doing that."


Hawkins has chosen wisely for someone to emulate: Solomon Wilcots. Wilcots, too, is a former Bengals defensive back who started locally and has worked his way up to co-host of a Sirius NFL Radio show, analyst on the NFL Network and color commentator for CBS' football telecasts.


Wilcots has told Hawkins not to try to go too far too fast. "He says to learn the business," Hawkins says. "That's kind of what I am doing."


Hawkins, 32, was selected by the Bengals in the second round of the 1998 NFL draft out of UC. He played six years with the Bengals, one year with the Carolina Panthers and finished in 2005 and 2006 with the New England Patriots. His NFL career included 303 tackles, 11 interceptions and four sacks.


Truth be told, he was not one of those athletes who was always interested in a career in the media.


"I had been told my whole life about how great my voice is," Hawkins says. "But I really never had any interest in any type of communications or broadcasting. I thought I was going to be a business guy. And then I figured out pretty quickly that I don't like business."


In 2007, he applied for - and was accepted to - the NFL's first Broadcast Boot Camp, held over three days at NFL Films in Mount Laurel, N.J. Those interested had to submit answers to essay questions. Only 20 players were selected.


They got experience working in-studio with James Brown, field reporting and had a chance to simulate calling a game with Dick Vermiel, analyst and former NFL coach.


"I got really good feedback," Hawkins says.


Last year, he mentioned his new career interest to Dan Hoard, radio voice of Bearcats football and baskeball. Hoard put Hawkins in touch with Lexington-based sportscaster Alan Cutler and other broadcast colleagues. Cutler had Hawkins on air several times. And so the ball got rolling.


Now, here's a lesson for all athletes, college and pro.


Hawkins tried to be cordial with the media as a player. And now media types have gone out of their way to help Hawkins land some opportunities. "There have been a host of people who have aided me in what I am trying to do without expecting anything in return," he says.


"When you play football, for some reason the players have this mind-set that they're the end-all be-all," Hawkins says. "Some guys are very good at treating people the right way and other guys tend to think they're the man and they're more important than what they are. The truth of the matter is, when you're done playing football, you're done playing football. How you treat people is always going to come back to either help you or hurt you later on.


"I'm super happy my momma taught me how to be cordial and respect everybody and to not think more of myself than I should."


He's made his home in Cincinnati. His wife is from here. Hawkins thinks it's a great place to raise a family. And where else would he be as "relevant" (his word) as he is here?


Now the question is: How far he can go? He'd love to have a syndicated radio show. He'd be thrilled to work games for ESPN or the NFL Network. He is learning to do voice-overs.


"I want to take over," he says laughing - but serious. "Triple threat.


"It's a lot more work than I anticipated. I'm busier now than I was when I played. But it is fun, and it does keep me involved with what I know best - and that's football."




Add this to your reading list

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This past week I finished reading "Life on the Color Line" by UC's new president Gregory Williams. All I can say is, "Wow."

The book is vivid in description and really well-written. And it's a fascinating story.

I got my copy at the UC bookstore, but you can also get it on

I might end up writing more about this. The university magazine is looking for some reviews. And rumor has it, I may get a chance to interview Williams next month.

Meanwhile, I recommend adding this to your reading list.