Winter workouts. Summer camp. Fall camp. Early mornings. Late nights. Blood, sweat, and tears, as the saying goes.
Football student-athletes endure a lot.
So, what drives them and keeps them going when they don’t feel like it? Turns out, many of them have the same answer: family.
A sense of commitment, a sense of loyalty, a sense of wanting to make good on the sacrifices made on their behalf.
Look at senior linebacker Jonathan Sutherland and sophomore quarterback Christian Veilleux, for examples. Both originally from Canada, they each moved away from home as teenagers to pursue their dream of playing Division I college football.
It’s worked out for both of them, thanks in large part to their families supporting them in numerous ways.
“My journey really, being where I’m from and all the sacrifices I’ve made to come down here, I think that’s what drives me,” Veilleux said in May during a freshmen media session. “Because at the end of the day, in my mind, if I don’t make it, it’s all for nothing. My parents have sent me here, I’ve done so much, so for me, I’ve got to accomplish what I’ve set out to do.”
At 16, Veilleux moved from Ottawa and became a two-year letterman at Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland. He and his parents figured moving to the U.S. early would eventually happen. At home, he trained at Gridiron Academy, and with a trainer who helped Canadian student-athletes transition to playing Division I football or enroll at prep academies. So, he said, the path was already laid out, which explains why he didn’t need to convince his parents or put up a fight.
“My parents said, ‘Yeah, let’s send our kid away at 16 years old,’ not a lot of parents can do that, right? So for them to do that, have confidence in me … they sacrifice a lot for me, so I’ve got to get it back in return for them.”
Last season, Veilleux became the first Penn State true freshman quarterback to throw a touchdown in eight years (Christian Hackenberg). He actually threw for three scores, taking most of the snaps in a late-November home contest against Rutgers. Penn State won 28-0, and that game became known as coming amid a horrific flu bug that sidelined many players on the team.
“Thursday was a good day,” Veilleux said, recalling the lead up to Rutgers. “Friday is when everybody went down. Our whole QB room came in with the flu. Our training room looked like a hospital. Everybody had IVs hooked up to them. It looked bad, man, I didn’t know what was going to happen Saturday.”
Saturday unfolded fine for the Nittany Lions, as Veilleux finished 15-of-24 for 235 yards and no turnovers. The exact type of performance you want anytime, and especially toward the end of the schedule against a team that’s overmatched.
He wasn’t fazed, even when he slipped near the south end zone tunnel after the game. For a half-second, he stayed down, acting like he almost intended for the spill to happen. That kind of calm demeanor is the result of growing up sooner than most people your age, the result of moving away from home, and accepting an increased level of responsibility.
“I had to be smart, I had to be mature, and I had to make decisions that would keep me down there (Maryland) and keep me in school and keep playing football so it definitely made me grow up,” Veilleux said of moving away from Canada. “It definitely helped with my game. I think that’s the point where I realized I had to be more of a neutral emotional guy on the field, so not get too high, not get too low, always stay at the same level.”
You can hear more from several players, who spoke about what motivates them prior to this summer’s Lift For Life event at the Lasch Practice fields. Sutherland’s entire video focuses on this topic, while both junior safety Keaton Ellis and junior tight end Brenton Strange share what motivates them in addition to other topics. You can jump to the 3:08 and 3:15 marks, respectively, to hear Ellis and Strange share what drives them.
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