This interview appears in Skyd Magazine Vol. 1, Issue 1 – now available on Amazon.
How did you first get into ultimate?
I first started throwing the Frisbee around my freshman year of High School after Cross Country practice. On Fridays, we would do a light run and take the Frisbee to a local park and throw around for a bit before returning back to campus. Once I moved to Florida, I again ran Cross Country and after some summer time workouts at the University of South Florida we would throw the Frisbee around. One day a couple of guys from the Tampa Men’s team came up to us and asked us if we were interested in playing in a summer league. I went to summer league the next week and the rest was history.
What are you favorite memories playing at the University of Florida? What did you learn there?
I LOVE championship play – Winning the championship in 2006 against a tough Wisconsin team was obviously a tremendous experience but I could point to so many different games that still stick with me to this day like it was yesterday. The Oregon game at Nationals in 2007, the Colorado and Wisconsin games at Centex 2006, Wisconsin game at Centex 2008, the Berkeley game at Centex 2004, the showcase game vs. Texas at Centex in 2007. Those are just a few game experiences that come to mind when I look back at my career at Florida.
To be honest, some of the greatest memories are some of the off-field experiences I’ve had with the players that have been on the team. Many of the guys from my college days are still some of my best friends today. There’s something to be said about getting a group of guys together, united in achieving one common goal, and grinding it out on the track and at practice on a week to week basis for 6 months straight. You really develop a strong brotherhood with each other that never fades away.
There were a lot of guys that came before me at Florida that I tried to emulate. Tim Gehret is an obvious one. He was such a natural thrower and as a Freshman I was far from where I wanted to be. I remember his soft high-release flick that I could never do. I spent countless hours trying to emulate that throw so I could make those same sort of up the line, soft, short yardage flicks that are not easy until I eventually could throw it confidently in games. Palmer Porter, Dan Depaul are some other guys I looked up to that preceded me at Florida and helped teach me the game.
What was it like eventually being a leader on that team for players like Brodie Smith? Did you enjoy that responsibility? You and Brodie have gone on to share a couple championships together with Doublewide and Bravo. Are you excited about being able share those things with former college teammates?
Brodie is a tremendous talent. Anytime you can have a game changing player like him on your team is an exciting thing. He’s such an offensive weapon that teams have no choice but to change their game plan when he’s on the field. Brodie is great guy to have on your team. He has one of the highest ultimate IQ’s of anyone that I know so it’s great talking strategy with him. He’s also extremely funny, entertaining, and not afraid to be himself.
I think it’s easy to be a part of a team that has those types of guys on them. Winning championships is great with anyone. I think part of the reason we’ve tried to play together on the club scene after college is because we know each other so well, we know what each other is going to do before we do it, and we have a similar style of play. All of those things come with experience and with the club game being so competitive nowadays, those types of things can be the difference makers between a win and a loss.
You won your first championship in 2006 over Wisconsin. What are some of the key moments from it?
This was an extremely tough game. Wisconsin in those years had so much talent and they played extremely tough. People like to say we must have ‘hated’ them but it was actually the complete opposite. They played tough, just like we did, and so we respected the heck out of them for that. This game in particular featured some of the best players during those years – Dan Heijman, Drew Mahowald, Shane Hohenstein, Brandon Malecek, Jim Foster, Tom Annen, and Matt Rebholz just to name a few. Most of these guys are still playing club and are top players on their respective teams.
The conditions of the championship game were hot and humid, something you think would be to our advantage but since we had a small roster with an even smaller rotation it made things difficult for us. Their defense was suffocating and they always brought tremendous pressure. After scoring at 12-12 to make it 13-12 us I knew if we could get this next one up wind we would win the game. When we go the turn, I made an under cut, dumped it off to Timmy and he launched a laser backhand right under Ted Tripoli’s foot to Gray Kirkmyer. He caught it near the endzone line and at that point all of our handlers were way out of position leaving him with just one guy, Tommy Rush, to make a cut for him and I’ll just be honest, we were VERY nervous something bad was going to happen after getting it so close to the endzone. Somehow (if Tommy and Gray are reading this I’m sure they’ll get a kick out of my explanation) we were able to put it in without a hiccup ;) At that point, I knew we were going to win.
