LiveBeyond leaders eye ominous hurricane

Laurie and David Vanderpool

Laurie and David Vanderpool

A short message left Sunday afternoon on the Facebook page of Abilene Christian University alumnus David M. Vanderpool, M.D., was direct yet confident with a potential disaster looming on the horizon:

“The LiveBeyond team is prepared to act as first responders when Hurricane Matthew makes landfall in Haiti with clean water, food and medical care.”

Matthew, the most powerful tropical Atlantic storm in nearly a decade, is a Category 4 hurricane packing winds of 145 miles per hour. It is expected to drop 25-40 inches of rain when it makes landfall sometime late Monday or early Tuesday.

LiveBeyond – a ministry of Vanderpool (’82) and his wife, Laurie (Stallings ’81) – is no stranger to helping with catastrophic situations. The Stallings family formed Mobile Medical Disaster Relief in 2005 but changed its name to LiveBeyond after responding in 2010 to a major earthquake in Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the world. In May 2013, the Vanderpools moved to live and work there full time in a life-changing enterprise providing faith-based humanitarian aid.

The couple was on campus in late August when David was the featured speaker at his alma mater’s Opening Assembly in Moody Coliseum.

The most recent issue of ACU Today magazine explains how Abilene Christian graduates who participated in a Spring Break Campaign in 1990 reunited this past summer in Thomazeau to assist at LiveBeyond:

The King and I: ACU alums remember Palmer

Longtime Associated Press golf writer and ACU alum Doug Ferguson visited Palmer in June 2016. Ferguson authored news of the PGA icon's passing on Sept. 25.

Longtime Associated Press golf writer and ACU alumnus Doug Ferguson visited Palmer in June 2016. Ferguson authored news of the PGA icon’s passing on Sept. 25.

I was 25 years old when I met The King.

It was August 1994 in Tulsa, Okla., and golf legend Arnold Palmer, who died last Sunday at the age of 87, had just played his last round ever at the PGA Championship – his 37th appearance in that event as a competitor and my first as a sports broadcaster.

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

I was among the gaggle of media members surrounding Palmer on that Friday afternoon at Southern Hills Country Club, all of us – including Palmer – fully aware that he had not played well enough to make the cut and advance to the weekend.

Two months before, Palmer had openly wept as he spoke to the press upon his completion of what he knew would be his final U.S. Open round at Oakmont Country Club, not far from his hometown of Latrobe, Penn. The scene at Southern Hills wasn’t as emotional.

Except for me. I’d grown up like so many other young sports fans idolizing Palmer even though I was only 3 years old when he won the last of his 62 titles. His legend was born from a swashbuckling style that produced seven major championships and seemingly 70-times-seven heartbreaks in the biggest events during those early days of televised golf. And that legend quickly crossed far beyond the boundaries of his sport into a pioneering career as a sports-celebrity pitchman because of his preternatural ability to connect with his legion of fans which became known as “Arnie’s Army.”

Palmer and Barrow

Palmer and Barrow

He was the first golfer to just as easily navigate Madison Avenue as Magnolia Lane, the famed entryway into Augusta National Golf Club, the home of The Masters tournament where Palmer frequently intersected with other alumni and friends of Abilene Christian University, including Associated Press golf writer Doug Ferguson (’83) and Lance Barrow (’77), coordinating producer of golf for CBS Sports and one of only two men to produce The Masters telecasts.

“He was golf’s first TV star,” says Barrow. “The cameras loved Arnold, and being in the spotlight was never a burden to him. He knew it was part of his job.”

As a four-time winner of The Masters, Palmer shared some sacred space at Augusta National with former ACU trustee Byron Nelson, who won it in 1937 and 1942. In a foreword to Nelson’s book How I Played the Game, Palmer wrote:

“I have no way of knowing who decided who would share a locker with whom … but nothing has ever pleased me more than when I walked into that new Champions Room upstairs in the main clubhouse and saw two plates on one of the lockers, one bearing my name and the other that of Byron Nelson. It would certainly have been my choice if I had been asked, because Byron Nelson was an idol of mine long before I met that wonderful gentleman and magnificent player.”

And later in that foreword:

“Here has always been a man of the highest personal standards, a man we in golf can hold up as the epitome of a true golf champion.”

Palmer had a chance to show his appreciation to Nelson in a tangible way. Nelson writes in his book that organizers of the Dallas Open in 1967 asked him to contact Palmer to convince him to play in that year’s tournament. Nelson did, and Palmer said yes.

“The next two days, after it was announced that Palmer would play,” Nelson wrote, “they sold 5,000 tickets. It showed what a difference a big name like Palmer’s could make.”

The next year, organizers put Nelson’s name on the tournament, changing it to the Byron Nelson Golf Classic and making that event the first to be named for a golfer. Palmer would later have his name on a tournament, the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Fla.

