It is Saturday, November 17th, 2018 and on a beautiful, crisp day in Auburn, AL there is another football game. This week in the SEC, many of the teams have taken a break from the difficult league schedule, and are playing weaker competition. For Auburn, they are no exception, as they are competing with Liberty University who they pummel in a 53-0 win. It is like a preparation week for the biggest game of the year, Auburn at Alabama—“The Iron Bowl”.
Though the contest is not a big game, it is a “big day”. It is Senior Day at Auburn. All seniors will be honored, and included in that will be the team walk-ons. This is a day that players who have poured their heart and soul into the program, with little or no recognition, will be honored.
One such walk on is Chase Cramer. The Cramer family loves football. His dad Curt Sr. has coached both his sons in youth league and in high school football. The oldest son, Curt Jr. was the high school quarterback at The First Academy in Orlando, FL and in his senior season lost in the state semifinal. The youngest son, Chase has played football from the day he could run. He was always a solid player, and as he continued his high school career at The First Academy he was an important player, with high character and a team captain. But as college rolled around, there were no Division One offers. Chase has football smarts, great hands, understands being unselfish and a team player, but at 5’ 10’ 190 lbs. and average speed, those are not Division One offer numbers. But, Chase has heart and he loves football.
During his junior and senior years of high school, I met with Chase and about 5 other young men [including my son] for a weekly mentor/bible study. We all became close and it was a very powerful time for all of us. It is some of my favorite memories with these young men. Through this time, there were character traits revealed in Chase’s life that I clearly felt would serve him and whatever he did for a long time. Chase was a young man with depth and strength, and I was excited for him and his future.
After high school, Chase decided to attend Auburn University. He jumped into classes and friendships, and truly loved his experience at Auburn. He was enjoying Auburn, but something was missing, and that was football. He attended the home games and watched away games, but that was not enough. He missed the game, the challenge of bringing his best, the camaraderie of teammates, and the daily experience of football.
I remember Chase telling me he was going to tryout and see if he could make the team. Now remember, this isn’t Rudy. Chase was a good football player, but this was Auburn and a SEC school that is surrounded by hundreds of young men that have wanted to don the Tiger uniform. My first thought was wow what a challenge, but I also knew Chase. Chase is not a fighter, not an extrovert who bellows out what he can do and who he is. Chase is faithful, humble, a grinder, and a good football player.
As spring tryouts came, there were over 40 young men that showed up to try and be a “walk on for the Tigers”. After the tryouts, three were left, and the “grinder”, “the faithfulness” and “humility” of Chase Cramer won out. I remember calling Chase that summer an he was sharing how tough the daily regiment was. There were classes, early and later workouts that were physically and mentally demanding, but he stayed strong and focused in these difficult times. Saturdays were coming.
On this Saturday in November the last home game of the year, Chase comes walking down the Tiger Line—a ritual that happens each week as players file into the stadium surrounded by the Auburn faithful. I have flown into Birmingham earlier in the week and have made my way to Auburn. Curt Sr. knows I am there but no else. I will surprising everyone in the family including Chase. I make my way to Tiger Line and I am excited about surprising Chase and envision telling him how proud I am of him. I sneak to the front of the crowd, and as Chase comes around the corner. He sees me and I can’t wait to make his day! Then the script gets flipped. Chase sees me; he looks shocked and with a beaming smile says, “What are you doing here”? His face and smile will be forever etched in my mind. I am 56 and slightly cry. I thought I would make his day, but he made mine. In that moment, I saw faithfulness, I saw humility and I saw a grinder—and that makes every mentor meeting we had worth the time and effort.
Chase heads into the locker room to get game ready and my mind races to so many thoughts. How hard is it to be a walk on? Is it worth it?
I ask Curt Sr. what he feels Chase has learned and thoughts and lessons begin to flow effortlessly from his heart and mind. “He has learned life lessons. He has learned things are not given to him; they are earned. He has learned life is hard and there are constant obstacles. There is the daily challenge of putting your ego away, understanding that your identity and value are not in football, and to be part of something bigger than you.”
When I ask Chase what he learned from being a walk-on, he states “It is was tough being already behind the curve. Most of the scholarship athletes have proven themselves to the coach in high school. That’s why they were offered, but as a walk on you have to prove yourself everyday until the coaches notice you. But, the best thing is how it all pays off. You might not get the recognition that the stars get, but your better for it. You have learned the importance of hard work to be in that position in the first place.”
I smiled as he shared, and thought he “Chased the Tiger” and he caught it!
HMG Contributor: Peter M. Wehry