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July 24, 2013
Karam Shows That Leadership Extends Far Beyond Football Field
It's been a tough news cycle for America.
Most of what you see in the news today is bad and there appears to be no end in sight.
Don't expect the sports world to make you feel much better. Between the stories of 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun being suspended for doping and the NBA's Brooklyn Nets being panned for their payroll, it's rare you find stories to smile about.
Into this morasse we introduce to you one Jacob Karam, the fifth-year senior quarterback at the University of Memphis, and a courageous little fighter named Breanna (last name withheld for privacy purposes) at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Breanna is 11 years old and was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) on June 4, 2013. She lives in Geismar, LA and attends Dutchtown Middle School, where she is a cheerleader. She also cheers for LA Athletics.
AML is characterized by healthy bone marrow cells being replaced by misshapen, leukemic cells, which in turn causes a drop in red blood cells, platelets and normal white blood cells. Expected survival rates are wildly divergent, dependent upon the specific circumstances of each case. Due to advances in the treatment of AML, some 60-70% of all adults diagnosed with the malady can expect to reach complete remission status (CR) following appropriate therapy. The outlook for youths diagnosed with the disease is brighter.
However, this is cancer we're talking about, and no quoting of statistics could possibly ease the anxiety of an 11-year old girl who has lost her hair due to aggressive chemotherapy.
Enter Mr. Karam.
Jacob Karam is the little engine that could. He's generously listed at 6'1", 205. We won't burst his bubble, but we'll just say that he's not as big as his listed specs might indicate.
He only participated in 6 games over 2 years at Texas Tech, with a mere 17 pass attempts. He graduated in just over 3 years at Tech (including a redshirt freshman campaign) and migrated here to Memphis with a couple years of eligibility left. He won the starting quarterback spot and ended the 2012 campaign having completed a school-record 64.2% percent of his attempts.
Karam isn't the biggest QB around (he's the smallest on the roster). He's not the most athletic QB at Memphis (that would be Eric Mathews) and he doesn't have anything close to the strongest arm (Paxton Lynch takes that honor with ease).
But one thing we're willing to bet: nobody on the Memphis Tiger football team, or in the entire city of Memphis, for that matter, has a bigger heart than Jacob Karam. And you'd be hard-pressed to find a soul alive with a quicker smile. Karam always seems to be happy, and his joy is infectious.
I challenge you to speak to him without leaving with a smile on your face.
The lasting image of Karam in many minds might be him charging into the stands at the Liberty Bowl to lead the marching band as they played the U of M fight song following the Tigers' 14-10 victory over Rice last fall. It was drizzling and cold and not many fans were left in the LBMS, but Karam gave the ones who had braved the conditions a jolt of Tiger pride following the first 'W' of the season.
But earlier this week, Jacob showed more of his musical side, this time sitting down on the piano and accompanying cancer-stricken Breanna as she belted out song after song. Karam, the handsome young leader with a bright future laid out in front of him, carefully tickling the ivories as Breanna, with an uncertain future, belted out tunes.
Little wonder he was nominated for the 2013 American Football Coaches of America (AFCA) Good Works team. Every year, AFCA honors "college football players at all levels for their selfless acts of giving back to the community and off-the-field achievements."
After Karam's virtuoso performance with Bre, in addition to everything else he's already done, it is next to impossible to see Karam not making the final team when it is announced in September.
Breanna was, in a word, thrilled. Here are excerpts from her mother's quotes on the Facebook page, "Cheering for Breanna":
"This just made my night. QB from University of Memphis Football team came by to visit. He was playing the piano for the kids. Well my child had to be the one signing to all of his songs. She didn't want to stop. . .
"Well it looks like my baby girl is touching a lot of people's hearts. It is amazing that so many people are supporting my daughter with so much going on in her life right now. Thank you Jacob for this special moment. Please keep Cheering for Breanna!"
The temptation is to look at Karam for what he is not. He's not a swashbuckling gunslinger, sitting back in the pocket throwing frozen ropes to the Memphis wideouts. Yes, he set the completion percentage record, but the number sure wasn't mind-boggling, and when mated with his yards passing (1,895) and touchdowns thrown (14), it becomes rather pedestrian.
But Karam is one of the good guys of the NCAA. He got his first real chance to compete for a starting QB job when he arrived at Memphis and seized the day. He became a leader in the locker room, on the field, and in the community. You are hard-pressed to ever catch him without a smile, and he has the utmost confidence in himself, his teammates and his coaching staff.
And when he takes out his time to accompany a sick little girl on an impromptu, 10-song karaoke-style concert, he makes himself something truly special: the face of the Tiger football program.
Jacob Karam is the kind of young man that head coach Justin Fuente wants to recruit. So don't be surprised if he doesn't often compete for 4-star and 5-star studs. There's only so many of those to go around, and the established "big dogs" devour them like rabid wolves.
Let Fuente get enough Jacob Karams and I expect the football team will start winning on the field at an increasing pace.
But you can bet your bottom dollar that if the city of Memphis city gets enough Jacob Karams from anywhere, it will be a much better place to live and work. Shouldn't that be the ultimate goal?
Leroy Watson, Jr. is Managing Editor for TigerSportsReport.com and may be reached via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Twitter (@leroywatsonjr)