Eastern Christian Academy Has Built a Football Powerhouse in Unconventional Ways
Penn State Football Is Beginning a New Era Under Coach Bill O’Brien
NFL Replacement Referees Have a Tough Road Ahead
The Marine and the Orphan Are up for Another Challenge at the Paralympics
(NEW YORK – August 22, 2012) – Angels rookie centerfielder Mike Trout, who turned 21 on Aug. 7, leads the American League in batting average, stolen bases and runs. This feat has been achieved by only three other ballplayers and none since 1945. As senior writer Tom Verducci notes, “There never has been a position player this good this young.” Trout appears on the cover of the August 27, 2012, issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands now.
The question arises, how did 21 teams fail to draft Trout in the 2009 amateur draft. Verducci examines how the Angels did everything right throughout the process of scout Trout (page 32).
Trout grew up in Millville, N.J. Since the draft began in 1965, only 10 position players from New Jersey have been selected in the first round. This never fazed Greg Morhardt, the Angels’ Northeast scout who played minor league baseball with Mike’s dad Jeff Trout. Morhardt got to watch Trout for 10 days at the 2008 Area Code Games, a showcase tournament in Long Beach, Calif. From that point on, Morhardt knew Trout was destined to be great. He said, “It was a very simple comparison for me. I know what [former big leaguers] Shane Mack, Oddibe McDowell, Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro were like at the same age. Mike was better than all of them. He was bigger, stronger and faster.”
To download a hi-res JPEG of this week’s cover click here
On the Tablets: A video of Mike Trout’s greatest feats on the field.
Eastern Christian Academy (ECA) doesn’t have a permanent campus, no listed phone number and no training facilities for its athletic programs, but its football team traveled to South Carolina last Friday and defeated one of the state’s most successful programs.
Simply put, Eastern Christian is not a school; it’s a football training program. Fourteen team members have received football scholarships to major college programs. ECA belongs to Baltimore-based Connections Learning which is an online school whose students take classes at home. It counts more than 45,000 students among its accredited private and public schools. Many athletes who participate in individual sports are members of Connections Learning, but Eastern Christian is the company’s first foray into team sports (page 46).
The 54 students who are enrolled at ECA convene every Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 2:45 p.m. and take proctored classes together. Allen Ezell, a former FBI agent who spent 11 years investigating the legitimacy of schools such as Eastern Christian, said, “What you’re describing is definitely unusual. But this sounds like a proctored setting, with adults watching over kids as they do their work and take their exams, and in today’s world that’s becoming normal.”
On the Tablets: Podcast with Richard Deitsch and Lee Jenkins.
BLACK AND WHITE, AND GREEN ALL OVER – PABLO TORRE (@SIPabloTorre)
After two weeks of preseason games, as the NFL continues to lockout its referees, one of the biggest story lines is how many mistakes the replacement officials have made. Because the NCAA is not allowing a single current Football Bowl Subdivision ref to be used by the NFL, the league had to pick 136 replacement officials from the high school ranks and lower divisions of college football. The speed of the pro game is difficult for anyone to pick up, and its rules are immensely complex. The official NFL rule book, the NFL case book, the NFL instant-replay case book and the penalty enforcer book are a combined 190,330 words (page 42).
Keith Parham, a former Big East official who was a rookie referee last season said, “The difference in intensity from the preseason, when players are trying not to get hurt, to playing in a stadium full of 85,000 fans is astronomical. Those seven refs that are going to work Giants-Cowboys [in the Sept 5. season open] will be scared to death.”
Already burdened with a monumental rebuilding effort upon being named Penn State football coach in February, Bill O’Brien’s job became even more difficult when the NCAA levied heavy sanctions on the program in July. For O’Brien, however, the challenge of re-creating the football program pales in comparison to the challenge at home, where his 10-year-old son, Jack, suffers from a rare brain disorder that prevents him from talking or feeding himself. O’Brien said, “You have two choices. You either sit here every day and say, ‘Oh, God, what are we going to do?’ Or you can charge ahead” (page 52).
