Spires football program recognized as NAIA national team of character

University of Saint Mary running back Rhyler Estenbaum (23) follows his blocker Zac Douglas (74). The Leavenworth football team was named the Buffalo Funds Five Star Champions of Character Team Award recipient for the 2017 season. PHOTO COURTESY OF USM

by John Shultz
Special to The Leaven

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) has named the University of Saint Mary Spires football program, Leavenworth, as the Buffalo Funds Five Star Champions of Character Team Award recipient for the 2017 season.

The award recognizes just one team nationally in each of the NAIA’s 23 championship sports for exemplary character and sportsmanship on the field, on campus and in the community.

Specifically, the award focuses on the team’s display of the NAIA’s five core values: integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship and servant leadership.

USM’s head football coach Jay Osborne said the Saint Mary football program strives to attract and build high-character student-athletes and considers the NAIA award — the program’s highest such honor to date — as a testament to those efforts.

“The virtues of our program match those of the NAIA Live 5 Champions of Character program and our team is committed to doing the right thing. Winning is very important to our program — but it’s not the only goal,” Osborne said. “The development of outstanding young men is our top priority.”

The Buffalo Funds team award is USM’s third NAIA honor for character in the past four seasons. Previously, the Spires football program was named a KCAC Champion of Character Team Award winner following the 2014 and 2015 seasons, and senior wide receiver Kyle Dougherty was named KCAC Male Champion of Character Student-Athlete for the 2016-17 school year.

USM student-athletes are provided daily opportunities to not only improve their own character, but assist others throughout the community.

Saint Mary football players participate in a variety of community outreach programs, ranging from reading to local elementary school youth to participating in canned food drives and community cleanup efforts.

Saint Mary football student- athletes, coaches, alumni and friends account for over 3,000 hours of service each year in order to help others and support their football program with necessary equipment to field a team.

Student-athletes are significant contributors to their own character-building.

Quarterback Drew Cortez and his Spire teammates have opportunities to volunteer daily to speak to their team about one of the team’s values. Cortez has made countless on-field contributions for the Spires, but has been even better off of it. Cortez believes “character develops a chemistry and brotherhood between each player. No matter where you came from or how big your high school was, everyone can get along and find common ground.”

Cortez and five of his teammates volunteered to speak to local high school students about the NAIA’s core values, and what each value means to them, during the 2017 season.

Overall, the University of Saint Mary espouses a philosophy of student-athlete excellence across programs, and the university was an NAIA Gold Star Campus in 2016-17, the highest possible character rating by the NAIA.

Saint Mary has 18 varsity sports programs — football, volleyball, baseball, softball, men’s and women’s basketball, soccer, lacrosse, cross-country, track and field, wrestling, and cheer and dance. Go online to: GoSpires.com for more information on USM sports.

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