Last week, two rising stars in their respective fields both assumed new roles with tremendous opportunities following sudden, unexpected events.
On Monday, it was revealed that Baylor quarterback Seth Russell will undergo "season-ending" neck surgery. Russell, whose performance as starting QB this season for the 2nd-ranked Bears has been nothing short of amazing, suffered a fractured bone in his neck trying to run for a first down in the fourth quarter of Baylor's Homecoming game against Iowa State. BU won the game but lost Russell.
That means that what Yahoo! Sports columnist Pat Forde called "the most fun position in football" will now be filled by 19-year-old true freshman Jarrett Stidham, a highly-prized recruit from Stephenville High School. (Yes, the same Stephenville High School whose football team won four state championships under Coach Art Briles. They won a fifth state championship in 2012 when Stidham was a sophomore.) The FBS's top offense will be depending on young Stidham to deliver as they pursue a berth in the college-football playoff and, God willing, a national championship.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) was elected and sworn in as the new Speaker of the House on Thursday, succeeding the leathery, emotional John Boehner, who had held the post since January of 2011 and shocked the nation last month when he announced his sudden resignation.
Like Stidham, Ryan is taking on huge responsibility with the support of a team that is excited to have him but can't be certain how he'll fare in his new role. Fans of both (or either) have reason for confidence, however, as neither man is a neophyte. Ryan is currently serving his ninth term in Congress and has already chaired two important House committees: Budget and Ways & Means. Stidham has played in every game this season, thanks to Baylor's habit of building up runaway leads well before the end of regulation.
Actually, not only are Ryan and Stidham experienced, but both already have some exceptional accomplishments on their resumes. Stidham put up crazy numbers in his senior year at Stephenville, passing for 2,934 yards and 35 touchdowns and running for an additional 969 yards and 15 TDs, and Ryan took on the third rail of politics--entitlement reform--as a little-known congressman from a Democratic-leaning district when Republicans were the minority party. Sports writers, analysts and college coaches around the country took note of Stidham's prowess and achievements and dubbed him one of the top recruits in the country, just as Republicans recognized Ryan as the asset he was and moved him into position to take over as chairman of the House Budget Committee when they regained the majority in that chamber five years ago. Ryan saw his first bill become law as a freshman. Stidham's first-ever pass in a college game was a touchdown.
Similarly, both men will face tests early on in their new roles, as greater challenges loom large in the near future. Stidham will debut as Baylor's starting QB this Thursday against the Kansas State Wildcats, who are 0-4 in conference play this season. This is a game the Bears should win, and a decisive victory will probably be necessary to show that Stidham can handle the upcoming Big 12 tilts against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU, all of whom have defeated K-State this year. Ryan's first real test as speaker will likely be passing a long-term bill to fund highway programs. Beyond that, he will have to deal with his own fractious conference, troublemaking Democrats and a hostile White House on weightier necessities, such as an omnibus spending bill, as one of the most critical elections of our lifetimes draws nearer.
Both men also have the advantage/burden of taking the helm at a time when their party/team is enjoying historic success, with their sights set on even higher goals. Republicans started this year with their biggest congressional majority in 84 years, and they'd like to keep that majority and win the presidency next year to boot. Baylor's football team is gunning for their third consecutive Big 12 title and first-ever appearance in a national championship game. Their offense has led the FBS in both yards per game and points per game the past two seasons and is currently first in both categories this season.
The similarities are not endless, however. For example, Ryan never desired the position he now holds and only sought it after much cajoling and pressure from his party, whereas Stidham was already contemplating getting "the starting job" when he committed to Baylor last December. Then there are the stark differences between their predecessors. While John Boehner turned out to be a disappointment (and, some would argue, a traitor) to his own people as speaker, Seth Russell proved himself worthy of the position he inherited from Bryce Petty. As reported by Graham Watson (“Dr. Saturday”), “Russell leads the FBS in passing efficiency (189.7), passing touchdowns (29), passing yards per completion (17.68), points responsible for per game (30.0) and passing yards per attempt (10.52).” He threw for 2,104 yards and ran for 402 more for a total of 35 touchdowns this season, stats that are made all the more impressive when you consider that he did not even play all four quarters in any of his seven starts.
So, Stidham has some big shoes (or cleats) to fill, but I for one am confident he's capable of delivering for Baylor just as Russell was prepared to do. As for Paul Ryan, there is a reason—or two (or several)—that his image was one selected to grace the banner of this blog and our web site. His intellect, work product and passionate advocacy for conservative policies has earned him a place alongside the late, great Edmund Burke, Milton Friedman and William F. Buckley, Jr. Here's hoping these two white knights exceed expectations and that the best is yet to come for the Baylor Bears and the GOP.