Best feel-good stories and moments in college sports from 2017
Sure, game-winning plays and record-breaking performances are easy to remember. But there are plenty of moments that transcend the outcome on the playing field that are worth another look.
The 2017 calendar year was chock full of feel-good moments across college athletics. With 2018 just around the corner, it's time to revisit some of the most memorable examples that are sure to bring a smile to your face.
Things got a little dusty in the Knapp Center for Senior Day as Jacob's parents surprised him by coming in from Denmark pic.twitter.com/5vBLpYquhs— Drake Basketball (@DrakeBulldogsMB) February 25, 2017
It's a long way from Lunderskov, Denmark to Des Moines, Iowa. But the parents of former Drake basketball player Jacob Enevold made the 4,300-mile trek for an unforgettable Senior Day surprise. As Enevold was being honored before Drake's home game on Feb. 25 of last season, the center's parents caught him off guard when they walked onto the court to join in the festivities. Enevold's reaction was priceless.
Surprise visits from family members are always special, as was the case in February when former Sacred Heart women's hockey player Teagan Ketchum was reunited with brother Trevor for the first time in 14 months due to his deployment. Lined up with her teammates before a game against Franklin Pierce, Teagan was shocked to see Trevor walk out of the tunnel to perform a ceremonial puck drop. It doesn't get better than this.
Michigan State's Eron Harris did not expect to see any game action for his Senior Day last Feb. 26, considering his season-ending knee injury left him in a bulky brace. But in the final minute of an 84-74 upset over Wisconsin, coach Tom Izzo called a timeout and inserted Harris into the game to a thunderous ovation from fans. As fans stood to acknowledge Harris' MSU career, he lowered himself down to the ground to kiss the half-court Spartans logo.
One special figure was in attendance last April in Phoenix to see former Gonzaga star Przemek Karnowski celebrate a trip to the program's first national championship game. Bonifacy Karnowski, Przemek's father, traveled nearly 6,000 miles from Poland to Phoenix to see his son score 13 points as the Bulldogs put away South Carolina 77-73 in the semifinals. “I’m very happy. It’s a great moment for Gonzaga, for Przemek, for Polish supporters, because Polish television make a direct transmission from here. The whole country is watching. First time in history,” Bonifacy told our Mike Lopresti.
Ohio State fan Jacob Jarvis, 17, had the play of the day during the Buckeyes' spring game last April. Jarvis, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, has served as an inspiration to his beloved Buckeyes since 2014-15, the same season that OSU took home the CFP trophy. His involvement in the program was on full display in front of the 80,000 fans in attendance for Ohio State's 2017 spring game. For the final play of the day, Jarvis entered the game, received a handoff from J.T. Barrett and coasted into the end zone for a Scarlet touchdown. The whole team then rallied around him to celebrate for one of the top moments of the spring.
After ten months away from home, welcome Home Staff Sergeant Hawke. pic.twitter.com/TzOcrJjysg— Nebraska Football (@HuskerFBNation) April 15, 2017
Spring game surprises did not end in Columbus. Over in Lincoln, Nebraska, the Cornhuskers took part in Staff sergeant Matthew Hawke's special reunion with his wife and kids after he served 10 months in Afghanistan. Hawke suited up in a Nebraska jersey, pads and helmet and walked to midfield to participate in the coin toss, where his family served as honorary officials. Hawke then took off his helmet and reconnected with his family in a touching moment.
Arizona softball player Ashleigh Hughes was treated with a similar surprise moments before an April 21 home game against Oregon. Her brother Raynard, a senior airman who Ashleigh hadn't seen in two years, walked onto the field to deliver the first pitch. The two embraced in the pitcher's circle before the Wildcats took the field in a 2-0 win. These types of moments never get old.
This story's straight out of a Hollywood script, or so it seems. Former BC softball player Tatiana Cortez closed out her Senior Day last May with a dramatic walk-off homer against NC State. Meanwhile, her father, a Houston police officer, was 1,600 miles away in a hospital recovering from a gunshot wound that he suffered two months prior. While Ronny, Tatiana's father, couldn't be in attendance, more than 100 Boston-area police officers showed up for support, along with her mother. "I don’t think I’ve ever given my mom a bigger hug. An emotional hug. I still get goosebumps thinking about it,” she told Lopresti.
Oklahoma baseball's Steele Walker, JB Olson and Connor Berry gave their mothers a very special Mother's Day present on May 14 following a big win over Big 12 rival TCU. The day started with Austin O'Brien securing a Sooners win with a game-winning single over the then-No. 6 Horned Frogs. To celebrate, the trio of Sooners invited their moms onto the field to round the bases with them. What a great gift.
Former Wooden Award winner T.J. Ford went down as a Longhorns legend for his two years in Austin. Now, he's officially a graduate from the University of Texas. Fourteen years after leaving early for the NBA, Ford walked at UT's 2017 graduation in May with a degree in applied learning and development. And former coach Rick Barnes, now coaching Tennessee, was in attendance. "I'm so happy for him. Proud is an understatement, but he deserves it more than anybody," said an emotional Barnes after the ceremony.
