When Tylan Jackson was cut from the Manti basketball team, he was devastated.
Anyone would be. Anyone else in his position, who grew up dreaming of representing his school on the court, might also harbor resentment, hold a grudge, take it personally or cling to the hope that the team wouldn't do well in his absence.
But Jackson isn't anyone else.
He is one of two seniors on a team that almost didn't have a senior class and that earned the 2A title demonstrating just how far teamwork will take you.
He is a teenager who was told by one of his father's best friends, coach Mark Hugentobler, that he could sit on the end of the junior varsity bench in misery or fill a need for his school and community by wrestling for the Manti Templars. It would have been easy for Jackson not to put himself out there again. It would have been understandable if he didn't want to risk rejection by another coach. Jackson, however, not only went out for wrestling, one of the most grueling sports around, he continued his friendship with the Hugentoblers.
"What's amazing about Tylan is that I don't ever think he disliked me," said coach Hugentobler. "I don't think he ever held a grudge. He could have been angry, but he wasn't."
Basketball, according to his father Brenan Jackson, is his first love, but Tylan decided he'd take his energy and efforts to the wrestling mat if the Templars didn't need him. He never gave up on his own personal hoop dreams as he and his father spent hundreds of hours in the gym playing one-on-one, running drills and sharpening skills he wasn't sure he'd really ever need again.
Two weeks into his junior wrestling season, two weeks after basketball tryouts were over, Tylan Jackson had a dream the Templar basketball team needed him. The teenager didn't tell anyone about it. It seemed more fancy than premonition, that is until Brenan Jackson told Tylan that coach Hugentobler had asked whether he wanted to play basketball as two players had quit.
Tylan Jackson sobbed as he told his father that he'd dreamed Hugentobler approached him about playing this year. He told his father it was one of the reasons he still pestered him about practicing a sport everyone else had thought he'd abandoned.
Hugentobler said Jackson could have left him hanging, could have made him wait, but instead, he simply offered him an enthusiastic commitment.
"He was elated," Hugentobler said.
Hugentobler expected Jackson to get a lot of junior varsity time, but just two or three games into the 2006-07 season, Jackson was the sixth man for the Templars.
"He just got better every game," he said. "I never expected him to be one of our best players ... It was fun to see this timid, awkward, unconfident boy turn into Tylan Jackson."
Hugentobler said watching Jackson develop both physically and emotionally has taught him a lot about not giving up, about determination and about not letting others define what you're capable of accomplishing.
It is also the story of unselfishness and of appreciating the opportunities of this moment.
Jackson is very good friends with the team's other senior, David Hugentobler, and together they offered the younger players the kind of leadership coaches pray for each season. David Hugentobler was critically injured in a motorcycle accident two years ago and likely never should have played sports again. He wrote, "We, not me" and "Brotherhood" on his tennis shoes this season, as he and Jackson led the Templars to a 2A state championship. "Brotherhood" was the way they broke the huddle and team meetings.
These two players offered their younger brethren a unique perspective on just why they should savor each moment they have on the court. They know already, at just 17 and 18 years old, that they don't control what goes on around them. Sometimes you're subject to someone else's judgment. Sometimes life will pummel you with injuries or illnesses that could keep you sidelined that is if you listened to your body.
But what you can control is your reaction to these situations. What you can control is your effort, your attitude and your own heart.
"It is great to see kids work hard, overcome and sacrifice and have it be rewarded," said coach Hugentobler. And while many see the 2A title as the reward for these young men, Tylan and David will tell you differently.They already know the real reward is wrestling with self-doubt, struggling to overcome physical and emotional pain and, ultimately, accomplishing what someone else wasn't sure you could.
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