Home / 'Unlikeliest Auburn Tiger' meets with teens inspired by his book
'Unlikeliest Auburn Tiger' meets with teens inspired by his book
Lewis Colbert, author of “The Unlikeliest Auburn Tiger,” has been speaking before numerous clubs and organizations since the release of his autobiography last fall. The book, which chronicles Colbert’s path to college and professional football, despite dealing with a club foot and multiple surgeries, has struck a chord with many people.
Lauren Coggin, a senior at Newnan High School, read the book and did a report on it for school. Coggin, a big Auburn fan, has been dealing with rhuematoid arthritis since being diagnosed with the disease at 18 months old.
“The book really connected with me, the way he was able to get over his disability,” Coggin said. She too did not let anything stop her from pursuing the activities she loved. She has been involved with dance since the age of three and has also been a member of the school’s marching band for four years.
“I wrote Mr. Colbert a letter and am getting to meet him for the first time today,” Coggin said.
Paul Ferguson, a football coach at Rising Starr Middle School, saw the book at a local store and then saw Colbert talking at the fairgrounds about his life and his book a few weeks later.
“I thought, ‘I should get him to talk to Grant (Aasen), who has faced some challenges himself,’” Ferguson recalled.
Aasen, a junior at Starr’s Mill, suffered a subdural hematoma after being hit during a junior varsity football game against Northgate in 2010. He was life-flighted to the hospital and was in stable condition after surgery, but no one was sure what would happen next and his return to football was even more uncertain.
“A lot of people don’t survive something like that, so no one was telling me whether I should or shouldn’t go back to football,” Aasen said. “I knew I shouldn’t go back to playing linebacker or running back, so I became a punter so that I could be back with the team.”
Prior to becoming a punter, Colbert played high school football as a wide receiver and defensive back.
On one play, he planted his foot to make a turn and his ankle popped.
“It sounded like a gun,” Colbert recalled. “I screamed and hollered and the doctor practically had a conniption when he found out I was playing football. He told me that if I broke my leg there was a chance it would not heal.”
Colbert moved on to baseball and was on three state championship winning teams before injuring his arm. As a manager for the football team though, Colbert had toyed around with punting. He had to drop the ball lower for his foot to kick it properly and each drop had to be just perfect. He practiced this drop every day, often carrying a football on his way to and from class and bouncing it on the ground. It was a perfect bounce if it came right back to his hands.
“The drop was perfectly level and that’s why I was able to do what I did,” Colbert said, adding that in practice he could do the punt with his eyes closed.
He went to Auburn University, tried out for the football team and got his chance to start the following year. He set school records that he still holds to this day (most punts and most punting yards), was a first team All-American in 1985, a member of Auburn’s Team of the Century and was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs. Not bad for someone who doctors thought may never walk. He underwent four major surgeries before the age of five and had to wear braces and casts for many years. When teammates at Auburn saw him walking strangely, Colbert lied and told them he just had a bit of a sprained ankle.
In many of his talks, Colbert discusses being mentally tough, working hard and doing what you love. That message resonated loudly for both Coggin and Aasen.
“I’ve put off hip replacement surgery so that I could finish out dance and my senior year,” Coggin said, adding that marching band, where she plays flute and percussion, can be particularly grueling for her while dealing with rheumatoid arthritis. “It’s a lot of standing and walking for hours on end between practices, games on Friday and competitions on Saturday.
For Aasen, Colbert’s message of structuring what he’s doing during practice and practicing even when he is away from the field has made a difference.
Colbert marveled at the bravery of both Aasen and Coggin in staring down adversity to do something that they love.
“Your mind is the strongest part of your body,” Colbert said. “You can do wonders.”
In addition to punting for the Starr’s Mill football team, Aasen is playing lacrosse for the Panthers with his brother, senior Davis Aasen. Coggin will attend Auburn University in the fall and plans on majoring in nursing.
When asked which parts of the book they enjoyed the most, Coggin stated that she enjoyed the part where Colbert kept his athletics a secret from the doctor, adding that she too has tried to keep some of the pain she was experiencing a secret at times. Aasen stated that he enjoyed the message of determination and being a part of a team.
“I tried to do what I was supposed to do to the best of my ability each time,” Colbert said. “There is no replacement for hard work. It won’t ever leave you.”
Colbert, the teens and their families enjoyed meeting up for a meal and more conversation last week and Colbert even discussed coming out to watch Aasen kick a few punts, before reminding everyone that his own kicking days are over.
For more information on Lewis Colbert and the book “The Unlikeliest Auburn Tiger,” visit www.lewiscolbertbook.com.