FLORENCE — Overcoming adversity was a way of life for Valdosta State quarterback Cayden Cochran even before this most recent turn of events.
Cochran’s family has lost two homes — one to a tornado and another to a fire — in the past 18 months. Before that, Cochran sustained a torn ACL his senior season at tiny Cashion (Okla.) High School. And, he also had to overcome the stigma of playing 8-man football the first three years of his high school career.
Through the pain and the hardship, Cochran has managed to stay on course. On Saturday, he’ll try to guide Valdosta State to the Division II national football championship for the first time since 2007.
Cochran found his way to Valdosta State via Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, but not before a torn ACL sidelined him midway through his senior season at Cashion and just a few games into his first go at 11-man football. The injury could have ended his college career before it even started, but the Cochran family way is not to give in to setbacks.
“The ACL was tough to deal with just because you don’t get recruited very highly out of a small town like Cashion,” Cochran said. “It was a big deal to me, and what I wanted to do was go play Division I football.”
Cochran credits his family for helping him through the recovery and rehabilitation process.
“We got back from the hospital the next day and dad said people are going to look at us and how you react, and you have to react like a man,” Cochran recalled. “You have to press forward and you have to get better. Luckily, that’s what I did.”
Cochran wears a ring on his left hand, a reminder from one of his greatest triumphs. Just months after the knee injury, Cochran returned to win the Oklahoma Class 2A 100-meter dash championship. The ring commemorates that achievement.
“It means so much more than just winning a state championship,” Cochran said. “The things I went through to win the 100-meter dash my senior year. It was sweet for me to be able to show everybody I could come back to play football, and to use track to fuel that to get there. It was one of best moments of my life.”
After playing at Coffeyville CC, Cochran was an invited walk-on at Oklahoma. It was a dream-come-true for the lifelong Sooners fan.
“I was a Sooner from the day I was born,” he said. “My grandpa made sure of that He has been a season ticket holder since I probably the 1970s or the 1960s.”
He moved to wide receiver and was thrilled to play in the spring game. After the summer, though, Cochran decided he wanted to play quarterback. Valdosta State was looking for a quarterback and had been in contact with the Coffeyville program.
“(Offensive coordinator) Coach (Robby) Brown told me I needed to come see it, that it would be unlike anything I’d seen in Oklahoma,” Cochran said. “The Division II schools in Oklahoma aren’t as pretty as Valdosta. I fell in love with it immediately and committed the next morning.”
Valdosta State coach David Dean was on a beach vacation, but drove back to the school to meet with Cochran.
“That’s how much we thought he would be a vital part of our program,” Dean said. “He is a resilient kid and has got a great work ethic. He’s very well respected by each and every one of his teammates. You’re talking about a guy who came in two weeks before the start of practice and two weeks into camp everybody on the team was listening to him.”
Four games into the 2011 season Cochran was the Blazers’ starting quarterback.
The latest adversity, losing two houses in 18 months, is just another roadblock and nothing Cochran said the family won’t be able to overcome.
“I can honestly say this, I would rather it be my family to go through something like this than any other family because I know that there are people who have had tougher stories than mine,” he said. “There are people dealing with death every day and financial problems and stuff like that. I’m blessed to have a family that can push through stuff like this. We’re strong enough to do so.”
Gregg Dewalt can be reached at 256-740-5748 or email@example.com. Follow @greggdewalt on Twitter.