-- by Matt Hurst
As I've said before, I'm not a big autograph chaser. But if someone offers and I genuinely get excited at the prospect of getting someone's signature, then hell yes, count me in.
This happened in my final weeks working at UC Santa Barbara.
We had two bona fide student-athletes who were stars. Not on the Matt Barkley or Anthony Davis level, but pretty big time athletes in their respective fields.
One is basketball player Orlando Johnson, now a member of the Indiana Pacers. UCSB is a good mid-major basketball school ... not great, but pretty good. To have a player come from our school and get into the NBA, well that doesn't happen often.
I was very fortunate to work with Orlando in a variety of ways during his three years at UCSB and you might hear this a lot, but trust me on this - you won't find a better human being. Especially considering what he has gone through in his life (read about it here). Our last creative video shoot together was one of my absolute favorites.
The other bona fide star we had is someone you might have never heard of, but I hope someday you will.
Barbara Nwaba is a heptathlete who missed making the 2012 Olympics by two spots. Earlier in the year she was ranked No. 1 in the country.
Yes, the best heptathlete in the United States was cruising through our hallways in Santa Barbara and was someone you always loved to see.
Like Orlando, she was always smiling and always willing to do whatever it took to help UCSB look good. Whether it was constant interviews or doing wild video ideas, Barbara was a pleasure to work with.
Nwaba was featured on the cover of the UCSB Athletics bi-annual magazine and in late June an academic advisor walked past some of the offices of people Barbara knew. She asked if we'd like Barbara to sign a copy of the magazine before she left Santa Barbara for good - the Olympics now on her radar.
I thought about it for a moment, thought about asking a 22-year-old heptathlon stud for an autograph, especially because it's not really my thing.
Quick tangent: I am not a huge fan of the Olympics. I think most of the sports are ridiculous and that you shouldn't be allowed to win a medal for ping pong, trampoline and the like.
But to have one of the best athletes in the world, someone who competes in seven high-intensity track and field events in a two-day stretch, willing to sign an autograph ... well, I decided I couldn't pass that up.
I co-hosted a weekly radio talk show for UCSB last year and I had Barbara as a guest one night when I was rolling solo on the show. She was great, coming to my office for prep work and then was super smooth on the air even though she admitted being nervous.
I asked her if she logged online to see the national rankings in the heptathlon and to see her name at the top. She said she had and I wanted to know if she took a screen shot or at least printed them out. She hadn't.
Two days later I ran into her on campus and she said "Thank you so much for your idea on the radio. I took a picture of the page."
She was so humble that she didn't want to appear arrogant at the suggestion of boasting about being the best in the nation at a grueling sport. But I'm sure her parents were listening to the show online and then urged her to do so - that she would want it sometime down the road to show her kids. I could tell, through her gratitude and smile that she was glad she had and had appreciated my idea.
I have Willie Mays autograph somewhere. I came across a photo of me and Kobe Bryant that he signed.
Yet, to me, Barbara Nwaba's personalized autograph is just as good. To imagine her as an Olympian in 2016 in the heptathlon and to know that I got to know her as a college undergrad seems pretty cool to me.
Final thoughts on Barbara ...
At the end of the year we put on an awards show, called "The SB Awards" and over the years it has become a pretty legitimate and big-time production.
This year we kind of went over the top and had several shorts that were played through the night and then combined into a movie of sorts. Based on "The Hunger Games" we called these "The Gaucho Games."
During our shooting of various student-athletes battling each other for ultimate Gaucho supremacy, Barbara was training for the Olympic Trials. Yet, she had to be the star of this movie-esque production. She had to film segment after segment, sometimes for hours at a time and during several days over a two-week period. And, she never said no. Never batted an eyelash.
There was no doubt in anyone's minds around the athletic offices that Barbara should be the final winner of The Gaucho Games. In fact, when the other student-athletes asked "So, who's going to win this thing?" and we replied that Barbara would, they all nodded and said "Good. She should."
No one argued with the pick.
Check out the video below ... it's pretty funny and even has a cameo by yours truly.