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Land of the cornfields


The trip to Iowa is off to a wonderful start other than me not knowing how to work a camera. I will try to get that worked out before the weekend is over. The one thing I did learn quickly is that curbside taxi service at the Waterloo Airport doesn't exist.

I walked off the plane, grabbed my bags at the only baggage claim and headed for the door. Next thing I know I am looking at an empty parking lot with no sign of transportation. I trudged back into the airport and saw an information desk with a few phone numbers of local cab companies. I decided to take a risk and ask a gentleman (stranger) that was renting a car if he could give me a ride to my hotel. He didn't hesitate, so 20 dollars and 10 miles later I was on my way.

Brad Meester's wife, Jamie, picked me up at the hotel and we headed to Northern Iowa University where Brad spent his time before joining the Jaguars. Steve Gearhart, Senior Associate AD for Development/Administration, greeted us and gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the facilities. Of course, a lot of things have changed since Brad played there but the UNI Dome which seats approximately 16,000 hasn't changed much. I can see why they have such a great homefield advantage because I'm sure it's get loud in there on game days.

I was quickly reminded that former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner had also starred at the school, along with former linebacker Bryce Paup. They have some areas set up honoring some of the past NFL players. Steve took us in the new weight room and locker rooms where several athletes were working out. I was not surprised when Steve informed me the new facilities wouldn't have been built without the financial support of former players like Brad. If I would have taken a photography class in college, I would have shown you a locker that has a plaque reading, "This locker was donated by Brad Meester." Sorry, I can write and communicate but I'm not a photographer.

Had a great dinner in Cedar Rapids last night with Jamie, her brother-n-law Brett and her sister. Brett picked me up and shared some heartbreaking stories during the drive about the tornado and what it did to the city. He didn't grow up in Parkersburg but has quickly become a part of the community. He actually had the quote of the day when we were driving in traffic at 5:30 p.m. The amount of cars on the road was similar to traffic in Jacksonville at 4 a.m., and he said, "You are looking at rush hour traffic in Cedar Rapids."

Got up really early this morning, overly-excited for what the day would bring. It was my chance to see the "Sacred Acre" in Parkersburg and have lunch in Parkersburg with the Kampmans. Jamie and I made the 30-minute trip up Highway 20 to Parkersburg where each side of the road was nothing but cornfields. You usually see a house then a bunch land and then another house. The first stop in Parkersburg was Brad's parents house, which was right off a gravel road.

If you know Brad then you can definitely see where his work ethic and humble personality come from. The house is surrounded by corn fields with several small barns that house cattle and they weren't in a good mood to see me with a camera. You will see photos later. His dad, Kenny, came out to visit and shared some stories on his son. He told me Brad spent plenty of hours on the farm, working in the fields. I was able to see some old scrapbooks and childhood photos and didn't realize Brad was a hoop star growing up as well. The hard thing was seeing him as a senior at only 175 pounds. He is at the 300-pound mark now. I have to add that I have had more than five people tell me that Jamie wasn't a slouch on the hoops court either.

We headed into downtown Parkersburg for lunch with Aaron and Linde Kampman at the Falcon's Nest. Aaron had told me he wanted to bring me there for lunch as it's one of his favorite spots. It's in right downtown beside the Dollar General Store and I have to admit the subs were fantastic. You place your order on a notepad (I had Turkey, ham, salami) and hand it to the cook. My diet doesn't allow ice cream or cookies but it was tough to resist because it was readily available. It was cool to see the local residents interact with Aaron as he was just a normal kid from Parkersburg, no autographs or pictures, just a few hugs. There are a lot of Packers and Vikings fans in the area so it was a big deal for the people when Aaron played at Green Bay.

Following lunch, it was time to see the high school that produced two current Jaguars. Todd Thomas, Coach Thomas' son, met us at the school and showed us around. The school was completely demolished by the tornado so everything was new. It's weird because most of the houses in the city were just rebuilt in the last two years following the tornado so everything has a new feel to it.

Todd was a great host and talked openly about his father and what the school meant to him. They have a large mural in the hallway that highlights of all the athletic teams and has a few quotes from Coach Thomas.

*"Outside of my relationship with God, my wife and my two boys, this team is it for me." *

*"It's all right here NOW…You just gotta go take it." *

"If all I have taught you is how to block and tackle then I have failed you as a coach."

Pretty powerful stuff. As you go through the hallways, there are reminders everywhere of what Coach Thomas meant to that city and school. There is another poster when you walk in the school highlighting him as a person and I believe there is a Ed Thomas Student of the Week Award.

A new weight room was built in the basement of the school which is nicer than most high school setups. The Falcons logo is all over the walls and floors and Todd said the team was in there earlier working out. Aaron still has a plaque on the wall highlighting his achievement as the only player in school history to bench press 400 pounds. Aaron said he was going to spend the next few weeks before camp working out at the school.

The 'Sacred Acre' was everything I imagined it to be. The field was freshly mowed and looked in great shape other than it being damp from the rain that seems to hit this part of the country every day. They have a new track around the field which is called, 'Ed Thomas Field,' and new bleachers but everything else is pretty much the same. You can't help but notice the mangled sign in the end zone that reads 'Falcon Country.' This was the sign Coach Thomas retrieved following the tornado to show the people how far they had come by rebuilding the community.

I don't want to exaggerate but there really is a special feeling when you see this field. Todd told me he was taking over some of the maintenance duties from his dad but he would never be as good as him. It was his dad's pride and joy. You can just picture a whole community coming together each Friday night to root on their team. Todd told me in his dad's 37 seasons as a head coach he had only one losing season. That is hard to believe considering this isn't a school relying on transfers or able to recruit all over the country. They coach the kids from Parkersburg from a young age to high school. You would think there would be down years where the talent is thin, but Coach Thomas was able to get the best out of each team.

Overall, just a great day. The people of Iowa really live life the right way and have reinforced to me that possessions aren't important. The small stuff doesn't overwhelm their lives.

Have to get ready to go a dinner tonight for the Ed Thomas Family Foundation. Looking forward to meeting a lot more people from the city and hearing some of the great stories about Coach Thomas.

Will check back in tomorrow!

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