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An Underdawgs Abyss

Lee Ann Herring-Olvedo   MESPORTS SOUTH

To find one’s inner sense of security and prosperity when it comes to developing their craft one finds themselves constantly walking between fear and hope.  However, it is not the easiest trying to stay strong when your mind feels weak or you’re surrounded by constant barriers. Often that fear of stepping out into an abyss of unfamiliarity can be the moment of reckoning that even in humility you can find redemption and hope. 

In order to truly unleash your true potential, it takes more than just being a physical beast. Rather it takes an individual who is willing to embrace fears, know humility, rise in defeat, and still be willing to wake up each day know very damn well they might face that all over again.

The journey for Grant Winter has been one filled with fear and hope on so many levels but in six months the journey has been worth it. Even in all the ups and downs, a kid from Maine who no one really knew had the potential has shown and inspired. 

It’s a tough reality that we are watching unfold. I have watched my beloved alma mater Brown University downsize over 10 Varsity sports along with being the first major conference to cancel sports till 2021. It’s a tough pill to swallow that college sports and other major sports will be pushed back or possibly non-existent this season.  Yet, even in all this I along with Grant and the rest of #TeamMaineMachine continue to push forward, keep thriving, and willing this dream into existence hoping to inspire athletes to keep trucking through these tough times.

Where do athletes like Grant go from here? How do they continue to find viable ways and platforms to showcase their abilities to college programs who too find themselves in uncertain times? A great deal of it comes from the individual willing to train and transform as you have seen from a kid like Winter. But for many of those underdawgs out there they also need a platform to be seen on a larger scale so they can continue to stay in sight and in the mind of college coaches.

While most college programs are finding creative ways to recruit it is still tough with limited campus visitation and travel to be able to truly see what kind of talent remains during these times. If there is a will there is a way you just have to look for it carefully. One place that is becoming the go-to platform for athletes is showcases and combines. You are lucky if your kid can even get into one, especially during these times.  They are becoming the new norm for recruitment and the go-to for many top college programs cross country. The world of being a showcase athlete now is more than just the ticket into the exclusive training brotherhood but is slowly become an essential recruiting resource for athletes to be able to still be seen at a top-level.

Every athlete at one time or another knows that moment that changed their journey that moment when someone took a chance a risk on their talent because of something they saw. For Grant Winter it came when he finally had the opportunity to be invited to a showcase. Winter has always found himself being the “underdawg” but he has learned to embrace it even to this moment and it has made all the difference.

The turning point began with an invite to the  Football Hotbed showcase for Grant and that continues to play an intricate role in his recruiting and development to this day.

I can’t stress enough it really does take a village to be able to get players where they need to be and Brandon Odoi has been one of the key x-factors for the #MaineMachine to start being known.  Odoi is one of the football minds behind the Football Hotbed showcase so here is a little insight into the new recruiting metropolises for college programs and prospects.

Brandon Odoi On Football Hotbed & The Maine Machine, Grant Winter

Brandon, can you tell our readers about the history of the Football Hotbed Showcase?

Football Hotbed began in 2011 as a platform covering exclusively youth football ages 5-15.  We followed the young people we began with High school and begin covering high school football in 2016.  Because it was hard to keep the machine going without finding a way to really monetize the platform, we began throwing showcase events in 2014.  The first one was the MIddle School All-American Game. It was held at Bolles High School in Jacksonville, FL.  From there, we’ve expanded our offerings from camps, combines to All-American and Showcase games like the one Grant Winter participated in.

Organizations like Hotbed are key in providing a platform for the nation’s top young talent. What is your process and philosophy in recruiting untapped talent? 

I always make my platform available to the most researched and informed parent genuinely seeking a place where their child will get a fair shot to be seen. Not based on money, influence, or perceived athletic ability.  And because we don’t chase down people who are already well known, we find a lot of diamonds in the rough.  And they tend to do better because the game rewards those who work harder.  So we have sent a ton of kids to college from our platform because we focus on who has the potential to be really good, not who’s good right now.

With the state of sports, how has Hotbed shifted and adjusted to still continue to be able to provide recruiting resources for athletes? 

This is a “right now” generation. People want accolades and affirmation and they want it as quickly as they can get it. However, we’ve never 

given in to the lust for perceived success.  So we’ve ignored this and continued to preach that only by working your tail off can you truly get anywhere in this sport. It seems to resonate.

Hotbed along with many other recruiting showcases and training programs have discovered a great deal of unknown talent.  What was your first impression of Grant Winter? 

Grant played in my MIddle School All-American game and I never even noticed he was there.  I knew we had a kid from Maine, which I thought was very cool.  I thought wow, here’s a kid who needs an avenue like Hotbed and his parents found something that could help him.  So he went from a guy I was sort of around for four days to a kid I pay close attention too.  His dad Skip is constantly updating me and asking my opinion on what he should do to make progress. I love Grant because he’s a huge underdog and has a lot of work to do to be able to play college football but he’s just got such a positive attitude. So he went from a guy I didn’t notice to a guy that realized when he came to South Florida and played with some of the best 8th graders in the country that he had a lot of work to do. He was thin and unathletic. When I saw him again in 9th grade he’d added weight and was learning to move and adjust to his continually growing frame. By senior year at the pace he’s going and with his current heart, he could be special.

What impressed you about Grant Winter to take another chance on him and continue to invite him back? 

Just the fact that he basically didn’t do anything to deserve the opportunity to come back but wanted it so bad.  I always identify with the guy who just wants a chance to bet on himself.  Mostly because that’s always been me.

What do you think is the key to become a top prospect during this time? 

Being a top prospect has a lot to do with what God hands you as a frame and with the natural athletic gifts you get. That’s usually who gets to 5-star status, the guys who are just freaks of nature. But many 5 stars bust because they never learn to work hard.  And so that’s the key to being a top prospect. To find out what college coaches are looking for at your position and making sure you bring that and more to the table.

 What is your philosophy on football? 

My personal football facility is that toughness both mentally and physically will always beat talent and an average work ethic.  This game can be brutal and you’ve got to be tough.  The toughest kids who love it the most, always excel. The ones who aren’t tough and just kind of like the game have short stays at the top.

Fast forward and yet again Grant Winter is slowly showing that when you put in the work and willing to go the distance the doors will begin to open. This past week Grant was invited to  the UC Report Elite UnderClassmen Camp in Obetz, Ohio in hopes to show that the underdawg is here to say and that one kid from Maine can move mountains. This showcase is what athletes work for day in an day out. The chance to compete with the nation’s top athletes, be seen by top scouts, work with the elite of the football world for a day.

Winter remains realistic knowing this will be a true test of his abilities and knows he won’t be on everyone’s radar but that’s ok that is the way he likes it and it has proven to work thus far. 

This is more than just an accolade for Grant it also is a beacon of light in dark and trying times that gives rising athletes hope that if you are willing to push a bit more than it will all pay off one way or another. 

To take one from Mark Cuban, “Sweat equity is the most valuable equity there is. Know your business and industry better than anyone else in the world. Love what you do or don’t do it.”

At the end fo the day we all face an abyss of some sort but we must remember we can not let fear or failure distract us from a willingness to achieve our dreams and work towards changing our circumstances. How will the Maine Machine fair in the football “in crowd?” Next stop Obetz, Ohio.

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Lee Ann Herring-Olvedo is a veteran SEC sports journalist and NFL beat writer. She is our Sr. Editor and columnist for MESPORTS digital. A Brown University graduate who loves good cigars, good games, and a smooth glass of bourbon — not necessarily in that order. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Misskyus2011

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