Carpenter's iron play as an amateur impressed Palmer in the PGA legend’s namesake tournament in 2011.

Carpenter’s iron play as an amateur impressed Palmer in the PGA legend’s namesake tournament in 2011.

The 2011 playing of that event is where ACU golfer Alex Carpenter (’13) first met Palmer. Given an exemption because of his victory at the prestigious Southern Amateur the previous summer, Carpenter struggled in the opening round but rebounded impressively on Friday. He was three under par when he reached Bay Hill’s treacherous 18th hole whose green is protected in front by a large pond.

“I was in the fairway,” remembers Carpenter, the first Wildcat to play in a PGA event while a student. “The pin was back right, and it’s a tough shot. I backed off the shot and looked over by the water and saw Mr. Palmer sitting in his golf cart. I hit one of the best 4-irons I could possibly hit there to about 15 feet. I started walking up the fairway and looked over at him and he gave me a huge thumbs up. I think he knew I was young and it was a big stage for me; and that I was a little nervous and came through and I hit a really good shot. That’s something I’ll never forget.”

Carpenter, who won an NCAA record 20 individual titles while at ACU, also played twice in the Palmer Cup, a competition between teams of college stars from the U.S. and those from Great Britain and Ireland. At the inaugural Palmer Cup in 1997, then-ACU head golf coach Vince Jarrett was invited to help run the event and brought along his son, Justin (’01).

“It was a wonderful experience getting to actually meet some of these great young players who would go on to become PGA and European PGA Tour players,” Justin recalls. “But the greatest experience of the whole trip was meeting Palmer. He impressed us with his stories, his love for the game of golf, and most of all, his simplicity of being just an honest and welcoming man. It was pretty intimidating when we got the opportunity to talk to him, but he was very open to us and made us feel at home.”

When he was head coach at Vanderbilt University, current ACU golf coach Tom Shaw met Palmer at a college tournament in Orlando and remembers players receiving a document titled “The Arnold Palmer Legacy.” It included this advice:

  • Respect the game: Love the game and honor it with your character
  • Play with passion: Make a total effort and never quit
  • Never forget: The volunteers and fans who make it possible
  • Share your time and talents: Give back to your community
  • Your signature is a gift: Make it legible
  • Your smile is a gift: Share it often
  • Success: Depends less on strength of body than upon strength of mind and character
  • Winning: Isn’t everything, but wanting it is!

One of Palmer’s signature characteristics was, in fact, his signature; specifically in that he always wrote it legibly and also implored young players coming out on tour to do the same with their names as a way of honoring those asking for them. That concern for the fans who made him famous is among the reasons Palmer was so beloved.

“Everybody thinks they’re his best friend,” says Barrow whose relationship with Palmer extended beyond the boundaries of player and television producer over the last 20 years. “He made you feel like you were the most important person in the world. And whenever I had spent time with him, I thought, ‘If Arnold Palmer could be that way as famous as he is, I have to be a better person.’ ”

Five years after I first met Palmer, the television network he co-founded, Golf Channel, hired me. Typical. I was thrilled just to have been in his company. And wound up in his employ.

In that emotional press conference at the 1994 U.S. Open, Palmer tearfully said, “I won a few tournaments, but I suppose the most important thing is that it (golf) has been as good as it has been to me.”

However good golf was to Arnold Palmer, he was even better to the game.

Justin Jarrett, Palmer and Vince Jarrett in 1997 at the Palmer Cup

Justin Jarrett, Palmer and Vince Jarrett in 1997 at the Palmer Cup

Tag Team: ACU great throws hat in radio ring

SD Cover, Fresno, CA January 30, 2005 Photo: Rich Freeda

Layfield is a popular figure in the world of professional wrestling. (Photo courtesy of Rich Freeda, WWE Inc.)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. West Texas football legend becomes a college all-America, plays a little pro ball, takes up professional wrestling, during which time he builds a portfolio as a financial guru on network television while enjoying his off hours cutting grass on the field where he heads up a rugby program for at-risk youth in Bermuda.

So far, no one has stopped me.

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Welcome to the larger-than-life of John Layfield (’89), aka John Bradshaw Layfield, JBL or any other of the half dozen names, nicknames, initials and other handles the former Wildcat great has answered to in the last 20 years. And for the next three weeks – at least – he can add another entry to his wildly varied vitae:

Football commentator.

Layfield will join me in the radio booth for Abilene Christian University football games the next two Saturdays at, then serve as the analyst for the American Sports Network’s television broadcast when the Wildcats host the University of Central Arkansas on Oct. 1 at Shotwell Stadium.

Layfield was a four-year letterman on the Wildcat football team, and voted all-conference and all-America.

