Beating the Injury Bug: Dartmouth Senior Flourishes After Two Lost Seasons
Hanover — Chase Womack is a Dartmouth College football starter, but he might not be the best athlete among his family’s nine children. He’s a economics major, but he might not be the smartest in the bunch, either.
The toughest? Womack’s at least in the hunt there. The thoughtful and courteous fifth-year senior has overcome two years’ worth of injuries to again see regular time at cornerback. The long-haired big hitter is third on the squad with 23 solo tackles and forced a critical fumble that sealed a victory over Yale last month. Dartmouth, 3-3 overall and 2-2 in Ivy League play, may be underachieving as a team, but Womack is having a banner season.
“He’s a quiet leader and a physical guy and it’s been great to see his confidence continue to grow week to week, because he hasn’t played a whole lot of football,” said Big Green coach Buddy Teevens, whose team hosts Cornell (1-6, 0-4 Ivy) today at 4 p.m. “He’s really stepped up and played with more aggression, and he makes big tackles for us.”
Womack arrived from the powerful Westlake High program in Austin, Texas, a 2,600-student school that’s produced New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Philadelphia Eagles signal-caller Nick Foles and Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker as well as several other NFL players, a couple of Olympic swimmers and Major League Baseball pitcher Huston Street.
“I had high expectations for him coming into Dartmouth, but he couldn’t develop as rapidly as he would have liked because of the injuries,” Teevens said. “But he’s a very cerebral guy, and when he was injured, he didn’t check out mentally. You bleed for a guy like that.”
Womack played on the junior varsity as a freshman, but competed in eight varsity games as a sophomore, intercepting four passes. However, a foot injury cost him all but two games of his junior season and the sight of him as a solitary figure on the Memorial Field sidelines, wearing a large, plastic boot, became commonplace.
Last year was even worse for Womack, who suffered a herniated disc in his back while weight lifting during the summer and played in only one game. Not knowing if an application to the Ivy League for a fifth year of eligibility would be approved, he tried to gut it out, but the pain became so severe that coaches pulled him from practice to save him from the agony.
“Last year was tough, and I really felt bad for him,” said defensive back coach Sammy McCorkle. “He would almost lie to me about his (injury) so he could get on the field. But you could see him grabbing his back and hurting. For him to be able to bounce back and enjoy the game again is huge, and it’s been awesome to watch.”
Family support was a main ingredient in Womack’s perseverance, and what a family it is. Chase, 22, is a triplet, along with Sam and Josh, although he’s quick to point out that he was the first born during a Caesarian section.
“Actually, I was the smallest and they were worried about me, so that’s why they took me out ahead of the others,” he added with a smile.
Sam has earned an undergraduate degree and is pursuing an MBA at Pepperdine University, which sits on a sloping green hill just above the ocean in Malibu, Calif. Josh plays rugby at St. Edwards University back home in Austin. Both stopped playing football in high school.
Next up is 19-year-old Joy, who’s merely the first American woman to sign a contract with Moscow’s legendary Bolshoi Ballet, where she’s trained for several years. She is married to fellow dancer Nikita Ivanov-Goncharov, and Teevens once showed a video about her career during a Big Green team meeting.
“The guys thought that was badass,” Womack said with a grin. “She trains eight hours a day and she’s the best athlete in our family, without a doubt.”
Womack twins Luke and Grace are 18, with the former a senior football player at Westlake who aced his standardized tests and is being recruited by Ivy League schools. The latter is a Drexel University freshman working with laser technology and getting ready to have her findings published in a scientific journal.
Clay James, 15, follows in the family tree. He’s fluent in Mandarin Chinese and spent last summer in China, working for a family friend and helping run a factory there.
“We’re just hoping the CIA doesn’t get hold of him and he disappears to save the world,” Chase Womack said.
David, 13, is an eighth-grade football player and Faith, 12, is a ballet dancer. The family moved from California to Texas when Chase was a high school sophomore, but before that, he recalls riding from the Golden State to Louisiana on family vacations in a 15-passenger van.
“We’d get back in it at a rest stop and everyone would have to sound off in order so we knew we weren’t leaving anyone behind,” he said.
The Womack parents are Clay, a Pepperdine graduate who works for an energy investment brokerage firm, and Eleanor, a holistic medicine practitioner who was previously an oncologist and attended Harvard for her undergraduate and medical school studies.
Each endured a divorce before they met, when a mutual friend set them up over the phone. Clay, then living in Texas, eventually moved to be with Eleanor in Los Angeles, where she was working at the prestigious Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
The Womacks lived in Santa Monica, where their children attended Lighthouse Christian Academy, a school that then had fewer than 200 students from kindergarten to 12th grade. Chase and his brothers played for the Saints’ 8-man football team, under the direction of school principal George Neos, a 1993 Dartmouth graduate and two-time All-Ivy linebacker.
“We had 16 kids on the team, but only about 11 or 12 who could really play,” Womack recalled. “Going to Westlake was a reality check, but Neos had coached us so hard at Lighthouse that the practices after we moved were actually easier.”
Pushed to pursue admittance to Dartmouth by his mother despite being offered walk-on football slots at Texas A&M and UCLA, Womack sent a highlight DVD to Teevens that started the recruiting process. The coach, himself one of nine children born in a 10-year span, immediately recognized the feeling in the Womack household upon visiting one afternoon.
“If you have a lot of kids in your family, there are similar stories about how people got nicknames or what it’s like around Thanksgiving or Christmas,” Teevens said. “I felt like I was back at my own home, from when I grew up.”
Womack said the decision to try and come back for a fifth year of football wasn’t hard, despite there being no guarantees. Chai Reece and Vernon Harris were entrenched as the starting cornerbacks going into spring practice, but the former soon hurt a knee, which has sidelined him all season.
There was also the question of whether Womack’s body could withstand another gridiron campaign, even after three months of nearly complete rest following the 2012 season.
In preparation, Womack performed hot yoga five days a week last summer. He felt it strengthened his core, but he and McCorkle also agreed that he would participate in limited practice repetitions during preseason training camp and beyond. In addition, the coach instituted a three-man, cornerback rotation between Womack, Harris and A.J. Dettorre, which has kept each player fresher during games.
“I had poured my life into football for the last four years and it would have left a bad taste if I didn’t come back,” Womack said. “I felt unsatisfied, and I knew I would look back and feel that I hadn’t given it everything I had.
“Even with the struggles, it’s been a great experience and I wouldn’t trade the brotherhood and camaraderie that surrounds our program for anything.”
Tris Wykes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3227.