Im on the way!! pic.twitter.com/4Kz77luWdT— devongales (@devongales) May 25, 2017
Former Southern wide receiver Devon Gales' football career was ended abruptly in 2015 after a kickoff collision against Georgia left him paralyzed from the waist down. But this past May, Gales made a major step in his recovery when he posted a video of him walking for the first time since the hit. Gales has continued to progress, and in August, he released another video of him playing catch with a football.
Former IUPUI track & field runner Robert Murphy made program history at last year's outdoor championships, becoming its first-ever representative on the national stage. He finished the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 22nd (9 minutes, 10.92 seconds). But the results didn't matter as much as his journey to get there. Murphy, who was diagnosed with autism a three years old, soaked in every moment of his experience at Hayward Field last June. "The whole season I was just like, 'To make it here. To make it here. To make it here.' That's pretty much all that was going through my head," he told NCAA.com's Beth Maiman.
Thanks to his uncle Brett, former Cal State Fullerton shortstop Timmy Richards has a memento from his time in Omaha playing in the 2017 College World Series. In the very first inning of the first game of the CWS, Richards crushed a three-run homer against Oregon State, deep into the left field stands. Meanwhile, walking around the concourse, uncle Brett caught sight of the jumbotron, featuring the teenager who caught the souvenir. He tracked down the kid and negotiated for the ball — in exchange for $100 — which he said he planned on giving Timmy after the game. "He’s a senior, he’s been playing for four years, he’s a grinder, he’s been drafted in the major leagues three times now. It’s just a great memory. It’s a special moment,” he told Lopresti.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey's destruction through Texas in late August, college programs near and far came together to help in relief efforts in all sorts of ways. Houston basketball coach Kelvin Sampson used Twitter to ask schools from all levels to donate school equipment and clothing, leading to hundreds of shipments from across the country. Houston baseball coach Todd Whitting followed suit with a similar message while several other schools assisted volleyball programs whose travel plans were altered by the storm. Kudos to all schools involved in every relief effort.
It was a successful first season back on the gridiron for UAB (8-4), whose football program was temporarily disbanded from 2015-16. But perhaps the best moment of the season came before the Blazers' opening kickoff of the season. Ahead of their season opener on Sept. 2, Timothy Alexander, a 2015 UAB grad who was paralyzed in a 2006 car accident, left his wheelchair to walk and present the game ball. Alexander was a key figure in gaining support for the program's return, and witnessed a 38-7 victory in UAB's triumphant return.
This is anything but a regular PAT.— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) September 3, 2017
Jake Olson, blind since age 12, just snapped for the first time in a live game. https://t.co/amyHcFoVue
Redshirt sophomore Jake Olson has been involved with the USC football program since he was 12 years old. But in the Trojans' season-opening win against Western Michigan this year, he finally got the chance to enter a game. Olson, who lost his eyesight in 2009 due to cancer, received a warm ovation from the USC faithful as Clay Helton inserted him as the long snapper on a late PAT attempt. What followed was a perfect first snap of his career in an eventual 49-31 victory.
Everyone knows about "The Wave" at Iowa football games by now. Starting this year, Hawkeye fans take a moment right after the first quarter ends to turn and wave toward the new children's hospital located right next to Kinnick Stadium. Here's to hoping this tradition lasts many more seasons in Iowa City.
Former Tennessee women's basketball standout Michelle Brooke-Marciniak embarked on a 1,098-bicycle marathon from Knoxville, Tennessee to Marathon, Florida back in October to support Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt in the "Pedal for Pat" project. The project's goal is to raise money and awareness for the fight against Alzheimer's disease, which Summitt suffered from before dying in 2016. The 1,098 miles represented each of Summitt's victories as head coach of the Lady Vols. "It was really just my desire to acknowledge and appreciate a woman who made a huge difference in the world of women's sports," said Gilder days before the trip.
Team IMPACT is an amazing program that gives children with serious illnesses opportunities to become official members of NCAA programs. One such example this year was when siblings Hailey (six) and Edwards Greist (seven) joined Yale softball in October. Both suffer from common variable immunodeficiency, an immune disorder where children are susceptible to infections due to low antibody levels. The Greists went through typical Team IMPACT procedures, including a Draft Day ceremony, and will be regulars at Yale's practices and games this upcoming season. "They are so full of life and love. They remind our team every day that sports are supposed to be about bringing people together and the family you create through them," Yale captain Allison Skinner said.
Sometimes a "feel-good" story is an underdog tale. Take West Florida football's incredible run to the DII championship game in just the second season in program history. After a 5-6 inaugural season, the Argos finished 11-4 in 2017, including an upset over No. 1 Indiana (Pa.) in the national semifinals. West Florida may have fell short in the title game against Texas A&M-Commerce, but they enjoyed every second of their breakthrough season.