In February, Dellin Betances reported to Yankees camp with eight MLB games under his belt -- in eight professional seasons. Betances had every reason to be negative. He was turning 26 on March 23, and the once promising prospect had seen much of his career evaporate in the minors.

But Betances did not sulk. The Yankees stuck with him. And this past week, he was the sole Yankees rookie pitcher -- not Masahiro Tanaka -- at the All-Star Game.

"This first half has been a blessing to me," Betances said Thursday from Point Pleasant, N.J., where he was taking part in Pepsi's Real.Big.Summer initiative. "My goal was to try to make the team. Once that happened, I focused on having a key role in the bullpen. I've been off to a good start and I try help the team win in any way possible. Being selected to the All-Star Game was an honor for my family and me."

Betances' Yankees timeline starts long before his recent trip to Minneapolis. Born in Washington Heights, Betances spent parts of his childhood in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. His parents, Jaime and Maria, emigrated from the Dominican Republic. Jaime has driven a cab in New York City for 23 years.

Betances grew up a Yankees fan during the team's dominant late 1990s-early 2000s era. As a 10-year-old, he was on hand for David Wells' perfect game on May 17, 1998, against the Minnesota Twins. He still has the ticket stub. Betances says he went to a "bunch of games" as a child and "always sat in the bleachers." This reputation makes him a bit of a folk hero among the Yankee Stadium bleacher creatures.

"David Wells' perfect game was probably one of the best games I went to," he says. "It was always great being a fan. Now playing for the Yankees, it's an honor for me

Betances starred for four years at Grand Street Campus High School in Brooklyn. He once struck out 20 batters in a seven-inning game, and as a junior in 2005, he became the first New York City high school player to ever be named an Aflac All-American. He played with fellow all-stars Clayton Kershaw and Tyson Ross on Team USA's 2005 Junior Olympic team.

In the 2006 MLB draft, Betances' commitment to Vanderbilt dropped his stock from a possible first-round selection. However, the Yankees still took an interest in him. General Manager Brian Cashman snatched the hometown kid in the eighth round and gave him a $1 million signing bonus. At the time, Randy Johnson was a Yankee, helping the nickname "Baby Unit" spread for the 6-8 right-hander.

In 23.1 innings, Betances had a 1.16 ERA in one year of rookie league ball. The following year, he was brought up to the Yankees single-A affiliate in Staten Island, one of two boroughs he did not live in. He used part of his signing bonus to move his family from Brooklyn to New Jersey. Before age 20, the parts were falling into place for Dellin Betances.

And then they slowed.

During what would've been his college years, Betances worked his way through the Yankees' farm system from 2007-2011. In 2010, Betances went 8-1 with a 1.77 ERA in 14 starts for A+ Tampa, but his numbers stalled in AA and AAA. Splitting time between the two highest minor league levels in 2011, Betances went 4-9 with a 3.70 ERA in 25 starts.

While some expected an earlier appearance, Betances finally made his Bronx arrival as a big leaguer as a 2011 September call-up. In Betances' first outing, he allowed two runs on four walks and no hits in two-thirds of an inning out of the bullpen. On the final day of the regular season, the Yankees gave Betances the ball to start a meaningless game in Tampa Bay (the Yankees had already clinched the A.L. East title). Betances tossed two innings and allowed one hit and two walks, keeping the Rays scoreless. Later, Evan Longoria blasted a walk-off home run in the 12th inning to send the Rays to the playoffs and cap off one of the most exciting days in baseball history.

In 2012, Betances started the season at AAA Scraton/Wilkes-Barre but remained firmly on the Yankees' radar. That was, until he had an awful first half of the season. He struggled in April and May and a stretch of a 9.00 ERA over five June starts–6.39 overall–sent Betances all the way back to AA Trenton. At AA, he did not fair much better, posting a 6.51 ERA the rest of the season. At 24, Betances was traveling in the opposite direction.

Betances started 2013 with a 2-2 record in six starts at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. However, the Yankees had new plans for their 25-year-old prospect. Despite having only three professional relief appearances under Betances' belt, the Bombers sent the message to AAA to make Betances a relief pitcher.

It worked. Betances came out of the bullpen 32 times at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and finished the season with a 2.68 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, his highest minor league yearly totals since 2010.

"I began to feel comfortable," he says about the 2010 move to the bullpen. "It's allowed me to be more consistent in my delivery. It's a different feeling coming out of the bullpen. It's allowed me to be more aggressive and that's something that I've embraced."

Betances became a September call-up again in 2013, making six appearances. Although he allowed six earned runs in five innings, he turned heads with ten strikeouts.

By spring training 2014, Betances had new confidence in himself and new confidence from within the organization. His role changed, but he was comfortable with that. When Betances arrived at spring training in Tampa, he earned himself a roster spot from the get-go.

