Colorado tight end Center chases football dream in honor of late friend

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on November 18, 2014 at 12:10 am Contact Connor: [email protected] | @connorgrossman An MLB draft hopeful as a high school junior, Connor Center could touch 90 miles per hour on the radar gun. But Chris Stewart, his lifelong friend and former peewee lineman teammate, had urged Center to jump back into football ever since he stopped at 13 years old to focus on baseball.Center was firm on his baseball-only stance until Stewart died in a car accident on Dec. 1, 2012. The death of his best friend gave Center a new outlook on his sports career. He was going to leave baseball to focus solely on football in Stewart’s honor.“(Connor) told me he felt like something motivated him and was in his corner telling him, ‘Hey, go do this,’” John Center, Connor’s father, said. “He grew up right after everything happened to Chris.”Center worked to reapply himself to a future in football. He grew 3 inches after his junior year of high school and put on 40 pounds to fit the mold of an ideal tight end or lineman. Dozens of schools responded to the workout video he sent them in the mail, and Center chose the University of Colorado. Now he’s a redshirt freshman tight end who hasn’t found the field just yet, but he and his dad think he’s a year away rising to prominence like Stewart knew he could. AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“Teams tried to promise a future for me in the NFL,” Center said. “I was a blank canvas and open mold for them to use.”In high school, Center occasionally worked out at a baseball complex run by a regional scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks, who told him he’d get drafted if his fastball stayed at 90. Inconsistencies in his velocity and on-field success built up frustration and uncertainty about the sport he had dedicated every fiber in his body toward. Kyle Buss — a longtime friend of Center and Stewart who played football with them at a younger age — informed Center in early January that he was going to leave baseball to pursue football. Buss’ words led Center to reach the same conclusion in the wake of Stewart’s death. On Jan. 4, 2013 Center called his dad to tell him that he had just quit the baseball team.“Sometimes you chase it too much,” the elder Center said, “And he didn’t want it anymore.“I told him that I’m going to help him pursue any dreams he has.”Word got back to the Stewart family of Center’s decision to pursue football. It was both surprising and meaningful for Stewart’s parents. “Initially I was shocked for one thing,” Mike Stewart, Chris’ dad, said. “But at the same time it was emotionally very meaningful that he’s sort of doing this in Christopher’s honor, and it’s been nice to follow Connor on all of this.”After Center called his father to tell him the news, he immediately took off to the gym. No longer was he restricted to not lifting weights above his waist from fear of potentially injuring his pitching arm.Videos of him working out, running, catching and doing football-related activities were sent out to 60–70 Division I schools, and Center’s father said they received about 40 immediate responses of interest. He received 22 offers to play from schools that hadn’t met him yet.“My family was shocked when I started getting football offers,” Center said. “Because anyone in their right mind would say, ‘How the hell are you gonna do that?’”Despite “great pitches” from both Miami and Syracuse, Colorado was the best fit. They gave him free rein to pursue his aspiration of becoming a tight end, and Center thought it was the best chance for him to reach his ultimate goal of making a name for himself as a football player.But after the hiccups of jumping offsides in practice or running the wrong route in his initial training at Colorado, he knows he’s doing it for the right reasons. “Chris will always be a background part of this for me,” Center said. “Especially on the hardest days, the dog days of it. He’s always in the back of my mind.” Commentslast_img

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