Special Game for Sooner Servicemen
When members of the Oklahoma football team look at the opposing sideline during Saturday night's home contest against Army West Point, there will be a feeling of admiration and respect that's reserved for those who serve in the military.
For OU walk-on linebackers Josh Schenck and Travis DeGrate, that sensation will be palpable. Because more than anyone on the Sooners roster, Schenck and DeGrate can relate to the valiant Black Knights and the often unfathomable responsibilities they encounter.
Schenck is a cadet in the Army ROTC while DeGrate is in the Oklahoma Army National Guard.
Schenck admits having strong personal feelings for both sides. “When they step on the field, (my loyalty is) more so Boomer Sooner,” Schenck said. “But outside the game, (the Army players) are still my brothers.”
DeGrate said Saturday's experience “is going to be crazy. I understand exactly what they're going through and what they're going to end up doing when this game is all done.”
Schenck is a 5-foot-11, 209-pound redshirt sophomore from Knightdale (N.C.) High School, while DeGrate is a 6-foot-2, 232-pound redshirt freshman from Warr Acres, via East Central University in Ada and Putnam City High School.
Schenck and DeGrate are both members of the OU scout team. Their duties each week are to challenge starters and other higher-level players in preparation for that week's opponent. Scout players take their roles quite seriously, particularly Schenck and DeGrate.
“It's very important,” DeGrate said. “If we come in and be lackadaisical for that day and the offense doesn't get the best look, they might not be at the level they want to be at, so us giving that look is extremely important. They tell me exactly what to do and I try to do exactly what they say and the way they want it to be done. That way, I give them the best look that they can so they can go win that game.”
Schenck added, “Sometimes we compete to a level that sometimes overmatches the intensity of the starters. The more we make them work, the easier it is for them to get into the game.”
Schenck is a first-generation ROTC member in his family who plans on commissioning as an officer in the National Guard. “I've always wanted to help people and wanted to figure out a way to help make a difference,” Schenck said. “I thought by me joining the ROTC, not only will I be able to serve my country, but I will also be able to help out my community.”
DeGrate said the Army National Guard does “a lot of preparation for in-state things like natural disasters. We'll be ready for things like that, or riots or anything. Also, we do preparation if they deploy. They could call us to deploy at any time and go wherever they want us to go.”
DeGrate does training one weekend each month and for 2-4 weeks in the summer. He has a six-year contract. After that, he serves two years on the non-active list and will serve when called upon.
“Growing up, I had always thought about the military,” DeGrate explained. “After I got back from prep school, it really hit me like, ‘Dang, what's next? What do I do now?' I had been talking to a buddy about it. He kind of threw it onto me a little bit. I thought about it, thought about it, did a lot of research on it, what the perks were, what came with it, what I would have to do. It happened quick, like two weeks and I was in, ready to go. I had the opportunity to serve the country. They gave a lot of opportunity for school as well. So I could do both.”
"To think that they're playing Division I football, doing all they're doing with the ROTC and (Army National Guard), and on top of that being students here – to be able to balance all three of those is pretty incredible."
– Lincoln Riley
OU head coach Lincoln Riley applauds the work ethic and level of involvement that Schenck and DeGrate exhibit on a daily basis.
“You just see the determination that those two guys have,” said Riley. “When you sit back and tell somebody that they're that involved with the ROTC and (Army National Guard) and doing all they do, it doesn't surprise you much with what they do on the field. They're guys we can count on, guys who work hard every single day, who are very dependable. To be able to balance it (all), schedule-wise, we've tried hard to work with them and make it doable on their end. But to think that they're playing Division I football, doing all they're doing with the ROTC and (Army National Guard), and on top of that being students here – to be able to balance all three of those is pretty incredible.”
Schenck came to Norman having never been to Oklahoma. “I just felt a lot more comfortable being here,” he said, comparing OU to other visits. “I felt more at home. I took this as a new opportunity to start a new life.”
Meanwhile, DeGrate was quite familiar with the Sooners and the university. “It's always been bred into me that this is the university that you need to play for,” said DeGrate, whose grandparents have been OU season ticket-holders for 20 years. “This is the best one, really. That's what made me want to play here. I just wanted to come to school here. It had the majors that I wanted to do. They gave me the opportunity to walk on and I just took advantage of that opportunity.”
Schenck said the attitude he maintains in the ROTC carries into football. “The mentality of, ‘No matter what, we're going to get the job done. We're all human beings. Although we are a great team, at some point everybody does have their downfall,'” Schenck said. “I try to be there to help motivate people, help push people, help show that, ‘I can do it, you can do it, we all can do it. We're all in this together. We're all one.'”
Schenck is in his third year at OU and his second in the ROTC. He described the ROTC as “a branch of the Army within the university. It's pre-training before you become an official officer. If you are looking for an opportunity to serve the country, the ROTC is the best route because they help you with school and they're always education first. Once you start, for the rest of your life, you never stop learning... I've grown up a lot (since coming to OU). In the beginning, I was still in high school mode, still childish, not wanting to accept so much responsibility. Even procrastination. I've learned not to procrastinate.”
Schenck has shared stories of attending summer Basic Camp at Fort Knox in Kentucky, where their eight-mile runs began at 1 a.m. “A lot of players were like, ‘That's crazy. How could you do that?'” Schenck said. “It was fun. It was a different experience. ... They're interested in the fact it's different and none of them have to live like that.”
For Schenck, mornings consist of rigorous physical training, which includes running, push-ups, sit-ups and “carrying people.” There also are tactics on Thursday afternoon in case “we ever get deployed.”
“It is a lot,” Schenck admitted. “I will say it's exhausting, but it's a challenge and I actually love the challenge. I love to work out. I love being a part of both my battle buddies in the military and my (football) team. Just the camaraderie with both, they both work hand-in-hand.”
When it comes to scheduling conflicts, and there are several, the military and football somehow figure out a compromise.
“Sometimes I'll have to make obligations and make decisions whether I have to choose football or ROTC, but they both work together and they're both understanding,” Schenck said. “They actually care about what's best for me and see what helps me become successful.”
What do the Army and football have in common?
“Leadership and work ethic,” DeGrate said. “Being in the Army, you've got have a good work ethic. You can't really back down from anything. You have to do whatever you can. That carries over to football as well, which is the same thing. You've got to work hard, all the time... Really, it just builds on top of each other.”