Betances has not looked back. In 40 games and 55.1 innings pre-All-Star Game, Betances is 4-0 with 12 holds, one save, a 1.46 ERA, a 0.70 WHIP and a whopping 84 strikeouts. His ERA, WHIP and strikeouts numbers are well ahead of the next closest rookie. With all the talk about Masahiro Tanaka this season, it is easy to lose track of Betances, the Yankees pitcher with the best chance to challenge the White Sox's Jose Abreu for the A.L. Rookie of the Year Award.

Betances did not get to pitch in Tuesday's All-Star Game, but it was still a worthwhile experience for the 26-year-old.

"Just being there, being with guys from the other teams that you watch play, Jeter's last year, seeing all the guy's families, that whole experience was definitely a blessing," he says. "It's something I enjoyed and for me, it's all about continuing to work hard and get better and better each year, and I would definitely like to be a part of it in upcoming years and hopefully get a chance to pitch."

While Betances has crossed paths with Kershaw and other pitchers in his 26 years, he had his first chance to mesh on the same grounds as other superstars. During warm-ups and down time, Betances gravitated toward two past A.L. Cy Young Award winners.

"The first day, I played catch with Max Scherzer," Betances says. "Talk about a guy who has some pretty nasty stuff. It was cool just playing catch with him and seeing how his pitches move. Felix Hernandez, he's a guy who's been successful since he started. He's someone I looked up to and I got a chance to speak with him."

Of course, for Betances, much of the All-Star affair surrounded fellow Yankees teammate Derek Jeter, a player the New Yorker watched in his youth. Jeter was on the field for Wells' perfect game, as well as most of the games the child version of Betances attended.

"Derek's just a leader, man. He's someone you try to follow in his footsteps. I grew up watching him play," Betances says. "For me to be on the same team as him and be part of the 2014 All-Star Game and watch him get two hits, that was an amazing experience. He's always encouraging me to work hard and just enjoy baseball as much as I can, especially with the All-Star Game. He told me to soak it all in."

Because their positions, Jeter is not the Yankees legend Betances is quickly earning comparisons with. One year ago, Mariano Rivera called it quits after 19 seasons -- 17 as a closer. David Robertson, who has come out of the Yankees' bullpen since 2008, has long been considered the closer-in-waiting after Rivera. Robertson held the job during Rivera's extended 2012 absence and was given the stopper role to start 2014.

Betances' success has Yankees fans changing course a year after the beloved Rivera's retirement. Betances has jumped into the picture a possible option at closer other than Robertson. If age is a concern, Rivera was 27 when he became the full-time closer in 1997.

Betances is not about to call out Robertson, and he is satisfied with his role as the Yankees' set-up man. With that said, Betances expresses admiration for Rivera and any comparisons to "Mo."

"That's somebody I've always looked up to. I enjoyed watching him play. For me to be on the same team and see his farewell tour [in 2013], that was an honor to me. If I could follow in his same footsteps, that would be special," Betances says.

Betances' lone focus right now is on getting the Yankees to the postseason. At 47-47, a very un-Yankee-like All-Star break record, the Bombers have ground to make up in the next 68 games. They do have the satisfaction of knowing the A.L. East-leading Orioles are only five games ahead and the Mariners are three-and-a-half games ahead for the final wild card.

Betances attributes the Yanks' subject first half to injuries and some unlucky bounces. He is confident his team will be around come October.

"We're definitely looking forward to the second half as a team. We are not that far in the division race and the Wild Card race, so we've got to continue to work hard and play hard for one of the last playoff spots," he says. "We hope [Masahiro] Tanaka comes back healthy and we should get Michael [Pineda] back at some point in the season. As long as we stay close enough and then get some guys back, we'll be in good shape."

As for Betances' pitching, an outsider may think it would be easy for him to lose focus. After all, the rookie with eight MLB games under his belt before this season notched an All-Star Game spot. What could stop Betances from feeling too comfortable and losing his edge now that he is proven?

The answer is easy:

"I've been through so much. For me, to have the success I've had, it's something that I'm going to continue to work hard at, trying to get better and better each and every day," he says. "I definitely enjoy playing this game and trying to play at the highest level. I'm looking forward to finishing the season strong and help the team get to the playoffs."

On Thursday, at Pepsi's Real.Big.Summer program on the Jersey Shore, Betances was on hand to witness Pepsi's four-story claw machine that produced "larger-than-life prizes" on Jenkinson's Beach Boardwalk in Point Pleasant, N.J. Pepsi also gave out pizza, a one-week beach rental and tickets to the MTV Video Music Awards. Betances provided a lucky Yankee fan and his mother tickets to an upcoming game in the Bronx.

For Betances, the experience playing for his hometown team is one thing. The experience giving back to his hometown community is another. Thanks to Betances' on-field success, he has that opportunity.

"Pepsi's all about making the summer real big. I'm honored and excited to be here and I get to give out tickets to a Yankees fan," he said before the event. "I'm always about giving back to the community. I'm really excited for this opportunity to team up with Pepsi. To come out there and see the kids smile, giving back, growing up in New York, this is going to be a great experience."

