People of Courage, Men of Courage

This is the second and final article in a series on David and Jill Otey. To read part 1, “A Chance Encounter Leads to great Discovery,” pick up a copy of the Nov. 21 issue of the Mountain News, or visit www.mountain-news.com and search our sports section for the story. That article is focused on the personal story of Otey and his career with UCLA and the San Francisco 49ers.

I met David Otey by chance just before a football game at Rim of the World High School. Otey later invited me to his home one Saturday morning for an interview. That Saturday was much more than an interview with Dave and his wife, Jill Otey.

During the football season, Dave and Jill put on a team breakfast every Saturday morning after the Rim High football game on Friday nights, where the team hangs out, has some food, talks about the game and supports each other.

Something was tugging on Dave’s heart after moving to our mountain. He saw a need in the varsity football team – something was missing. Just as his family and high school football coaches inspired him and had high expectations for him and his team, Dave Otey saw a way to do the same for the boys of Rim Football. This was his way to give back for what had been given so freely to him as a young man.

In collaboration with the coaches, Otey began giving pre-game pep talks on Friday game days. Over time, with support from Jill, the Rim football coaches and friend Dane Nissen, the valuable program expanded into what it is today.

Eventually, Otey approached Head Coach Gradillas with a plan on behalf of mentor and Pastor Mike Encoe and Dane Nissen, who both played on Rim’s 2012 CIF Championship Team. The plan was for Otey and the other gentlemen, all local family men and community members, to sponsor a varsity team breakfast at Otey’s home on Saturday mornings. The intent was to pass forward what Otey’s coaches, parents other players and his spirituality had done for him as a young athlete. They proposed the name: “Rim Men of Courage” (RMOC) for these gatherings.

Today, years later, Head Coach Jurado and our Fighting Scots football team still participate and wear the same dog tags given to the young men in 2012. These military-style chains and tags signifying their brotherhood and commitment to what had been instilled in the CIF Champs of 2012.

In the words of Dave Otey, RMOC is for the young athletes of Rim High “…who are brave enough, tough enough, and committed enough to be accountable, respectable, open to hearing God’s word and never, never, never quitting”!

“When I was going through my paces of getting my scholarship to UCLA and [then going on] to be a professional football player in the NFL, I thought that once achieved, I would be the luckiest guy in the world,” Otey added.

“[However], there is nothing more rewarding and honorable to me, my wife Jill and family, than to have the time and consideration of these athletes, coaches, parents and administrators – to break bread together and [have them] walk through that door in our home, win, lose or draw, and show the courage of what it truly is to love, respect, compete and serve others!”

Another invaluable member of the Men of Courage team, and whose dedication and support cannot be measured, is Jill Otey.

“It is more than creating a menu, loading up a basket of groceries from Stater Bros, and cooking the young men breakfast after a Friday night of cheering them on,” Jill said. “It is about opening up our home [and showing] a glimpse into our marriage and how it works with [our faith] at the center of our relationship. I hope they can see that we are partners in this. Above all else, I want them to know that they are valued individuals.”

The Men of Courage program is a team effort. As a result of Jill and Dave Otey opening their home and providing a safe place for the Rim football players to meet and debrief is that none of the players have had any discipline issues at school, nor a single player dropped from the team for low grades or attendance. Additionally, The Men of Courage program has developed a scholarship program for these young athletes.

“The scholarship we have offered in the past, and will be offered this year as well, is another way that we support our boys of Rim Football,” Dave said. “It can be used for any furthering education: from a certificate program to a four-year University, with no GPA required, as everybody’s path is different.”

I was able to meet with RMOC one Saturday morning to get their impressions, feedback and thoughts about how valuable the program is. This was the day following their loss to Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary High School in the first round of CIF play. Our conversations were highly emotional, as the seniors reflected on the season and how RMOC has affected their lives in so many positive ways.

Brock Chapman – “Being a part of Men of Courage is about a team. We have each other’s back and we are accountable to each other and take all this seriously… study every day and every night and do what you need to do.”

Braden Davis – “I remember that I met Otey in my sophomore year at a pre-game meal and I really wasn’t that committed to the game. But I came back to the Otey’s household. I would walk in and they were the most loving people you would ever meet. Every week we come together at the Otey’s and we [would] talk about, not just how the football game went, but we talk about Men of Courage and how we can be… better men of this community and future family men. It truly has changed all of our lives.”

Luke Miller - “Everything we talked about at Otey’s house and [about] Pastor Mike’s life is about how you respond to life. The most important part of the program is the test of accountability… you have my back and I got yours. You do it for your family, you do it for your mom who sacrificed 10 years of her life so you can play high school football… for your grandparents who drove three hours…to watch you play football. This family [the Oteys] will take anybody into their house with open arms… and the first time they meet [you], you will never feel so much love in your life. They treat you like you’re one of their own.”

Noble Romero – “It was an experience. To the underclassmen, play your heart out and leave it all on the field. I wish I could have another week of practice, and I wish you all the best of luck.”

Austin Shoopman – “The Oteys are like family. They talk about being a better man and having respect. Mr. Otey has always told me to pay it forward and to show the next person you love them and that you are there to help them. The reason Otey does the Men of Courage [program] is because someone did it for him.”

Philip Smith - “There are many lessons we have learned from Otey. One of them is how humble he is. Not very many people know he played for UCLA and the San Francisco 49’s football team unless you know the guy, but he has shown us how to be humble and loving and how we need to pass it on.”

Davin Whitaker – “The season didn’t go quite like I thought it would, especially since I broke my collarbone [during the game] against Jurupa Hills. It was difficult to be on the team, to play four years, and then to be out with an injury and not be on the field, play and support the team, other than on the sidelines, but I took on a new role. So for anyone who is reading this article, [high school football] is like no other experience that you have ever had. It is hard but the reward is more than you can ever imagine!”  

Men Of Courage started because a former professional athlete reached out to people who needed some help, love, respect and someone who believed in them. In turn, they developed the integrity and respect to believe in themselves and become men of honor. The Men of Courage program is paying it forward to the men of the Fighting Scots football team by loving them unconditionally, holding them accountable, encouraging them to keep their grades up, watching each other’s back on and off the field, and giving them the skills to grow into responsible, caring men.

What I thought was going to be just a football story, turned out to be much more than that. I only wish that I had a person or program like this when I was in high school!

“It is always a privilege when someone allows you be a part of their life, even if it is only for a while. To our amazement, we have gained some friends for life from this program,” Otey said. “It has been exciting watching players own their position on the field and continually improve their skill set with a vengeance. Go Rim!”

Otey said he received a quote from a pastor that challenged him and which he passes forward to the players every year:

“If you know your past is forgiven and your future is secure, then why can’t you live life in the present with a purpose?”

“I end all of our meetings, texts, game day talks, scholarship night presentations and challenges, with two words and a number, and I will do the same with you and your readers, ‘Rim on 3!’” Otey said.