Wearing OU uniform on Veterans Day is special for DeGrate
NORMAN — An hour before kickoff Saturday night, Travis DeGrate trotted on to Owen Field for his first pregame warm-up of the season.
As a freshman walk-on, DeGrate is hardly guaranteed to suit up for games — or even be on the field.
This Saturday, however, DeGrate pulled on crimson and white pants, laced up his cleats and ran out on the field with the linebackers, the first Sooners to warm up.
And after the game, he planned to tug on another uniform, a piece not from the Sooners’ equipment room, but from his other life.
He would pull on a grey T-shirt with ARMY stretched across the chest in block letters, in a locker room with the football team he always dreamed he’d join.
And, he was doing it on Veterans Day, a day that has extra meaning after he enlisted in the Army National Guard in February.
“You think you know the meaning of what these specific days mean to you,” said his mom, Julie Brooke, “what the flag means to you, what your country means to you. When you have a child that enlists and he becomes a part of that program and a part of that for our future, it completely changes your perspective.”
DeGrate wanted to serve his country and play college football for the No. 5 Sooners. Saturday night, he got to do both.
“I’m so proud to know that I have somebody who’s willing to sacrifice themselves, their time, their social lives to make this decision to better our country, as well as himself,” Brooke said. “Not only that, but not many decide they want to play football as a walk-on for a Division-I school, and he has done that.”
For as long as he can remember, DeGrate wanted to play top-tier college football. As a kid from Oklahoma, he espe-
cially wanted to play for the Sooners.
He worked hard at Norman High and Putnam City to earn a scholarship offer, and when none came, he spent a season in Canada at Canadian Prep Football Academy. When the offers still didn’t arrive, DeGrate started exploring other options.
“I always wanted to serve my country,” he said. “The National Guard is best for me because they take care of my school, and I can do what I love with serving my country and I have the opportunity to come and play football at the University of Oklahoma.”
He put pen to paper on Feb. 13, and soon went to Georgia’s Fort Benning for a 14-week basic training.
When he returned, his mom sensed something was different.
“The responsibility that it sets within you,” she said, “just going through that process, it changed him.”
As he started drilling with his Norman unit, DeGrate also started his freshman year at OU. He didn’t officially join the football team until the first day of school, and he had to work hard to balance all of his responsibilities.
“Initially it was really tough,” DeGrate said. “I didn’t have a good feel for how everything was going to go. I was really new to football and being at the university where you really have to stay on top of everything and then the guard. My sergeants, they really help me stay on track.”
While DeGrate ate his pregame meal and prepared for No. 6 TCU, his unit met for their monthly drills at the giant National Guard post across town, just a couple miles away from Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
On this particular Saturday, they stayed inside, working on administrative duties.
The drills vary by weekend. Sometimes they’re pushing paper, other times they head out in the field for tactical training.
With DeGrate’s football schedule, he’s unable to make many weekend drills. But he’s not one to shirk his responsibilities.
So he finds time during the week, in between practice and class, to come by the building and put in his hours.
“He’s very trainable, I guess in football terms, coachable,” said his squad leader, Sgt. Scott Lemaster. “He didn’t come in with the attitude of ‘Oh, I’m an OU football player. I’m better than all these guys or more special than all these guys.’ He came in and was willing to learn and so far he seems willing to put in the work.”
With his six-year National Guard contract, DeGrate will spend his collegiate career pulling off a seemingly impossible balancing act. But he does it because he has goals to achieve and a desire to serve his country.
By suiting up in a Sooners uniform on Veterans Day, he was doing just that.