Along with Pepsi's contributions, United Way of Ocean County was on hand to provide a family recovering from the results of Hurricane Sandy with a surprise vacation.

The event was another checkpoint in Betances' breakout All-Star season in New York City, the town he was born and raised in. After toiling in the minors for eight seasons, he now has the resources and recognition to give back to the community that bred him.

Betances will shoot for a series of new checkpoints in 2014 that may include a playoff appearance, rookie records and a possible Rookie of the Year Award. When the season is through, he will have more goals to chase in his future.

Around this time two years ago, Betances was demoted from AAA to AA. Now, he is an All-Star putting up massive numbers.

Betances' major league skills are evident. One might say it is a relief.

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With a bulky book bag strapped to his back and a camera hanging from his neck, Ray Whitehouse sauntered up to the ticket booth outside of Tropicana Field on a steamy Sunday.

"What's the cheapest seat you have today?" he asked the lady behind the glass.

She sold him a $21 ticket to the game, an American League East matchup between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Toronto Blue Jays. Whitehouse, 24, is assigned to Section 311, Row M, Seat 20, but he didn't plan on sitting there.

He didn't plan on sitting at all.

Whitehouse, a graduate school-bound photographer, was on day 59 of an 85-day journey across the country, during which he's photographing a game at all 30 Major League Baseball parks. It's a project he calls the American Baseball Journal.

When he's done, Whitehouse hopes to sell prints and donate the money to MLB's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, a program which he took part in as a child.

So far, he's taken planes, trains and buses to 17 ballparks. He's slept on the couches of strangers in cities far away from his Chicago home for the sake of the project. And though it's his love for the game that sparked his initial interest in the trip, its purpose reaches further than his own curiosity.

"Part of what I want to do with this project is give someone who's in a different city a taste of what it's like to see a game there," he said. "I try to keep that on my mind as something I'm shooting for all the time."

After clearing security, Whitehouse meets a mother with an infant strapped to her, an oversized Rays cap covering his face. Whitehouse stops the woman to photograph her and baby Michael.

First pitch was still a half hour away. For Whitehouse, the game had already started.

***

Whitehouse's first baseball memory isn't even something he can remember. The story has been told to him so many times, though, that the occasion is clear in his mind.

A lifelong Chicagoan, Whitehouse was just an infant when he attended a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field with his father. "Somebody hit a grand slam in the fourth inning," he said. "The crowd was going crazy, and my dad was flipping out because he brought his 4-month-old baby to a baseball game."

Whitehouse -- who proudly displays a scar on his left ankle sustained after breaking the bone sliding into home as a teenager -- began playing baseball at age 5. He remembers playing catch with his father for hours after school in the alley near their home. He went on to play infield and pitcher for four years on the varsity team at Whitney Young High School and on the club team as an undergraduate at Northwestern.

But perhaps the most influential experience he had with the sport was during the three years he played for an MLB RBI team.

Whitehouse participated in the program, which brings youth baseball to diverse communities all over the nation, for three years. When he was 15, his RBI team made it to the league championship game played at Wrigley Field. In his only at-bat of the game, Whitehouse hit a ground ball single down the third-base line.

At 21, Whitehouse stopped playing baseball, but his love for the game kept going.

Whitehouse, who had a 9-to-5 job as a multimedia specialist at the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics, will attend graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill come August on a scholarship. So with graduate school paid for and one final summer of free time on his hands, Whitehouse decided to go back to his pastime. And America's.

"I wasn't trying to make any money on this project," he said about his planned donation to the RBI program. "It was a good marriage of trying to pay it forward to an organization that helped me out when I was younger."

***

Having now photographed games at more than half of the 30 ballparks, Whitehouse sticks to the same game-day routine.

He'll arrive two hours before a game, spending one hour outside the park capturing photographs of each stadium's unique architecture before spending the next hour taking in the pre-game scenes. Whitehouse especially enjoys capturing players signing autographs for kids.

"Because I had those experiences when I was younger," he said, "trying to shag balls and getting players to sign them."

Once the games begin, Whitehouse walks around the stadium, searching for the things that makes each one unique. He takes his unofficial job seriously, so much so that he's been known to sprint through the stadium to catch a moment on camera -- just like he did while taking in a game at Camden Yards with his girlfriend and fellow photographer, Carolyn Van Houten.

"He just started running," she said, "in the middle of our conversation."

Though he's raised nearly $3,000 from online donations, Whitehouse is financing the majority of his trip through the money he's saved at his job. So that means doing everything he can to spare a nickel.

Whitehouse has stayed in just one hotel along the way -- in Minneapolis after a Twins game on May 16 -- spending every other night at a friend's house or with people he's met through a couch-surfing website. Through the first 17 games of his trip, Whitehouse hasn't paid more than $25 for a ticket, thanks to savvy shopping on StubHub.com -- and even the kindness of a stranger.

