With the National Football League season reaching its end, there was a lot of talk about the legacy of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. Many NFL pundits and sports analysts were surmising before the Super Bowl that if Manning’s team did not win the game that his legacy would be tarnished. As if being a five-time MVP and holding the leagues’ records for all-time touchdowns and yards passing weren’t enough for the star QB, these insiders concluded that a failure to win a second Super Bowl title would somehow make his achievements less significant.
This has become one of the sad facts of the sports world. We no longer revel in the accomplishments of an athlete but, instead, look for the minor chinks in a person’s storied career so as to diminish their achievements. It is a very unfair and unrealistic evaluation.
Fortunately, there is an athlete that totally gets that there is a much more important way to evaluate the success of a football player, or any other athlete for that matter. An evaluation that recognizes that it is the way that the athlete has interacted with his teammates and how he has carried himself on the field that really matters most. That most insightful athlete is Macalester Scots defensive back Trey Muraoka.
Creating His Own Pathway to Success
Trey starred for his high school football team before deciding to come to Macalester College. The move to Minnesota was a lot more than a simple transition from high school to college. Muraoka had lived his entire life in Honolulu, Hawaii, where the closest he had come to snow was watching It’s a Wonderful Life on television during the holidays. He opted to head to the frozen Midwest clearly understanding that the climate was going to be quite different than what he was used to. Despite that, Trey knew that coming to Macalester College was the right fit for him for many reasons.
“I knew I wanted to get away from everything. I am the youngest of three boys (Trent and Travis are his two older brothers). We all went to the same high school. My oldest brother is seven years apart, my next oldest brother is three years apart, so I have always been the younger one. A lot of kids from Hawaii go to college on the coast, and I wanted a place to start over and just be my own person. Honestly, what better place to go than Minnesota, the Midwest? For me it was a perfect fit. Good academics and a chance to play football. Most of all it was a chance to try something new and experience being on my own.”
Following His Dream
The chance to establish his own pathway was a key ingredient for Trey, as was the chance to pursue his career aspirations. The senior has long desired to become a teacher, and Macalester had the perfect curriculum so he could pursue his goal. While he has followed his pathway, he has found the college inspired a desire that may alter his career trajectory slightly.
“I would like to be a teacher; at what level I am still deciding. I came in wanting to be a high school teacher and coaching as well but, through my experience at Macalester and my participation in the Fellowship program, I have started to think about becoming a professor, getting my Ph.D. I am just really caught between wanting to be a high school teacher and having that flexibility and being a lifetime academic.”
What made Macalester so ideal for Trey is that it gave him the freedom to choose the pathway he wanted, but also the discipline to make sure that he has the requisite skills to succeed as a teacher or to pursue a higher degree.
“It’s a really challenging academic core. I had to do a lot of language courses, a lot of development skills, and time management. Last spring, I got to be teaching assistant for a beginning Latin class, which I really think helped me to prepare. I think it gave me an opportunity to think about how I prepared for this material when I was a student, and how I approached it so I could make it a lot more enjoyable for the students. That was a really good experience. I got to teach a class, where I got to use the framework of the class but I got to mold it to do what I wanted to do with it.”
Turning the Uncertain into a Home
When Trey left his home to come east he was about to enter a whole new world. His parents would be nearly 4,000 miles and four time zones away. His dad came with him when he reported for football’s fall camp, and it was at the registration that he quickly found himself getting acclimated with his new school.
“Stepping on Macalester that first day for fall camp, I met one of my roommates, probably my best friend these past four years here. I met him by chance – checking in. We met in passing. (Defensive Coordinator) Coach Mullenbach was walking with him and I was with my dad, and we crossed paths and starting talking.”
Later that day Trey and the other freshman had to go through a series of tests to prepare to play college football. After the tests were over the group found themselves in a room trying to figure out what to say to one another. For many in that room, they had spent a great deal of their high school life learning how to make friends, but Trey was having to do something he hadn’t been called upon to do since he was in the early part of elementary school.
“It was hard for me a little bit. I had to relearn how to make friends because I hadn’t had to do that for so long because I had gone through a K-12 school. I had known the same people and been friends with the same guys all of my life. Now I had to learn how to make friends all over again.”
Two important events opened the door for Trey so he felt right at home. The first was a realization that everyone was in the same boat as him. “Everyone was coming from wherever they are, but we were all in this together,” he explains. As a group they collectively wanted to get to know each other, and so that is what they did.
There was also the added benefit of the upper classmen. They understood the struggles these young men were facing coming to Macalester, some from very long distances, and they wanted to ensure that the young men felt comfortable in their new surroundings.
“Having the upper classmen there, just reaching out to us and trying to foster these relationships and build these connections. If it wasn’t for the upper classmen reaching out to me and talking to me so that I felt a lot more comfortable I probably would not have made it.”
One person in particular really stands out to the senior – Joe Dykema. “Without him and his guys reaching out to me I wouldn’t have the great friends I have here. The lack of a hierarchy is really great here. Everyone is on the same footing, and the connection between upper classmen and lower classmen is really unique.”
That experience was a defining moment for Trey. The moments early on at Macalester became lasting memories; ones that made him want to reach out to the new freshman when he was an upper classman.
“These guys really turned a nervous time into one that made me feel welcome here. I wanted to have that same kind of impact because I understand being a long way from home with really not a lot of your family or friends around.”
