I had no idea that Tavon Austin was playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Nine years ago he was the most explosive player in college football at West Virginia, and arguably one of the most dynamic players in the history of the sport. At 5-foot-8 and under 180 pounds, he was still the No. 8 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. There have been some spectacular highlights, but now on his fourth team, his NFL career has paled in comparison to his college career.
His star has not dimmed a bit in the eyes of Indianapolis Colts running back Nyheim Hines, though. The Jaguars were in Indianapolis last Sunday, and when Hines spotted Austin during warmups, he was so starstruck that it took a while for him to truly believe that No. 7 was indeed his childhood hero. Eventually Hines went up to talk to Austin like a regular dude from West Virginia who wasn’t wearing an NFL uniform. And when Hines got back to the Colts side of the field he said, “I almost fainted.” The entire moment was captured on HBO’s Hard Knocks In Season.
At West Virginia, Austin was so electric it really doesn’t matter that his pro career has been a relative disappointment. Warning this highlight is NSFW, because you will get stuck in a rabbit hole of his college highlights and stop working.
That’s the beauty of sports, watching the best athletes in the world artistically dominate other people, and it’s not always about Patrick Mahomes and Kevin Durant. There are awe-inspiring displays of athleticism to be found anywhere. When I was in college in the mid aughts, I went to a school in a major city so there weren’t any bars for an 18 or 19 year old to Thirsty Thursday at. I spent most Fall Thursday nights watching Big East football, especially West Virginia. Quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton were must-see TV. When they had the ball it felt like the 2001 Hurricanes and the 2000 Ravens wouldn’t be able to chase them down on a 70-yard run.
Sometimes this part of watching sports is lost. With transaction news, gambling, spectacle, and players’ legacies being debated on a daily basis, it gets lost why sports is an art form. These athletes get on their stage and dazzle us with their performances. Is LeBron better than Michael Jordan? No, but outside of fun arguments does that really matter? What I remember most about LeBron is seeing him play in person in Game 1 of the 2015 Eastern Conference finals. A writer once wrote that he plays against ghosts because he sees everything play out on the court so far in advance. I saw it that night. There were times LeBron didn’t catch the ball, he passed it as soon as it touched his fingertips. It was so spectacular watching him play I almost didn’t notice that J.R. Smith hit eight 3-pointers.
I’m sure Jake Paul vs. Tommy Fury will be a fun night in December, but I just watched Tommy Fury’s brother Tyson compete in one of the best heavyweight championship fights I’ve ever seen against Deontay Wilder. I watched the two biggest and baddest men on the planet slug it out, knock each other down, and get up off the canvas until Wilder had nothing left in the 11th round. That’s why we do this.
Sports make you feel something. That’s what you talk about with your friends and strangers at bars. The discussion is about where you were when you saw David Freese hit that walk-off, Ray Allen bury the Game 6 3-pointer, and what it was like watching Steve Atwater be a menace at strong safety.
That’s what Hines felt when he saw Austin in person on a field. He remembered all those YouTube highlights he watched growing up, and then one day, he’s warming up and there is Austin. It made no difference that Austin has only 311 yards from scrimmage in the past three seasons. Hines saw somebody do something special and he was compelled to compliment him on it. That’s why sports are entertaining, and it’s nice to be reminded of that.