BRIDGEPORT -- It seems increasingly difficult to relate to today's athlete. They seem so far removed from everyday athletes that their messages might not carry the expected weight.
That certainly wasn't the case Wednesday night, however, when Chris George delivered his speech at the 14th annual One Valley Bank Harrison County Athlete of the Year Banquet. Those in attendance soaked in George's thoughts and stories throughout the 15-minute message, and with good reason.
They were listening to one of their own.
Just 10 years ago, George was honored at the same banquet as Harrison County's Male Athlete of the Year. The Roosevelt-Wilson all-state wide receiver then enjoyed an All-American career at Glenville State and a four-year professional football career.
Reflecting on his long, successful run on the gridiron, George assured the dozens of athletes honored that taking the field at Three Rivers Stadium is no more riveting than competing at local venues.
"The great thing about athletics is the feeling it gives you," George said. "It's hard to describe, and everyone here is fortunate to know that feeling. It's not easy. It if was, everybody would do it."
George added that it was easy to relate to the buzz surrounding Via Veneto's as everyone awaited the evening's grand finale -- the naming of the male and female athletes of the year. Just one decade ago, he nervously awaited the announcement that South Harrison's Ben Hall and Bridgeport's Erica Rome enjoyed Wednesday night.
"It's exciting for me, because I know exactly what these kids are going through. I've been in their seats," he said.
The keys, George said, to following in his footsteps are simple. First, don't accept the opinion of doubters. George related a story from sixth grade when he turned a teacher's scoffing at his professional football dreams into a motivator.
Finally, he stressed that the race to success is a marathon, not a sprint. At Glenville State, George and coach Rich Rodriquez gradually "climbed the well" in turning a losing program into one of the nation's best.
"Every time we would get to the top of the well, we would get knocked back down," George said. "Every day we had a choice. We could lay on the ground or climb back up."
Sports editor Anthony Hanshew can be reached at 626-1444.