NEW PALESTINE — Forty players showed up last August for a tryout at the Missouri State University athletic complex, hoping to earn a walk-on spot with the football program.
Two players made the team. Austin Cahoy was one of them, to the surprise of no one who has ever met the former New Palestine running back.
“I knew he was a kid who was going to work hard and develop,” said Tim Able, the head coach for Cahoy and the Dragons through 2011. “He had the work ethic that every college coach wants, and had a good upside because of that.
“He was one of those kids that did what was asked, and them some. He’s an ‘and then some’ kid. He was just always looking for an extra edge.”
As Cahoy was compiling a 1,000-yard season as the Dragons’ senior fullback in the fall of 2010, he would often complete the team’s regular practice or weight-lifting session, then head to Family Fun and Fitness for yet another workout. A few weeks ago, Cahoy was home on spring break and looking for a place to workout. Able, now the head coach at Triton Central, invited the 6-foot, 225-pound fireplug to use the Fairland school’s weight room. And it was just like old times.
“He’s continuing to up the ante,” Able said. “He’s working above and beyond what even the college guys expect out of him. So, not a surprise he’s having success (at Missouri State).”
At over five yards per carry, Cahoy was the leading rusher in the first official spring scrimmage on Saturday for Missouri State, which competes in Football Championship Series Division I, one notch below the Football Bowl Subdivision. Indiana State is among the Bears’ FCS Division I competitors in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Cahoy finished with 36 yards on seven carries — both team highs — Saturday, and he’ll get a chance to prove himself even more leading up to the Bears’ annual Maroon and White Game on April 20 on the Springfield, Mo., campus.
“Coaches love my downhill, hard-nose, physical type of running,” Cahoy said. “The players love it and get excited when my name gets called to go in. Gets people fired up.”
Cahoy is a long way from where he began his collegiate career at the University of Indianapolis, a FCS Division II football school. Redshirted as a freshman, Cahoy didn’t see any game action with the Greyhounds in the fall of 2011.
Shortly thereafter, his dad accepted a job offer near Springfield. Rod and Julie Cahoy packed up and moved from New Palestine, and were eventually joined by sons Austin and Zach, and Austin’s girlfriend, New Palestine grad Kayla Roseberry, who, like Austin, left UIndy to enroll at Missouri State.
“I came down with dad for a visit and ended up liking it,” Austin said. “And then my girlfriend came down and loved it, as well, and stayed. I miss all my friends back home in Indiana, but we try to get back once or twice a month to see (Roseberry’s) family and try to meet up with some friends.”
Although he left school in Indianapolis, he didn’t leave his passion for football behind. It’s a game Cahoy dearly loves, and after not playing for the Greyhounds as a freshman, he was eager to prove his worth to his new prospective coaches at Missouri State.
“I think that they just overlooked me at UIndy,” Cahoy said. “I don’t think they gave me the right opportunity and a look that I deserved.”
Cahoy admits that he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder. It’s a sentiment that Able, his old high school coach, can only smile at.
“That’s great that he felt like he should have played (as a freshman),” Able said. “That’s exactly what every coach wants to hear. Because, if he doesn’t believe in himself, then he’s probably not the player you’re going to need to win ballgames. So that’s a positive.”
Cahoy helped the Dragons earn plenty of wins. In his senior season, Cahoy gained 1,167 yards and scored 23 touchdowns while New Palestine went 9-2, claiming a Hoosier Heritage Conference championship before falling in a sectional first-round upset to Greenfield-Central, 7-0. As a junior, Cahoy finished second on the team in rushing behind current Notre Dame All-American sprinter Pat Feeney, and the Dragons claimed a sectional title.
For now, Cahoy is without a college scholarship. His impressive tryout with the Bears last summer earned Cahoy the benefit of practicing and working out with the squad all of last year and through this winter, even though he had to sit out the season following the transfer from Indianapolis. When the Bears kick off the 2013 campaign, Cahoy will be a redshirt sophomore with three seasons of eligibility remaining.
Able expects that Cahoy will be given a scholarship for 2013, and beyond. Cahoy is optimistic.
“It feels good coming to spring as an official roster player,” Cahoy said. “And we’ll just see what they do about a scholarship after the spring, but I feel pretty good about it.”
The Bears, led by former Kansas and Northern Iowa head coach Terry Allen, haven’t posted a winning record since 2009. But there’s plenty of talent to be found in Springfield. Missouri State had its pro day for NFL Scouts on March 5, where a handful of Bears worked out in hopes of joining the ranks of former Missouri State players in professional football.
Bears tight end Clay Harbor was a fourth-round draft pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010. In 2011, the Dallas Cowboys selected Missouri State lineman David Arkin in the fourth round. Several other Bears have signed with NFL teams as undrafted free agents.
Cahoy has similar aspirations.
“Since I was a little boy, I’ve had the dream of playing in the NFL, and that’s the No. 1 goal,” he said. “So that’s what gets me through the day, through each workout. I’ve always loved playing football ... that’s what I love to do. I just couldn’t see my life without playing football.”
With a bench press of 370 pounds and squat of 580, Cahoy certainly has next-level strength. He’s studying exercise science at Missouri State and will go into the strength and conditioning career field when his playing days are over, whenever that may be.
“On field success carries over from the work I put in the weight room,” he said. “I love lifting weights. I always have, ever since I first started in middle school. Even if I wasn’t playing football right now, I would still be in the weight room all the time. I would probably be training and competing in Crossfit.”
Cahoy credited former Dragons strength and conditioning coach Jamie Wingler with being a “big contributor” to his early football development.
“He is probably the most important and influential person in my life other than my parents,” Cahoy said.
Cahoy has also continued to rely on Able for advice over the last few years, and one message has remained constant:
“Dream big and work harder,” Able said. “You never know what could happen. You never say no.
“You have to realize you have an education to depend on no matter what level you end up at. So we never discourage kids. You don’t say, ‘You’ll never be able to do this or do that.’ I’m not one who would say you’re not a D1 or you’re not an NFL player, because you just never know.”
Cahoy is in the process of making a successful jump from FSC Division II to FCS Division I. The odds of Cahoy making a leap to the NFL are other-worldly. He’ll have to beat out more than the 40-some players who tried to walk on at Missouri State. But Cahoy eats up long odds like he chews up yardage.
“I’m the kind of guy who likes to prove people wrong when it comes to big stuff like that,” he said, “so I just kind of think to myself, ‘You’ll see one day, and I’ll prove you wrong.’”