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Cochran family keeps focus on football while dealing with loss of two houses

Cayden Cochran will quarterback Valdosta State in the Division II title game on Saturday. For his family, which lost houses to a tornado and a fire in less than two years, his journey has provided a welcome diversion.
by Jenni Carlson Published: December 14, 2012

CASHION — Chris and Kerry Cochran smiled their way through the week.

It's what you'd expect from the proud parents of a kid playing for a football national championship this weekend.

It's not what you'd expect, though, from a family that just lost its second home in less than two years.

First came a tornado.

Then came a fire.

“It's just stuff,” Chris said as he sat in the office of his — would you believe it — insurance agency. “Nobody's dead. Everybody's alive, so that's kind of kept us motivated.”

So has football.

At a time the Cochrans could've been consumed by their latest tragedy, they instead found solace in a familiar outlet. Football has long framed the portrait of their family, starting with their oldest, Cayden, and remaining the constant for all four of their boys.

Now as Cayden prepares to complete an amazing journey and quarterback Valdosta State in the Division II national championship game Saturday, football is the family's focus, not the fire.

“It's our whole lives,” Chris said. “It's all we've ever done.”

That holds especially true for Cayden.

He started playing as a fifth-grader. By the time he was in high school, college coaches were coming to this no-stoplight town about 15 minutes west of Guthrie.

Then, Cayden tore his ACL.

The visits and calls stopped.

Oklahoma State was one of the big-time schools that remained interested, but the Cowboys wanted Cayden to attend Coffeyville Community College in Kansas. See how things go. Maybe they'd have a scholarship in a couple years.

Cayden went to Coffeyville, where he redshirted a year, then became the starter. He threw for over 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns.

But when he was done, there were no Division-I offers.

Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel wanted him to be a preferred walk-on at wide receiver, so Cayden enrolled before the spring semester. He jumped into offseason conditioning. He participated in spring ball. But he soon realized something.

“He wanted the ball in his hands,” his dad said.

Cayden called his coaches at Coffeyville and asked if they could help him find a team that needed a quarterback. Didn't matter where. Didn't matter what division either.

They were starting to sort through options when the tornado hit.

Chris and Kerry were at the office, and because the forecasts were dire and predicting severe weather around 4 p.m., Chris sent everyone home around 2. He finished up a few things and headed home around a few hours later.

By the time he got there, the feeling in the air was weird.

“Dull,” Chris said.

Weirder still, the windows of the house were trembling.

“What in the world?” Kerry asked.

“That's not thunder,” Chris said. “That's got to be a tornado on the ground.”

Kerry and the three younger boys went into the storm shelter under their garage — Cayden was still in Norman at school — and a few minutes later when it began hailing sideways, Chris joined them. They had only been in the shelter a couple minutes when the tornado hit.

It sucked in the walls of the shelter and tried to lift off the door.

Chris and Kerry grabbed each other's arms and covered the boys as best they could.

“It happened for about 15 seconds,” Chris said, “then it was over.”

One of the boys looked up the air vent and could see daylight. They figured maybe the garage was gone.

Only when they opened the shelter door did they see just how bad it was. Almost the entire house was gone, smoothed off the foundation. Four cars were gone. About all that remained was one collapsed wall.

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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