March 9, 2012
UCF Athletics Social Media Directory
By Brian Ormiston
As UCF prepares for its first spring practice March 13, UCFAthletics.com is focusing on the Knights' new coaches who have joined the staff for the upcoming season. Today's feature takes a look at defensive line coach Blaise Winter.
For previous features, click on the links below:
-Raised By Football Coaches - Tyson Summers
-Earning His Way - Kirk Callahan
-Traveling Man - Jim Fleming
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Something was missing.
Fifteen years had passed since Blaise Winter stepped away from an NFL career which spanned nine active seasons and three organizations from 1984-94. Not only did he build an impressive reputation across the nation as a motivational speaker, but as an author as well thanks to his autobiography A Reason to Believe, which features an introduction by UCF head coach George O'Leary.
NFL teams wanted him. Nationally ranked college teams requested him. And high schools everywhere were being transformed by his methodical techniques. Using his martial arts background, teaching "hand-combat for football" had spread throughout the country.
Yet what was persistently eating at his brain as he sat in his cozy office chair one day in January?
He desired to coach.
Luckily for Winter, football minds everywhere were still anxious to have him on their staff. One of those minds was Coach O'Leary who wanted him in 1996 during Winter's first full year out of football, and finally hired him 15 years later as his defensive line coach this past February.
Forming their relationship when Winter was a teenager, Coach O'Leary mentored the Tappan, N.Y., native at Syracuse University and then again with the San Diego Chargers. He was the first person Winter called when his playing career came to an end.
"While he was at Georgia Tech, I told him I was feeling a bit antsy, and he asked if I wanted to coach. But I wasn't ready because I had a baby on the way and wanted some time off," Winter reflected. "He said I should get my butt down there and share of my martial arts experience, so I explained to the staff how you can combine it with football, extracting the pureness of martial arts and add it onto the field. It was very well received by the Georgia Tech staff."
Under Coach O'Leary, the Yellow Jackets went on to advance to four-straight bowl games including the 1998 season when they were the Atlantic Coast Conference co-champions.
From that point, Winter found a new way of life working as an independent consultant in big cities and small American towns, teaching coaches how players can use their hands better on the football field. That was highlighted by trips to Michigan State and Ohio State this past season.
Facing a Challenge
While he still surrounded himself with football, it was a far different path Winter expected to embark on while growing up in New York.
"I had a severe cleft lip and palate, and that left me unable to communicate because I had a speech impediment," Winter said. "I was born with an identity crisis. I went through surgeries until I was 10-12 years old, and speech therapy all the way up to high school, just learning how to speak. When you're born with a hole in your face you don't have a lot of self-worth because of the disability."
The birth defect was just the start of a challenging childhood.
"I came from a home of domestic violence," Winter admitted. "When you're born a certain way and your dad is mean, I immediately thought I must have caused it. But I had the most influential, spiritually-driven, passionate mother that a boy could ever have. She raised me along with my great-grandmother who is the only angel on earth I have ever met."
Referring to his family as "blue-collar without a lot of bells and whistles," all Winter craved in his life was a powerful voice. And he quickly discovered his calling on the gridiron.
"Football was my voice, my identity, my value," Winter said. "I could speak volumes through my elbows, my hands, my knees and my efforts. I found it to be a lifeline and I've never let go of it."
Finding a Connection with O'Leary
A beat-up football player, Winter went through high school without being recruited to the next level. However, he persisted in order to grab attention he highly deserved.
"Syracuse turned me down three times, so I basically walked on there," Winter explained. "I was a horrible athlete, but the bottom line is that every time the film was turned on I was the kid always at the bottom of the pile.
"I didn't play football just for fun. I played for a purpose. I was playing for self-worth, fulfillment and soul-searching. It was my voice that I wanted the world to hear. I screamed to the world through my effort on the football field."
Coach O'Leary took notice as he began his first season as Syracuse's defensive line coach in 1980.
Winter finally had a father-figure.
"It was extremely important for me to have a male role model, so when I found Syracuse University I found a man named George O'Leary. He changed my life forever," Winter said. "He was not only a coach, but someone who helped me transition into being the person I can be and the player I can be, in that order. I was always very appreciative of his commitment to the team and to me as a person as well."
Not only Winter's mentor in college, O'Leary jumped over to the NFL in 1992 as the Chargers' defensive line coach and once again reconnected with his friend who was searching for a new team in the offseason. O'Leary explained to the front office Winter was a hard-working, trustful player who will bring his lunch pail with him every day, never asking for much.
Winter was reborn, starting 31 games the next two seasons for San Diego and was on the 1994 squad that reached the Super Bowl. Coach O'Leary embedded valuable tools within Winter, and he lives by them every day.
"Two things that have stuck with me from coach are trust and loyalty," Winter smiled. "I really was able to gain a third dimension of those words because I was living them. It was a day-to-day requirement to live consistent and live a life that represented a respect for another human being. Coach and I have a very special relationship beyond the spoken word.
"I'm a very deep person. I don't think in terms of black or white. At my age of 50, I see things as meaningful because they build a foundation in my life. Coach O'Leary helped build that foundation in my life that has never failed me. Hard work, determination, loyalty, trust, respect for other people, committing yourself to something that is beyond spoken words. Those are all things that tied me later on to other great coaches who I have been associated with. And then they relate to the big picture and that is my faith because faith has to tie into everything."
On a Mission to Coach
Having studied a number of martial-arts disciplines and sharing his expertise around the country, Winter now sat in his office and was driven to pioneer a new coaching position: Someone on staff who knows how to use their hands and how to condition players in "hand-combat for football." Where could he latch on to in order to start up a brand new life? Coach O'Leary had the answer once again.
O'Leary mentioned Winter could be perfect for the weight room due to his knowledge of player development, and the NFL was a possible solution. Winter opened up discussions with head coach Jeff Fisher in St. Louis as well as with the Dallas Cowboys. And some people determined Winter would make a good defensive coach. So when UCF was in search of a defensive line coach, the call was made.
"I was sitting in Las Vegas and Coach O'Leary called, asking if I was ready. I cannot repeat what my response was," Winter laughed. "I got so excited because I really wanted this. But a minute later, I got sick to my stomach because I didn't want to hold Coach O'Leary and his staff up since I had not coached before. I had just been a consultant and a trainer. But he told me I'll be back up to speed within two to three weeks, and that he trusted me. Ever since that call, I've been running to catch up."
Winter already has a plan for his first year with the Black and Gold.
"My effort on the field was my voice, and that always has been my way. And that will be the way I coach the defensive line," Winter said. "I'm going to scream at them by leading the way. I'm going to be dramatic because I need it and I'm true to it. At my age I'm not afraid of anything. I live by the motto, `Fear No Evil.' And I'm not going to fear anything."
Not only embracing his new role, Winter has another aspect of his life he treasures every day he enters his office.
"What I cherish in my life is my family," Winter said. "I have two boys, Cordell, who is 15 and Donovan, who is 13, with my wife Angie. They are my lifeline, my blood, my soul and the reason I work. I'm here to coach UCF but also to serve my family.
"I love this profession. Football is one of the last places on earth where you're allowed to be really emotional, passionate and driven. My motives are sincere and genuine. For people who think these are just fluffy lines, all they have to do is walk in my shoes and they will realize there's no faking here at all. I'm starting a brand new profession. `Fear No Evil.' Just keep going."
Something is no longer missing in Winter's life. An emotional start to his childhood has paved the way for a prosperous adventure through life. And he is only just beginning.