If only there were an opponent on the Memorial Stadium field outside, Kansas University athletic director Sheahon Zenger would have looked the part of a football coach ready to lead into battle the group of 11 scholar-athletes honored at KU on Wednesday night.
Zenger served as the keynote speaker for the National Football Foundation Sunflower Chapter’s 21st annual scholar-athlete banquet, which honored some of the top football players in Kansas who excelled in areas of athletics, academics and community service.
Many coaches and parents drove from all over the state to the Anderson Family Football Complex to celebrate the achievement, and Zenger delivered one of his signature speeches in which he swayed from side to side with excitement and punched rather than spoke his words.
Zenger’s message to the athletes who were honored was a mixture of life advice and football wisdom and focused on many of the things he has made core values for the student-athletes at KU.
Shawnee Mission West senior Austin Chambers said it felt and sounded like something he has heard in the locker room.
“It did,” Chambers said. “You could really see the passion he has for all of our futures. I was able to sit at the table with a great group of guys tonight, and it was neat to hear that this was a special night but that there’s a lot more to come for us, too. His speech really hit home, and it’s nice to know that we have the opportunity to do some special things with our lives if we go to work like he said. Hearing that from a guy like him really means something.”
Brian Stack and Frank Smysor were honored with the John and Phil Laurie Officials Award, and Blue Valley West’s Scott Wright won the foundation’s Don Fambrough Coach of the Year honor.
The event also recognized a group whose cumulative grade-point average was 3.92 and list of accolades away from the gridiron was nearly as long as the list of achievements on the field.
The other scholar-athletes who were honored with Chambers included: Scott Beecher, Medicine Lodge High; Seth Carder, Wichita Collegiate; Brenden Hampton, Holton; Jacob Koch, Conway Springs; Jason Randall, Leavenworth; Glenn Riederer, Holton; Justin Schmutz, Ell-Saline; Heath Tucker, Holcomb; Payton Vetter, Beloit; and Nick Wuthnow, Sacred Heart.
Capping the anecdotes about football, being a Kansan and hard work, which Zenger used throughout his time at the podium, was one simple message.
“Make the choice that this won’t be the best night of your life,” Zenger told the young men. “Continue to make the choices that led to a night like this, in the classroom, on the field of play, with your social lives and with your families.”