In describing Oregon Head Coach, Mario Cristobal, one could simply just use the word “Tough.” He has a strong and solid stature; he walks with confidence and has a commanding presence. Oh. And he was a lineman, one of the toughest positions on the field. But in Cristobal’s world, toughness isn’t what most would think it is.
“Being tough is more than just kind of throwing it in there and making a really strong tackle or making a really strong block,” Cristobal said at this year’s Oregon Football Media Day.
“. . .Being tough is being able to get up earlier so you can go get the right kind of food in your body and the right treatment and the right tape job so you can have a successful practice. Being tough is investing more time in the film room while an opponent you might be playing down the road is taking time off or sleeping. That’s toughness: Doing the things that you really don’t feel like doing but you know are going to make you better. . .It’s got to become a permanent part of the DNA.”
Sometimes this kind of toughness can be learned in the most unexpected of ways. And for senior wide receiver, Brenden Schooler, it may have come at just the right time and in the most unexpected of places.
Entering this year’s fall camp, Schooler was expected to be a strong and much-needed leader in Oregon’s receiving corps. The squad, which was often considered one of the team’s weakest links last season, was poised to make a stronger statement this season. With several experienced returners, a new position coach in JovonBouknight, the addition of several talented freshmen and Penn State graduate transfer, Juwaan Johnson, Oregon’s passing game was one of this season’s biggest and most optimistic storylines. Unfortunately, much of that optimism has again been replaced with some pesky question marks after several receivers, including Schooler, were injured during fall camp.
Just a couple of days into camp, news broke that Schooler had suffered a foot injury that would likely keep him sidelined for at least 6 weeks. Just like that, a pair of quarterback Justin Herbert’s surest hands in space would be missing the at least the first couple of games of the season, including a tough road game against Auburn. As we all know now, missing Schooler, among others, proved costly for the Oregon offense.
Back to toughness.
As luck would have it, I spoke with Schooler just a couple of days prior to his injury about a recent trip he took to Jamaica. Among the many lessons he learned during the trip, it was the toughness displayed by a small-framed Jamaican man leveling cement that may have come at just the right time, in light of the circumstances, and reemphasized exactly what Cristobal has tried to instill on this Oregon team.
Again, sometimes lessons like these come in the most unexpected ways.
This summer, Schooler, along with several other Oregon athletes, went on a service trip to a remote part of Jamaica through a partnership with the University of Oregon and Courts for Kids.
“Being immersed in the community was life-changing. Just how nice these people were to strangers they had never met was just so cool,” A bright-eyed Schooler shared.
One of the first things that struck Schooler was just how content people were with the little they had. He recalled watching a group of kids at the school happily playing with a plastic cup and rocks.
“Here you don’t see kids doing that. They’re mad if they don’t have the latest nerf gun or something like that,” Schooler said. “Seeing how happy they are with just so little was just awesome.”
While the group was there they were charged with helping the community, kids and adults alike, build a basketball ball court, which proved to be no easy task, especially in the hot, humid, mountainous climate.
“They’re probably one of the most hard working people I’ve been around,”Schooler said as he recalled watching the Jamaican men and women work tirelessly, sweating in the hot sun and taking very few, if any breaks.
“There were times when my back was killing me, but then I saw this Jamaican man bent over all day long smoothing out the cement and then not complaining at all,” Schooler said.
“So I was like, ‘if he can do it, then I can do it.’ When the going gets tough, don’t start complaining.”
As I chatted with Schooler, it was easy to see how moved he was by the experience and just how he hoped to apply what he learned to his life both on and off the field. What I don’t think he expected was how quickly those lessons would need to be applied and the circumstances for which they’d be needed.
In the days following his injury, I watched for signs of application.
They weren’t hard to find.
Within a day or two of having surgery, Schooler could be seen riding a stationary bike on the sidelines and his social media profile has been nothing but positive. Only he knows for sure, but something tells me a hard working Jamaican man smoothing cement under the hot sun isn’t far from his mind.
Perhaps the added motivation will mean Schooler will spend less time on the sideline. Who knows? For now, Oregon Football and its fans can only hope.
~ Nichole Brown