For two hours, Maurice Crum's only concern across the practice field was tackling the player with the ball.
Pads cracked so hard you thought the players in them would crumple like Beetle Bailey after a beating from Sarge. Survival and concentration. The real world is a million miles away.
When the University of Miami football team had finally drilled itself out, Crum rested his helmet on the grass and related the concerns of every young father raising a child. In this case,
Maurice Jr., age 4.
"It's not easy out there anymore," said Crum, Miami's All-America linebacker and proud daddy. "It's a lot worse now than when I was a kid. There's a lot of problems."
The problems were all around Crum as he stood on the Hurricanes' practice field. He spoke from within a city, like so many others, where crack cocaine is easier to find than an open ball field, a city where the number of homeless, forgotten and abandoned, continues to grow.
The soundtrack of the next generation will not be the soothing harmonies and acoustic guitars of the '60s, the insipid disco beat of the '70s or the image-conscious New Kids of the '80s. It will be the angry rage of rap. Public Enemy. N.W.A.
"I worry for my son because his generation has it so much tougher," Crum said. "I see it when I visit the schools. I'm concerned about the sexual diseases and drugs. Drugs . . . that's a big problem. The addicts will kill you for it and steal for it. It revolves around everything."
Like hundreds of other college football players, Crum will be playing in bowl games for school spirit, school alumni and bowl representatives in suits and ties. But when the numbered jersey is removed, Crum, and a few others like him, will place a stake in trying to change the future.
A future, Crum said, "with a million concerns." And too few who will try to correct them.
"You have to think about the Persian Gulf crisis. I have a couple friends in the Middle East. I used to play ball with them. They were in the reserves, but they got called up about three weeks ago. No one has heard from them. It concerns me a lot, you know, because I see them starting to send body bags over there. It makes you stop and think."
=1 Stacy Long, All-America tackle from Clemson.
Sam Gash doesn't ask what the specific problems are. "There's really no need to," he said.
Instead, the Penn State fullback simply tries to help the children who make up The Second Mile program.
"If they want to talk, go into deep detail about a problem, that's fine," Gash said. "Otherwise, we just try to have fun and maybe make things easier for them."
The Second Mile, funded through individual, corporate and foundation contributions, was founded in 1977 by Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. The idea, said Sandusky, who adopted five children and became foster parents to three more, "was to provide a home with a family-type setting for children who were having problems. We wanted to give them a second chance."
In 1982, The Second Mile started a foster home for six children. The program provides services to 51,000 children statewide who have been battered and abused, lack parental encouragement or lack a foundation to make positive choices.
The Second Mile has eight programs, including a summer camp, the Better Chance program, which provides housing for gifted minorities, and a set of trading cards featuring 16 Penn State football players who write on the back of their card about today's problems.
Gash, a native of Hendersonville, N.C., learned about The Second Mile his freshman season.
"I knew I wanted to become more involved with young people," he said. "When I first got here, I heard some older guys talking about the program. I attended a few functions and really got involved in it."
Gash serves as a liaison between the players and the program. He's also part of the Friend Program, in which hundreds of Penn State student volunteers meet with Second Mile children twice a month.
"We'll go bowling, have a picnic, maybe go swimming," Gash said. "Some kids get attached to you, and I've gotten close to two or three of them who come from broken homes. It's hard on them."
Gash, said Hank Lesch, the program's director of community relations, is one of the hardest workers. Maybe it's because he seems to understand just how hard it can be. Gash grew up in a single-parent home. "I'd say lower middle class," Gash said.
His message to the program's children is on the back of his trading card. He writes about his inability to get the best sports equipment as a child because of his family's budget.
"So when your sneakers aren't the greatest, remember, it's not what you have or wear but who you are and what you do."
"I'm concerned with overcoming deafness, and I'm starting to realize that I'd like to be a role model for deaf children. I want to learn more about it and learn how to overcome it. I'm studying more about deafness. I really started working on it last year, and it's benefited me greatly. I hope it will help others."