By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
It may well be another Rudy story.
Time will tell.
But for Eddie Venters, the chapters are starting to shape just like he thought, the end vision of a somewhat divine nature, telling him he would be a Tulsa Hurricane football player. But the book won’t just be an achievement, but a lesson.
The former Muskogee Rougher had a head start. Unlike Rudy Ruettiger, or at least the Notre Dame “Rudy” featured in the true-life movie, Venters got two years of junior college football under his belt. He had scholarship overtures from North Texas and Wyoming coming off a senior season at Muskogee High where he was the team’s leading tackler his senior season with 98.
But grades blocked that path.
He wound up at Northeastern A&M in Miami.
“You’re away from home and you know what you could have been, but because of mistakes you’re here and here was four white walls, people checking you in your room like a prison, with no social life in a country town,” he said. “It was pretty terrible.
“But it’s here where I got grounded in my faith.”
He played linebacker his first year, getting 50 tackles while playing as part of a rotation.
“That summer I came in in the best shape of my life. I was doing everything right, had a good spring and was showing the knack I had always had as a hitter,” Venters said. “But stuff started happening and it was like I was slipping in the depth chart. Plus, we were coming off a year where we won one game.
“I was like ‘If I don’t make it out of here, I don’t have no Plan B.’ It really hit me hard. I got to talking to the Lord and told him ‘whatever your plans for me, take me and use me.’” Within three days coach (Dale) Patterson came up to me and told me ‘We’re moving you to offense.’ I said to him ‘That’s fine with me, that’s where I wanted to play anyways.
“And once he moved me to offense, that’s where (God) started basically giving me a provision to go to Tulsa.”
But going back to his high school days, Venters’ time carrying the football was sparingly, with 16 of his 20 total carries coming as a senior.
The now 5-foot-9, 247-pounder (he’s listed at 265 on the TU roster) had never met Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship — yet. But Tulsa was all over his spirit, as he shared with his grandfather. Ron Venters Sr. is pastor of Christ Kingdom Builders at Osage and Augusta.
“He said ‘If that’s what you believe, then go with your heart. You take a step, God will take two more,’” Eddie said of Ron Sr.’s remarks. “He might have not believed in me at the time, I mean we talk a lot about it and he’ll say ‘I remember you telling me this a long time ago but everything you wanted is starting to come to life now. He said ‘this story is going to mean something to someone some day, that it may not be in football. It may be in life. You keep fighting and fighting until you get where you want to be at.’”
Blankenship, the father of Muskogee High head coach Josh Blankenship, was recruiting Eddie’s cousin, Darnell Walker — who played at Muskogee but finished his high school career in Joplin, Mo. — when Eddie met him.
“Even though he said he didn’t have anything at that point to give me, he remembered me in high school and told me if you’re willing to pay to start you can earn your way to a scholarship,” Eddie said.
Just that much confirmed something in him.
“He’s a great man of faith,” Eddie said of the TU coach. “When you have someone who cares about somebody, not just because of their athletic ability or talent but for them as a human being, they’re always going to have success because they have that spiritual bond as well. He’s always sending texts to us, including texts on the spiritual side. We’re always going to be in tune.”
So Eddie passed on some Division II and NAIA opportunities. After finishing his sophomore year primarily as a blocking back, he came home to finish his junior college studies at Connors State but fell a few classes short of what was necessary for admittance at Tulsa. So he had to finish that and continue to keep himself in tune on his own.
“Not being in a football environment hurt,” he said. “Thankfully I had a pretty good work ethic in high school and applied everything I learned into a routine. But it bothered me because I didn’t have someone over me saying ‘run’ when I was getting tired. I didn’t have anyone telling me my running times or telling me I needed to work a little more on a specific thing.”
Between a handful of months working with a personal trainer and additional time with a former Muskogee teammate in Trey McVay, he was able to stay on track.
“A lot of people don't understand that when you've been forced to workout all your life by coaches it becomes second nature,” McVay recalled.
“Having said that, I used to tell him he wasn’t good enough to play at TU and of course, it was only to motivate him. I told him if he played one down at TU I would get down and bow to him. I don’t know if he remembers that but I’m sure he does. If he doesn’t, I hope it gives him some extra motivation to achieve his goal.”
Venters inched closer this spring. Enrolled at TU, he appeared in the spring game, carrying six times for 19 yards. Injuries to two backs, including Jaterian Douglass, who with Trey Watts combined for over 2,000 yards last season, enabled Venters to get more reps in the spring.
“I guess you could say it was a blessing because it gave me a chance to show what I could do,” Eddie said. “I came in about 20 pounds heavier and they thought I was too big to be a running back. I lost 20 pounds and I think I made an impression. I definitely got some playing time.”
Enough to make the roster. He’s listed as one of four H-backs on the roster, joined by Austin, Texas, sophomore Michael Sorrels, Sapulpa junior Trevor Toliver and Broken Arrow senior Cody Wilson.
From there, who knows. The business management major is expected to go on scholarship in the spring of 2014, he said. For now, loans and help from his father, Ron Jr., help pay what averages as a $40,000-plus per year education.
Dreams don’t come without a price.
“Everybody knows Trey and Jaterian are the go-to guys. I’m hoping to be a situational-type back, on goal-line situations, stuff like that,” Eddie said.
But he’s got a chance, which puts him in the middle of an unfinished chapter.
“When he brought this up to me way back, I told him it would be a tough school, a tough way to go,” Eddie’s grandfather said. “Something else I’ve told him, it’s a family saying, but it’s that success is where opportunity and preparedness meet. You don’t have control over your opportunities but you do have control over being prepared. Whether it’s athletic, academic or spiritual, we have to be ready.
“He knows God honors hard work. That’s been instilled in him. There is no free lunch. Someone always paid for it and if he’s willing to pay the price, anything is possible.”