Thursday, August 12, 2004

A different side of Chris Hope

If there's one thing that's immediately different as the Steelers enter their third week of training camp is that both players and coaches seem much more upbeat about their chances than a year ago. Of course some of that may have to do with a healthy offensive line and a running back situation that's much more stable than when we last left the Steelers in late December. But I get the feeling that the youth movement in the defensive backfield is not only the biggest change, but also could potentially be the most exciting.

After being lucky enough to interview second-year cornerback Ike Taylor, I got to thinking about how good this unit could be (with their only obvious obstacle being inexperience).

Cornerback Deshea Townsend proved during the second have of '03 that he should be starting. 2003 first-round pick, Troy Polamalu made some strides during the last few weeks of the season and he will be the starting strong safety and perhaps more importantly, third-year free safety, Chris Hope will finally get his chance to play every week.

Anyway, as I was thinking about this story I remember reading somewhere that Chris Hope was an Academic All-American at Florida State. And what's amazing is that more wasn't made of this. First of all, how many players in the NFL are Academic All-Americans? Not only that, but it seems that the few that are are predominately offensive lineman and they're predominately white. Are the two correlated? I have no idea, but either way I think it's pretty impressive that Hope, in addition to liking to knock the crap out of people, also took academics seriously enough to win a $15,000 postgraduate scholarship.

Maintaining a 3.8 GPA (in Communications) isn't easy for Hope and he credits his family and upbringing with his success both on and off the field.

"Coming up playing sports as a kid I was always taught to focus on my grades first, being that at anytime the game of football can be taken away from you so I focused on making straight-A's or the best grades possible in case football didn't work out for me," Hope said.
And look, I don't begrudge players who didn't do well in college (I maxed out my junior year with a 1.4 gpa during the spring semester) or left early to pursue their dream of being a professional athlete, but I think in cases like Hope -- cases that are so rare -- more should be made of it.

I have yet to see Hope play an entire game, but I already have a lot of respect for the guy.

"My academics are as important to me as the success on the football field," Hope said. "I am pleased with this honor and I am even more pleased with my college degree. Football will not be there forever, but your education will."
I have some vague recollection that Curt Flood (or maybe it was Lou Brock) said that they majored in Mathematics to ensure that when they signed their contract they weren't getting screwed. And that's kind of the point with Hope.

You get the impression that he wants to afford himself every opportunity off the field when the whole football thing is over. And you get the sense that his competiveness on the field helped fuel his desire to do well academically.

So while I'm really excited about the Steelers doing well in 2004 -- especially the defensive backfield -- I think I'm even more impressed with the fact that in addition to being a good young safety, Chris Hope also seems like he's a good person. And in a league where you have jerks like T.O. making homophobic accusations, this at the very least, is refreshing.