“Dream Big” Inspiration from a Sports Star

As a young teenager, I was fortunate to have a passion (basketball), along with two strong and loving parents. I never worried about much and concentrated solely on 3 things – my education, being a good son and developing my basketball skills.

What I didn’t know then is how important inspiration would be for me, particularly from people outside of the family circle. Steve Freeland, my first basketball coach at age 9 was an early inspiration and continues to be. My first “Dream Big” inspiration came from a man most of you have never heard of, yet he played at the highest level of college football in the USA.

His name is Jimmy Jones and he was the celebrity guest at our 8th grade basketball team banquet. I’ll never forget the atmosphere as most of my teammates hadn’t been around someone who grew up in our hometown (Harrisburg, Pa) and played football at one of the crown jewels of the sport, The University of Southern California (USC).  He was the quarterback at USC directly after OJ Simpson left the school for the NFL. Jones also has a Sports Illustrated cover to his credit!

“USC's biggest concern is the sophomore quarterback with the aching back—Jimmy Jones (see cover). Jones, one of the very few black quarterbacks in the history of college football, is the gifted youngster the Trojans are hoping will lead them into their fourth straight Rose Bowl. Two years ago he was one of the most sought-after schoolboy quarterbacks in the country. His junior year he ran and passed for 2,300 yards and 20 touchdowns. That was nothing. His senior year it was 2,400 yards and 40 touchdowns. Offers flooded in, 112 of them. Everybody wanted the good-looking kid with the .30-30 arm and speed—and the intelligence that goes with a three-point-plus academic average.”

At our banquet, he was in his late 20’s and his star power was shining bright. From the moment he walked in the room, the electricity was sizzling and most of us couldn’t wait to hear him speak and/or get a private word with him later in the evening.

While I don’t remember the topic of his speech, I do remember the inspiration that came from his sincere words. His cool style of dress and aura only added to the wonderful evening. I was grateful to share a few private moments with him and came away even more inspired.

For the first time in my life, I started to envision how basketball could help me to lead the life I desired; beginning with the early goal of obtaining a scholarship like Jones. I was inspired to “Live my Dreams”, although at the time, I didn’t realize that his inspiration would stay with me until this day.

After that night, I worked even harder on the three aforementioned goals (education, good son and basketball) and made sure to keep all distractions to the side. I was super focused. Having the Jones inspiration, a mentor as giving as Steve Freeland and dedicated parents made my path to success smooth as long as I kept my eye on the prize (scholarship).

Not only did I become a bigger basketball star (averaging nearly 25 points) my senior year in high school, I had numerous schools offering me a collegiate scholarship. I chose the University of Vermont (UVM) and I couldn’t have made a better decision. Despite the inglorious years of the UVM basketball team (a story for another day), the school was fantastic and I enjoyed it immensely.

In addition, the free education, connections and comfortable college experience at UVM, provided the springboard for living my dreams beyond university. Also, I met Bill Brown, my UVM teammate and a dear friend for over 30 years.

I’ve been fortunate to live in Boston for 4 years, New York City for a decade, Belgrade, Serbia for 2 months and Sweden for 10 years. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined a life so interesting and diverse.

Over the last 20 years, two close friends who live in my hometown have also given me inspiration in many forms; whether it was laughter, wise words or showing by example. Five years ago, one of them said to me “You are Living your Dreams, aren’t you”. I could only smile and say “Indeed”.

What my friend didn’t know is that Jimmy Jones gave me that first burst of “Dream Big” inspiration. I’m extremely thankful for that. I’ve not been in contact with Jones since that auspicious night in 1977, although I plan to reach out to him in the near future.

Inspiration is a beautiful thing.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Jimmy Jones (USC) and George Payne (UVM)

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