Oregon walk-on and scout team star Brian Teague struggled to stay driven in his five-year career
Brian Teague had finals to study for, but he first had to finish weight lifting. Teague was preparing for his fifth and final season as a walk-on tight end for the Oregon football team and he had a chance to earn a scholarship for the first time in his career.
During the lift, rookie head coach Mark Helfrich went up to Teague.
“Hey, when you’re done, come up,” Helfrich said. “I just want to meet with you for a few minutes about something.”
Teague, 23, had no idea what Helfrich wanted to discuss. After he arrived at Helfrich’s office, the head coach asked Teague if he’d be willing to switch from tight end to offensive line.
At first, Teague thought that move would set him back. It would likely drop him to the bottom of the list as far as earning a scholarship.
But it didn’t take long for Teague to see the bright side of the situation. Coach Helfrich saw the potential in him, Teague thought. He’d be helping the team. It was part of God’s plan.
“I knew within a couple hours that I was going to make the switch,” Teague said.
For his entire career, which ended after Oregon’s 30-7 Alamo Bowl win on Dec. 30, Teague primarily served as a scout team tight end (the scout team simulates the plays and personnel of the upcoming opponent). His job wasn’t incredibly fulfilling, but he was rewarded with offensive scout team player of the year award twice (2009 and this past season).
While the Teagues are happy about the honor, they don’t look at it as some glamorous award.
“It’s a perseverance award,” Brian’s father Jon Sr. said.
No team award, however, can equate to the benefits of a scholarship.
“It (respect from teammates) doesn’t mean more than heaven, the money in your bank account and not having the student loans,” said Brian’s brother Jon Jr., who was also a walk-on at Oregon from 2004-08.
Scholarship players get several benefits besides free tuition. Brian’s mother, Colleen, said the main difference between those athletes and walk-ons is the high amount of small luxuries, such as training tables (specialized cafeterias). Walk-ons have to pay to eat there, unlike scholarship players.
“You have a title that basically says you’re not as good as everyone,” Jon Jr. said, referring to walk-ons.
There’s another key difference, according to the Teagues, and that’s work ethic. Walk-ons have the reputation of being worse athletes than those with scholarships, so players like Brian are constantly trying to gain an edge, like attending optional practices that, in their minds, are mandatory.
Jon Sr. said two of Brian’s teammates, both tight ends, fell on the opposite end of the spectrum. Colt Lyerla, who withdrew from the University of Oregon on Oct. 6, and sophomore Pharaoh Brown (suspended for his role in the Dec. 9 snowball fight on the UO campus), both have loads of talent, but according to Jon Sr., neither player realized the opportunities given to them.
“There are a lot of kids like that, especially when they come from nothing,” John Sr. said.
Brian certainly hasn’t gone through struggles akin to Lyerla’s and Brown’s, but he’s had his fair share of difficulties.
“After he won the offensive scout team player of the year for the first time,” Colleen said, “he wanted to quit.”
Brian constantly asked himself why he was in Eugene. Was the grind worth it if playing time would never come?
“I didn’t understand why I was continuing to struggle through it when it could’ve been something I could’ve just walked away from, been a normal student, transferred out and maybe played,” Brian said.
Two things in particular kept him going: his drive and his faith.
Brian was born and raised Christian, but his parents said he and Jon Jr. are much more devout than either one of them. Brian goes to church basically every Sunday. He practices devotion. He met his wife, Chandra, in their high school youth group (the couple married during the summer of 2012).
“The reason I play football isn’t because of the awards or anything like that,” Brian said. “I play for the fact that I can glorify my God.”
Brian is also surrounded by people who constantly work. Colleen is a secretary at Brian’s former high school, David Douglas in Portland. Jon Sr. said he works 60-75 hours a week as a driver supervisor with Sysco Foods.
“I don’t call it work,” Jon Sr. said. “It’s my lifestyle.”
Jon Jr. is a certified public accountant for Portland’s Pricewaterhouse Coopers and Chandra, a former collegiate volleyball player who graduated from Corban University (Salem, Ore.) last year, is a personal trainer at Eugene’s International Fitness.
Chandra lived in Eugene while she went to school, and she’d get up at 6 a.m. several days a week in order to drive down the I-5 for morning classes. With practice on top of that, she wouldn’t get back to Eugene until 8 or 9 p.m. She often wouldn’t see Brian for most of the week.
“Sometimes he would be traveling, so sometimes we wouldn’t see each other until Sunday,” Chandra said.
Now that Brian’s football career is over, he and Chandra can spend much more time together. But they’re anxious about the future. Brian said his heart is with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) but he might go back to Portland and explore jobs there. Chandra might go back to school in hopes of becoming a physical therapist.
Both of them, as well as Brian’s other family members (he also has 21 year-old brother, Michael, and a 24 year-old adopted sister, Chrystal Halvorsen), are also relieved football is over. Brian said is hasn’t even hit him yet. That will come next fall, he expects.
But as relieving as the end feels, Brian will miss it. He hardly played a meaningful snap. He never earned a scholarship. He never ate for free at a training table. But he enjoyed his career and he thinks he’s a better man because of the struggles he went through. And he certainly doesn’t expect football to be the highlight of his life.
“It’s not the end of it for me,” Brian said. “There’s life after football.”
Follow Victor Flores on Twitter @vflores415