Mississippi State football player Jace Christmann’s most recent obsession is rooted in the notion that a Division I football player has no special talent.
In October, MSU’s communications staff asked football players for unique facts about themselves. Christmann couldn’t think of one, so he turned to his mother, Heather Christmann, who tried to convince him he was talented, but she couldn’t think of anything either.
That’s when Jace told his mother he was going to Walmart. He wound up buying two Rubik’s cubes, the 3-D puzzle that challenges a player to get all nine squares on each side of the cube to display the same color.
From there, Jace’s season took an unforeseen turn.
After missing two of his first three field goals, Jace, a sophomore from Houston, Texas, made eight of his last 10, including three from 35 yards or more. He didn’t miss any of his 40 extra-point attempts.
But Jace is equally proud of the hours he spent solving the Rubik’s cube on the flight back home to Houston during MSU’s open week.
“During the season, I was packing my bag: got my jacket, got my socks, got my Rubik’s cube, OK I’m good to go,” Jace said. “I wasn’t going to sleep until I solved it at least twice.”
A family of hidden talents
That Walmart trip came on Jace’s way to the Columbus airport. His Columbus to Atlanta to Houston flight plan gave him plenty of time to find YouTube videos and to study the Rubik’s cube.
“I had algorithms. I was writing stuff down,” Jace said, referencing complex math equations experts use to crack the code quickly. “I found a video I liked and I memorized it.”
Jace admits he received some sideways stares from people near him on those planes.
Jace then introduced his new pet project to his parents. His father, John Christmann, picked him up at the airport to find one Rubik’s cube in his hand and another in his bag.
“He handed it to me and said, ‘You know how to do this?’ I can, but it’s not my quest to see how fast I can get it down to,” John said. “It was purely a situation where he was dead-set on having this down before he got back on Monday, and he fiddled with that Rubik’s cube every time I saw him. He was sitting in front of the TV, sit down at dinner, that Rubik’s cube was right next to him.”
On his one free Saturday of the football season, Jace Christmann couldn’t help himself and went to kick a few balls. John believes it was to keep some semblance of a routine. Otherwise, the Rubik’s cube was never too far away.
Jace’s parents were amused with what they saw. They know their son is talented — he’s a good artist on top of being a Division I athlete — but he found it to be insufficient.
Jace claimed everyone in the family has a hidden talent other than him. He brought up his sister, Caroline, and her Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award from 2008, when a picture of a grizzly bear she took won national awards. Their mother, Heather, said her talent is an uncanny memory. She can remember the ingredients of a shampoo bottle from her childhood.
“Weird things like that,” she said.
Even if the mother in Heather disagreed with the premise of Jace not having talent, neither she nor her husband were surprised by Jace’s quest.
“Here’s the thing, the boy is crazy,” Heather said.
Puzzles also were part of Jace’s formative years. Around the holidays, he would team up with his father and his paternal grandmother to do jigsaw puzzles. Heather also said Jace and John have the ability to channel hyperfocus into a task when they so desire.
That tendency has shown itself with pet projects in the past, such as when Jace determined he wanted to learn how to play the guitar while on a family trip. So he did, and then got bored with it.
Experiences like that one helped the Christmann family discover Jace has a broad intellect. The family recently had him do an aptitude test to help him lock into a career path. They discovered he performs well in rhythm-based activities such as music and golf — which translates well to kicking — yet he’s chosen petroleum engineering as a major.
Thus, it’s no surprise a man with a wide-ranging brain would want talents to test that range.
“I think it boils down to, ‘Give me a talent,'” John said. “He does a lot of things — he can draw and paint real well, as well — but he wanted something that would be different. There’s a piece of him I guess his mom did a good job with. He’s very thoughtful.
“He definitely wants to have things that are different and wants to be different,” he added.
Solved in minutes
By the time Jace returned to Starkville, he could solve the Rubik’s Cube in six minutes. Now he says he’s down to two-and-a-half. Jace Christmann wanted a different talent to flaunt, and in the span of a week, he accomplished that task.
Still, the Christmann parents are left with an unanswered question: Why the Rubik’s cube?
“The first thing that popped up on Google,” Jace said. “That was the sole reason.”
Jace drew a blank when he tried to tie the skill of solving a Rubik’s cube to that of kicking. But he didn’t take on the challenge as an accessory to football. He took it on to prove he could do it.
In the MSU game notes that features unique facts about players, it now reads, “spent flight home on bye week learning to solve the Rubik’s cube.”
“He’s willing to venture out there and try some different things,” John said.