Layfield was a four-year letterman for the Wildcats.

This most tortuous of tales begins 40 years and 40 miles away. Growing up in Sweetwater with his parents, ACU alums Lavelle (’59) and Mary (Sheerer ’58), older brother Paul (’82) and sister Sylvia (Layfield ’84) Sims, Layfield became hooked on two things: professional wrestling and ACU football. The former he watched on Saturday nights with his maternal grandfather. The latter got him once and for all at the 1976 Homecoming game when Wilbert Montgomery (’77) set college football’s career touchdown record and Ove Johansson (’77) kicked what is still the longest field goal ever at any level of football, a 69-yard boot that Layfield and his cousin, Alan Rich (’86), who were ball boys in the end zone, watched fly toward them.

Layfield enrolled at ACU in 1985 as an agile, quick-footed offensive lineman and became one of the finest players the Wildcats have ever had despite the fact that he played his entire senior season on one good leg. (The other he once simply taped up when his fibula broke in the next to last game, and he continued to play.) Layfield was all-conference, then all-America and eventually named to ACU’s all-decade and all-century teams.

His success collegiately took him to NFL training camp and a spot on the practice squad with the Los Angeles Raiders. When the World League of American Football opened for business in 1991, Layfield saddled up with the San Antonio Riders and spent the season protecting, among others, Jason Garrett, who went on to play quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, for whom he is now head coach.

By 1992, the damage from the leg injury sustained at ACU had all but ended his football career and left him weighing his options. Of course, when you weigh 275 pounds and stand 6 feet 6 inches, one of your options includes professional wrestling. On a tip from a teammate, Layfield learned the craft by training with Olympic and pro wrestler Brad Rheingans in Minnesota and soon had matches booked around the world. He signed with the Global Wrestling Federation (by “Global” they mostly meant “Texas”) where he began performing under a multitude of monikers, including John Hawk, at the Dallas Sportatorium.

His big break came in 1995 when he signed with the sport’s pre-eminent management and promotional entity, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), whose CEO Vince McMahon changed Layfield’s stage name to Justin Hawk Bradshaw, which became Blackjack Bradshaw and finally John Bradshaw Layfield.

(SPOILER ALERT: Not everything about professional wrestling is real.)

Layfield's reputation spans the financial investment and professional wrestling worlds. (Photo courtesty of WWE, Inc.)

Layfield’s reputation spans the investment, media and professional wrestling worlds. (Photo courtesy of WWE Inc.)

His popularity and performance steadily grew, peaking in 2004 when he became WWE champion using a plotline that was anything but fictitious. As JBL, he presented himself as the J.R. Ewing of Wall Street. But Layfield wasn’t all hat and no cattle futures. He’d actually spent those first few years after football learning the finer points of the stock market and even wrote a book about investing that landed him a recurring role as a guest on cable television business shows – all while he continue to wrestle.

Besides helping his Q rating, those TV appearances produced two tangible dividends: First, on one of them, he met Meredith Whitney, the financial analyst widely credited with predicting the stock market crash of 2008, whom he married. Second, it gave him experience on camera, which helped as he transitioned from performer to announcer for the weekly WWE broadcasts.

It was around that time that the Layfields made another transition. With neither having a job tethering them to a particular place, they left New York City for a piece of paradise in Bermuda where John founded a program that helps kids caught up in gangs escape to a better life through playing rugby.

Football player, professional wrestler, investment analyst, TV announcer, youth advocate.

Like ya do.

He may not be The Most Interesting Man In the World, but he’ll certainly be the most interesting one in the ACU radio booth come Saturday night. Just as he was all those years in the ring, Layfield remains a tough guy to pin down.

FOLLOW THE WILDCATS: Saturday’s 7 p.m. game at Houston Baptist University will be broadcast on Fox College Sports Central. The game can be seen in Abilene on Fox College Sports Atlantic (Suddenlink channel 509), and it can be heard locally on 98.1 FM. The game will be streamed online on the Southland Conference website, and it also can be heard at The game will also be available on DirecTV (channel 608.2) and Dish Network (channel 453), as well as on the Fox SportsGo app.

Layfield (left) with announcer Mauro Ranallo and wrestler David Otunga during a "Smackdown Live” broadcast. (Photo courtesy of WWE Inc.)

Layfield (left) with announcer Mauro Ranallo and wrestler David Otunga during a “Smackdown Live” broadcast. (Photo courtesy of WWE Inc.)

ACU 101: What it takes to be a Wildcat mascot

Today's Willie the Wildcat is portrayed by students.

Today’s Willie the Wildcat is brought to life by ACU students.

