Quarterback Cayden Cochran was a walk-on at Oklahoma before he transferred to Valdosta State last year after his family’s home was destroyed by a tornado. On Sunday, the day he led VSU to a spot in the Division II title game, his family’s new home in Oklahoma burned to the ground.
VALDOSTA — Valdosta State quarterback Cayden Cochran and his family have had to be incredibly resilient heading into the Division II national championship game.
The Cochrans have lost two homes in the past 18 months.
Valdosta State will play Winston-Salem State in Saturday’s Division II national championship game in Florence, Ala. The game will come only six days after Cochran’s family home in Cashion, Okla., was destroyed by a fire. The loss is especially painful because the family’s previous home was leveled by a tornado in May 2011.
Cochran said the family crisis is especially difficult when his mind is not on football.
“It’s sort of difficult when things die down,” Cochran said in a telephone interview. “When I’m trying to go to sleep, it’s tough to grasp. I’m calling my parents, calling my brothers, just to see where they’re at, if they’re all together, where they’re staying that night.”
Sadly, this is not a new dilemma for the family. Sunday’s fire destroyed the longtime family home where Cochran’s father, Chris, lived as a child. Chris Cochran said his family was using the home on a temporary basis following last year’s tornado.
Chris Cochran said he’s looking for a temporary furnished home for his family as work continues on a new home. He said the new home should be ready in a few months.
While Cayden Cochran worries about his family, including three younger brothers, he’s trying to keep his focus on the big game.
“He’s hurting but he’s come out and he looks like he’s tried to put it in the back of his mind and tried to prepare just like he would every week,” said Valdosta State coach David Dean.
“I’m really proud of him. He’s a pretty tough and resilient kid. You feel for him but he doesn’t want you to feel sorry for him. He’s going to come out and give this football team everything he’s got.”
Cashion was a walk-on at Oklahoma when the tornado struck his hometown on May 24, 2011.
“It was the tornado coming through that kind of made me step back and realize I needed to get out of Oklahoma, where I’m paying all this money to go to school,” Cochran said. “I needed to look for a scholarship to get some money to help with school, to continue to do what I love and help out my family.”
That search led Cochran to Valdosta State.
“It’s kind of weird,” said Chris Cochran. “That happened and he was offered scholarship there soon after that. That took our mind off everything then.”
Chris Cochran said he planned to leave Wednesday for the long drive to Alabama.
“The game and the excitement and the opportunity is just keeping us focused toward that and keeping everything else off our mind,” said the elder Cochran. “We’re just excited and happy for him.
“We’re safe and nobody lost their life and we know things can be replaced. We’re just excited to be a part of what’s going on right now.”
Chris Cochran said there will be about 40 friends and family members from Cashion, which has a population of about 800, at the game.
That’s no surprise to Cayden Cochran.
“The town we live in is a very small town and they’re great people,” he said. “There are people calling my parents, saying ‘Hey, let the kids stay with us tonight.’ I called my mom and she said parents picked up my little brothers in middle school to go shopping for winter clothes because it’s pretty cold in Oklahoma right now.
“It’s just that kind of stuff that makes you feel really good, with me being far away from home, that there’s people like that in my hometown.”
Cochran said his parents deflect his questions about how they are coping with another crisis.
“Every time I ask about them, they tell me ‘Don’t worry about us,’” Cayden said. “They say ‘We’re excited about coming to Florence and watching you play. That’s all we’ve ever wanted, for you to succeed.’ That’s what they tell me, so they put me at ease a little bit with that, just knowing they’re excited.
“I’m glad they have something to look forward to and be excited about because that home was such a big part of all of our lives. It’s where my dad grew up and where I spent almost every day as a kid. So it’s tough, but I think football, you see it time and time again, it’s used as an outlet to put some emotion into something else.”
Valdosta State (11-2) will play for its third national championship. The Blazers won Division II titles in 2004 and 2007.
Cochran passed for 278 yards and two touchdowns while also running for two touchdowns in last week’s 35-19 semifinal win at Minnesota State-Mankato.
The junior has passed for 2,601 yards with 25 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. He has 336 yards rushing with nine touchdowns.
Chris Cochran said he expects his son to funnel his emotions into the game.
“I’m thinking he’ll use it as motivation,” said the elder Cochran. “That’s just the way he is. He thinks things happen for a reason and he’s just happy we weren’t there.
“I bet he has a great game. That’s just what he does. He’s always been that kind of kid. He’s just a great leader and when other things are falling apart, people have always looked to him.”