Sunday, July 26, 2009
OFF TO THE WILD BLUE YONDER
Give Ben Cochran a ball and he will throw it, hit it, catch it, run with it, or perhaps even kick it. Give Ben Cochran a ball and he will learn about life, teamwork and friendship. So, when it came time to look for a university to continue his education, the United States Air Force Academy was the logical choice. In Colorado Springs, Ben could continue to play football, but he could also serve his country and pay his own way through college, just like his father and grandfather before him, who retired as an Army captain and an Air Force major respectively.
Sports has also been part of the Cochran household. Ben’s parents, Guy and Tina, were outstanding athletes at Dublin High School back in the 1970s. Guy played three sports, while Tina was an outstanding basketball and tennis star for the Irish. Ben’s sisters, Shellie, Tanner and Carlin, were all outstanding tennis players just like their mom. "He had no desire to play tennis, but he developed good eye and hand coordination early when his mother made him tennis balls from about the age of three until he started tee ball," said Ben’s father Guy. Ben’s destiny was on the football field however, though there are many who think baseball might be his better sport. "I grew up in an extremely competitive household with three older sisters who had great success in their sport as well as the challenge to living up to my mom with her achievements at UGA. Tina was a state tennis champion, both in high school and at the University of Georgia. Tina set several records for the women's basketball team at the University of Georgia and was one of the top 15 draft choices in the first Women's Professional Basketball League.
Ben sees athletics as a huge part of his life, right behind God and his family. He sees the positive influence that sports can have on someone, believing without a doubt that his athletic endeavors have prepared him for the challenges of life itself. "From learning how to work hard and build character to communication and building cohesiveness on a team, athletics have played a vital role in the development of these areas," Cochran said. In his senior year, Ben guided the Dublin Irish to their first state championship since 1963.
The most obvious reason Ben decided to pursue enrollment at the Air Force Academy was the opportunity at a chance to play D-1 college football. "I did not know much about the academy at all until I started getting recruited by them. After learning a lot about the school and the opportunities here I was much more interested in the possibility of attending a military academy," Cochran remembered. Ben knew that going to college was going to pay his own way. If he would be blessed to receive an athletic scholarship that would be good. Had he not received an opportunity Ben was determined to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather Cochran. "I was planning on trying to go through an ROTC program like my father and grandfather to pay my way through school while having the opportunity to serve my country also."
Ben believes that athletics and military teamwork are similar in many ways. "The military understands the value of athletics, therefore, if you are not an inter-collegic athlete, you are required to participate in intramural sports every semester while at the Academy," said Cochran.
Football practices definitely prepare you for the physical aspects of Basic Training and training thereafter. Cochran feels lucky to have Coach Holmes get in his face just a few times over the years and really cut loose with some less than favorable words yelled directly in his ear. Ben maintains, "When these "butt-chewings" happened, I didn’t know they would be so beneficial in preparing me for later down the road when upper classmen tried to break, pressure, or intimidate me and my fellow freshman."
Recognition for the freshman culminates into one extended weekend. Starting on a Thursday, freshman are treated and beaten down with physical exercises, more strenuous than ever. About a hundred upperclassmen focus in on about thirty freshmen per squadron. It is the event that most people define as a huge difference between AFA cadets and ROTC folks. "Well I was real good at getting in trouble as a 4th classmen (freshman) and had a problem with grinning," Cochran chuckled. Coach Holmes identified this problem in his freshman year of high school but was never able to straighten it out. Ben remembered, " I had told Coach all year that they would not and could not break me and that I would not stop grinning no matter what."
During the recognition period the new cadets go through the Assault Course, which is the most intense and physically demanding course at the Academy. Ben fondly remembered "Going into the course, I started my little grin. After about a dozen upper classmen had already yelled in my face one finally asked, "Who do you think is going to get tired first, me blowing my whistle or you doing grenades?" Every time the senior blew the whistle Ben had to do what is known as a grenade or up-down, jump on the ground, do a push up and jump up. Responding to his questions, Ben flashed the best grin he could give and proclaimed, "I guess you will be blowing your whistle." For a solid hour Ben was forced to endure every single obstacle and grenades between every repetition. Cochran believed his classmates almost enjoyed it as much as he did because they only had to watch him being pulled aside every exercise. "But I will say," Cochran recalled, " that the upper classmen gave me credit for my work after the course and never did I once stop grinning."
The most enjoyable part of the Air Force Academy to Ben is the people. "I have some of the best friends in the world out here that we know each of us would die for the other, speaking both figuratively and literally in the possible situations that might face us in the coming years. The most frustrating part the AFA are the rules and hand holding that goes on. You can’t go to the bathroom without someone knowing when and where you’re going." At the Academy Ben has found some of his best friends ever. He said, "When you eat, sleep, workout, hangout, study, practice, and try to survive together, you become real good friends with those guys.
When Ben is not studying, playing football or drilling, he and his buddies head up the backside of the mountains, where they set up a camp, hunt turkeys in the morning and fish for trout in the afternoon. And, what a place to enjoy the outdoors in the outdoor paradise of Colorado. In point of fact, Ben’s nickname "Buck" comes from a hunting term. Though no one actually remembers how he came to be known by the name was that he was a buck among a family of does.
As for the moment, Ben is still undecided what he wants to do after college and after his career in the Air Force is over. He is interested in pursuing a job as an acquisitions or contracting officer, but he hasn’t ruled out flying either. He also hasn’t given up the idea of coming back to work in the family business, Cochran Brothers, which has been in Dublin for nearly a century.