It’s September and the West Texas Fair and Rodeo is here, which means it’s time for cooler weather and rain to bedevil the event’s historic parade. If not for a downpour this past Saturday morning, the parade through downtown Abilene would have marked the 83rd anniversary of Bob Thomas‘ debut.

Bob Thomas, if you didn’t know, was the name of Abilene Christian University’s first live Wildcat mascot. Then again, if you read “ACU 101” in the new issue of ACU Today magazine, you’d know that.

Although the 1923 fair’s parade was a high spot in ol’ Bob’s young life, his days in captivity were numbered, and his post-parade demise was marked by a burial service on ACU’s North First Street campus, near Daisy Hall. Bob was replaced by a taxidermy mount in 1924 but in January 1926, another live wildcat named Mrs. Bob Thomas was on the job, recruited to live in the back of the campus bookstore.

Read that anecdote, and others, in this issue’s ACU 101, a primer on what it means to be a Wildcat mascot, from Bob to Willie – stuffed, costumed or alive:

Summit program booklet, app now available

Abilene Christian University’s 110th annual Summit is set to run Sept. 18-21, 2016, and you can begin now to choose the classes and other sessions to attend. The theme is “Love God, Love Your Neighbor: Living the Greatest Commandments.”

To make travel from the event more convenient for out-of-town guests, Summit programming will end at noon on Wednesday. Special all-day tracks are planned for the first two full days of programming:

  • On Monday, a Faith Form track will provide a venue for scholars and practitioners to share ideas and resources related to spiritual formation and Christian education in churches. Dialogue with professionals in ministry, education, neuroscience, developmental psychology and other disciplines will focus on the best ways to continue to form disciples of Jesus.
  • On Tuesday, a Medical Missions track will bring together healthcare professionals and congregational leaders to share important concepts about short- and long-term medical missions. ACU pre-health majors also will join the audience.

Theme speakers this year:

  • Dr. Jerry Taylor • Sunday, 7 p.m.
  • Sara Barton • Monday, 11 a.m.
  • Dr. Josh Graves (’11) • Monday, 7 p.m.
  • Ali (Goncalvez ’04) Kaiser and Derran Reese (’00) • Monday, 11 a.m.
  • Dr. Monte Cox • Monday, 7 p.m.
  • Jonathan Storment (’12 M.A.) and David McQueen (’88) • Tuesday, 11 a.m.

Featured speakers include Landon Saunders; Dr. Darryl Tippens; Kelly Edmiston; Jack Maxwell (’78); Tony Fernandez; Eric Wilson; Dr. Jeff Childers (’89); Dr. Phillip LeMasters, Jim Reynolds; and Jim Gash, J.D. (’89).

Two films will be screened: McFarland USA and Remand: Global Justice in Uganda.

Explore the Summit program booklet on the viewer above. Those with mobile devices can download a free copy of the Summit app from the App Store or from Google Play.

Dr. John’s 9/11 advice ‘In Times Such as These’

John Stevens in Classroom 400x400 96

Stevens taught history at ACU for 50 years, his course in Western Civilization often audited by people in the community who enjoyed listening to his informative lectures.

For the Winter 2002 issue of ACU Today magazine, we asked Abilene Christian University alumni from various walks of life to reflect on the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001 – 9/11, as it had come to be known.

We called our cover story “Living in Our Brave New World.”

One wrote about the ministerial work of members from his church in Manhattan, N.Y., not far from the rubble of the World Trade Center. One explained how the company for which he works was scanning and sterilizing U.S. Postal Service mail addressed to President George W. Bush and Capitol Hill lawmakers following an anthrax scare. Another recounted being evacuated that day from his office adjacent to the West Wing of The White House. From Gulf War photojournalists to faculty experts on Islam and conflict in the Middle East, their views were informative, introspective and often moving.

The final one, by chancellor emeritus Dr. John C. Stevens (’38), was titled “In Times Such as These.” In it, ACU’s eighth president recounted his experiences as a World War II chaplain on the battlefields of Europe, choosing to focus not on grief nor anger but on the great hope with which Christians live, and their responsibility to love and show God’s light to others. Dr. John’s life mirrored that exhortation. The beloved longtime administrator died six years later at age 88.

On the 15th anniversary of a dark day in our nation’s history, Stevens’ words not long after 9/11 have new meaning worth sharing today:

In the fall and winter of 1776, the outlook was quite bleak for Americans struggling for independence. In December, Tom Paine came out with a pamphlet that revived the spirits of Americans. He called it “The American Crisis.” His best-known lines were, “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of this country, but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of men and women.”

Paine proceeded to develop a convincing case that Americans could win the independence they had declared. Gen. George Washington ordered that it be read to all troops.

The situation challenging the United States of America and her allies today is a far cry from that of the struggling colonials trying to establish their independence in 1776. However, the grief of thousands of families brought about by the dastardly actions of a gang of international outlaws makes this a soul-trying time, too.

