Posted at 11:14 a.m., Friday, December 21, 2007
Ex-UH kicker now writer Elam gets high marks for book
By Pat Graham
Composing himself to read the review of his first novel was a different story. Elam was jittery and tense.
"I put on a thick skin thinking people would rip it apart," Elam said with a laugh.
But the 37-year-old kicker's first foray into the world of literary fiction has drawn positive reviews. Elam and Denver pastor Steve Yohn's first novel, "Monday Night Jihad," hit bookstores last week. The suspense thriller combines football, religion and a spy adventure in which the hero tries to thwart a terrorist plot.
So far, the reviews have been glowing:
"A chilling ride through a nightmare scenario," said Joel C. Rosenberg, author of the best-selling "The Last Jihad."
"Rich details about life as an NFL player invigorate the story," Publishers Weekly wrote.
"I found 'Monday Night Jihad' to be not only interesting, but very thought-provoking," Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy said.
The book was put out by Tyndale House Publishers, which has issued religious or inspirational titles like "Quiet Strength" by Dungy (a reflective memoir) and "Don't Bet against Me!" by Deanna Favre (her tale of battling breast cancer).
The main character in Elam's novel is Riley Covington, a bruising linebacker and Air Force lieutenant loosely based on former Broncos reserve Steve Russ, now an assistant coach at Syracuse University.
Covington is an Air Force Academy graduate just like Russ who plays for the fictional Colorado Mustangs, a team in the Pro Football League. Following a tour of duty in Afghanistan, Covington, a third-round pick of the Mustangs, is living out his dream of playing professional football when he gets dragged back into his former life as a member of a special operations squad.
Covington is sent back overseas to help stop escalating terrorist attacks.
As the book advertises on its jacket cover, "time is running out, and it soon becomes apparent that the terrorists are on the verge of achieving their goal to strike at the very heart of America."
"Writing this book has been so much fun," said Elam, who's already working on a sequel. "We've had a blast."
Elam asked Yohn to collaborate on the project more than a year ago. They would meet at a coffee shop, discuss character and plot development, write sample chapters for the other to peruse and then critique their work.
"Unlike a lot of celebrity books, Jason was involved every step of the way," Yohn said. "Both of us checked our egos at the door.
"I'm notorious for starting a book, getting bored and setting it down," Yohn said. "I went in determined to have a book that I would read to the end that would have me wondering what was going to happen next. I think we did that."
Elam is proving to be just as talented with story telling as he is with his right foot.
Elam kicked for the University of Hawaii from 1989-92 and was a member of the only other UH team to play a bowl on the Mainland, the 1992 Holiday Bowl in San Diego. The 2007 UH team plays in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans Jan. 1.
He also became the first player in NFL history to record at least 100 points in each of his first 15 seasons during the Broncos' loss at Houston last Thursday.
Elam will also pass Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway for most games played in club history (235) on Monday night at San Diego.
"John's the man," Elam said. "Anytime you're even close to doing something he did, it's pretty special. I feel blessed, having played 15 years for the same team."
Now, he's just hoping it doesn't end. Elam's contract is up after this season, and he doesn't know how he figures into the Broncos' long-range plans.
"I still feel really good and I'm kicking the ball well," said Elam, who's book is laced with stories from the locker room. "Whenever I finish, my main hope is that I can go upstairs and shake everybody's hand and everybody feels good about everything."
That shouldn't be a problem. He's well respected around team headquarters. The powers that be in the lush offices upstairs all wanted signed copies of his book, which he happily provided.
Soon, he'll be embarking on book signings in Denver to promote the novel. He said his biggest thrill was walking into a bookshop recently and spying his novel on a display rack.
"That was pretty cool," he said.
Offensive tackle Matt Lepsis has a copy and plans to crack it open on the plane ride to San Diego.
"I've already talked to him about it, so I know what it's all about," Lepsis said. "Jason is very passionate about his beliefs and I think that has led him to this point in his life that he wanted to put it on paper."
Elam figures he'll draw some criticism for the terrorist element in his book. Yet all he wanted was for the novel to be thought-provoking.
He's well-versed on religion. He's currently studying the world's 12 major religions through a distance-learning program at Liberty University's seminary in Lynchburg, Va., where he's pursuing a master's degree.
"I just got to thinking why do people believe what they believe?" Elam said. "That's why I wanted to write this book. Riley Covington is confronted by some tough problems in this book. He questions what's going on and why, as most of us do."
He thought about making Covington a kicker, just like him, but decided against it.
"I couldn't make the hero a kicker. It had to be plausible," Elam said.
As for what is more daunting, a last-second kick in front of a raucous crowd or reading a book review, Elam said that was simple the kick.
"At least you know you're not going to have chicken wings and snowballs thrown at you if they don't like your book," he said with a grin.