Chandler forced to adjust college dream

Originally Published: March 11, 2005
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

Three sentences and a quote. A life full of practices and carpools, sweat and buddies, pain and glory, had been reduced with cool efficiency to three sentences and a quote.

Jan. 31, 2005

ATHENS — Injuries have ended the college career of University of Georgia redshirt freshman offensive lineman Trey Chandler of Buford.

Continual shoulder problems have prohibited his participation.

"We're disappointed that Trey's career will not be able to continue due to the injury problems," said UGA head coach Mark Richt. "But he's still part of our family, will remain on scholarship, and will have responsibilities within our football program as he continues his education toward earning his degree."

Chandler was a consensus first team Class AA All-State selection as a senior at Buford High School helping his team to two state titles.

Just like that.

Trey Chandler's college career ended before it really began.
Among the couple of thousand recruits who sign Division I-A scholarships every year, a few will achieve stardom. The vast majority soldier on, perhaps winning recognition, perhaps not. But the recognition is not why they play. The promise of a free education is not incentive enough to endure the long hours and the pressure to perform.

The lure of football is not outlined in the glare of television lights or the number of clicks on a website. It is not in the cleansing fury of a clean hit and not always in the adulation that rains upon the field from a crowded upper deck.

The lure of football is, to borrow the repetitive eloquence of former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, in "the team, the team, the team." It is in the 6 a.m. walks to winter workouts, in a teammate's clammy pat of a sweat-soaked shirt on a June evening. It's in the snap of a towel in the locker room.

Trey Chandler never stepped between the sidelines for his beloved Bulldogs. The rag posing as a labrum in his left shoulder wouldn't allow it. He tore it in high school, before he helped lead Buford (Ga.) High to state championships in 2001 and 2002. He tore it again when he got to Georgia. By last season, he had developed a bone bruise on the capsule of the shoulder. Three surgeries, going back to Buford, months and months of rehab, and the bone bruise would inflame the muscle if he made any violent motion.

"Like I do every play," Chandler said, taking refuge in dry humor.

He is 6-foot-6 and, by last summer, had closed within a steak or two of 300 pounds. He came out of spring practice a year ago as the second-team center. But when he stood on the sideline last fall, his uniform included a sling.

"It was so frustrating," Chandler said. "This is what I always wanted to do. I got here, and all of a sudden, I can't do it. In a way, I felt somebody else deserved my scholarship. I'm not playing. I'm taking up space. Some of those walk-ons busting their tails every day might deserve this more than me."

Chandler has gone through the entire buffet line of emotions. He took a bowl full of self-pity, but he hasn't gone back for seconds. Chandler's body had already accepted the medical scholarship. His mind needed a couple of weeks to come around to the fact that, at age 20, he was no longer a football player.

"The most difficult part," Chandler said, "is that as bad as I want to [play], I can't help it. Being out there with your friends, having a great time, and knowing you can't do that. I prayed a lot. I kept telling myself I'd just get through it.

"I got through it. It wasn't the way I wanted to get through it."

The writer Elwood Reid, a former scholarship player at Michigan, once described the alienation he felt from the team the moment that injury curtailed his career. The team, the team, the team, no longer included him.

Chandler doesn't believe that will happen to him. Richt told Chandler the same thing in private that he said in the press release. Chandler jumped at the chance to work as a student assistant to strength coach Dave Van Halanger. When the Dawgs began mat drills this winter, Van Halanger assigned Chandler to the injured players who couldn't participate.

"They had to go to the weight room and ride bikes and do pushups," Chandler said. "We supervised them. They gave me crap about it. 'Try to tell me to do something.' 'I'm not doing anything you say.' They knew it wasn't me talking to them."

It's a tough stream to ford. On the one hand, Chandler said he has more time to focus on his criminal justice major. And he feels better. Not the pain in his shoulder, but the weight lifted off of it.

"I didn't realize how much pressure I was putting on myself," Chandler said. "I really wanted to help the team out. I wasn't helping a whole lot standing there with my shoulder in a sling."

On the other hand, he has time to focus on his academic work because he's no longer in the meeting rooms and on the practice field. The bond he feels with his teammates will have to stretch outside of the locker room. He is wary of the fall, when, for the first time since he was nine years old, he won't be wearing a uniform.

Chandler has this consolation. Under NCAA rules, a player who can no longer play for medical reasons may keep his scholarship and it won't count under the team's limit of 85. That other deserving player is getting a free ride, too.

"I had the ability to get here," Chandler said. "It wasn't meant for me."

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com