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Appreciate the Student-Athletes

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Though we cheer our Saturday, our overall acknowledgement shouldn't be so limited.

As the college football season is set to begin, all with the bright lights and big expectations that come with, our rooting interests are worth extra consideration. In a era of constant replays and reviews, rarely, if ever, do we take a second look at the player and see a person. Around the country, the vast majority of student-athletes are successful in the classroom, in the community and on the playing field. These individuals are worthy of admiration and appreciation, though in more ways than one.

The role of a college football player is a special one, a platform that comes with great opportunity. It also comes with great responsibility. Beyond just stepping up when the game is on the line, student-athletes manage an unrelenting regimen, setting powerful examples even when they aren't setting the edge. What has become known as the "process" is far from limited to just practice and play.

Helmets and shoulder pads hide humanity; the college football community can't lose sight of who it's cheering.   

A full-time job from day one, student-athletes work to both better themselves and impact others during their careers. Three to five years at an institution can have a profound effect on players, development which is ultimately shared with family, friends and the public alike. Service, progress that goes well beyond any ten-yard measure, is a very real part of the gameplan. From volunteering efforts to community engagement projects, student-athletes give their all to more than just the game. Such achievement is also deserving of applause.    

Amidst all of the attention, criticism to celebration, are individual stories still being written. Between the white lines, greatness can be reached; there, too, context should be found as well. 

Leadership, here, is often years in the making. Through their actions, players take a pledge, a decision that comes without fanfare, but with obligations nonetheless. Well before on-field recognition comes, off-field sacrifices must first be made. As the game is still being learned, lessons are already being taught. The journey to the top can be a long, hard one.    

Student-athletes run out of the tunnel representing so much more than themselves. It's a duty that, through spring heat and autumn tension, runs deep. The way most handle such pressure is a collective testament to their attitudes, consistency and poise. While watching, perhaps there is something else for us to pay attention to.

Next time an offense is on a long, sustained drive in a high-profile college football game, remember that those involved won't be able to rent a car for years.

Anticipation and excitement is building -- and it should be. There is nothing quite like a Saturday in the fall. The pageantry and charm, the history and tradition, makes college football a truly extraordinary experience. Passion and pride are vital parts of this American pastime. How we feel, in many ways, is a big part of who we are. 

Beyond the action and beyond the headlines, there are a lot of moving parts. Though we cheer our Saturday, our overall acknowledgement shouldn't be so limited.  

Winning and losing is absolutely and understandably consuming; through it all, however, it's worth seeing the big picture, not just the highlights, instead. While we watch, simple perspective may be the best view.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports