ELGIN — Moments in our lives help shape us. The people in our lives help shape us.
Fueled by both the good and bad that football has sent his way, Elgin’s C.J. Underwood uses all he’s experienced to become a better player and leader.
Underwood began playing football in first grade, where his coaches lined him up at linebacker. An avid Oklahoma Sooners fan, C.J. knew exactly who to idolize at the linebacker position.
“A guy by the name of Travis Lewis, he used to wear number 28,” Underwood said. “That’s the main reason I wanted to play linebacker. It’s the reason I wear 28, actually.”
Now a senior for the Elgin Owls, Underwood is still wearing No. 28 and still playing inside linebacker. He starts at tight end as well, but it’s at linebacker where he tends to shine. His coaches praise his football IQ and ability to understand what is happening on the field at all times.
“He understands football, which makes him a great middle linebacker,” head coach Chalmer Wyatt said. “He’s intelligent, how smart he is schematically.”
In addition to Travis Lewis, there is another former linebacker with the surname Lewis — NFL Hall of Famer Ray Lewis — after whom Underwood likes to model his game. Both Lewises were big hitters, and Underwood likes to pride himself in being a hitter as well. But he credits trainer Michael Gordon for working with him on his footwork to get him quicker.
“He’s got my footwork absolutely amazing, hitting the ladder every single day,” he said.
Having Underwood on the field isn’t something Wyatt and the Owls staff is taking for granted this season. Last year, C.J. broke his foot, putting him in a cast for seven weeks.
“It was the worst experience of my entire life,” Underwood says.
But it’s what happened next that made things even worse — but might have helped guide his future career path.
“I didn’t go to the physical therapist and just tried to come back straight to football,” he said. “That was a poor decision. So that just completely changed my whole decision on physical therapy. So I did want to become a physical therapist.”
Despite the injuries, C.J.’s family and parents have never wavered in supporting his love for football. His parents always encouraged him in his football endeavors (which he hopes to continue in college) and have often joined him in his love for football. In fact, this past weekend, the top item on his mother Jennifer’s birthday list: a trip to Norman to watch the Sooners play, which is exactly what the Underwoods did.