The next point, Timmy put up one of his classic hammers to me in the endzone and that was it. I was exhausted – Wisconsin had put up the biggest fight we had all season but we were able to overcome it and take home our first title. It was an amazing experience. Our coach Kurt Dahlenburg, and our captains Bill Macqueen and Cyle Van Auken were the ones that put together and managed the team so well. We couldn’t have done it without them.
After finishing school you started to experience symptoms associated with colon cancer. How did fighting colon cancer strengthen you as a person and as a player?
A pastor of a church I attended said in a sermon once that, ‘Earthly trials are used for eternal purposes’. Fighting colon cancer was certainly an earthly trial that, while being very scary on the outside has actually brought my life so much joy I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. I think it has made me a much better person, player, teammate, and leader.
My comeback started soon after I finished chemotherapy. I remember after the first couple of treatments I went out and hit tennis balls at the courts at my apartment complex, with my fanny pack which pumped the chemo, the tubes, and the needle stuck in the port in my chest. Not sure if that was the smartest thing or if the doctor’s would have approved of that considering my mediport was on my upper right breast and i had a large needle stuck inside of it all while swinging my right arm wildly to hit these balls. I think I did it to kill time and try to do ‘something’ active. Since my body was still strong at that point I could handle it but it wasn’t long before I basically limited myself to lots of TV/Movies. After the first couple of treatments I started feeling like I had the Flu the entire first week after being injected.
The 2nd week usually wasn’t too bad and I could do regular things around the house, but no strenuous physical activity.
After my 6 months of chemo ended in April 2009 I made it my goal to play that next club season. It wasn’t too long after that the Doctor’s cleared me to start exercising. So, I started with what I knew how to do. Run… I started with 2 miles, then 3, then 4, then 5, then 6. I remember one specific time when I first got back to Dallas, it was one of my first runs and I was trying to get 3 miles in and at about 2 miles my body was not having it at ALL. But, I was still a mile from my house and it was starting to get a little hilly. I don’t know what got into me but I literally started yelling at myself to keep pushing, keep going, keep running. If you can imagine a HS Football coach yelling at his kids, that was sort of what I sounded like, except, yelling at myself. It sounds kind of crazy thinking about it but it was one of those mental barriers I had to break to say to myself, hey, I can do this. Soon after I was running more miles and I even started swimming. It was easier on my body and some weekends I would even do 3-a-days. I like to describe it as my version of SEAL training for cancer survivors.
How does your religion play a big role in your life on and off the ultimate field?
As Christians we are called to use our God given gifts to glorify His name, and I have a chance to do that through ultimate. I’ve been so grateful that I’ve been able to play a sport I love for so many years – My love, passion, and gifts have always pointed me towards ultimate and wearing eye black is a way that I glorify God in what I’m doing. Hopefully, it inspires others who may not know the loving God that has touched my life in so many ways. The verse I’ve worn on my face the past two championship games in 2012 and 2014 is Hebrews 12:1-2. I am in life’s race, and wherever God leads me, I always remind myself to fix my eyes on the prize, Jesus Christ, in anything I do, including when I play ultimate.
Let’s talk about your start in the Club Division. You originally played with Vicious Cycle during your time in Florida. After school, you eventually moved out to Dallas and started playing with Doublewide after a brief stint in Boston. How did Texas ultimate differ from what you were used to?
Being a successful ultimate team really comes down to a few things: talent, work ethic, and leadership. When I first started playing Doublewide it was clear the team was at a crossroads. The team had finished towards the bottom of Nationals multiple years in a row, sometimes making quarters, but had never broken into semis. Either we continued what Doublewide has done in the past or we changed things up a bit. Over the course of the next few years we slowly put the pieces in place to be a successful team. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to grow with over the 5 years I would play with them before moving to Colorado. Guys like Tank, Max Cook, and Kiran Thomas were always the mainstays and lifeblood of the team and that NEVER changed. In order for us to be successful, we knew that they had to be a big part of it. They essentially were Doublewide, they were the center of the ‘well nasty brotherhood’.