"I explained to him the project, and he was like, 'Oh, you can just have it,'" Whitehouse said about his interaction with a Kansas City scalper. "He gave me a $61 ticket for free."

Whitehouse photographed the man and emailed him the picture after the game.

***

After taking photos of Rays outfielder Matt Joyce signing autographs and standing at attention for the national anthem, Whitehouse took a seat just behind the home team's dugout as Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes stepped up to the plate to begin the game.

Though he usually finds himself moving around the stadiums too much to actually watch the games, Whitehouse has one rule of thumb.

"I like to watch the first at-bat," he said. "After that, it gets a little less focused on the game."

The section's usher, who asked to see Whitehouse's ticket, had a different idea.

"You're a long way off," he said, looking at Whitehouse's seat assignment. "Have a good day."

Whitehouse didn't see much action from the Rays' 3-0 victory that day. Instead, he met and photographed 4-year-old Evan -- named after Tampa Bay's longtime third baseman Evan Longoria -- watching as he, flanked by his grandparents, munched on blue cotton candy.

In the Cuesta-Rey Cigar Bar, MLB's one and only, Whitehouse took photos of Dave, a hobby photographer who watched the game while smoking a Brickhouse Might Mighty Maduro.

"He can't smoke in the house at home, so this way he gets a nice leather seat and a cigar," Dave's wife, Diane, said.

As the Rays took a lead early, some fans flocked to the tank of live rays in the outfield, where Whitehouse photographed 7-year-old Evan petting the animals.

He, too, Whitehouse discovered, was also named for the much-adored third baseman.

"Did I even have to ask?" Whitehouse questioned the boy's mother, laughing.

***

It's hard for Whitehouse to pick a favorite ballpark.

He fell in love with the views in Pittsburgh (below), with the way the Roberto Clemente Bridge and the downtown skyline are framed by the walls of PNC Park. He appreciated the memorial to Jackie Robinson within the rotunda at the Mets' Citi Field.

The walk-off Red Sox win he saw at Fenway Park, though, gave the historic park a leg up.

"I feel like that atmosphere, even though they're below .500," he said. "It was still just amazing."

Whitehouse will visit the Marlins, Braves and Yankees in the next week before completing the East Coast portion of his trip. He'll finish the tour with a Seattle Mariners game at Safeco Field on Aug. 8, a day he hasn't even thought about quite yet.

"At this point I'm just going," he said. "I love this game and this project so much, I can be really tired, but once I'm at the stadium, it's another gear you get into."

So until then, it's back to the same routine. Seventeen down, 13 to go.

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Damian Lillard gained lots of fans after he took some Portland kids on a surprise holiday shopping spree at Toys 'R' Us. Lillard, the 2013 NBA rookie of the year, might have earned even more after he stood up for a Special Olympics participant who had been mocked on Twitter.

Here is the sequence of Lillard explaining his pride of accompanying a Special Olympics athlete to the ESPYs, a fan's callous comment and the star's sharp response.




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Last summer, I wrote a little essay about Coach Mac, who led our Little League team in fifth and sixth grade. I described how I loved baseball from the start -- but it didn't love me. In tee-ball, I was so short that if the catcher put the tallest tee on the far corner of the plate, I couldn't reach it. Yes, I struck out -- in tee ball.

Our first year of live pitching didn't go any better. I wanted to be a catcher -- like my hero, Tigers catcher Bill Freehan -- but I was stuck in right field picking dandelions, and batting last. But when Mac McKenzie became our head coach the next season, my world changed almost overnight.

Coach Mac wore a baseball cap above his big, square glasses. He looked tough, with a permanent squint and the underbite of a bulldog. When he was smashing ground ball after ground ball during practice, sweat dripped off the tip of his pointy nose. He occasionally engaged in mild profanity, which we thought was pretty cool.

He thought I was feisty, and funny. I could tell he wanted me to do well, and that he believed I would. Trust me, I was no bigger, faster or stronger than I was the previous season. But I had one thing I didn't have the year before: confidence. The effect was immediate, dramatic and lifelong.

From the very first practice under Coach Mac, I started crushing the ball as if I'd been waiting years to do it -- which I had. Instead of playing back on my heels, I was up on my toes, and swinging for the fences. Our first game that season, he started me at catcher, and had me batting leadoff. I got two hits -- the first of my life -- and my teammates voted me captain.

I was on fire for baseball. I recall one Saturday morning practice was rained out. But, this being Michigan, a little while later the sun came out, so I biked down to our elementary school to check it out. There were a few puddles here and there, but the biggest one was behind the plate, where I would be playing, and it didn't look that bad to me.

I rushed home and called Coach Mac. He told me if I made the phone calls, we'd have practice. I did, and Coach Mac's promise was good. We had practice.

After he'd hit ground balls to the infield, I'd say, "C'mon, Coach Mac -- gimme one!" Meaning, bunt the ball, for me to scoop up and throw to first.

He'd grin and say, "There ya go," and tap one out just for me.

