D. Ryan Monceaux
"'Bout time," a wide-eyed Jason deGroot said as he shook hands with his coach in the home locker room after the Coogs 35-14 win.
"Yeah, 'bout time," Kim Helton replied, looking more relieved than joyous following Houston's win, a win over a team it should beat any day of the week.
There are a lot of highlights and memories from this week's win, but a few stand out above the rest.
Sure, Ketric Sanford's 177 yards against Memphis, a career high, were impressive and proved that he can be a big-game back.
Yeah, Orlando Iglesias had a great game, catching nine balls for 101 yards and a touchdown. A great game for a great guy, but not quite what I had in mind.
Jason McKinley went 19 for 33 for 203 yards and a touchdown, but even he was outshined this week.
Earlier in the week, the Burger King Corporation announced that a UH player, senior Jason deGroot, would be honored on ABC as being a BK scholar athlete of the week. Burger King also donated $10,000 to the UH general scholarship fund in deGroot's name.
DeGroot's' 4.0 GPA in business finance was the reason he was honored, and no one was happier for him than Helton.
"Jason is the epitome of what a college football player is supposed to be. He's one of the finest young men and one of the toughest young kids I have ever had the pleasure of coaching," Helton said.
Indeed, deGroot has overcome much on and off the field. He has had three major injuries in his career at UH, but has continually gone all-out for his team and for his love of the game. And now he has been rewarded.
Add to the prestigious award deGroot being given the assignment of returning punts. At 5-10 inches and 182 pounds, Jason is not your average returner. From the sideline, he looks like a guy you expect to get hurt, since he is incredibly smaller than those running after him.
But it is not his size that Helton likes, it is his tenacity, his focus, his desire to help his team win, and most of all, his heart. You can teach anyone to field a punt, but it is impossible to teach the gifts deGroot possesses.
At a Houston Athletics Foundation dinner last week, Helton announced that deGroot won the scholar-athlete award and said that if deGroot returned a punt for a touchdown, he too would donate $10,000 to the general scholarship fund.
DeGroot returned five punts for 36 yards, but failed to get one in the end zone. Helton was off the hook for the 10 grand, but something even sweeter came out of the week.
On a play in which Helton said "(his) coaches talked (him) into," deGroot stumbled all over himself to catch a ball in the right corner of the end zone for his first career TD. The pass came from alternate QB Ketric Sanford, who launched one of the wobbliest passes in recent memory to the wide-open deGroot. (Stick to running the ball, Ket.) It was sweet justice that, after such a rough road, deGroot made an enormous impact on a game, putting the Coogs up for good with nine minutes left in the third.
DeGroot ran off the field wildly after his touchdown, not really knowing what to do. His biggest fans on the sideline were clearly Helton and little brother Clint, a freshman defensive back on the Cougar squad. It was remarkable to see him, after everything he has been through, have such a moment.
The Memphis game goes down in the books as a win that cleans the Cougar slate and gives hope in the race for the C-USA crown. History will fail to see the intrigue of the game.
But the one thought that will always remain is Jason deGroot, sitting in the locker room smiling from ear to ear, beaming from all of the attention that comes with catching the winning TD. Soak it up Jason, you deserve it.