Second Chances

Free agent Jason Respert looks to the future

Some official visit.

Respert was hardly the typical pampered athlete, as he faced and conquered tremendous adversity while at UT. First, he came in under the shadow of the

Florida

incident and allegations that he was just another football-playing thug. Then his career was marred by injuries that prevented him from reaching his full potential as an athlete.

"Especially when you hear coming into the draft that you're getting picked.

It's easy to throw stones at a college football coach when things go awry off the field—incidents such as those involving former University of Tennessee players James Banks and Brent Schaeffer come to mind.

But those incidents notwithstanding, there really are situations when immature kids can transform into men, when a second chance becomes an investment in the future. Former Vol offensive lineman Jason Respert is an example.

Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer made one of the best investments of his career in this young man. Four years later, Respert is a former blue chipper we can all celebrate. Respert was on my radio show recently, and I had the opportunity to talk with him about both his career at UT and about his future plans.

Respert, a coveted offensive lineman out of Warner Robbins, Ga., saw his college career get off to an inauspicious start. While on an official recruiting visit to the University of Florida on Jan. 29, 2000, an inebriated, 18-year old Respert (a UT commitment at the time) got in trouble with a UF coed.

Somehow, Respert ended up in a strange apartment full of young women; he doesn't even remember how he got there. Some official visit.

One of the women claimed that the mammoth recruit pulled the sheets from her bed and attempted to fondle her, an incident which led to charges of sexual battery and burglary being leveled against Respert.

Respert eventually entered a plea of no contest to trespassing and simple battery and received two years of supervised probation.

Against public pressure, Tennessee Head Coach Phillip Fulmer decided to give Respert an opportunity at redemption. It's a decision for which Respert remains eternally grateful.

"I can't put it into words," Respert said. "I've told Coach Fulmer several times how much I'm just so grateful and thankful to him for taking a risk and sticking his neck out for me. Because he actually got to know me during the recruiting process with him, it wasn't smoke and mirrors with him. But he listened to what I was saying, and I listened to what he was saying."

Respert was hardly the typical pampered athlete, as he faced and conquered tremendous adversity while at UT. First, he came in under the shadow of the Florida incident and allegations that he was just another football-playing thug. Then his career was marred by injuries that prevented him from reaching his full potential as an athlete.

But Respert persevered, and he believes the character he displayed at UT will serve him as he attempts to make it in the NFL.

"Sure, I think those things will help," he said. "But I'm not fooling myself. This is still a game about executing your blocks and your task at hand on the field."

An undrafted, rookie free agent, Respert is one blue chipper whose character has exceeded his stock as a football player. Still, Jason won't let his circumstances pull him down.

"It was frustrating sitting through [the draft]," he said. "Especially when you hear coming into the draft that you're getting picked. But at the same time I'm a firm believer that things happen for a reason."

Don't be surprised if Respert makes the Bears, especially considering his work ethic.

"That's just the way I was raised," he said. "My Mom was a strong woman. She taught us to persevere and to be strong under tough times. I remember when I left home to go to UT, and she told me, 'I'm sending you up there first to get your education, and second to play football. It doesn't matter how well you've done in the past or how little you've done.'"

Heeding his mother's advice, Respert graduated with a degree in sports management while collecting a minor in business administration. "I've talked with Coach Fulmer and other coaches on the staff, and they're well aware that I want to work in football someday," he said. "I'll either be a coach or an administrator, just stay around football because I know the impact it's had on my life."

Respert's leadership will be sorely missed by the Vols in 2005. But he leaves just as big a vacuum off the field as he does on it, as he was active in community service.

"I think that when God puts us in the place and position of being a Tennessee Volunteer, I think it's important for us to show them that we are people too," he said. "We sweat and bleed just like they do. I think I had an obligation as a Tennessee Volunteer to show kids that I had a heart and be a positive impact on them."

The decision on Respert's fate as a professional football player will ultimately come from former UT defensive backs coach Lovie Smith, who is the current head coach of the Bears. But even if he never plays a down in the NFL, Jason Respert is a tremendous success story, the kind of story that needs to be told, and more importantly, needs to be heard. Good luck, Jason.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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