By Earl Bennett
A heavy heart and tears well up knowing that at least once a year I will not be receiving a text or call from you to just speak and check on the family. Coach Drake you were the truest form of what being a coach really entails. The multiple hats worn in the word “coach” was exemplified by you daily.
During my pre-draft, there were two teams that showed up to Vanderbilt for a workout. The Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles. First, were the Bears. They came to Nashville for a visit and workout. There was bad weather, and at the time Vanderbilt did not have an indoor field. Instead of trying to work out in harsh conditions, you insisted on heading into the meeting room to watch and breakdown field video. Your ability to dissect my inadequacies was impeccable, but your ability to acknowledge my strengths was even more admirable. As a coach you understood that in order for a player to be the best, he needed to hear both what he did incorrectly as well as what he did correctly.
The Draft Call
My draft day was filled with up and downs. First and second round had passed and there was still no call. Day 1 of the draft ends and I fell asleep. Oversleeping the next day, my agent informed me the Bears were trying to contact me. I received a call from an 847 number. I took the call and it was Jerry Angelo. He asked if I want to be a part of the Chicago Bears and I responded, “Absolutely.” He proceeded to tell me to hold on because someone else wanted to speak with me. You picked up the phone and said, “Congratulations, I can’t wait to get started and work with you to prove all those motherfuckers that passed on you wrong.” I was stoked. Not only was I going to a team that wanted me, but a coach who believed in my talents.
You were more than just a coach. Anyone that has ever met you will immediately say that. Your mentoring was a big part of who I am today. There is no denying your toughness on players, but there was always this nurturing aspect embedded. You would discuss everything with players. Finances, family, relationships, health, fame, and whatever else you thought a player needed to become a better person. A lot of coaches say they are player coaches, but I can truly say there was no other coach I have known who looked after and went to bat for his players than you Coach Drake. You didn’t “EXPOUND” about Johnny Knox trade rumors, but you made sure to let the media know that you had his back. No reporter wanted to face you when you were angry and rightfully so because you protected us as you would for a son.
A Father Figure
For some players in the NFL, we did not know what it was like to have a father in the household every day. You would learn about each player’s family dynamics and would show us how to become men. As a 21-year-old fresh into the NFL you would always tell me, “You have a good woman keep her, and favor.” We would discuss my family dynamics growing up in a single parent home. We would discuss marriage as I turned 23 and married “my favor.” You told me that only God was bigger than my family and that no matter what, my wife should always come first after Him.
After every game I would see you with your wife Sheila, smiling and enjoying life. You understood that we were humans and valued relationships. You LOVED your family and not a day went by without you sharing stories and cracking jokes. When you spoke, everyone listened. You commanded respect and everyone loved it. We have deep veneration for you and your family. Every Christmas you would buy us gifts. I’ll never forget the Tito’s Vodka you gave me. HAHA! Although I do not drink, the gift made a special imprint because you treated everyone like family by giving and showing your appreciation for us.
A leader’s characteristics vary depending on the individual. Some are vocal and others lead by actions. The way you carried yourself proved you were a “lead by example” guy. However, when you had to lead by talking, you were never short of words. You made sure to let EVERYONE know how and what you felt. It didn’t matter if you were speaking to a six-time pro bowler or a rookie, you treated everyone the same. I will never forget when The “high profile receiver” was mad and tried to leave the meeting room and you said, “If you leave don’t ever bring your ass back.” He quickly retreated and sat down to finish watching film. That’s who Coach Drake was. A fierce, respected leader who led by example, but was quick to speak when needed.
A Child of God
Not many coaches attended bible study or pregame chapel. You always made sure to be there when you could. We studied “Kingdom Man” by Tony Evans and had the pleasure of meeting him. You orchestrated this study as we began to learn more about your spiritual life. You were a God-fearing man who wanted to help everyone know Christ. This was a priority of yours. Making sure everyone knew not only who Jesus was, but to love and have an intimate relationship with HIM. You helped me grow spiritually and I am better because of that.
Coach Drake, YOU WERE MY FAVORITE STORYTELLER! I thank God for the opportunity to learn and grow from the wisdom you bestowed upon me. You were the quintessential servant, giving to everyone with whom you crossed paths. Whether it was wisdom or gifts, we all became better people because of you. Teaching us was your gift, and loving us as the sons you never had was our pleasure, because every day we enjoyed working with you. There is no doubt you made us better. You were there for me through all my ups and downs as a player. From micro fracture knee surgery, to the 60-yard touchdown catch and run against Detroit. Coach Drake, your influence in my life has been impactful. May you rest easy. I pray God comforts your family. Until the next time we meet, I can’t wait to share the stories from Earth you missed, for you to share stories about heaven and to start creating eternal stories forever. God bless Drake, we will miss you!
Earl B. Bennett is a retired NFL Wide Receiver who played six seasons with the Chicago Bears.
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