Wear­ing OU uni­form on Veterans Day is spe­cial for DeGrate

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - OU POSTGAME - BY BROOKE PRYOR Staff Writer bpryor@ok­la­homan.com

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.

Travis DeGrate

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