March 06, 2015
Memories, on and off the field, are among the most powerful currencies that the game of football can provide.
From the intensity of offseason workouts in broiling heat to the camaraderie of the locker room throughout a long season to the thrill of last-minute, late-season victories in front of a packed house, those memories are rich and powerful.
And for most, the memories only get stronger as the inevitable passage of time occurs in life. But not for all.
In a contact sport known as much for its jarring collisions as it is for its glorious runs, spiraling passes and gravity-defying catches, the memories fade for some in cruel irony as the cumulative effect of the game takes its toll.
Mike Pawlawski knows the glories of the gridiron better than most. From his days as a top-prep quarterback on the West Coast to his time as a Pac-10 MVP quarterback to a professional career that lasted more than a decade, the host of Gridiron Outdoors on Outdoor Channel has lived a life that thousands of pee-wee players on Pop Warner fields across the nation can only dream of.
He also knows about the other side of the game too. From a collection of surgeries for various injuries to the "four or five diagnosed concussions" he had to the "five or six that never got diagnosed," the physical nature of the game he loves is not lost.
"When I played, when you got your bell rung, you continued to play," said Pawlawski, who was 17-6-1 as a starter in college for the California Golden Bears. "If you got a concussion, you took several plays off, got the smelling salts and got back into the game."
The game has changed since the early 1990s when Pawlawski achieved gridiron glory at Cal, including a 10-2 season and a top-10 national ranking in 1991. Today, concussions aren't a matter of toughness and grit, but instead are being recognized for what they are, traumatic brain injuries that can cause problems both long and short term.
"I've never been one to dwell on the past," said Pawlawski. "It is what it is. Now that we know what we know about concussions – and knowing that the effects are unique to each individual – we have to be more aware."
Slightly more than a decade removed from playing, Pawlawski hasn't discovered any troubling effects from his concussions and injuries thus far, but he does remain vigilant.
Which is one reason that Pawlawski and Gridiron Outdoors show guest Clint Trickett deal with the subject of concussions in football even as the pair worked to create some rich and lasting outdoor memories during a rainy hunt for wild pigs in the hilly terrain of central California.
"Clint is a great, great kid who is very smart, very thoughtful and very respectful," Pawlawski said of Trickett.
Trickett, much like Pawlawski was a couple of decades ago, has been a gifted collegiate quarterback with the goods – and the dream – to make it at the next level.
"I came out of the womb playing football," Trickett smiled and said during the filming of the show.
After playing backup QB at Florida State University where his dad Rick serves as the Seminoles offensive line coach and assistant head coach, Trickett decided that he still had some gas left in his playing tank when he graduated early from FSU. That led to a graduate transfer to West Virginia University where Trickett spent his last couple of years of NCAA eligibility racking up big yards and touchdowns in the pass-happy Big 12.
But with dreams of an NFL career dangling in front of Trickett as he led the Mountaineers, he also began to collect something completely undesirable in the game of football, a series of concussions.
And eventually, the effects of five concussions sustained over a 14-month span during the 2013 and 2014 seasons – including two that Trickett admitted he hid from trainers – caught up with the college football star.
Former West Virginia University quarterback Clint Trickett suffering from one of his many concussions. (Photo courtesy Gridiron Outdoors)
"You never pull yourself off the field," said Trickett. "That's the mindset you have, especially as a quarterback, being the leader of the team, being the guy that everyone looks too. You can't ever pull yourself off the field."
Athletes might not pull themselves off the field, but in an age where the knowledge of concussions and the damage that they can potentially cause is becoming more fully known, medical personnel can. Which is exactly what happened to Trickett just a few months ago.
Following his last concussion in a key Big 12 game this past November against Kansas State, doctors eventually informed Trickett that they were unable to clear him medically. That forced Trickett to retire from the game he loved and dreamed of playing professionally just prior to what would have been the final game of his collegiate career, a Liberty Bowl matchup against Texas A&M.
