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

In their neighborhood of 15 homes, nine were destroyed and the rest had major structural damage.

So much needed to be done, but even as Chris and Kerry were helping their insurance policy holders and the family was moving into a rent house in town, Cayden got invited to Valdosta State. The school in extreme southern Georgia — it's only about 20 miles from the Florida border — and it is a Division II powerhouse.

He went on a visit and got an offer.

“And took all of our focus off the tornado,” Chris said.

Cayden committed immediately.

Last season, he became the starter late in the season and threw for nearly a thousand yards. This season, he has thrown for 2,601 yards, 25 touchdowns and only eight interceptions in leading Valdosta to Saturday afternoon's championship game vs. Winston-Salem.

A week ago in the national semifinals, Cayden had arguably the biggest game of his career. On the road against Minnesota State-Mankato, Valdosta fell behind 10-0, but Cayden accounted for four of Valdosta's five touchdowns in a 35-19 come-from-behind win.

Chris, Kerry and the boys were there to see it, of course.

Once they spent some time with Cayden after the game, they headed home, stopping in Des Moines to spend the night.

Chris's phone rang around 2:30 a.m.

It was the Logan County sheriff, and he told Chris that their house was on fire.

The Cochrans had been living in the house that previously belonged to Chris's mom and had been in the family since 1907. They bought it from the rest of Chris's siblings and were fixing it up. Even though they are building a new house nearby, they wanted the old home to be a family gathering spot.

They hoped to have Christmas there this year.

“They responded in seven minutes,” Chris said of the fire department, “and they said the roof was on the ground and the walls were falling in when they pulled up. It was gone quick.

“The good thing is, we weren't there.”

Now all that remains are the charred hulls of appliances and the recently added fireplace and chimney.

The family had yet to build a fire in it.

“They told me when they got out here, flames were shooting five feet out the top of it,” Chris said as he stood near the still-smoldering remains of the house.

He smiled, then laughed at the irony.

He admits it was tough calling Cayden and telling him about the fire. That was his grandma's house.

“Don't worry about a thing,” Chris told his son. “You've got something that you've been working for your whole life. You just go take care of business.”

Cayden has had reminders, though. There have been questions this week as Valdosta prepares for the championship game. There has also been an outpouring of concern via Twitter.

“Thanks to everyone ... for your thoughts and prayers,” Cayden tweeted earlier this week. “There are many people out there going through tougher times than us.”

Cayden and his family know all about tough times and rough roads, but just as football has provided a diversion, it's also provided a lesson.

Fight through.

“He's used to the adversity,” Chris said of Cayden, “and picking himself back up.”

The same could be said of this entire family.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.


by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
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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