A Tribute to Justin Skaggs

A Tribute to Justin Skaggs

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

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By Tom Goodhines utahblaze.com

Everyone comes in contact with people that leave a profound mark on their lives. For me, I have been fortunate to have worked in and around professional sports for the past 12 years. During that span, I have met three major professional sport commissioners: Roger Goodell (NFL), David Baker (AFL) and Don Garber (MLS). I have met over a dozen Pro Football Hall of Fame members including: John Elway, Mike Ditka, Joe Namaith, Bill Walsh, Jerry Rice, Lynn Swann, Jack Youngblood and Merlin Olsen. I worked for the NFL at Super Bowl XXXIV and covered the Baseball Hall of Fame inductions in Cooperstown, N.Y. and met Hall of Famers like Tommy Lasorda and Jim Palmer. I was fortunate to see North Carolina basketball coaching legend Dean Smith's last victory as a college coach. My career path also had me in contact with Hall of Fame broadcaster Brent Musburger, Dick Vitale and rock legend Jon Bon Jovi.

With all of the names listed above, each has left an impression on my life in different ways, but none have left a bigger impression than Justin Skaggs.

I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Justin for the last two seasons and I can honestly say that I was honored to, not only work with him, but to call him a friend.

I first met Justin when the Blaze selected him in the expansion draft in 2005 from the Orlando Predators. I sat down with him during player orientation process and collected his information when he reported for training camp, which is pretty standard procedure for any team. Right away, I knew that he was a stand up guy. Always professional, courteous and gracious. "Yes sir, Mr. Goodhines," Justin said as we finished up our initial talk. We would later joke about his formal greetings.

Away from football, you rarely saw him without wearing something camouflage and jeans and driving his truck while listening to country music. He loved his family more than anything. During the Blaze's first away trip in the 2006 preseason to Nashville, I sat next to Justin on the plane. We were each minding our own business when he decided to pull out his laptop computer. "Hey Goody," Justin said. "Check this out!" Justin then proceeded to open his photo file and show me pictures of him hunting and four-wheeling with friends and family. He also show me a cherished photo of him making a catch in front of Redskins defensive legend Darrell Green while in training camp with the Redskins. "That is one of my all-time favorites action shots," he said.

As I continued to ask him about his time in the NFL, I noticed that he continued to click through his photos. He stopped at pictures with him and his wife, Tara, and their children, Jake and Abbie, back at their home in Missouri. "That's what it's all about," Justin said as he stared at the photo of him with his family. "Goody, you have a daughter -- isn't being a Dad great? I love every minute of it." Little did either one of us know at the time that he helped to remind me that no matter where you are in life, you need to stay grounded and enjoy your moments with your family. Justin clearly did.

Justin was the definition of a great father, husband and friend. He was the kind of guy that you could call at 2 a.m. if you got a flat tire or needed help on a project at your house. Justin would always be there.

He had an easy-going manner about him, but at the same time, you knew he meant business. He was intense, focused and driven. At the same time, Justin had a way of making you feel important. He would always ask, "How's your family doing?" or "Is there anything you need from me?" He was not only the definition of a "pro's pro" , but a very genuine and caring person.

"If we had 20 Justin Skaggs on the field, we would never lose a game," said Blaze head coach/general manger Danny White. "He was a guy that played much bigger and faster than he really was. Watching him play, you'd have thought he was 6-foot-4, 250 pounds. He was one of the toughest football players I've ever been around in my life."

On the field, he was a perfectionist when it came to game preparation. Always working to improve himself, I was greeted with a hug from Justin when he came into camp for the 2007 season. "Are you ready to go?" I asked him. "Absolutely!" he replied with a confident smile and a flex of his muscles.

It was a common occurance to see him hustling on every drill and getting mad at himself for the slightest mistake. He and quarterback Jason Gesser would stay after every practice to work on passing and catching drills. After a practice earlier this season, Jason threw what he thought was his last corner-route pass of the day when Justin dropped it. "Come on!" Justin said. "We can't end on that... Just a couple more." Jason then hustled to get another ball and they continued with a couple more until Justin perfected the over the shoulder catch.

Nobody was more respected by his teammates for his work ethic and more importantly his friendship. Justin taught us all another lesson each and every day, don't sell yourself short and finish everything you start. I will take many things from Justin's life, but nothing more important than his friendship. I am grateful to him for helping me to be a better person and father. The lone regret that I have is that I didn't have the chance to thank him.

When the news of Justin's health issues came to light. His first thoughts were of his family. I talked to him during our last game against San Jose about what he wanted to do. "I am over the shock." he said. "I am ready to talk (to the media). I want to do what I can to help raise awareness to this condition. If I can help somebody else, then that is what I want to do."

"Well, Justin," I replied. "You already have."


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