It’s been almost three years since Austin Sevier dressed and played in a truly competitive football game. When he finally does on Sept. 7, he’ll be the wily, old veteran at Hendrix College.
Sevier figures, after all, with the things he’s gone through it just makes sense it worked out that way.
The Warriors dress for their first football season since 1960 this fall. The roster is filled with 18- and 19-year-olds. Most are weeks removed from walking across their high school stage. Almost all, in fact.
Sevier will serve as a captain and be the oldest player — he’ll 21 when the season starts — on the newly reformed team.
"I’m ready for it," Sevier said. "I’m ready to take on that responsibility. I’m excited to be that leader because I’ve been there and done that."
It takes a different kind of person to attend Hendrix. The liberal arts university in Conway has just about 1,500 students. It’s known for its strict academic regimen. Three years ago, Sevier admitted, he wasn’t that kind of person.
He wasn’t gung ho about his grades and his schoolwork. He hemmed and hawed about anything that wasn’t football, frankly. He thought when all was said and done with his career at Paris, there would be a healthy little list of schools vying for his services. He ran for 800 yards on 126 carries and scored 15 touchdowns in that fall of 2010. The Eagles went 8-3. He’d been getting calls from Southern Arkansas, Henderson State and Arkansas Tech. Someone, he thought, would surely pay for college so he could play football.
They didn’t exactly beat down his front door with scholarship offers in-hand and beg him to sign. He was good enough on tape. His grades and ACT scores were a different story.
"I was your typical football player," Sevier said. "There was only one thing going for me and that was sports."
Sevier was set to take the best offer he had available to him — a partial scholarship to ATU. It was just down the road in Russellville, relatively inexpensive and he’d get to play football. It wasn’t precisely what he’d hoped, but it’d do. He went up the summer after his high school graduation to work out with the team and found himself in a whole new world.
"Let’s just say it didn’t work out. That’s the gist of it," Sevier said. His tone was part laughing and part flat — a sort of "don’t start with that" sound of somebody who is unsentimental.
He left Russellville before school began that fall. It was just one of the many steps Sevier had taken that summer, desperately looking for some way to continue his football career. He didn’t get the scholarships he thought he deserved as a 17-year-old. Maybe he wasn’t everything he’d built up in his own head.
Then, as sometimes happens when sitting down with a man-to-man talk with a father, it clicked. It was time to grow up, Sevier said.
"He was disappointed in himself when he didn’t get those scholarship offers and I think it was a reality check for him," Brian Sevier, Austin’s father, said. "I went to three different colleges with him, enrolled at all three. I finally came to a point where I threw my hands in the air. I basically laid it on the line."
Maturity is sometimes a slow, agonizing process. Sometimes it’s a quick, agonizing one. It’s never easy, though, especially in Sevier’s case. He’d come to the realization if wanted any shot at playing football again, he had to evolve from high school kid to college adult.
With motivation from his father and older brother, Taylor, Sevier hit the books. And the track. And the weight room. But especially the books. He enrolled at Carl Albert State College in Poteau and during two years, grew from boy to man through academics. Always with a longing to play college football in his mind
"I had my head buried in a book every second of the day," Sevier said. "I knew if I wanted to play football, I was going to have to (study)."
Back in Conway, Hendrix was about to hire its first football coach in 52 years. The scramble was officially underway to field a team for the 2013 season. It’d been about scholastic achievement, not athletic achievement at Hendrix since the football team folded in 1961. But if football was coming back, Hendrix wasn’t going to sacrifice its academic reputation to make it so.
First-year coach Justin Buchanan has been a part of program revivals before. He was on the staff at Louisiana College in 1999 when that school re-instituted its team. In less than 10 seasons he had the team in the Top 25. He knows what kind of players its take to rebuild.
Three years ago, it wouldn’t have been a player like Sevier.
"I think he’s grown up and matured," Paris coach Bryan Hudson said. "I think that’s one of the reasons, at his age, he can do it. I think he got out and he matured."
Sevier had gone from high school senior with sub-par ACT scores and middling grades, questionable for enrollment at some state schools to Phi Theta Kappa national honor society, an associates degree in Physical Education/Health and Recreation and enrollment at one of the best academic institutions in Arkansas.
The time Sevier spent looking for athletic scholarships never panned out. He didn’t get one from Hendrix either. As a Division-III program, the Warriors can’t offer athletic scholarships. Instead, he’ll be attending Hendrix on an academic scholarship.