As an alumnus of Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, Manitoba I recently reached out to the varsity coaches, asking if they had any athletes on their teams who embodied the idea of carrying a chip on their shoulder. I wanted to hear about those athletes and send them a shirt as a way of recognizing this athlete in unique way and as a way of giving back to my high school.
Jon Romu, the head football coach, was quick to answer with a story that inspired me and further assured me that there are lots of athletes who could be inspired by a GFI shirt. This is the first of what I hope will become many stories of athletes who identify with the story I am telling.
When warming up for a game, R.J. Ilagan, a running back for the Kelvin High School Clippers, doesn’t necessarily instill fear in the hearts of his opponents. Standing on the sideline waiting for his chance to take the field he does not appear to be an intimidating presence. In fact when the oppositions’ defense finds out he is the starting tailback they laugh smugly and think today they will be delivering all the hard hits.
At 5’6” 130 lbs Ilagan does not fit the classic running back mould. But as soon as he gets his first carry those feelings start to change. Just ask the linebacker for Sisler High who was knocked out trying to tackle Ilagan. You see, Ilagan runs like a Mack truck, punishing tacklers who stand in his way, making them pay for thinking, for even a second, he couldn’t compete at this level. One reason he runs this way, is that Ilagan carries a chip on his shoulder, one that drives him to prove that he belongs, not only at this level but as he tries to earn the chance to play at the college level, one punishing run at a time.
When I asked his coach Jon Romu what kind of player R.J. was the description gave me goosebumps. About his size Romu had this to say, “Although he is small he plays like he is a 6’5″ 240 pound bulldozer.” When asked about what opponents think Romu answered, “He knows that the defenses are out to take him down and hurt him so the chip on his shoulder pushes him to be the hammer not the nail.” And when Romu talked about where Ilagan found his motivation to succeed he had very high praise for his running back. “He is a phenomenal player with a little body but a great big heart and his inner drive is unmatched in any athlete I have seen in a long, long time. He definitely plays with a chip on his shoulder”
As a smaller athlete myself playing baseball at a high level there were many times I dealt with the idea I was too small and I loved proving people wrong!
Speaking to R.J. after he received his shirt he came across as a humble and respectful young man who was grateful to be recognized in this way. However when I asked him about why he carried a chip on his shoulder that was when I saw the confidence and drive in this young athlete that Coach Romu talks so highly about. He first gave credit to his teammates for the work they put in to make running for almost 900 yards averaging 6.5 yards per carry possible. He then talked about always finishing plays, be it running someone over or churning your legs after contact for those few extra inches. At only 16 to be wise about not taking anything for granted is yet another example that this is not your average running back, no matter what the size on the roster says.
I would like to congratulate R.J. on being the first athlete awarded a “Grown From Idea” shirt. This is a young man who values hard work and determination and I know this recognition will not go to his head. In fact I hope the opposite happens and it makes him even hungrier to show again and again that the “Chip on his Shoulder” is one reason why he plays the way he does and that he won’t stop until his dreams are realized. I know I wouldn’t bet against him.