He was three weeks into his last football season at Cal State Fullerton, and Sean Foy was a wreck. It seems Foy felt the weight of all the Titans' problems--and there were several--resting squarely on his shoulder pads.
Foy, the Titans' team captain, sometimes spokesman and all-around nice guy, was distraught. His stomach was doing such flip-flops that there was fear he was developing an ulcer. He was getting migraines. His confidence was hurting, too.
He sought therapy from John Miklesh, who coaches the Titans' outside linebackers. "I just went into Coach Miklesh's office and bawled my head off," Foy said. "I didn't know what I was doing wrong. I felt like I couldn't play football anymore . . . like I had lost my ability. I felt like I had lost control of myself."
The diagnosis was an acute overreaction. The fact that Foy took the Titans' troubles so personally came as no great surprise to Miklesh or Fullerton Coach Gene Murphy. Both know how seriously Foy takes this team captain stuff. If the Titans are trailing at halftime, Foy blames himself for lousing up the coin toss. So it wasn't particularly difficult for Miklesh to recommend a treatment.
"Because of Sean's nature--his personality--we as coaches have a tendency to overload him with responsibility," Miklesh said. "What we ended up finally deciding was that he had to play for Sean Foy instead of worrying about every problem on the team."
Foy is feeling much better about himself these days. The Titans are 2-9, but he realizes now that there are 50 or so people to share the blame with. "I put a lot of pressure on myself," he said. "I just had to get back to where the game was fun, the way I used to play it."
Since then, Foy, a fifth-year senior, has become the Titans' second-leading tackler and a candidate to become an All-Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. selection for the third straight season.
Fullerton coaches use words such as conscientious , caring and sensitive to describe Foy. Those aren't exactly the qualities the average football coach looks for in an outside linebacker. Marriage counselors are sensitive and caring. Linebackers are fierce and unforgiving.
But Foy has been one of the Titans' top linebackers since coming to Fullerton from El Dorado High School in 1982. He has also been a model citizen--an honor roll student and two-time team captain. Murphy said he considers Foy the type of guy he would like his sons to pattern themselves after.
"He epitomizes everything I'd want Mike or Tim Murphy to be like," Murphy said. "That may sound like the right thing to say, but I mean it sincerely."
Foy will play his last game for Cal State Fullerton Saturday at the University of the Pacific. Afterward, he says he will try to pursue a professional football career, either in the National Football League or in Canada. He figures he owes himself the chance, so that he won't have to wonder about what might have been five or 10 years from now. At 6-feet and 218 pounds, he lacks the size most pro scouts look for in a linebacker, but Foy has always prided himself on getting the most out of what he's got.
Said Murphy: "I don't think overachiever is the right word. I'd say he's a good football player because he's gotten the most out of his natural ability."
But if and when it becomes apparent that pro football holds no place for him, there's always the ministry. Foy is a devout Christian. He teaches Bible studies at Anaheim Hills Community Church and plans to attend a two-year seminary to obtain a master's of divinity degree.
There have been times when Foy has wondered whether "Christian linebacker" is a contradiction in terms.
"I've struggled with that," he said. "It's such a violent game and, being a Christian, you're supposed to turn the other cheek and be passive. But the Bible teaches us that whatever you do, you do it verily unto the Lord, which means as hard as you possibly can. And I think being a Christian really exemplifies what an athlete should be--totally giving your best effort.
"When I hit somebody, I'm going to hit him as hard as I possibly can. My motivation won't be to hurt the guy. It's to win the game . . . to do the best I can."
Foy became a Christian during his junior year at El Dorado. He said it helped fill a void created by his parents' divorce. The decision changed his approach to football as well as his outlook on life.
"When I was younger, my sole purpose for playing football was to be something special . . . for people to pat me on the back and say, 'You're really good,' " he said. "I thrived on that. When I became a Christian, my motivation slowly began to change. It wasn't so much for myself, it was for God and for the abilities He had given me. I wanted to glorify Him through my playing."
A season-ending knee injury in 1983 served to reaffirm Foy's faith. "I was still so football oriented, even though I was growing as a Christian and learning things about my life," he said. "But when I blew my knee out, I just learned that everything in life is so temporary, that everything we have is a gift that can be taken away at any time.
"I don't believe God punished me, but I think that God allowed that to happen to me to help me grow as a person. I just started to put a lot more emphasis on my education after that year, and I began to realize that there was a person behind the helmet. I didn't realize that before. I used to think I was nobody without my pads."
Earlier this season, Foy again began doubting himself. But Murphy theorized that those doubts were simply an extension of Foy's Army-ad approach to things. Be All That You Can Be.
"He was always trying to make the perfect play," Murphy said. "But that's the way he tries to lead his life."