The next year I became a better hockey player, too. I've spent most of my adult life coaching and teaching on the side, because I know how much difference it can make to have someone believe in you.

I closed that piece by admitting I had no idea where the McKenzies had wound up. I didn't even know if Coach Mac was still with us. But he was still with me.

Well, a couple days later, I got a full-page thank you letter from Coach Mac himself. Just getting it thrilled me, but his message was even better. It was direct, honest and funny -- just like the man himself. He told me about his family, about moving to Scottsdale, about his two bypass surgeries. In 1990, he received a heart transplant. He said he'd read my books and had every intention of writing years ago. But that day, when his wife found my story online, he was moved to write:

"I was blown away to see my name and the wonderful things that you had to say about me and my influence on you. I have had a very good and successful life with a few plaques, awards and complimentary speeches given to me, but none compare to what you said and how you have honored me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."

I don't know if Coach Mac got choked up writing it, but I got choked up reading it. I promised him I'd write him a longer letter soon, and fully intended to. But my fall filled up with travel and speeches, deadlines and classes. I kept waiting to find enough time to write The Perfect Letter -- and I kept waiting. I wrote down Coach Mac's name on my to-do list month after month.

On Tuesday night, I was teaching my sportswriting students at Northwestern University how to write a profile. I told them their subject doesn't have to be famous. It could even be a former Little League coach. Then I spontaneously launched into my story of Coach Mac, right down to the sweat dripping off the tip of his nose while he smashed grounder after grounder. I couldn't resist telling them how great it was to hear from Coach Mac -- which provided just another reminder I still needed to write him. I scribbled his name down yet again.

The next day, I received an email from a friend of Coach Mac's, a man I'd never met before. He wrote, "We lost Mac yesterday."

This hit me harder than I had expected. After all, I couldn't have believed he'd live forever. I was glad I'd written the story about him -- and felt even better Coach Mac had read it, and responded. But when I went back to read our correspondence, I was pained to realize I had never written him the longer letter I'd promised. I felt worse when I noticed he lived in Scottsdale. A couple months after he sent me his first letter, I was invited to give a speech in Scottsdale. If I had kept in better touch, I would have put it together, invited Coach Mac to join us, and he and I would have gone out afterward for a beer I would never have forgotten.

We can't do everything. I realize that. And I'm lucky to have gotten back in touch with Coach Mac. I know that, too. But my regret was hard to shake. When I went for a run that day, around a few Little League baseball diamonds in Chicago, I wasn't ready for the tears streaming under my sunglasses.

After I drove back to my home in Ann Arbor on a beautiful summer night, right around game time, I swung by our old schoolyard, where Coach Mac smacked all those grounders years ago. I was surprised to find the ball field has been replaced by a garden, with a shed in the middle of it. But when I crouched down into my old position, where home plate used to be, I could see it all -- right down to Coach Mac, sweat dripping off his nose, tapping me another bunt to throw to first base.

Thanks, Coach.

Sorry it took me so long to write.

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Dr. Deb Walters generally gets asked the same question when she talks about her kayaking adventure.

The 63-year-old grandmother is paddling from her hometown of Yarmouth, Maine, to Guatemala. Why would anyone want to do that? Walters wants to raise awareness and money for children living in garbage dump communities within Guatemala.

Walters started her journey July 11 and she estimates that it will take her a year to reach Guatemala. She will be updating a blog to document her adventures. Within her first day, she met four kayakers who joined her for the first 12 miles.

Her motivation began when Walters visited the garbage dump in Guatemala, where she met families who would search for food and recyclable products within the dump site. The parents' main wish was for their children to go to school, where they could learn to read and better prepare themselves for the future. She is working to raise money for the Safe Passage model school, where she hopes to raise money to add additional grade levels to the school

The 2,500-mile trip will take Walters along the eastern shore, with stops along the way to spread word of her campaign. She will take a boat from Florida to Belize, but will resume kayaking to Rio Dulce, Guatemala.

Although Walters suffers from arthritis, she is a big fan of long distance kayaking. She wanted to combine her love for kayaking and her desire to raise money for the Safe Passage school. During the past 30 years, Walters has led instructional kayaking trips, and she has even done a kayaking tour through the Arctic.

For more information, including how you can donate to the cause, go to SafePassage.org.

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Daniel Sampson and Mike Adams were roommates when they first started working for the Washington Redskins. Sampson was a running back, cornerback and kick returner in high school, and he went on to get a journalism degree at Texas Southern University. He is now the Redskins' assistant director of communications. Adams was an offensive guard at Howard University, where he earned a degree in business management. He is now responsible for filming and editing all of the Redskins' practices and games.

The two had a lot to talk about.

Both had been surrounded by football for the most of their lives. But the conversation didn't stick to just X's and O's. It was about what they could have done better in their developmental years -- what they could have done better before they entered college. Sampson didn't fully understand the eligibility process for college. He ended up being one credit short of being able to play in college in his freshman year because he took a broadcasting class as his English requirement, but that wasn't approved by the NCAA Clearinghouse. Adams didn't get involved with the football recruiting process until after his senior year of high school. And, finances were a struggle for both.