O’Brien and the football program are certainly charging ahead. Shocked to find that the Nittany Lions were using severely outdated training equipment, O’Brien had an assistant order brand-new, custom-built conditioning stations. In team meetings, O’Brien urges players to take a fresh approach to the game and makes it clear he will not tolerate sloppy on-field play. He even ushered in a new era of Penn State football uniforms, affixing players’ last names to the back of their jersey’s as a reward for sticking with the program despite the sanctions. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr., one of only two assistants retained from Joe Paterno’s staff, said, “He embraces the tradition, but he says all the time that this is a new era. This is the new Penn State football”
The Paralympics begin in London next week and two partners in the mixed-doubles rowing competition, Rob Jones and Oksana Masters, have taken different, but extraordinary journey’s to get to where they are today. Oksana was born in Ukraine with severe birth defects, and her parents immediately checked her into an orphanage. After being subjected to torture, which included sexual assault and frequent beatings, she was able to escape the orphanage when she was adopted by Gay Masters; a single woman from Buffalo, N.Y. Doctors told Gay that her daughter’s legs would have to be amputated because they couldn’t support her weight, and Oksana was fitted for prostheses at eight years old (page 56).
Jones grew up on a farm in Virginia and after his junior year of college, he joined the Marines. During his first tour in Iraq, he specialized in IED (improvised explosive device) detection. He also found weapon caches and safely removed them. He was in Afghanistan when an IED exploded and took off both his legs and got his prostheses a few weeks later.
Oksana says, “I’ve gotten a lot of people saying. ‘That is awesome. You’re so brave.’ I hate when people say brave. I’m not brave. I’m just living my life. Why is that brave?”
On the Tablets: Video of Oksana in the water rowing.
MLB PLAYERS POLL
Who is the phoniest player in baseball?
Alex Rodriguez, Yankees 3B
Nick Swisher, Yankees RF
Nyjer Morgan, Brewers CF 11%
Brian Wilson, Giants P
Brandon Phillips, Reds 2B 5%
[Based on 232 MLB players who responded to SI’s survey]
FAST FACTS: Rodriguez was also voted the most overrated position player in the game (SI, July 9), while Swisher, Morgan, Wilson and Phillips were among the top six vote-getters for the distinction of baseball’s most eccentric player (SI, Aug. 6). . . . The bulk of the votes for A-Rod (64%) came from players in the American League, and most of those (44%) came from his rivals in the AL East.
When Chad Johnson was cut from the Dolphins, it may have ended an era of prima donna wide receivers in the NFL. In the early 1990s, Michael Irvin of the Cowboys and Andre Rison of the Falcons got the diva era started. They were followed by the likes of Terrell Owens, Randy Moss and Johnson. Though all were supremely talented, they marched to the beat of their own drum (page 15).
Johnson may be cut, but Owens and Moss are trying to find new beginnings on the West Coast. After signing with the Seahawks, Owens pronounced himself a changed man and said that his life was now about “being part of something rather than being the center of something.”
Senior writer Phil Taylor tries to understand the reasoning behind the Nationals plan to shut down their best pitcher, Stephen Strausburg, after he has reached his pitching innings limit, even though the franchise is in prime position to reach the playoffs for the first time in many years (page 64).
THIS WEEK’S FACES IN THE CROWD
· Austin Poganski (Saint Cloud, Minn./Cathedral High) – Hockey
· Rebecca Greenwell (Owensboro, Ky./Owensboro Catholic) – Basketball
· Jonathan Lutz (Brick, N.J./Christian Brothers Academy) – Sailing
· Bruce Kunde (Sterling, Ill./Entrepreneur) – Waterskiing
· Victoria Duval (Bradenton, Fla./U.S. Tennis Association) – Tennis
· Dennis Novikov (San Jose, Calif./UCLA) – Tennis
To submit a candidate for Faces in the Crowd, go to SI.com/faces. Follow on Twitter @SI_Faces
INSIDE THE WEEK IN SPORTS
· Fantasy (page 24): Back Pain – As running back production has continued to drop, fantasy football owners need to key in on the top backs and lower their expectations for the rest of the pack. (@SI_davidsabino)
· MLB (page 30): The Case for …Felix Hernandez – Joe Sheehan believes it will be in Mariners best interest for future success to trade their ace Felix Hernandez. (@joe_sheehan)