How do Americans deal with such overwhelming tragedy?

First of all, there have been prayers and great patriotic songs sung in meetings across the country. In recent years, believers in God have, in our public schools and prominent venues, been figuratively forced to sit in the back of the bus. But not since Sept. 11, 2001.

Since that sad day, we have unabashedly prayed and sung and testified to the whole world concerning our faith in God. I wonder how many millions of people have participated in singing “God Bless America,” the magnificent patriotic hymn composed in 1918 by Russian immigrant Irving Berlin and made immortal in 1938 by the voice of Kate Smith?

Right along with it go “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “The Star Spangled Banner,” and “America the Beautiful.” Our nation’s great patriotic music may have never received more attention than in the days since Sept. 11.

And talk about prayer! On Sunday afternoon, Sept. 23, Yankee Stadium in New York City drew a crowd of more than 25,000 who stood in line for hours, enduring security checks for their own safety. The program consisted primarily of appropriate music and of prayers offered by Jews, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Greek Orthodox, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. They were not there to discuss differences in their faiths but to unite their voices in prayer to the God of the universe. The crowd would no doubt have been much larger of their long wait had not been necessary, but organizers of the event could not afford to further risk lives.

Our response has not been prayer and singing alone. Has the world ever seen such an outpouring of money, goods and services to help families during crisis? America has been a nation of action.

World Christian Encyclopedia estimates that in 2001 there are 1,149,486 atheists in the United States. Where are they during times such as these? What sort of rallies do they sponsor? Actions of the American people since Sept. 11 seem to me to present a powerful witness to the world. In addition to soul-stirring assemblies throughout the nation, stories and photos of a multitude of volunteers working around the clock at the scene of the disasters showed the essential goodness and greatness of the American character.

Americans do not always show their faith, but times such as these help reveal it.

During World War II, it was my privilege to serve as chaplain in a frontline infantry division in the campaigns of western Europe (Normandy, northern France, the Rhineland, the Ardennes and Central Europe). During battle, I was generally stationed at the battalion aid station where casualties were brought in by the medics.

I cannot remember a single instance of a wounded soldier who rejected my suggestion that we pray together. I do recall a number of soldiers who I thought did not have a chance to survive, but they did.

I remember a young man from Michigan named Charles Potter who stepped on a land mine when we were involved with the Colmar Pocket in France, and lost both legs. We prayed together, and then he joked with me a bit.

He said, “Chappie, if you know of somebody who needs a right shoe, there is a practically brand new one out there. Of course, he will have to take my right foot out of it.” Apparently he did not know he had lost his left foot, too. I did not enlighten him on that subject. I figured that was the job of the doctors.

Two years later, in the summer of 1947, I was out of the Army and attending graduate school. I saw in the morning newspaper that a legless veteran in Michigan had won election to fill an unexpired term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

That veteran was Charles Potter.

After allowing him a few days to be sworn in, I addressed a short letter to “Hon. Charles Potter, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C.” I congratulated him on his achievement. He wrote me immediately and closed with this sentence: “If you ever come to Washington and fail to look me up, I will use all the influence at my command to get you drafted back into the Army.”

I had the opportunity several times during the next few years to be in Washington and enjoyed the pleasant visits with Potter. However, no meeting was quite so memorable as our short session of prayer in France.

I believe that Americans prefer to be a people of faith. It is unfortunate that it often takes circumstances of great peril or harm for us to turn to God for answers and help. I also can tell you from personal experience that there are a few atheists on wartime battlefields.

In times such as these, we draw comfort from song-poems based on Psalms 46 and others like it: “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.”

In times such as these, faith matters more than ever. Christians have a remarkable opportunity to show others the love of God, the peace of Christ and the hope that empowers our lives.

In dark days and anxious nights, the Light of the World shines brightest.

We should make every effort to help others see it.

West leads former Wildcats in NFL, CFL

Charcandrick West

West was Kansas City’s leading rusher in 2015. (Photo by JoCoProPix)

The National Football League is the land of opportunity each season for several former Abilene Christian University football standouts, and when his proverbial moment in the sun arrived last year, Charcandrick West (’14) literally took the ball and ran with it.

Richardson's NFL career started with the St. Louis Rams in 2012.

Richardson’s NFL career started with the St. Louis Rams in 2012. He is now a Pittsburgh Steeler. (Photo by Newman Lowrance)

No one player on the 2015 Chiefs’ roster could have been expected to replace veteran Jamaal Charles when he went down in the fifth game with the second torn ACL of his star-studded career. So the Chiefs turned to two – West and Spencer Ware – and the pair became a thunder-and-lightning combination sparking one of the most remarkable comebacks of any team in NFL history. Only the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals had started the season 1-5 and then made the playoffs until Kansas City did it last year, with the Chiefs rattling off 10 straight wins to end the regular season with an 11-5 record. They shocked the Houston Texans 30-0 in the wildcard game before falling to New England, 27-20 in the divisional round.