But instead of falling into despair like many would be tempted to do, Trickett has taken one of football's most endearing lessons – persevering through adversity to achieve victory – and is currently in the process of turning a bowl of lemons into sweet lemonade.
"The funny thing is that this has all helped Clint focus on the next part of his career," said Pawlawski. "He knew he was going to be a player early on in his life. But he also knew that when those playing days were over, he was going to be a coach like his dad. So he's taken this as an opportunity to focus on the next part of his career.
"Instead of being sad about not getting that pro shot, he sees this as one door closing and another door opening. That's the way I saw it anyway after spending time with him. He's a pretty resilient kid."
For his part, Trickett sees this shift in career path as something that will allow him to give back to a game that has given him so much.
"I'm getting into coaching almost to become a mentor to these kids," Trickett said during the filming of the show. "Obviously there's a football aspect, but off the field, kids look up to you (and) you're going to almost be a father figure (to many). I've had that growing up and I want to be able to repay that to the athletes who will be under me."
In fact, that repayment process has already begun. Earlier this week, Trickett accepted the quarterbacks coaching job at junior college football powerhouse East Mississippi Community College, winners of the 2011, 2013 and 2014 NJCAA national championships.
Before beginning the next phase of his pigskin career however, Trickett got to enjoy a couple of days hunting one of California's most numerous critters, the wild pig.
"With his dad being a football coach and with him playing, Clint didn't get to do as much hunting as he would have liked to growing up," said Pawlawski. "He found hunting in high school and while he's not a pro hunter or anything, he has a passion for it and enjoys it immensely."
With a Pacific rainstorm socking the region during the filming of the Gridiron Outdoors episode, the wild pigs proved to be cagey and hard to find. That forced the pair of former quarterbacks to call an audible or two during the two-day hunt as they scrambled to make a good show.
Eventually, after much hiking and searching, a small herd of pigs was located in a deep draw giving Trickett a fourth-and-goal opportunity to literally bring home the bacon – and the backstraps and pork chops too.
After a tedious stalk, a shot opportunity finally presented itself. Much as he did when he dropped back into the pocket to pass a pigskin, Trickett drilled a shot home, downing the wild pig with a single bullet fired from his Ruger American rifle chambered in the .308 caliber.
Moments later, Pawlawski and Trickett shook hands, smiled big and began the hard work that always comes at the conclusion of a successful hunt.
Experiencing some of hunting's most powerful lure, the moments of hard-won success gained with a brother of the chase. It's in such moments that Pawlawski finds some common ground with his previous line of work.
"The thing that football and hunting have in common is the absolute focus you must have in the moment (to be successful)," he said.
"When you're standing back in the pocket, you're focused on looking downfield for a receiver and looking off a (defensive back). You're absolutely focused on that moment.
"In hunting, it's the exact same thing whether it's drawing back on a deer from a deer stand, chasing a red stag in New Zealand or hunting pigs in California. You have to absolutely be in the moment with pinpoint precision and focus. I think it's why a lot of athletes gravitate towards hunting."
Another reason that former athletes gravitate to outdoor pursuits is because of the warm camaraderie and backslapping fellowship that hunting and fishing can both bring.
Like those moments shared with teammates in locker rooms over the years, hunting and fishing can provide the backdrop for a lifetime of new memories and the building of strong friendships that will last through time.
Moments that are powerful and lasting in their own right, the kind of moments captured earlier this year by Outdoor Channel television cameras as a couple of former quarterbacks, one in his mid 40s and the other in his early 20s, shook hands on a muddy California hillside.
Clutching one set of life memories – and hard-earned lessons – in one hand, while collecting another set of cherished memories in the other.
“Gridiron Outdoors” episode “Head Games” with special guest Click Trickett will air Monday, March 9 at 10:30 a.m., Wednesday, March 11 at 2:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 15 at 6 p.m. All times Eastern.