Bill Little commentary: Getting the message
Nov. 15, 2009
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
WACO, Texas -– Somehow it was fitting that on a weekend when the Texas Longhorns paid tribute to the grit and determination of Army Lt. Col. Greg Gadson, there was Eddie Jones, running for a touchdown with Baylor’s football.
In another time and place, a guy like Eddie Jones could have felt sorry for himself. He had come to Texas as a heralded prospect. He had been a first-team Parade and USA Today all-American at Kilgore High School.
But from the time he came to Texas in the fall of 2006, his career had been troubled by injuries.
In 2007, he missed two games with a right shoulder injury, and was chosen as a winner of the Frank Medina Rehabilitation Award. Last year, with more trouble from his shoulder, he suffered a broken ankle in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Surgery on both the shoulder and the ankle kept him out of spring drills earlier this year.
But Eddie would be the first to tell you when you listen to the story of courage from Greg Gadson, it would be make your own problems seem minor. And as Colonel Gadson spoke to the Longhorns on Friday night, that message came shining through. Here was a man, a former football player at Army, who had lost both of his legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq in May of 2007.
“You can’t choose your circumstances,” he would tell the team. “It’s your job to adjust to them.”
In a year that has been uniquely aligned with the U.S. Military, Lt. Col. Gadson’s appearance at the Texas game was another piece of the story. He had played football with Longhorns assistant coach Will Muschamp’s brother, and he had been honored by the New York Giants as part of their Super Bowl team in 2008. He originally was to have been an honorary captain for the Longhorns at the Texas Tech game, but a death in his family prevented his coming. Two other teams – including his alma mater at West Point – had asked Gadson to speak to their team on the weekend of the Baylor game, but he had already committed to Texas.
So decked out in a No. 98 Longhorn jersey (his number when he played at Army), Gadson sat in his wheelchair beside the Longhorn bench. He had instructed the Longhorns as he would have his own military unit about the importance of finishing the mission, and that is exactly what Eddie Jones did Saturday.
It was the final touchdown in the Longhorns’ 47-14 triumph over the Bears that moved Texas’ record to 10-0 and kept them on track as the frontrunner in the Big 12 South Division, on a path that could take them to a National Championship game.
Eddie Jones certainly wouldn’t begin to compare himself to the issues Greg Gadson faces – nor would anyone on the Longhorn team. But as the decorated Army hero sat on a stool in the front of the team meeting room and walked with his artificial legs that have to be attached at his hips, his very presence encouraged those who listened to persevere, whatever their issues have been. It was simply, “If he can endure what he’s going through and do it with a positive attitude, how can I not?”
Eddie Jones was the perfect poster child for Greg Gadson on Saturday. During his time at Texas, he has been an exemplary student athlete. He has been a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, UT Athletics Directors Honor Roll, and he has been active in UT’s community service program as part of a group that regularly visits patients at the Dell Children’s Medical Center. And he participated in A Hero’s Tribute by helping welcome back troops to Fort Hood who had been stationed overseas.
Jones’ 60-yard interception return from his defensive end position capped the scoring for Texas in the 47-14 romp over the Bears, and it put an exclamation point on a defensive effort that had completely dominated them. Through three quarters of the game, Baylor had just 87 yards of total offense, including minus 32 yards on 19 rushing attempts (including quarterback sacks).
The interception return marked the 10th time this year the Longhorns have scored a touchdown on defense or with special teams. It was also part of a game where the offense and defense complemented each other effectively until Baylor picked up a couple of scores and some yardage in the final minutes.
The balanced Longhorns offensive attack netted 224 rushing yards and 187 passing, for a total output of 411 yards.
Colt McCoy tied the NCAA record for victories by a starting quarterback as the Longhorns rolled to a 40-0 halftime lead and never looked back. McCoy completed 23-of-34 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns, and he left the game after directing just two series in the third quarter.
Cody Johnson led a thundering Texas running game, gaining 109 yards on 19 carries and scoring two touchdowns. Tre’ Newton had a 45-yard touchdown run and finished the game with 80 yards.
With seats available and the handy location midway between Austin and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, Texas fans came in droves to Floyd Casey Stadium – prompting one press box observer to comment, “Is this Floyd Royal Stadium?”
As the noon day sun gradually slid into early afternoon, there were a lot of smiles and some out-right grins along the east side line bench area where the Longhorns were enjoying watching their reserves get a chance to play.
One of the grins belonged to Eddie Jones, who, along with all those who made this trip to Waco, had seen their own physical struggles put into perspective by a life-changing encounter.
Another belonged to Lt. Col. Greg Gadson of the U. S. Army’s second battalion of the 32nd Field Artillery. On that May night in 2007, he was returning from a memorial service for two of his soldiers in Iraq when his vehicle hit an IED. Days later, he lost his left leg to infection, and then his right.
He was an athlete, and a commander whose charge as he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point had been to serve his country, and to lead young men. Less than six months later, he walked onto the football field at an Army game on his artificial legs.
What Greg Gadson showed us all is each of us has gifts to use, and circumstances may affect your direction, but not your destination. Leading isn’t, he would show us, only about your deeds or about your arms or your legs, but rather about your mind and your heart. And in that space, it is about the soul.
That is the message that Lt. Col. Greg Gadson of the U.S. Army left the Longhorns this weekend, and that is why, it was so blessedly important to see Eddie Jones running down the football field, with Baylor’s football.