In 2012 the US National Team (Revolver) picked you up for their WUGC campaign. How did that selection come about and what did they recognize about you that was useful to them?
Playing with Revolver was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had as a player. They truly represent what an ultimate team should be. They play hard, fair, and respect their opponents and the game. Playing with them in Japan was my first international experience and was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
The WUGC tournament is the pinnacle of our sport right now. Being able to compete as the lone team from your country is such an honor. Doing that in a country like Japan, where they have so much respect for the sport was also a bonus. Being an American ultimate player in an international setting is pretty cool. I loved getting to meet ultimate players from around the world. It was cool to meet some people that would reference some video they saw of you and some of the time I would think, wow, I didn’t even know there was a video of that! Playing with Revolver was great. Dutchy was coaching back then and he is one of the greatest if not greatest coaches the ultimate world has ever seen.
2014 saw you come back to the Bay to join the San Jose Spiders in the AUDL. What connection brought you into the pro game?
It’s actually a funny story. I was at Lei-Out in 2014 and I was walking up to the finals field and went up to say hey to Jim Gerenscer (the founder of E.R.I.C.) and after exchanging greetings he asked me if I would have any interest in playing with the Spiders. I wasn’t terribly serious in my response thinking there wasn’t any way this could work out, but, I ended up responding yes. He said he’d get back with me. Well, if you know Jim, you know when he puts his mind to something he’s going to get it done and sure enough within a week he had me on the phone with Andy Zill, the owner of the Spiders, and within another week I was the newest Spider. Playing in the AUDL, and specifically for Andy, Jim, and the Spiders was an amazing experience. The Pro experience is extremely unique. In my opinion, it’s much better than club. If the club game wants to survive in the long-term USAU is going to need to do a better job of promoting the sport and promoting the elite level teams/players.
The wide field is a little big for my liking, the refs are new and aren’t assertive enough when making call, but, overall despite that I like it better. I think if ultimate wants to get bigger we need refs. The pro leagues will have growing pains but I would love to see them succeed for our future generation of ultimate players.
At this point in your ultimate career, you’ve pretty much conquered it all. Have you accomplished everything you want to accomplish in the sport?
I don’t think there will ever be a point that I say, wow, I’ve accomplished it all. With each and every victory and championship comes immediate gratification for all the hard work put in over the course of what was really an entire year’s worth of preparation. But, honestly, every year I come back wanting more. So, I don’t think I would ever say I’ve accomplished it all but until God points my life in a different direction I will continue to play. It’s what I love to do. I’m 29yrs old and will probably be reaching my peak as an athlete pretty soon (if I haven’t already hit it) so it’s only a matter of time before my body gets too worn down from the beating it takes each and every season. But, that’s again why I continue to do it. I love the training, I love the team camaraderie, and I love competition.
What are five items that you bring to a tournament or game in your ultimate bag?
Gator hoodie, Gator sweatpants, two pairs of friction gloves, eyeblack, and any type of snack.
Who do you enjoy matching up on most, and which opponents have given you the most trouble, both currently and throughout your career?
I think Beau has always been my favorite to go against. He’s clearly one of the best players in the world and has been for the past 5 years at least and his ability to affect the game in so many ways makes him a tough matchup. And then when you put him on a team with a ton of great throwers like Revolver, he becomes extremely difficult to stop. Seth Wiggins was always a tough cover and very good defender. I was much younger when he was at his prime but I remember he stood out above the rest when he was guarding me. There are a bunch of guys I could cover here but I remember I had some great matchups in college that were always fun to battle against: Mark Sherwood, Sam Kanner, and Dylan Tunnell just to name a few. One guy I never played against but is a nightmare to guard is Will Driscoll. He’s an absolute animal downfield and is definitely one of the top 3 receivers in the country right now and probably will continue to be for years to come if he keeps playing. I’m glad he’s always been on my team.