"I got an envelope, with a Capital One credit card in it," Sampson said. "I was like, 'Oh great, free money going to school? Free cards? This is heaven.' I found out that that is not the case."

The two felt like they could teach young student-athletes a lot based on their own lives, and it almost became their duty to do so.

"To me, I truly feel like it's my job," Adams said. "You just don't forget that so many people can benefit off of your story."

Adams and Sampson wanted high school football players to be more prepared for the entire college process than they were, and the two formed Driven By Our Ambitions, which was inspired by a lyric in Tupac Shakur's "Unconditional Love." The idea is to combine a football clinic with classroom lessons to help high school players become better prepared for college and beyond.

Adams and Sampson were able to get Redskins coaches, players, and others within the organization on board with the idea, and the Washington Redskins Charitable Organization joined the cause. Driven By Our Ambitions held its first clinic on June 14 for more than 120 high school student football players, primarily from the Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland area.

It included an informational session about the college eligibility process, which was run by a NCAA Eligibility Center member, and a planning session with the College Advising Corps to help the students create a game plan for their future. There was a crash course on financial success through Junior Achievement of Greater Washington, which specializes in helping young adults become more financially savvy, and NCSA recruiting explained how to get the maximum amount of exposure to get a college offer.

The football part included personal coaching from Washington Redskins coaches and players, including quarterback Robert Griffin III, tight end Niles Paul, fullback Darrel Young, offensive tackle Trent Williams, offensive coordinator Sean McVay.

Driven By Our Ambitions required that the students had good grades and overall academic success, as the NCAA requires athletes to have a 2.3 GPA and the right test scores and core courses in high school. The participants also had to be rising juniors or seniors.

One of the participants was Dominique Smith, a rising senior at Rangeview High School in Aurora, Colo., where he plays running back and linebacker. Smith made the 2013 All-Aurora League Second team as a linebacker as a junior. Smith, like all of the participants, received a handbook that included all of the Redskins agility drills, a guide to good nutrition and stretching techniques to improve each athlete. Smith says he learned a lot, and that the camp really broadened his horizons in a lot of different subjects, including finances.

"I learned the difference between credit and debit," Smith said. "Things you should know as far as credit cards and stuff like that, so that you don't put yourself in debt or you don't ruin your credit score. A good credit score takes you a long way."

Parents were also encouraged to participate in the clinic because they play a huge role in the recruiting process. The parents were not only learning about recruiting, but also finances and eligibility, according to Adams.

"Parents should understand that this is a big step for young men, and they need some support," Sampson said. "Not just peer support. They need support from adults. I want them to be a part of it, and encourage them to be with (their kids) to learn the process as well, and to be the backbone to help them to continue to push towards the next step in life, which is college."

The Redskins had held a test run of the clinic in 2013, and it featured only seven kids. Sampson said it was still a success because they were still ultimately helping out those seven students. But other within the Redskins jumped on board with Sampson and Adams to ensure its success and wider reach. Michael Lindo, a public relations intern, helped out. Aubrey Pleasant, the defensive quality coach and assistant defensive backs coach, helped get a sponsor for gear for the participants. He also helped organize the coaching for the camp. Blair Williams, a video assistant and a D.C. native, helped Driven By Our Ambitions with branding and by reaching out to the community to try to bring kids from all over the area to the clinic.

"What I liked about Mike and Daniel's idea is that it's (based) on what I was grown up on," Williams said. "Having academics and as well as sports to give the kids diversity by keeping their attention and keeping them coming. They have it set up so that they can branch off to do other things (beyond sports)."

The players and coaches also jumped up to support Driven By Our Ambitions. Robert Griffin III tweeted out the event information to his million Twitter followers a month before the event, and defensive lineman Chris Baker even had his old high school guidance counselor help out with the camp. Sampson and Adams were appreciative of the support they were getting from their Redskins colleagues for Driven By Our Ambitions, from the players, coaches and others in the organization.

"It meant a lot to us," Adams said. "It really validated our relationship. I think that's one thing that me and Daniel have, a great relationship with the staff here. It allows us to ask them for things like that, and they don't even think twice about coming out and helping us."

According to Sampson, the goal is to expand this program to other cities as well, including Houston, Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles and Chicago by 2016. Both the NFL Player Engagement and the NCAA Eligibility Center attended the event, so growth within football, as well as other sports, is a possibility that Driven By Our Ambitions welcomes in the future.

What started off as a conversation between Sampson and Adams has blossomed into an organization that can really help high school football players' futures. Both Sampson and Adams said they just want students to learn from their mistakes, so they can be avoided in the future. And both are more than happy to help.

"This has always been something in my heart that I wanted to do, to help out kids in a way that I see fit. I played football my entire life, and so I felt like this was a vehicle that I could help somebody out with. It means a lot to me."

