Big Man on Campus
They may often be overlooked by football fans, but you can’t miss them when they walk into a room. They range in height from six feet tall to six feet seven inches, with muscular builds that testify to years of weight lifting and grueling drills. Their size brings questions from the curious and complicates the way they live. But the men of the Crusader offensive line aren’t complaining. They like being big.
Sure, there are day-to-day problems associated with being a big man. For instance, you have to protect your head. “When the team flew to Ohio for our first game, I hit my head twice just boarding the plane—once going down the boarding tunnel and again when I ducked through the door of the airplane,” says Connolly Fuller (6’7”, 315 lbs.).
“You also have to watch it when you get in and out of cars,” Hade Walker (6’1”, 305 lbs.) says with the voice of experience. “Low slung cars can be tough.”
They live in a world where things are usually just a little too close for comfort. In the residence halls, “the showers are only about 6 feet tall,” says Corbin Campitelli (6’5”, 295 lbs.). “When you turn on the water, the spray hits you at your belly button.”
And there are no special beds for tall guys. “You learn to curl up in the bed so you don’t hang off the ends,” says Andrew Doster (6’6”, 275 lbs.). “You still have to be careful not to roll around in your sleep, because it is easy to fall off.”
Classrooms also offer pitfalls. “Last spring I took a class in Davidson Hall, where there are regular school desks in the classrooms,” recalls Campitelli. “I had to remember to balance myself only partly on the seat of my desk; otherwise, when I stood up after class, the whole desk would come up with me.”
FINDING A FIT
Shopping for clothes can be a challenge when you are a tall guy with a muscular build. Athletic gear is no problem, because it comes in a wide range of sizes. But street clothes are another matter. “We can’t just go to the mall and try on clothes, to see how they fit. We have to order most of our clothes online,” says Doster.
“Pants are the hardest,” says Campitelli. “If they fit you in the waist, the thighs are usually too small. If they fit you in the thighs, the waist is too big.”
“I usually buy shirts that fit me through the chest and shoulders,” says Doster. “Then I always wear them with the sleeves rolled up, because the sleeves are never the right length.”
Even shoes can be a challenge when you wear a size 14 or 15, so online shopping is usually the most practical solution there, too. “But if you find shoes that are big enough in a store, they usually are on sale, because not many people buy that size,” Justin Brister (6’3”, 270 lbs.) says with a grin.
When they play together on the offensive line, these men are in their element. But even on the football field, these athletes must overcome preconceptions people have about them. “Some people are intimidated by your size,” says Doster, a junior from League City. “And people assume that, because you are big, you must be slow and unathletic.”
“Other players assume that your job is easy—that all you have to do on the field is just to plant yourself in front of another player,” says Broderick Jenkins (6’0”, 270 lbs.). “But our job is to protect the quarterback and blast open holes for people to run through. We have to do our job so others can succeed.”
“People watch the guy with the ball, running down the field. They usually don’t notice the guys who have opened up a path for that guy to run down the field,” Fuller says.
“People often assume that because we are big, we are dumb,” Fuller continues. “But you have to be smart to do what we do. We have to know everyone’s position on our team AND on the other team,” he says.
“We have to know all the plays and be quick thinking, to adjust to what happens as the play progresses,” adds Brister.
Clearly there is no shortage of intelligence in the group. Brister is studying to be an engineer; Doster plans to go into business. Chemistry major Tivyronne White (6’2”, 275 lbs.) wants to go to medical school. Jenkins and Walker are computer science majors. Junior Chandler Whittington (6’5”, 280 lbs.) quips that he plans to become a trophy husband after he graduates—a statement that brings a roar of laughter and comments from his teammates (“That’s brilliant!”).
Though they are a mix of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, these big men have formed close ties. Partly it stems from the role they play on the field. “We are the closest unit on the team,” says Walker. “I think it’s because we all have to work as one. It’s like a chain: if there is one weak link, the chain breaks. If one of us fails, we all fail together.”
That feeling of unity leads them to spend time together off the field as well as on the field. Their idea of fun? “When we all go out to eat together, we hold competitions to see who can eat the most,” says Whittington. “Everyone has to eat a minimum of two plates full of food.”
They are also drawn together by the values they share. They all chose to come to UMHB knowing that, as a NCAA Division III school, the university does not offer football scholarships. They choose to play football there anyway, because they saw the opportunity to be a part of something special, a great team working toward a great goal.
“I came to UMHB because I wanted to win,” says Caleb Riley (6’2”, 295 lbs.).
“It was an opportunity to play alongside amazing athletes,” says White.
“The quality of the people here—the coaches and the players—made the difference to me,” says Doster. “I started out at a community college before I transferred here, and it was a totally different experience. The players on the community college team didn’t care about each other at all. My experience playing for UMHB blows that one totally out of the water.”
At the heart of it, these young men understand and appreciate each other. Each knows what it is like to stand out in a crowd, to live in a world that designed for smaller people, to have strangers regularly make comments about their appearance. Together, that sense of singularity melts away, and being big feels great.
Corbin Campitelli sums it up well: “When people meet you for the first time, they always ask, ‘How tall are you?’ But when you meet someone else who is your size, it’s like a family reunion.”