Thank God for Austin Peay

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Talk about a something I never thought I'd think, say or write. But it's true. At some point every day, I wind up thanking God for Austin Peay and its football team. 

It has been a uniquely challenging period in my life, but in a completely unexpected turn of events, Austin Peay has become a very real source of hope. It's been my constant.

So, before I go any further, I want to thank everyone there - and particularly head coach Will Healy - for making me feel so incredibly welcome. It's meant more than you'll ever know.

My reward has been a front-row seat for a story that is evolving into perhaps the very best of this college football season.

The fact that the Governors are 6-4 might not seem all that impressive to you, but consider that the six victories match the program's win total from 2011-16 - the previous six seasons. As of mid-September, APSU had a 29-game losing streak - 16 games longer than any other program in the country.

So, the turnaround has been swift and rather profound. Most recently, Austin Peay swept its in-state conference opponents - UT Martin, Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech - to lay claim to the Sgt. York Trophy for the first time in school history. The hardware made a cameo at Tuesday morning's practice. 

What Healy, the coaches and players are doing is special, and it has a chance to get even more remarkable in the next two weeks. If the Govs can get past Eastern Kentucky (3-6) and Eastern Illinois (6-4), they'd finish 8-1 against FCS-level competition, with the only loss coming against No. 2-ranked Jacksonville State.

That resume would put them in excellent position for the school's first FCS playoff berth. Even with optimism that this season would be a step in the right direction, that would measure as a quantum leap for Austin Peay. It would exceed every realistic expectation those in the building had for what was possible.

It's truly been one of the great pleasures of my life to see the joy the coaches, players and staff exude after each one of these victories.

In an era in which college football has become a massive business, and with scandal a regular fixture on the national stage, Austin Peay has continually reminded me what makes the sport great: This is the ultimate underdog story. And it's also the story of young coaches and players trying to evolve and grow as people - and win a few games while they're at it. Winning, as Healy says, is the validation for the work and effort; it isn't the reason why they're there.

There really is an innocence to it. There's a purity to it. It's as genuine as it gets, something rooted on Healy's personality and his leadership as head coach. It's going to be a blast to see his career take off. Even Jacksonville State fans would probably say he should be a lock to win OVC Coach of the Year.

Spoiler alert: He's a crier.

A win is taken for granted in so many places, but each one for Austin Peay turns into a party. That's what happens when, week after week, you're altering an entire history.

Here's hoping there are two more wins to come and Austin Peay - in the course of one season - goes from the nation's longest losing streak to the school's first FCS playoff appearance.

-- Trav

 

PS -- I'd never been to Clarksville in my life, and I bet I've been 100 times since July 2016. I had heard Healy was someone I should get to know, so we went to lunch.

But there's something about him and something about the place that stuck with me - which is what a lot of people wind up saying about this story. So I went back in the middle of August. And then I went back a few days later. And then I went to the home opener two weeks later.

And I just kept going back, again and again. I think I've been to 15 of their games, going back to the start of last season.

I started to figure out last fall that this had the potential of a remarkable turnaround, and I began taking notes. Then I started shooting video, borrowing one of the school's cameras when I could.

We have hours and hours of video to go with hundreds of pages of notes, and we're dying to get this story out there. So if you know of any publishers and/or film editors looking for a project, the compelling raw materials - and the priceless narrative and rich characters - are there. It just needs the right touch and direction.

It's been so fun to be around. Even when they weren't winning, it was amazing to watch. But, yeah, winning's more fun ...

Here's the trailer we shot back in the summer. Cheers.

Trav Haney

Nashville, TN 37206