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Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams made a serviceman's day recently when he offered the man his business class ticket for a flight.

Williams, 31, tweeted the following photo from the airport:


Williams is the second high profile figure to swap seats with a serviceman in recent weeks. The actress Amy Adams did the same thing last week.

Despite the seemingly selfless nature of the act, Williams still drew some criticism from followers. Some said that he was simply posting about the deed for PR purposes. Williams responded to critics on Twitter and Facebook:


Here's what Williams wrote on his Facebook page:

"I always do that and for those of you that are saying I shouldn't have posted keep calm and enjoy my page and happy 4th of July (it's called being patriotic for life)."

Williams is entering his ninth season with the Panthers. Last season he led the team with 843 rushing yards on 201 attempts.

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One Indianapolis veteran will be celebrating the Fourth of July in some sweet new digs thanks to the kindness and creativity of Colts players Coby Fleener and Pat McAfee.

Erich Orrick is a U.S. Army veteran, a Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient who presides over the charity Wish For Our Heroes. Founded in 2009, Wish For Our Heroes helps veterans in need, and it's provided more than $10 million in donations the past five years.

Orrick runs the organization from his garage, tirelessly making calls and seeking out donations to help veterans make ends meet. McAfee, whose own foundation works closely with veterans, has supported Wish For Our Heroes by donating Colts tickets.

Considering all that Orrick has done for the men and women who served their country, McAfee and Fleener decided it was time someone did something for Orrick. So together they huddled with appliance and furniture retailer hhgregg and arranged for some cool new furnishings.

McAfee and Fleener also devised an elaborate plan to get Orrick away from his home so decorators could remodel it. All told, the project proves as heartwarming as it is appropriate.

For more information about Wish For Our Heroes, you can check out the organization's web page.

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The fight for collegiate athletes' rights took a drastic turn Monday.

Indiana University Vice President and Director of Athletics Fred Glass revealed a 10-point Student-Athlete Bill of Rights for IU student-athletes. The document features the following 10 points:

1. Cost of education
2. Four year scholarship commitment regardless of injury, illness or athletic performance
3. Lifetime degree guarantee
4. Comprehensive academic support
5. Comprehensive health, safety and wellness
6. Comprehensive athletic support
7. Comprehensive leadership and life skills development
8. A culture of trust and respect
9. A collective voice
10. Cutting edge technology

An Indiana Athletics press release Friday said the Bill of Rights is "a first-of-its-kind document."

A statement from IU President Michael A. McRobbie said the following:

"For all of its nearly 200 years, Indiana University has been a higher education leader in teaching, research, academic freedom and international engagement, as well as athletics including producing the first African American to be drafted into pro football and breaking the Big Ten's color barrier in men's basketball. That visionary leadership continues with today's publication of the first ever Student-Athlete Bill of Rights."

Some highlights:

The Lifetime Degree Guarantee program, in conjunction with the "Hoosiers for Life" program, vows IU will pay the undergraduate degree tuition for athletes who leave school early for a family emergency, a professional career or another reason in good standing. The program is offered to "any former student-athlete who was eligible for at least two seasons."

The Four Year Scholarship Commitment. As USC did last week, Indiana is now promising four-year scholarships upon enrolling for athletes in good standing. Injury, illness or a failure to achieve athletic potential will not count an student-athlete's tenure short.

The Collective Voice portion allows student-athletes a chance each semester to meet with the athletic director and will receive the annual athletic director report given to the Board of Trustees. IU student-athletes are also provided permanent representation on the Bloomington Faculty Council and an advisory role on any search for a new head coach or athletics director.

As part of the comprehensive health safety and wellness, IU student-athletes will be provided free physical medical exams at the start of every season. Indiana will also provide free medical service for dental, vision, psychological, rehabilitation and related issues.

In terms of the comprehensive academic support, IU student-athletes will be provided unlimited access to the D. Ames Shuel Academic Center. Student-athletes will also have free access to tutors, mentors, study tables, career development programming, disability support services and other academic benefits.

Comprehensive leadership and life skills development will allow student-athletes to take part the Indiana University Excellence Academy Speaker Series, the Indiana University Excellence Academy Internship Program, specialized social media training and other opportunities.

In terms of cutting-edge technology, all IU student-athletes will be given an iPad and an official IU athletic blazer. Internal internships will also be offered.

From a broad sense, life for Indiana student-athletes is not likely to change tomorrow. However, the text of the document is groundbreaking for NCAA athletics. Indiana student-athletes now have a hard copy of a document to cite if the university ever breaks part of the code. Indiana recruits will not have to worry about the university pulling a fast one on them, stripping scholarships or disrespecting athletes, upon enrollment.

While many universities have adopted written rules pertaining to many of the areas mapped out in the IU Student-Athlete Bill of Rights, Indiana's is now the most precise. It may not be long before another university joins the Big Ten University in scripting a Bill of Rights for student-athletes.

