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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

ETBU freshman makes most of one-and-only opportunity

By Michael Stephens

Sports Information Intern

MARSHALL, Texas -- Jeremy Ashcraft is a freshman in every sense of the word.

Not only is the 6-7, 300-pound offensive tackle for the East Texas Baptist University Tigers in his first season as a college football player, but also in his inaugural season of football -- period. In fact, prior to the 2005 season, Ashcraft’s only experience in any sport was from participating in a church basketball league based in Longview, Texas.

Ashcraft, who has moved into the starting lineup at left tackle at ETBU over the last month, sat out every sports season prior to attending ETBU due to the fact he was home-schooled.

“I always wanted to play but because I was home schooled, the possibility was not there for me” says Ashcraft who always knew he wanted to play, but had no team to play for.

After high school, while working for a company named 3-Hour Construction, opportunity knocked on the door for the Marshall native who just needed a chance to get out on the gridiron and show what he could do. As luck would have it Merrell Middleton, the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator for the Tigers, also attends the same church as Ashcraft’s supervisor who promised that he would talk to Middleton on behalf of the young, inexperienced giant.

Ashcraft’s employer did exactly what he said he would do, and in the subsequent weeks, Middleton talked to Tigers head coach Ralph Harris about the prospective huge addition to an offensive line that, entering the season, would be looking to replace all-conference veterans James Hawkins and Patrick Pickens. It was also an offensive line that featured only one returning starter – sophomore Jeff Bowen -- who had never started a college football game.

“In the meeting, Coach Harris told me that if I could make it through two-a--days that I could have the shot to play on this team,” Ashcraft recalls of his summer meeting with the ETBU coach. “He told me to pray about it and make sure that I made the right decision.

Both of the coach’s requests were met quickly by the excited freshman when he found the help of a former NFL player. Eric Howard, who played defensive end for the New York Jets and held the title of NFL’s Strongest Rookie, took Ashcraft under his wing in this critical point of Ashcraft’s career.

“Howard helped to prepare me for what was about to happen, and how it would be. I was actually not sure what to expect,” Ashcraft says.

Another thing that Ashcraft did not know to expect was the warm reception that he got from his teammates during the first week of practice.

“I had never been around a team atmosphere before, so I wondered if I would fit in,” says Ashcraft, who had never attended public school in his life so obviously had also never been around a group of guys like a football team.

Through the help of “Room With a View,” which is the traditional preseason team-building exercise the Tigers do to welcome things such as team chemistry and trust within teammates, Ashcraft learned to be right at home within the Tiger fold.

Soon those new people would start meeting the 6-7, 300-pounder – who wears a size-20 shoe -- on the football field. With his size as an asset and his attitude to go along with it, Ashcraft opened the eyes of the coaches.

“I’m huge, it’s fun, and I like to hit people,” says Ashcraft, who set out doing just that for six weeks into the season, until he finally got his number called to start against Louisiana College last month.

“Again, I had no idea what to expect,” he says. “It was a home game, and it was homecoming. Things were moving a lot faster in the game, and the first couple of plays I messed up, but I figured I would.”

After those first couple of plays, he never looked back -- “I got in the groove and just started playing football,” he says. Yeah, just started, but now you wouldn’t even know it.

“The flow of the game is still a little fast, but I am not nervous at all,” Ashcraft says. “ I know that I don’t have to have the best technique every snap, but I can still frustrate ends because of the length of my arms.”

His whirlwind experience – from having to find a way to even get into the program to starting – has given Ashcraft a new perspective on football.

“I just wanted a chance to play,” he says. “This is what I want to be doing, and I wouldn’t want to be in any other place. Every week is a new team and a new experience.”

New experience? No problem. This 6-7, 300-pound monster takes those on with ease.

1 Comments:

  • At 10:19 AM, Blogger Tony4x4 said…

    Great article! FYI the name of the company he works for is "3 R" not "3 hour"

     

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