The season didn't go the way any of us had planned. We finished 3-8, and going into the last game I had more thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. As bad as it was, though, I showed progress and in the season finale I threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns. I thought the starting job might still be mine after all.

God showed me that was not to be the case.

I was named the backup, and learning to cope with that news was one of the hardest things I've ever done. It was at that time that I truly relied on my faith and looked inside myself at what I stood for. It's hard not to be jealous of your teammates and it's hard not to want something that somebody else has, but my upbringing reminded me of the Godly way to respond.

After all, the 10 Commandments tell us not to covet our neighbor's possessions, and I had to do some major soul searching as to how I would show that trait.

I decided not to whine, not to complain, and just keep my mouth shut as I competed for the starting job. Perhaps just as important, I tried to be a good teammate and support Patrick Mullins, the teammate who became the starting quarterback. I ultimately threw 39 more passes over my final two years, and although I never grabbed the starting position back for good, that trial prepared me for some struggles that were yet to come – struggles that had much bigger ramifications than who was taking the ball under center.

Fighting for a starting job is one thing. Trying to support your family is a completely different matter.

I decided to enter the coaching profession, and gave myself five years to move up into a full-time position. If I could actually reach that level, I told myself, I would stay in the coaching industry.

 

Life as a head coach can be exhilirating, but it's amazing how close I came to never realizing that dream. (Photo courtesy Utah State Athletic Department)

 

Before I could ever land a full-time job, however, my first unofficial position in the coaching industry was the glorious responsibility of bagel boy.

As a young staff assistant at the Naval Academy, one of my responsibilities was to show up at the Einstein Bagels at 5:50 a.m. each morning and get breakfast for the coaching staff. And let me tell you, I was the best Bagel Boy the Academy had ever seen. I knew exactly what the two-dozen order was, and learned the name of each lady at the store. If I could nail that task, I hoped, maybe I could eventually get paid to actually coach football.

I really needed the paycheck, too, because by that point I was in a serious relationship with my girlfriend, Jen, and I had dreams of becoming a husband and dad someday.

During that grind, I met another influential person in my life – Steve Belichick. If that last name sounds familiar, it's because his son is five-time Super Bowl Champion Bill Belichick. But this was back in the late '90s, before most people knew who Bill or Tom Brady were, and certainly before I was financially stable.

With Steve's guidance, I became closer and closer to achieving my goal of getting a full-time job at the Academy. But as months turned into years, the hourglass on my coaching dreams was starting to run out of sand.

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Thomas Hager