West ran for 634 yards and four TDs, teaming with Ware to total more than 1,000 yards and 10 TDs. West’s elusive, tackle-breaking, pinball style was the perfect contrast to Ware’s bull-rush approach to running.

Gabriel played with the Browns for two seasons before signing recently with the Atlanta Falcons. (Photo by Michael Wade)

Gabriel played with the Browns for two seasons before signing recently with the Atlanta Falcons. (Photo by JoCoProPix)

Charles’ recovery from surgery has fallen behind schedule in 2016, which means the Chiefs are once again looking to West-Ware and Knile Davis to pick up the slack this Sunday in their opening battle with San Diego. West missed the last two preseason games with a mild elbow sprain but is expected to be ready for the Chargers.

Running back Daryl Richardson (’14) is No. 3 on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ depth chart – behind starter DeAngelo Williams and Fitzgerald Toussaint – as the team readies for its Sept. 12 opener with the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football. Richardson played regularly for the St. Louis Rams in 2012 and 2013 before signing with but not seeing action with the New York Jets, Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns last season.

Gale played three seasons with the Toronto Argonauts (____) before joining Saskatchewan this season.

Gale began his CFL career with the Toronto Argonauts. (Photo by Adam Gagnon)

The Atlanta Falcons were more than happy to see wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (’14) waived by the Cleveland Browns in early September, signing the diminutive player and envisioning ample opportunities for him to inject speed into its offense and return game. Gabriel had a breakout season as a rookie in 2014 (36 catches for 621 yards and a touchdown) but slowed to 28 catches for 241 yards in 2015 as the Browns struggled offensively en route to a miserable, drama-infused 3-13 season. Gabriel may see action in the Falcons’ opener Sunday against Tampa Bay if he learns the offense quickly enough to contribute.

In the Canadian Football League, quarterback Mitchell Gale (’12) is now a Saskatchewan Roughrider after three seasons with the Toronto Argonauts and one with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Acquired in a trade to help back up star quarterback Darian Durant, Gale went 1-2 in a three-game stretch in July as the starter. The bright spot was a win July 16 over the Ottawa Redblacks in which he completed 21 of 36 passes for 354 yards and one TD. Gale has played sparingly since Durant returned in early August. The Roughriders are struggling in last place in the CFL West Division with a 1-9 record.

Aston Whiteside's Ottawa team is among the top in the CFL again this season. (Photo by The Canadian Press / Sean Kilpatrick)

Aston Whiteside’s Ottawa team is among the best in the CFL again this season. (Photo by The Canadian Press / Sean Kilpatrick)

Former ACU All-America defensive end Aston Whiteside (’12) has seen his last two seasons for the Redblacks end early with knee surgery. In 2015, he was the best pass rusher on a team leading the CFL in sacks when he was lost to injury. Whiteside had to watch from afar as Ottawa made it to the CFL’s 103rd Grey Cup, where it lost the championship game 26-20 to the Edmonton Eskimos. This fall his season ended Aug. 30 with another knee injury. The Redblacks lead the league’s East Division through 11 games.

Tony Washington (’10) is in his third year as a mainstay on the offensive line for the Eskimos. A tackle, he started all 17 games last season when Edmonton won the league’s Grey Cup championship. He’s a six-year veteran of the CFL.

Emmy Award-winning CBS Sports coordinating producer Lance Barrow (’77), an ACU trustee, will once again be leading his network’s coverage of the NFL.

Wilbert Montgomery (’77) has retired after a 29-year NFL career as an All-Pro player and two-time Super Bowl-winning assistant coach. He remains ACU’s only inductee to the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame.

Washington is a highly regarded lineman for Edmonton.

Washington is a highly regarded lineman for Edmonton. (Photo courtesy of Edmonton Eskimos)

Off He Goes: Big moment upcoming for Big D

Dallas Sealey 1 600x400 96

Sophomore quarterback Dallas Sealey will lead ACU against the Air Force Academy.

Dallas Sealey wasn’t born in Texas. And, unlike the familiar aphorism, he didn’t even get here as fast as he could.

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

But the redshirt sophomore quarterback from Lawton, Okla., has a name and game that seem ripped from the fiction section of a Lone Star library: a quick-footed, rocket-armed passer, given his handle because his parents love the Dallas Cowboys.

Things with Sealey are about to get very non-fiction. Saturday, he leads Abilene Christian University into battle against the Air Force Academy. It won’t be the first game he has started for the Wildcats. That was late last year against Southland Conference champion McNeese State University in a game MSU eked out, 15-13, despite Sealey’s career-high 284 yards passing the most the mighty McNeese defense surrendered to any QB during its unbeaten regular season.

