More Than Just a Ball Game

In July, Texas Tech sponsor Under Armour partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project to create the UA Freedom initiative to support our nation’s military and public safety heroes. The Wounded Warrior Project is a non-profit organization that provides programs and services for injured service members and their families.

On Saturday, the Red Raiders featured camouflage uniforms and cleats for the cause. A special surprise that was a part of the uniform was the gloves that featured the United States flag on the palms. Whenever a touchdown was scored their hands went in the air to show their support for the USA.

Retired Army Captain Chad Fleming, retired Marine Corps Sergeant Mike Owens, and retired Marine Corps Corporal Anthony Villarreal were special guests this weekend to the Red Raiders and honorary captains. All three soldiers were injured while serving and now, are a part of the Wounded Warriors Project to show that no matter the circumstance, wounded soldiers are not alone.

“The war was still going on, so there were still guys coming in. A lot of them would feel like they couldn’t get back to the way they were,” Villarreal said. “They didn’t feel complete. You know, losing an arm, losing a leg, or you’re burned. I was able to help by going mentor to these guys.”

Villarreal served two tours of duty in Iraq and was in Afghanistan on his third tour when an improvised explosive device struck the truck he was driving. He lost his right arm, multiple fingers on his left hand and suffered burns over 80 percent of his body. All he remembers from the explosion was crawling out of the vehicle and not being able to breathe from the smoke.

Being a diehard Red Raider fan, Villarreal was excited and proud that Tech was taking part in the Wounded Warrior Project.

“I was just amazed at how many people support our troops and how Texas Tech is doing this for us. You know, you do have some bad apples out there but you’ve got people out there, no matter what their political views, they still know how hard you’ve worked and what we’re going through,” he said. “You would never think to be out there in the middle of doing the coin toss. It’s a real big win for me, always in the fan section and when you get that chance to come on the field, there’s no greater thing than that.”

Owens, the dean of students for the WWP’s TRACK program, served two tours of duty in Iraq. On Oct. 17, 2005 after a three-day convoy from Kuwait, his seven-ton vehicle rolled over resulting in his right arm being traumatically amputated above the elbow and injuring both legs.

This was the first time Owens was involved with the WWP at a big university and would like to continue going to universities to bring awareness to the WWP.

“Everybody has had open arms and been very appreciative for who we are and what we have done,” he said. “It’s more than I personally think I deserve, but it’s an honor to be here.”

In October of 2005 after deploying five times overseas, Fleming was wounded in combat that led to 20-plus surgeries, which in turn resulted in a trans-tibial amputation of his left leg. The adversity did not stop Captain Fleming as he deployed twice more to Iraq as a Detachment Commander of a Special Operations Sniper/Reconnaissance unit where he led men in combat missions.

On Saturday, Fleming, an Airborne Ranger, could be spotted on the Red Raider sideline pumping the team up as their entered the second half of the game and high-fiving the defense when they came off the field. Senior wide receiver Lyle Leong told Fleming that he was scoring touchdowns for him so Fleming better be there when he scored. Fleming ran by the end zone each time Leong scored and the two saluted to one another.

“The experience was awesome. All the fans were great, the support was outstanding,” he said. “Coach Tuberville just goes above and beyond when the Wounded Warrior Project calls. This has been the best Wounded Warrior events with Under Armour that I’ve been to and I’ve been to a lot of them.”

All three men spoke with the team prior to the game on Saturday. Fleming brought down the house with his motivational words or the team.

“I got to speak to them after dinner last night,” he said. “I just told them, `Hey, it’s all about perseverance. I went through 23 surgeries, had my leg amputated, and went back overseas twice. You just can’t give up. No matter what anybody says about you, you just can’t. You have to keep going all the time, don’t stop and never quit, never.'”

After the victory on Saturday, Tuberville asked Villarreal, Owens and Fleming into the locker room for a special surprise – each received game balls. Coaches and players told the honorary captains that the team fed off of their energy and their inspiring stories.

Quarterback Taylor Potts gave a sincere public thank you to the men and women of the U.S. Armed forces following the game.

“They (the military) give so much for us every single day, and I don’t think we appreciate it enough, what they put on the line every single day. So, it is a real honor to have an army and to have people volunteer like that and go and serve to keep us free, and keep us able to play ball games,” Potts said. “They keep people in the stands and keep the game going. So, we are really lucky to have them. To all our military, thank you very much for everything you do. We all appreciate it and the Red Raiders love you very much, so thank you.”

Saturday’s win not only meant a lot to the Red Raider faithful but it was more than just a game for the players as they honored the brave men and women of our U.S. Armed Forces.