Coach Blackmon,

I wanted to reach out and say congratulations to all that you have achieved with the program to date. I know you guys are working towards something special. Since graduating from Opelika in 2000 and college following, I joined the US Army as an Infantryman.  I have been to Korea, Afghanistan twice, and I am currently deployed in Kuwait with the headquarters that is leading the fight against ISIL. Looking back over my time since leaving Opelika I can honestly say that my time as an Opelika Bulldog shaped my future in more ways than I could know possible. The US Army has what we call Army Values. Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and  Personal Courage. These values were easy for me to identify with, because I had learned them while being a member of the Opelika Bulldogs.

Bulldog Values are almost exactly the same. Below are my reflections on these values as they applied to being a Bulldog.

Loyalty: Knowing the dedication that each of us had for each other bonded us. The hardships, the workouts, two-a-days in August, the pain, the blood and tears all forged us together. We were loyal to each other, and we were loyal to our team and community.

Duty: Understanding that everyone on the team had their part. Even if not a starter, everyone contributes. Offense, Defense, and special teams. Everyone has a role and is expected to execute when called upon. It is your duty to work harder, and play harder than the man in front of you.

Respect: Respect for the coaches, the respect for the unwavering support of the community,  and respect for your fellow Bulldogs

Selfless Service: Put others ahead of yourself. Putting the team’s needs ahead of your own, despite your pain, despite how tired, despite how much you want to give up. Suiting up for one more snap, one more drive, one more kick, because your battle buddy next to you needs you to execute for the team.

Honor: Being a part of something special and being the representation of that organization. Anyone with enough effort can make a team, living up to the reputation of the team takes character, in character is where you forge honor.

Integrity: Do what is right when know one is looking on and off the field, never taking a play off, giving it your all at all times

Personal Courage: Keep moving forward in the face of adversity. After getting knocked down, after something goes wrong, or you make a mistake, do you have the intestinal fortitude to take that hit and keep moving forward. Acknowledge fear, and run through it, always move forward.

In closing, I would like to send this message to your Bulldogs, play lights out. It is the greatest time of your lives and it will shape your futures. I have been through some of the hardest things the Army can throw at me, Infantry School, US Army Ranger School, I have been to the mountains of Afghanistan and fought the enemies of our country in combat. As infantrymen, we can take the fight to anyone in the world because we represent our nation, we are a part of a team with shared values. We fight for each other towards a common goal.  These values and lessons that I learned about team work were forged in Opelika. Never quitting, never accepting defeat despite the conditions, and knowing that I was a part something greater than myself, I learned these things while being a Bulldog. These lessons and values that you have learned will serve you and your future no matter what the path, you are better men for having learned them. Good luck, and give them hell. Go Bulldogs!


Mike Venafro