But this will be Sealey’s first start since ACU head coach Ken Collums named him the No. 1 QB after spring practice. The physical tools are obvious. At 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, Sealey, who threw 16 touchdowns his senior year on the gridiron at Lawton High and once struck out 17 batters as a pitcher, can make all the throws asked of him in the Wildcat playbook and could be the best running QB Collums has ever had at ACU.

Dallas Sealey 2 400x600 96A player can earn a spot start for any number of reasons, such as an injury to the usual first-string player or because a coach wants to shake up the status quo. But assuming the starting job for good is another story.

“The nerves haven’t kicked in yet,” Sealey says, “but they will. I’m so excited. I have been working hard for this.”

As a former national-championship-winning QB, himself, Collums understands Sealey’s nerves and believes they are justified.

“There’s a different pressure, a different heaviness on a quarterback’s shoulder (as the No. 1 starter),” Collums said.

The shoulders upon which Collums has placed his trust as season-opening starting QB since he became the team’s offensive coordinator in 2005 and head coach in 2012 are as follows: Billy Malone, Zach Stewart, Mitchell Gale, John David Baker, Parker McKenzie and now Sealey. For Malone, Baker and McKenzie, it was their first starts overall. Stewart and Gale like Sealey had started games the previous season.

The results of those first starts as the No. 1 range from solid to spectacular, depending on the individual’s experience and the team’s opponent. Malone was a freshman transfer from Tulane University when he got the nod in the 2005 season opener. In a 49-37 loss to Central Oklahoma University, Malone completed just 15 of 34 passes but made most of them count: 294 yards and three touchdowns. One was a 92-yard TD toss, tying the longest in Wildcat history. He went on to become a four-year starter and ACU’s and the Lone Star Conference’s all-time leading passer.

After starting (and winning) two games in relief of an injured Malone in 2008, Abilene native Stewart emerged as the No. 1 QB to begin the 2009 season and was part of a 19-14 victory over Northwest Missouri State University that was televised on CBS Sports Network. But Gale, a redshirt freshman, became the starter midway through that year and helped the Wildcats reach the playoffs.

Gale was the clear No. 1 in 2010 and proved himself worthy, leading ACU to its first-ever 11-0 record. He began the season with a near-perfect performance – 24 of 30, three touchdowns, no interceptions in a 34-26 Wildcat win. (It didn’t hurt that his teammates that day included future NFL players Daryl Richardson, Clyde Gates and Taylor Gabriel.) Gale started 42 straight games and supplanted Malone as the ACU and LSC career leader in passing yards.

Baker was a fifth-year senior when he finally got his chance to start, and he made up for lost time. In ACU’s first game as a transitional Division I member, Baker threw a Wildcat-record seven TD passes in an 84-6 rout of tiny Concordia University from Alabama in what, incredibly, wasn’t even the worst day of the Hornets’ season. (That came two weeks later when the Concordia team bus caught fire and burned to the ground with all the equipment inside. No one was injured. The university disbanded the program late last year.)

Against a hodgepodge schedule including one FBS and five FCS foes, Baker set an ACU mark with 40 total TDs (35 passing and five rushing).

In 2014, the Wildcats scheduled a full slate of Division I games, beginning with a nationally televised battle on ESPNU against Georgia State University in the Georgia Dome. Playing in front of friends and family in his native Atlanta, then-sophomore McKenzie was 30 of 40 for 403 yards and four TD passes against a lone interception in a nail-biter that GSU won, 38-37, on a last-second field goal.

Sealey’s turn comes Saturday against what may well be the most talented and tradition-rich team any ACU team has ever played and perhaps the most awe-inspiring environment: Falcon Stadium with its nearly 50,000 seats, pregame flyovers and stunning view of the Rocky Mountains. The home team on the field isn’t bad either. Deploying its trademark triple option rushing attack that belies the Academy’s name, Air Force has been to 25 bowl games, eight in the last nine seasons. Fisher DeBerry commanded the cadets for more than 20 years, taking them to within a game of a perfect season and the chance to play for the national championship. Current head coach Troy Calhoun took over in 2007 and has a record of 67-50, which includes the Mountain West Conference’s 2015 Mountain Division title and 12 straight wins at home.

Fairer tests for Sealey begin a week from Saturday against another Centennial State squad, University of Northern Colorado like ACU, an FCS program which visits Shotwell Stadium on Sept. 10. Then the Wildcats close out the month with in-state road games against Southland Conference opponents Houston Baptist University and Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches.

