Hood's 'reach for the stars' leaves lasting impact
Former UB wide receiver Saron Hood (Class of 2013) died after a workout at Texas A&M June 6.
I had to pull into a hotel parking lot.
It was a rainy summer morning. I had just dropped my mom off at the airport when the words that flashed on my phone sucked the wind from my lungs and left my stomach feeling inside out, like when you're at the peak of a roller coaster preparing for the drop.
The cause: a text from an area sports writer: "Any idea how Saron died?"
No, I thought. This isn't real.
With that distinct first name, there was no question who he was talking about. Former UB wide receiver Saron Hood, who completed his fourth and final year at UB this spring, collapsed and eventually passed away June 6 while working out at Texas A&M, where he was finishing his engineering degree.
I've had the pleasure of getting to know some UB athletes very well, but Hood was not one of them. I did not lose a close friend with his passing; instead, I felt sharp disappointment knowing a life filled with potential had been cut far too short.
"Every time I step onto the field, you'll be able to see my passion for this team," Hood told me in 2011. "Our potential is endless. Why not reach for the stars?"
Hood, an undersized, speedy receiver with dreadlocks from San Diego, was not a major contributor on the field, totaling just four catches for 33 yards in his four years. I once wrote in a column that fans should expect him to be a breakout performer, but that never happened.
In the face of adversity and on-the-field struggles, Hood remained fully himself. His unyielding optimism continues to impact his teammates.
"I learned how to treat people even when things aren't in your favor," said senior cornerback Najja Johnson, who led the Mid-American Conference in interceptions last season. "He was cool because he never got mad about anything and always - I mean always - had a smile on his face."
About two weeks before Hood's death, I ran into him grocery shopping at Wegmans. It was the last of many times I saw him late at night around Western New York; he could often be found sweeping the floor at Wal-Mart. His job there always took me aback, given that he was a Division I athlete.
As I passed Hood's packed grocery cart, I considered all the athletes who have finished their careers at UB and gone on to do great things. They've completed a chapter in their lives as Bulls and progressed to bigger and better things. Three players from last year's team, for example, are in NFL training camps right now.
Hood was headed for a successful post-football life. He was friendly and well educated - and, above all, resilient and selfless.
Oddly enough, it's not always the on-the-field stars who sports reporters root for the most. We most enjoy the athletes who remember our names or the young men who stand out by making an impression as people rather than athletes. Saron Hood was that kind of man.
He shot for the stars, and while he never won a championship or had a huge statistical season, if you talk to the people who knew him, you'll know he reached that astronomical level. His potential was endless, and he actualized it - not by football standards, but by personal standards. By simply being a good person.
We can all learn a thing or two from Hood.
The irony of our generation's YOLO philosophy is that we completely misinterpret a simple acronym with profound importance. It is essential to constantly remind ourselves that we do, in fact, only live once, else we forget our own mortality, but it is also important to examine what that means.
Why does only living once mean we should indulge in self-gratifying? Why does this philosophy mean "you should go have as much fun as you can and please yourself in the moment, because you might not be around tomorrow?"
If we really think about it, shouldn't we aim to make an impact with our one life? Shouldn't YOLO mean we do things that touch other people so we leave behind a legacy that speaks not of our selfish nature but instead of what we did for others?
We recognize our time on earth is brief, and for that reason, we do not think of ourselves first. We live like Hood.
"Overall, he matured much faster than the rest of us and tried to explain that life was more than just the bubble that we assume revolved around us," Johnson said.
Johnson is pursuing his Master's in education, but he was learning in this case. Hood taught his teammates. We should all emulate that behavior.
Remember what Johnson said Hood tried to do in his time at UB: explain that life was more than just the bubble that we assume revolved around us.
If I've learned anything in my first three years at UB, in my two as an editor at The Spectrum and one as editor in chief, it's that I don't know much of anything except that it pays to be good to people.
Some of the friends you make during your freshman year will die before you graduate; that is not an opinion but a fact. I tell you that to encourage you to love everyone you meet with all the emotion you can muster.
Remember names; you'll learn lots of names. Smile a lot, no matter how you're feeling.
Here is my biggest piece of advice for college, something I think Saron Hood would agree with:
Just be good to people. There is more than the bubble.
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