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Former NFL players talk about the challenge and appeal of golf. York Dispatch

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No matter their age or abilities, the highest-caliber athletes never seem to lose that intense desire to compete.

Often, once their playing days are behind them, they turn to golf to fill that competitive void.

It’s a part of what brought many former pro athletes to Out Door Country Club for Monday’s 30th edition of the annual Eddie Khayat & George Tarasovic Celebrity Golf Classic. The event supports York County Special Olympics.

Founded by Khayat and Tarasovic, both former pro football players, the event hosts celebrities from various sports, but given the founders' career path, attendance has a heavy NFL flavor.

A new challenge: Although their reasons for participation are many, almost everyone eventually cites their love of an athletic challenge. Perhaps the most difficult task for many is not instantly finding the success they’ve become accustomed to.

“Golf is the most challenging sport I’ve ever played in my life,” said Tony Convington, a member of the tournament committee and former NFL safety whose career spanned six seasons. “As an athlete, you always have that competitive thing working, but golf humbles you quickly.

“So, when you’re talking about athletes who are used to being able to dominate the sport that they play, it’s hard to dominate this sport, so the challenge and our competitive nature is what brings us out. Although sometimes I think we’re gluttons for punishment, because you have a love-hate relationship with it, but that’s why.”

Others find that taking on the challenges within to be enticing.

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“It’s competitive. Guys are used to competing, and in the game of golf you’ve got to compete against yourself, because you have to stay within yourself and stay in control,” said former Penn State great and NFL running back Blair Thomas.

Thomas added that golf will further humble athletes used to being at the top of their fields by forcing them to do something uncomfortable.

“And you need to do something I haven’t done in a long time, which is take lessons,” he said with a laugh.

Another added benefit of the game for the celebrities is that they can fulfill those sporting urges while not having to endure the physical rigors of their prior professions.

“When you look at athletes that have played a sport like football for so long, your body takes so much punishment that guys get into anything that’s less physical, highly-competitive, but less physical,” former Penn State and Philadelphia Eagles running back Tony Hunt said.

“So, you get into shooting pool, golf, things like that. I think it’s satisfying the competitive edge, but at the same time relaxing and hanging out because you’ve pushed your body enough that you don’t have anything to prove in that regard.”

The other unanimous reason for playing Monday included the opportunity to give back to the community while enjoying the camaraderie of seeing old friends and making new ones with similar experiences.

Injecting new blood: With Khayat and Tarasovic having health issues, the two have slowly started to step away from the event. Both men missed this year's event. However, Covington, a name already familiar to pro sports and the Special Olympics community, has taken an active role in helping the event.

Covington was previously involved in a number of charitable endeavors with Special Olympics in Philadelphia, and it’s where he first caught wind of the York-based tournament.

Immediately interested in getting involved, Covington visited previous installments of the classic and began making the contacts that led to his current post.

“Just the camaraderie of this event. …I’ve always been so enamored with it because it’s a family affair,” Covington said.

He praised the event's founders and all those involved for creating an event that has been able to now span three decades with a vast amount of repeat support from sponsors and celebrities alike.

It’s something Covington wants to see continue well into the future. As the event ages, Covington realizes it’s at a critical stage where mixing in some younger celebrities will be paramount to carrying it forward, a process which he says has already begun.

“We just want to continue to bring in youth, continue to have sponsors come visit, because the cause is tremendous,” Covington said. “It’s all succession planning, you want to have (the event) sustained. When the guys are getting older and maybe can’t be out there on a hot day, you want to just to be able to let them sit back and hang in the shade and let us young guys come out and continue to bring that youthful energy. It’s important for the succession plan.”

State of the Nittany Lions: Given that its held in York County, a hot bed for Penn State football fans, it’s no surprise that many of the celebrities in attendance are former Nittany Lions, spanning several decades of Happy Valley success.

Thomas and Hunt were just two of the former Lions to hit the links Monday. Both still follow the program closely and are pleased with the early returns on coach James Franklin’s tenure so far.

“I think they’re moving in the right direction. I think coach Franklin has done an outstanding job. I’m excited to see the offense this year, with the strength now being in the offensive line,” Thomas said. “You are always at a strength with a quarterback like Trace McSorley. I want to see what Miles Sanders can do now (at running back) and the wide receiver position, they’ve got some big receivers. They’ve got so much talent and I’m ready to see it.”

For Hunt, who only left the school in 2007, the brisk changes brought on by the school’s high-profile scandal came with a period of initial adjustment, but have since been met with enjoyment.

“It’s great, different, but all the changes are for the better. I had to take a deep breath and adjust and now you sit back and look at the recruiting class, and after the great year last year, I think that really solidifies what’s happening now,” Hunt said.

“And you look at all those top recruits going to Penn State, that’s what it was before and that’s what we want it to be. So, I don’t think there’s anything I can really find wrong with it.”

Reach Elijah Armold at earmold@yorkdispatch.com.

 

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