#TGW: Answering His Calling
Georgia Tech football's Grant Aasen made tough choice of enrolling in seminary over playing his final gridiron season
Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Timing is everything.
Grant Aasen agrees and is ready to make his next move.
But the Fayetteville, Ga., native's next move isn't going to be at Bobby Dodd Stadium and won't be measured in yards. Instead, it will be at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans and will be measured in steps -- one at a time.
"I didn't plan on it, it really didn't even cross my mind when I came to college. [It was] about two years ago I started considering it," said Aasen. "The past year, I've kind of known that that was where I was going to end up going. I visited Notre Dame over spring break with my dad and that kind of started the ball rolling.
"I really didn't make my final decision until last weekend right before I told Coach [Paul] Johnson," he continued. "He's been very positive, so that did help a lot. That's where God's calling me to go. He's calling me to go now and not next year. I love football. If I wasn't going to seminary, I'd be coming back -- there'd be no question about it. I just know that at some point I just realized, I'm called to go. This is where God wants me to go right now and I can't really do much else but to kind of say 'yes' to that and put everything else to the side."
While Aasen, who'll receive his degree in industrial engineering at Saturday's commencement, spoke optimistically about his move toward the priesthood, he admits that making the decision to turn down his one remaining season of eligibility was anything but easy.
It still isn't always easy for him to think about winning the starting job -- he would have entered fall camp as Georgia Tech's most experienced punter -- and potentially capping an amazing career in which he walked on and played for three years.
"It was the hardest decision I've made in my life," he said. "The thing I'm going to miss the most is just being around the guys, being around the sport. Just Georgia Tech football. It definitely didn't make it easier in terms of having a good spring and having a good Spring Game (five punts for 41.0 yards per). Being on the game field, under the lights, again, that always brings back the Saturday nights at Bobby Dodd during the season. It definitely made it harder, especially knowing, this is what I've worked for ever since I was in second grade, the chance to be `the guy.' I tried out three times for the team and I've been fighting ever since I got here. Next year would be the year that it would kind of been my shot. To kind of put that on the back-burner and to say, `I'm not going take advantage of that,' was definitely uncharacteristic and it was hard. But, for me, I knew what I needed to do. No matter what got in the way, I really knew the decision I had to make there at the end.
"There is that kind of knowing in my heart, `This is where I'm supposed to go,'" he added. "For me, if I know what I need to do I've got to do it. I'm not the kind of person that's going to wait around. I'm always going to be looking back just because of the `What if?' But the thing is, you just don't know what would happen in the fall if I would have stayed."
Dealing with `What if?' is not new for Aasen.
He faced the biggest `What if?' in 2012, as a sophomore in high school, while practicing with the JV at Starr's Mill High School in Fayetteville. A running back and linebacker, he absorbed a ferocious hit during practice and hit his head hard on the field. He'd sit out the rest of practice and admitted he had gaps -- like how he got home -- but it didn't stop him from playing in the next day's game. Late in that game, in which he remembered having one of this best games, scoring twice, he went to the bench late in the fourth quarter. Shortly thereafter, he suffered a seizure. Paramedics flew him to Atlanta Medical Center and, after an MRI, he spent the next seven hours on the operating table undergoing brain surgery.
Grant, who still has a seven-shaped scar on the left side of his head from the operation in which part of his skull was temporarily removed and which required more than 100 staples to close up, did have some short-term memory loss but recovered without any permanent damage.
"It was a complete miracle," he said. "I was supposed to be in the hospital, in the ICU for two, three weeks. I was in a pretty bad part. The probability of me coming out normally out of this thing, let alone being able to walk, was less than one percent. I was really supposed to die or be seriously physically or mentally impaired. That didn't happen. I was normal and I was healing so well, they said I could leave after a week."
Aasen made it a point to state that while his football episode was devastating, it was not as much of a factor in his pursuing his faith as people might think.
"Some people would be like, this moment where I almost died, or something like that, this was the moment where I saw Jesus, something like that. It wasn't anything like that," he said. "It just got the thought rolling. It definitely changed my perspective but it took a while for that to happen. It was a very slow transition just because there were so many things going on. That was kind of a trigger for everything changing."
He'd change his position, going from running back/linebacker to punter, where he'd relentlessly work at his craft.
He also delved into Catholicism, taking part in Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Everything came together at Georgia Tech -- which he made it academically, football-wise and spiritually.
His older brother, Davis, who was a year ahead of Grant and was part of the football team's sports-medicine staff, helped feed his younger brother's hunger for knowledge of the Catholic lifestyle. He also introduced him to the Catholic Center on campus and the Tech chapter of FCA.
Grant would walk on and appear in one game, making one punt, a 42-yarder with nine minutes left in the second quarter of the Yellow Jackets' 35-10 win over Mercer on Sept. 10 of last season. He'd also become good friends with former place kicker Harrison Butker, who recently was drafted by the Carolina Panthers. It was one of many relationships he made and who helped as he made his decision to enter the seminary -- he also included Johnson, Georgia Tech director of student-athlete leadership development Derrick Moore, Father Joshua Allen from Tech's Catholic Center and FCA Campus Director Keith Brown.
He's ready to embark on his new life -- he considers it his grad school -- and is simply taking things as they come.
"I'm kind of walking blind but not in a bad way," Aasen said. "I know the next step and I'm not really worried about the steps after that because right now there's no point in worrying about those steps. It would be as if I was worrying about what job I'm going to get after college when I got here. I would have never thought the next step would be seminary."
He made reference to Matthew 6:34, which reads, "So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring it's own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today."
"There are plenty of things I have to get ready for. I have to prepare myself to go to seminary and figure out how to be a seminarian," he said. "For me, that's the focus right now. Maybe in five years, I'll be getting ready to be ordained a priest. A lot can change in five years. So we'll see. I'm excited."
He's also excited about Georgia Tech's upcoming season. A picture of the team celebrating on the field after the 2014 Capital One Orange Bowl really hit home.
"Looking at the picture right here of these guys at the game, I'm going to miss that like crazy. I'm going to miss everything about football -- Georgia Tech football," he said. "It's a decision right now that's still very tough to kind of digest.
"But I still get to watch it on Saturday," he added, with a smile. "I still get to cheer on my brothers but it's going to be different. It's going to be a lot different. It's been very difficult but when the time's right, the time's right. I'm graduating, there really wasn't a much better time than that."