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April 4, 2012

Chisholm gets a second chance



It was August 5, 2011. Like all of the other players on the Appalachian State football roster, running back Rod Chisholm sat at his locker getting ready for what would be the first day of fall camp.

The excitement for getting back on the field was prevalent throughout the football building. No one was bruised and dinged up yet. Everyone had fresh legs and an eye on opening kickoff with Virginia Tech at the start of September.

Optimism for a big season was everywhere. It was, after all, the first day.

For Chisholm the emotions were a little bit different. Just over a month prior to the start of camp, the school announced the talented runner from Charlotte, N.C., had fallen short of meeting NCAA academic requirements and would be ineligible to play during the 2011 season.

He was permitted to practice with the team, sit in on meetings, watch film on upcoming opponents and participate in just about any other football related activity that took place. He could even travel with his teammates for road games.

The only difference is Chisholm was not allowed to put on his pads and step onto the football field each Saturday.

It was not an ideal situation for Chisholm, and as a result, he hurt.

"I was able to practice," Chisholm said in a matter-of-fact tone. "It's like someone sitting you down at a table and putting your favorite dish in front of you and saying look, you can smell it, you can look at it, you can even touch it but you can't eat it. That hurt me."

Chisholm had two options - sulk and feel sorry for himself, or take the challenge head on and use the season away from the game to improve himself, both on and off the field.

He chose the latter.

And his first course of action was to begin taking steps towards restoring his academic standing.

Chisholm met with John Sevier, an advisor for student athletes, and "mapped out a plan."

The former academic all-Southern Conference member knew he had the ability to do well in the classroom, and with the help of Sevier and a drive to correct his own mistakes, Chisholm was determined to regain his eligibility.

"I had to regenerate myself and get back on the right path," he said. "I had to get back right in the classroom. That was No. 1. It's the main reason I'm here. Without that I can't do any of the things I like to do.

"I got myself organized. I was going to class everyday, and doing my work on time. I just got back in the habit of doing things the right way. I had got off track and just lost focus and I had to gain it back."

While doing what was necessary to reclaim his eligibility was the top priority, he understood that football had to be firmly on his mind as well.

That meant approaching practice each day as if he had the opportunity to take the field on Saturday's. He worked with the scout team, and ran the ball effectively. He was doing everything the right way.

The reality that he would not play each week no matter what he did leading up to game day was always present, however.

It was that fact, though, that fueled him and gave him the strength to keep pushing forward.

"During the time off I just took some time to really focus," he added. "I got stronger in the weight room. I got stronger out here mentally. I had to get stronger because I was hungry."

By the time the season came to a close, Chisholm was nearing the conclusion of the semester. He was finishing strong in the classroom, and was well on his way to regaining the privilege of playing football.

But the challenge was not complete.

Chisholm still had to go through the spring semester. He had offseason workouts and spring practice ahead of him. There remained much for him to prove.

Like he did in the fall, Chisholm met the task head on. He was proving to be stronger and more focused than he had ever been during his time at Appalachian.

When spring practice arrived last month, Chisholm, like the rest of the offense, had to adjust to new coaches and a new approach.

But the arrival of running backs coach Chris Foster and offensive coordinator Scott Satterfield represented yet another opportunity to show what he is capable of doing. With Foster and Satterfield, there was a chance for a fresh start.

He simply had to take advantage.

At first, Chisholm struggled in spring practice to grab the attention of the coaches. Satterfield wanted the senior to develop into a north-south type of runner, and eliminate his tendency to always bounce to the outside edges.

The transformation into the type of runner the coaches were looking for was not a simple one. But as the final week of spring practice rolled around, things began to click for Chisholm.

He impressed the coaches with two outstanding scrimmages, rushing for 48 yards on nine carries, while catching two passes for 18 yards in the first, and posting 74 yards and a touchdown on just six carries in the second scrimmage.

His performance earned him praise from the coaches.

"He broke some tackles today - not only today, but the scrimmage we had two days ago, second play he takes it 50 or 60 yards for a touchdown," Satterfield said after the team's open practice. "He showed some speed right there. The last two days, out of him, he's really shown a little bit.

"We're going to need that from him in the fall. We need that big body, that big back to go in there and get those tough yards ad run over that linebacker when we need to and get that first down. That's what we saw."

Chisholm acknowledged that it took him a little time to adapt to the fast tempo and the conditioning required of him and his teammates to run it.

He also noted the challenges of learning the new plays the coaches were implementing into practice, as well as becoming the north-south runner the coaches wanted out of him.

But the thought of giving in never appeared.

The senior maintained his focus, and remembered what he had gone through to get to where he is. And because of that, he had no plans of letting the opportunity move past him for a second time.

"Once we got back in the gist of things I realized this is my opportunity," Chisholm said. "And I'm not taking advantage of this opportunity because it's my last year, I'm taking advantage of this opportunity because I got a second chance and that really clicked."

Though Chisholm has plenty left to do over the summer and into fall camp to earn a spot in the running back rotation, he is extremely focused and prepared to put in the work necessary to reach his goals and be in a position to play a key role in the Mountaineers' 2012 campaign.


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