This news comes five months and two days after Kain Colter unveiled the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) and the idea of student-athletes unionization to the world.

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In January, Isaiah Austin opened up his heart-warming story to the world. In the middle of his sophomore year at Baylor, Austin revealed he had suffered a torn retina while in middle school and has been blind in his right eye ever since. In fact, he wears a prosthetic.

Austin kept his blindness a secret while being heavily recruited out of Grace Preparatory Academy in Arlington, Texas. Austin feared schools would lose faith in him if they knew about his eye. He wanted to appear fully healthy to help his recruitment.

Austin's mother, Lisa Green, summed up the journey.


Austin played on. He averaged 13.0 points and 8.3 rebounds for the season, including 14 points and 5.3 rebounds in three NCAA tournament games. He named to the Big 12 All-Defensive Team.

Austin jumped to the NBA. And then he didn't.

On Saturday night, Austin was informed he has Marfan Syndrome. The genetic disorder is caused by problems with the folding of the protein fibrillin-1. Marfan Syndrome can weaken the aorta, thus damaging the pace of blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

As Austin explains, "Basically the connective tissues in your body are weakened because the cells aren't fully developed."

Austin's EKG test at the NBA draft combine in June suggested he could have a disorder. When the test proved it was Marfan Syndrome, Austin's NBA dreams hit rock bottom.

"It's not deadly when you're living your everyday life, but it can be because my aortic artery has been growing for the past two years," Austin says. "If it gets too englarged, I will have to go under open-heart surgery. Playing basketball was a risk because, if my body exerts too much energy, I can pump too much blood."

One week ago, Isaiah Austin was projected as a late first-round pick. By the weekend, he was out of the draft.

Well, not exactly.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver called Austin's agent Dwon Clifton, earlier in the week. Silver invited Austin to New York City for the draft as the commissioner's personal guest.

"I forgot about the syndrome for a while," Austin says. "I just couldn't stop thinking I'm going to New York, I'm going to New York for the NBA Draft. It's always been my dream to go to New York."

Inviting Austin to the draft would have been enough. After all, Silver has bigger fish to fry, with Donald Sterling's presence still lingering and a wild free agency summer hovering.

But Silver, who has already shown a more tender persona than predecessor David Stern in his first five months as commissioner, did more. In between picks 15 and 16 in the draft, Silver called Austin to the podium. He used the term, "The NBA selects," and the pick came right where Austin was projected. Austin even got a draft hat, donning the logo of the NBA.

Austin got teary-eyed and gave Stern a bear hug with his 7-1 frame (Marfan Syndrome is more common in especially oversized individuals).

For NBA players, coaches and fans, somberness cast upon them, as well. The NBA community also suffers. Before the diagnosis, Austin showed perseverance battling blindness to achieve his basketball goals. After the diagnosis, he has already become a spokesman for the Marfan foundation while remaining as upbeat as possible.

Even in the green room, he could not help himself from smiling.

"Today has been a dream come true. I've met so many people that are supporting me, and they don't even know me on a personal level. It just shows the heart and character that all these people have. Just being around the draftees and seeing all my friends get drafted, it just brings joy I my heart because I know how hard we work to get to this point," Austin says.

It is tough for everyone else. The NBA community and its fans will not get Austin's presence as a player. The loss is bitter.

Austin carries on, as he has always done. In the grand scheme of things, being diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome and losing the ability to play professional basketball are another bump in Austin's general life path. As he has done in the past, he will have to make amends.

"These past couple days have really taught me a lot about myself, he says. "They've really shown me that no matter what obstacle you're thrown in life, there's always a way around it, or there's always a way through it."

Austin will return to Baylor, where he is a finance major. Baylor coach Scott Drew has offered him a job in the coaching department. On top of that, Austin's high school coach, Ray Forsett, and Silver have offered him jobs.

As usual, Austin is looking at the broad picture.

"I'm back to school," he says. "I'm going to take things slow. I'm only 20 years old, and I'm ready to do whatever I can to make my life better."

He may never even play a pickup game again, but this may not be the last the world sees of Isaiah Austin. In New York City on Thursday night, he reminded the world he is more than just a basketball player. Although he got some help from a trip on Silver, he made the most of the break. As Austin always does, he took adversity and turned it on its head.

Austin has coaching aspirations and he will be a voice in raising awareness for Marfan Syndrome. There is no reason to believe Austin will not put his full energy into both endeavors, as he did with basketball for 20 years.

"I don't want to be just an inspiration to people who play basketball," Austin says. "I want to be an inspiration to people all over the world. People have different obstacles they're facing. I want them to know that they can push through anything because I've done it."

This guy thought he was going to be in the NBA less than a week ago. Now, he is already turning the corner on life's next chapter.

Next time you are having a bad day, think of Isaiah Austin. Better yet, think about what he would do if he were you.

Isaiah Austin will never play professional basketball. But his message will have an impact.

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