Finishing What I Started

It could be any number of things. It could be the dense fog that blanketed Abilene when I rose from bed this morning. It could be the fact that I have willed these thoughts and words to leave me and miraculously appear on paper for months now, I don't know. Regardless, today felt different than every other Saturday in the fall that I have experienced over the course of the last four years.

Today I play my last home game as an Abilene Christian University Wildcat, ever. I won't pretend that I'm not ready to move on, because I am. The last few months have felt like being stuck in the waiting room, crouching at the starting blocks of the rest of my life, only to be told to hurry up and wait. But to take for granted these last few months is to take for granted the entirety of my time at this school. My life is as I have known it for the last four years and some change is about to change drastically, and the best way to look forward is to first look back. So I reminisce.

Football has been a constant in my life for the past seven years. It has been the dictator of my schedule from the first time I put on pads, but it has also brought me some of my closest friends and fondest memories. I will never forget the feeling of stepping onto the field at Troy knowing that we were about to show the Trojans what ACU football was about, or the feeling of stepping off the field at Air Force the first game of my senior season knowing that I had completely given it my all.

It can be hard to remember where it all began; where I came from. But when times get tough, or I forget, I have brothers that give my brain the jogging it needs to remember properly.

I was cut from the soccer team during tryouts my freshman year of high school, at which point I had no idea what to do. Over the course of the following year, during the fall to be specific, I decided that I wanted to go out for the football team, but I would have to wait as the season was already mostly over. Fast forward a year. I am a junior and I am playing football, but I am the third string punter and the coaches have informed me that they plan to play me on JV to see how I fare. I tried endlessly to quit, to which my father's response was to stick it out till the end of the season before I decided.

Stick it out I did, and after playing a single JV game I was moved up to varsity and given my first start which happened to be Homecoming. I was so excited and nervous that I left my cleats in the locker room and went onto the field for warmups in full pads and tennis shoes. I finished that season winning all-area punter of the year; no more thoughts of quitting, as you can imagine.

I can clearly remember the day that a friend of mine approached me saying that her boyfriend (a few years our senior, a freshman at UT) had told her the night before that I had a real chance of playing in college, to which my reaction was laughter. I could not believe that she was telling me, the awkward, lanky punter that learned to put pads on a mere six months prior that I had a chance of playing in college. That is a day I will never forget.

The next year, my senior season, I continued on the same trajectory, but the closest I came to a college offer was small talk with coaches on the phone. It seemed more like they humoring me than anything. So my season ended, not a single offer in sight, but I was determined to play at the next level. I lived in Abilene, Texas for the majority of my childhood years, and when all of my hopes of an offer from other colleges fell through my father brought to my attention that Abilene Christian University had sent me some academic mail a few months back, and that their football team was doing very well. I reluctantly sent the coaches my film and filled out an application.

Fast forward six months and my parents are dropping me off at Mabee Dorm on report day for football two-a-days. I am a walk-on, but I have a chance. The punter starting in front of me was Spencer Covey, one of the legends of ACU football, so I knew it would be a matter of waiting and learning. The coaches had told me that I would red-shirt and fight for the starting spot, so wait and learn I did. That next spring I won the spot as the starting punter, much to my own excitement.

In the time since I have been named First-Team All-Independent, Southland Conference Special Teams Player of the Week twice, FCS National Special Teams Player of the Week Honorable Mention and now hold the record for best punt average in a season in ACU history. The lessons that this game has taught me have been endless, and I know that I will in time begin to see where and how they apply in my everyday life. With two more games left in my football career I can rest easy knowing that I have given it my all every Saturday in the fall for the past four years; shoulder to shoulder with my brothers that I get to call teammates.

It's a hell of a deal football. But in retrospect, I would not trade the countless hours on charter buses, multiple Golden Corral meals a weekend, 5:30 a.m. workouts spent in the freezing cold and endless other challenges for anything. Football has made me a better and stronger man, and for that I am thankful.

Thank you to my coaches for taking a chance on a scrawny walk-on from Tennessee, the opportunity has meant the world to me. Thank you to my teammates for always pushing me to be better and being my family for the past four and a half years. Thank you to my parents for always believing in me and never letting me quit. I love y'all!

But don't let me fool you. I am still that same scrawny walk-on from Tennessee, just a few years older, a few years wiser and not so scrawny. We are not victims of our circumstances; however, I would say that our circumstances are formed by us over time.

Austin Kilcullen