So while no one necessarily expects Sealey to go off in the wild blue yonder of Air Force this weekend, September should at least begin to tell us whether the sky is indeed the limit for ACU’s newest No. 1.

Watch the ACU-Air Force game here or listen live on 98.1 The Ticket here.

Sealey's running ability may prove valuable against a stout Falcon defense.

Sealey’s running ability may prove valuable against a stout Falcon defense.

Willis, others making waves in science world

Albert Einstein Josh Willis 400x475 96

Albert Einstein and Dr. Josh Willis

Writing feature stories in ACU Today magazine does not always require taking a short course in quantum physics, but with “Making Waves,” we came close.

Writer Sarah Carlson (’06) was a good sport about tackling this feature in the newest issue, which involved tracking down globetrotting Dr. Josh Willis (’97) and putting into layman’s terms a bit of the story behind yet another headline-making science endeavor at Abilene Christian University.

Willis, assistant professor of engineering and physics; Marissa Walker (’11), a Ph.D. student at Louisiana State University; Andrew Miller (’14); and senior Hannah Hamilton are part of the story about a discovery confirming a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 theory of general relativity.

In September 2015, physicists with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detected gravitational waves caused by two black holes colliding. The findings were published in an article in Physical Review Letters. LIGO has labs in Livingston, La., and Hanford, Wash.

Hannah Hamilton

Hannah Hamilton

Hamilton, the daughter of theology faculty members Dr. Mark Hamilton (90 M.Div.) and Dr. Samjung Kang-Hamilton (’88 M.R.E.), is working with Willis this summer in Germany at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics. She is just one of many ACU undergrads each year who gains valuable and often rare opportunities to do significant research alongside her professors.

Planck won the 1918 Nobel Prize and was the German founder of quantum physics.

Carlson begins ACU Today’s feature story by describing a scene in which Willis and Einstein met – well, sort of – last fall in Los Angeles. Willis’ wife, ACU associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry Dr. Autumn Sutherlin, captured the moment in this image.

Read more here about the latest professors, students and alumni involved in another major discovery:

At Dillard Hall, community is center

Dr. Phil Schubert with Gayle and Max Dillard in front of Dillard Hall at ACU.

ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91) with Gayle (’57) and Max Dillard in front of Dillard Hall on East North 19th Street.

Abilene Christian University celebrated the grand opening of its 11th on-campus residence for students, Gayle and Max Dillard Hall, on Aug. 19, 2016, in a ceremony honoring its namesakes.

More than 180 sophomore women have moved into Dillard Hall’s apartments, which contain a living space, bedroom and kitchen for two to four students. The facility also boasts several common areas – a front lobby, balcony, art room and multi-purpose room – that residents say help fosters relationships.

“I love living in Dillard Hall because it’s a good transition between dorm life and life in a home or apartment,” said Micaela Janssen, sophomore kinesiology major from Brentwood, Tenn. “It’s close to campus and has extra rooms throughout that encourage community.”

One of her apartment-mates, Meredith Orr, agrees.

“I love Dillard because it has so many amenities, like the workout room and the study areas in the hallways,” said the sophomore management major from North Richland Hills.

Max Dillard was one of the speakers at the Aug. 19 dedication.

Max Dillard was one of the speakers at the Aug. 19 dedication ceremony.

Dillard Hall’s opening came right on time for the new academic year, one in which ACU is expecting near-record enrollment numbers once “12th-day” headcounts are finalized the first week of September.

“I know I speak for everyone by saying Dillard Hall is an answer to prayers,” said Chris Riley, J.D. (’00), vice president for student life. “ACU has seen growing enrollment the past several years, especially among women. Our students need spaces to call their own – to make their home away from home.”

For decades, the three-story building at 633 E.N. 19th St. served as a nonprofit, independent living facility for seniors, known as Christian Village of Abilene. Established by nearby University Church of Christ, land for the project was donated by ACU, and residents often were alumni and retired faculty and staff, as were many of Christian Village’s trustees.

Christian Village board members approached ACU in 2015 about the possibility of purchasing the property and restoring its initial connection to the university as a residence hall. A gift from Gayle (’57) and Max Dillard, of Dallas, made that connection a reality.

The Dillards have seen three children and three grandchildren attend the university.

A bronze statue created by Abilene artist Steve Neves and commissioned by the Dillards was installed in front of the hall’s main entrance. Titled “God’s Messenger,” the work of art depicts a mother reading to children.

“In past conversations, Max shared with me his passion for honoring women like Gayle for the role they play in developing the faith of their children,” said ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91). “Once the prospect for providing a new living space for our young women emerged, we realized it would be a meaningful way to express that appreciation.”

“The importance of this role cannot be overstated,” Schubert said, “and I am moved by Gayle and Max’s love for God and love for those who teach their children the Good News of His son’s saving grace.”