It took a while for Erik Saylor to find what he wanted to do after college: He wants to go into federal law enforcement.
He just discovered this in the past year.
"I wish I'd figured it out a little earlier," said Saylor, a fifth-year senior on Old Dominion's football team and one of the original members of ODU's program. "I'm majoring in sports management, but I'm minoring in criminal justice and marketing.
"I really want to work for the DEA or the ATF. I knew it was what I wanted to do when I took a criminal justice class last year and I wasn't just sitting in class for a change. I was really engaged."
Forgive Saylor if he thought for a while there that attendance was all that was necessary. He had the same issue with football. Then something clicked.
"It happens to a lot of guys when they get to their senior season," ODU coach Bobby Wilder said. "They look around and think, `Oh my gosh, this is it. I better make something of this.' That's pretty much what's happening to Erik."
Call it "Last Chance Syndrome." For some, like Saylor, it can be the ultimate kick-start.
Saylor began his senior year the way most players wish they would: with the biggest performance of his career. The 6-foot-2, 275-pound defensive tackle racked up a team-high six tackles, had a tackle for a loss and blocked an extra point. Maybe a career wearing a badge is right up his alley, because for the first time in his career at ODU he played the role of enforcer.
For much of his career, Saylor has been in the shadows. Although he was one of the original scholarship players in ODU's first recruiting class, Saylor played behind guys like Eddie McClam and Ronnie Cameron, getting his playing time when he could.
Then again, breaking out of the shadows has been part of Saylor's make-up all along. Saylor's dad Scott was a standout left tackle at West Virginia University and had a tryout with the New York Jets.
"In the league," as Erik Saylor put it.
Yes, a shadow existed for Saylor at his own house before it existed at ODU, even though Scott Saylor did his best not to cast one and Erik says he didn't.
"My dad works for a hardscape company, landscaping pools and doing paver patios and that kind of thing," Saylor said. "But he was also my offensive line coach right through high school."
As Scott Saylor put it, "I coached Erik from when he was 7 to when he was 18." "I still coach him some, the way dads do," Scott Saylor said. "After Saturday's game, I asked him things like `How did you feel about your stance?' and `What about your hand placement?' and `Did you feel you were moving well around the corner?' "I still scrutinize how he's doing. I think it's only natural."
Another part of being a Saylor is a love for food. In the middle of his career at ODU, Saylor adopted the see-food diet: If he saw it, he ate it.
"My care packages from home always had food in them and I guess my parents figured they were `helping me out,' " Saylor said. "Even my Grandma would send me cookies."
A lower back injury that limited his ability to work out comfortably didn't help matters. Then one day when the scale tipped 305 pounds, he figured it was time to do something about the issue at hand ... but most importantly the issue around his midsection.
"I got annoyed that the strength coaches were calling me fat," Saylor said. "Then I realized I was really fat."
Wilder said he only made reference to Saylor's weight once, but that was enough.
"I was walking down the hallway past him one day and just said, `Erik, you're looking a little puffy these days. That seemed to do the trick."
Leaner and in many ways meaner these days, Saylor could have gone a variety of ways coming out of high school. Duquesne, the team the Monarchs beat 57-23 Saturday to open their season, had offered Saylor a scholarship. He could have walked on at his father's alma mater as an offensive lineman. Or he could have gone to the Naval Academy, which almost happened.
"All I had to do was say yes and I would have been at Navy," Saylor said. "I already had my appointment set up with my congressman and the whole process was lined up. I just couldn't see myself doing it. I wanted to have the full college experience, not the military school experience."
He could, however, see himself doing something nobody else had done and being a part of a start-up program. He is as mystified that the Monarchs have come so far in so short a period of time as anyone.
"Who in their right mind would have thought we'd be headed for Conference USA next year?" Saylor said. "It's all happened so fast. Me and the guys I came here with, we will always be able to look back and say, `We built that.' "And that's really strange to think about because I can remember back to the first day we all walked into the building and checked in together for preseason camp."
Saylor wants nothing more than to cap his career at ODU with a championship ring. Whether in high school or college, he's always been close to achieving that goal, but to this point a "ring" season has been elusive.
"We're expecting a lot out of ourselves this season," Saylor said. "No doubt."
It's a small world: Scott Saylor notes that Erik's 17-year-old sister Sammy - short for Samantha - is a freshman in the nursing program at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W. Va. That's the same school former ODU backup quarterback Bobby Cooper transferred to. Cooper is now the starting quarterback at Shepherd and completed 20 of 35 passes over the weekend for 229 yards in a 38-28 loss to Shippensburg.
At Shepherd University, the underclassmen football players help the freshmen move in. "It was entertaining for them that Sammy knew a little bit about the team's quarterback and a couple of the other players," Scott Saylor said.
Hampton's just a couple of minutes away: Tickets are available for those interested in attending ODU's football game at Hampton University on Saturday night at 6 p.m. Contact the Hampton University ticket office at this link: http://www.ticketmaster.com/event/0100490DC2BBA648? All tickets are $20. artistid=821799&majorcatid=10004&minorcatid=8.
Scoop and score: My wife was smart enough to nab four Tropical Smoothie plastic cups at Saturday's 57-23 victory over Duquesne. Why is that smart? Because after ODU victories, you can take that cup to any Tropical Smoothie in Hampton Roads and get a smoothie for $1.99.
Here's another promotion to remember: when the Monarchs score 21 points or more at home - and seriously, when don't they? - Dunkin Donuts will be offering coffee for only 21 cents on Mondays and Tuesdays following the game.
Mark your calendars:
The No. 5 ranked field hockey team will host Radford on Sunday at 1 at Powhatan Field at the LR Hill Sports Complex. The Lady Monarchs knocked off No. 1 ranked Maryland this past weekend, 2-1, in College Park, Md.
The men's soccer team, ranked No. 11 last week, hosts the annual Stihl Soccer Classic on Friday and Sunday at the ODU Soccer Stadium. ODU takes on Seton Hall on Friday night at 7 and Winthrop on Sunday afternoon at 2:30.
The ODU women's soccer team hosts VMI on Sunday at 5 following the Stihl Soccer Classic.