A Brotherhood Like No Other
One can go around to college campuses all over the country and they will hear words like “brotherhood” used a lot. Playing football at the college level is a lot different than playing in high school. Everyone has great skill, and there is a commitment to play as one unit. The hotdog player does not last long on a college football field. Every man has a job to do and it is the common cause that leads to a feeling like these are not just your teammates; they are your brothers.
Trey has found the brotherhood at Macalester to be something that goes beyond anything he could have expected when he stepped foot on the campus.
“It’s a place where you can be yourself among a bunch of guys that care about what they are doing. We talk about family a lot, and it is a brotherhood and a family here. I went to the same school for 13 years, from kindergarten through my senior year, and a lot of my friends have been my friends for 18 plus years. I am closer friends with people here in just four years, which is something I didn’t think was possible. These are people that I care about, that come from all walks of life, who I really care about. We all accept each other. It is so incredible here because you can do what you want to do and not feel weird or left out.”
A Success on the Field and in the Classroom
Since arriving from Iolani School in Honolulu, Trey has excelled in the classroom and been a key member of the football program, especially this last season. In 2014 he was a Mellon Mays Fellow, studying in Rome for the early part of 2014.
On the field it took a couple of seasons for him to make his impact, but the last two seasons he played a big part in manning the defensive backfield for the Fighting Scots. He completed his career at Macalester with 20 games and a forced fumble to go along with 19 tackles. These are not gaudy numbers for sure, but that is not the issue for Trey Muraoka. He is more concerned with the mark he has left on the team than the stat sheet.
“I care about these guys. It is more important to me that I tried to foster relationships with these guys. I know my mark is not on the field and I am ok with that. I hope that how I was as a person and how I interacted with these people and this program is really how I want to be remembered. I think that is a lot more important than how I performed on the field or even academically.”
Prepared to Lead the Next Generation
Setting a good example is what really makes Trey Muraoka standout. He openly admits that the when he came to Macalester he had to change his leadership style a bit. He has the tools and charisma of a natural leader, but Macalester is not a place where you get in guys’ faces and call people out. The football team has taken on the character of its head coach, Tony Jennison, in that it is a school where players lead by the content of their character. You have to be authentic to get the confidence of these very intelligent young men, and Trey quickly established himself as a guy that his teammates respected.
Coach Jennison found that his defensive back was someone he could count on and who made his mark on the Fighting Scots no matter what was asked of him. “Great character guy for sure. Works hard and never backs down. He works hard and is smart on the field, and his teammates really respond to him.”
A Career to Be Proud of
A lot of people look at their career on the field and point to all of their individual achievements as highlights to their career. That would be so uncharacteristic of Trey Muraoka. There are two career highlights for the senior, with one being related to a personal accomplishment, but that is because it was about being a bigger part of that brotherhood. The numbers did not matter. The comradery in the locker room did.
“One game that will always stick out in my mind was the final game against Hamline my sophomore year. It was a defensive struggle. The week before I didn’t get a lot of playing time, but due to injuries it looked like I was going to play against Hamline. After a couple of drives they put me in, and I played the rest of the game. I probably had one of the best games of my career here. It was validation that I belonged. It was a confidence booster for me, and how the coaches were working with me, showing me I belonged.”
His other personal highlight came when the Scots reached the 2014 in the NCAA Division-III playoffs, something that the school had never accomplished before. Macalester lost to the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater, the school that would win the National Championship, but the event left a lasting impression.
“That was kind of surreal. To be in that stadium against those guys was just an unreal moment.”
What pleased him most was that the moment was one he could share with his teammates.
“It was something none of us will ever forget. We were all a part of something that had never happened at Macalester before, and to do it as a group was really special.”
The Future Looks Bright
Right now Trey is looking to see which avenue he will pursue after graduating. Macalester College has prepared him to become a first rate high school teacher and coach as well as giving him all the skills to pursue an advanced degree. The options are numerous.
In fact, the school has done more than just prepare him in the classroom. This institution has helped him to connect with alumni who have been a great resource in helping him plan his future and build his horizon.
“Macalester is a small, warm place, but it can be big because Macalester alumni make it so huge. Coach Jennison’s alumni program put me in contact with a lot of people that I did not think would care about someone like me. Through the college I got to meet a former history major who is a lawyer in Idaho. I never thought that opportunity would come up.”
He has also chosen his senior year as a time to expand his connections with more of the Macalester student body.
“Every day I am meeting new people. I’ve been here four years, but now I am meeting new people I have never seen around, and now I am starting to get to know them in my last classes. It is also a very small place to me at times because I spend a lot of my time in very specific areas. So I don’t get to see a lot of people, but as I have opened up my scope this semester I have got to meet a lot of people, and I have got to meet a lot of people outside that scope.”
The pathway that Trey Muraoka chooses may not even be known to him yet. He may be in a high school classroom next year teaching his students the consequences and outcomes of historical events, or he may be inside a classroom continuing his own studies, preparing to teach college students one day.
No matter the option, one thing is sure. One day Trey Muraoka will be teaching the future generations and molding them into the same kind of brilliant young mind that he is. Knowing that makes the world seem a whole lot brighter.
By Robert Pannier
We Wish to Thank Jody Russell for Providing Images for This Story