How sports saved my life in college

My mom never got to go to college.

She was accepted at the University of Michigan…cue a bunch of you breaking into “Hail to the Victors”, and the rest (myself included), scoffing. She wanted to study…of all things, journalism.

But my grandmother never believed in her, wouldn’t support her dream and refused to send my mother to Ann Arbor.

So growing up, my mom always impressed upon me, “Matthew, you have to go to college. I don’t care if you want to be a garbage man, you have to go to college and get your degree. So one day, when you figure out you don’t want to be a garbage man, you have a diploma to fall back on.”

Like every teenager in America, I was accustomed to the, “It’ll be the greatest four years of your life” talk, and dreamt of going off to some fine institution somewhere.

Unlike every teenager in America, I dreaded leaving home for college. So much so, it took until spring semester of my fourth year to do just that; and that’s only because the University of Queensland is located in Brisbane, Australia, not Baltimore, Maryland.

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I got to Queensland and didn’t leave my room for 72 hours. Not just apartment, room.

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I drank water from the faucet in my bathroom, and survived off of Slim Jims, Rice Krispies Treats and Welch’s Fruit Snacks that were stowed in my suitcase.

Eventually, I was forced to overcome my introverted tendencies, because it’s nearly impossible to survive 12,000 miles from home, without other people, for five months.

Did I mention that I dislocated my kneecap four days after I got there?

So why on God’s green Earth would I voluntarily do it all over again and apply to USC? A university on the other side of the country…

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Why I applied to, and attend, the University of Southern California.

You can blame Pete Carroll for that. I grew up a diehard Trojans fan, and when the opportunity to attend USC came a knockin’, I answered the door.

However, the same anxiety that prevented me from living in College Park, and left me paralyzed after two hours in Brisbane, resurfaced in earnest when I relocated to Los Angeles.

Until three months ago, I was convinced coming here was a huge mistake.

I was miserable.

Seriously, this close from picking up the phone, and asking my former admissions counselor at American University if I could transfer back East.

And then a funny thing happened. I never made that phone call.

Why?

Of all things, sports.

Before I even set foot in Alan Abrahamson’s class and learned my true purpose in attending USC, sports saved me from making what would have been the worst decision of my entire life.

When you attend the University of Southern California, one of the first things ingrained upon you is, “Fight On.”

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I should really try that “keep calm” part sometime.

It’s the unofficial motto of the university, and somewhat official motto of USC Trojan football.

But what do those words even mean?

They’re a reminder that when life gets tough, keep going, don’t stop.

Last term, I was so overwhelmed during my first day in a class I knew nothing about, that I almost quit. The words “Fight On” kicked in and prevented me from doing so; I got an A-.

Not bad for knowing zilch about strategic corporate communication beforehand.

When I got home in December, I was still miserable. But I fought on.

The reason I came to USC, is the reason I am still here today.

I went to every USC home football game last season, and even traveled to Pasadena to see my beloved Trojans destroy UCLA at the Rose Bowl (sorry Kate).

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Good question…

I watched them go on the road and knock off an undefeated Husky team, keeping Rose Bowl aspirations alive. Those same Trojans then overcome a two touchdown deficit against Penn State, and won the Rose Bowl.

If they never gave up, what right did I have to?

Football games were some my happiest memories in three years at College Park.

Cheering on the Terrapins, win or lose — mostly lose.

During the one Maryland basketball game I attended, I wound up on ESPN, jumping up and down, happy as a clam.

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My kids are going to have to see that mustache one day…

Over the past five and a half years, sports has provided a welcome distraction from an otherwise incredibly stressful college career.

When I was in Australia, sports lifted my spirits when I felt in despair. I golfed with my Australian mate, Jason, and had season tickets to the local rugby league team, the Brisbane Broncos.

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Sydney Roosters v. Brisbane Broncos // Suncorp Stadium – Brisbane, Australia — April 10, 2015

There were two occasions at Maryland that nothing other than sports could have fixed.

In September 2014, my grandfather died.

We were really close and would always talk about what the Redskins were up to, or how his Rays were beating my Jays.

The very next day, I went to the Maryland-West Virginia game.

As if the weather gods understood what was going on in my mind, the weather was awful.

50 degrees with a torrential downpour.

And somehow, it didn’t matter. I stayed all three hours, drenched to my socks, watching Maryland lose on a last second field goal to the rival Mountaineers and I knew everything would be OK.

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The next moment occurred a year later, in the middle of a course where I couldn’t figure out how to use the software required for the course. Instead of frustrating myself with another late night, I took the day off and went to the Blue Jays-Orioles game in Baltimore.

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Who’s a happy Blue Jays fan?

As a diehard Jays fan, it was an opportunity to see my team clinch the AL East for the first time since I was one. The Blue Jays crushed the Orioles and left the field AL East Champs, and I left Oriole Park with a new found attitude that carried me through the remainder of the semester.

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At the tail end of my first semester at USC, I was worn out. Stressed, tired and mopey. So it was up to sports once again to save the day. That day just happened to be my 25th birthday. A year prior, I told a friend of mine I would go to this game, even before I was admitted to the school and look what happened.

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USC defeats Notre Dame 45-27 // November 26, 2016 — L.A. Memorial Coliseum

The Trojans vanquished Notre Dame, in the pouring in rain, again, and it was the greatest birthday present I could have ask for. Sports has truly saved my life in college.

And look where it’s led. I now find myself in a class where all I do, is talk about sports for two and a half hours, meet Olympians and discuss my future with, “the God of Olympic sports writing”; though he hates when I call him that.

I interviewed members of the USC women’s volleyball team last month, and I am currently negotiating my way into covering a MLB game, FROM THE PRESS BOX!

All because of sports. That beautiful distraction that has kept me from giving up, even when all other hope seemed lost.

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