Casey Cochran was a record setting quarterback and Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Connecticut before taking his talents to the University of Connecticut. Casey was a very gifted athlete who seemed to have it all going for him. However, concussions and the ensuing bouts of depression eventually became too much. Casey credits his athletic success to sacrifice, specifically in regard to time. Sacrifice is an interesting word in the sport of football because it is not just your time that you are expected to sacrifice, it's also your body. But at what cost?
I first read about Casey's story in his Players Tribune article titled "13 Concussions" and I knew right away that I needed to get this guy on the podcast. I recommend giving this article a read after listening to Episode 62, because it gives an in-depth description of the final concussion that forced him to step away from football. Also, if you like this podcast, I recommend reading more articles from The Players Tribune because they provide similar insights.
It was no accident that Casey reached such an elite level of college football, because his Dad is a very successful high school coach in the state of Connecticut. During our conversation we discuss the pressures of playing for your Dad and how it was difficult at times to separate the coach from the Dad. At the end of the episode, Casey opens up about his father's thoughts on choosing to retire from the game that was, and is, such a huge part of both their live's. After the previous two podcast episodes (60, 61), it should not be a surprise that we also talk about the pressures to play hurt and hide injuries like concussions in a culture of toughness.
The first concussion Casey suffered happened when he was just 11 years old. He was playing nose guard back in those days and made a huge hit on the running back that knocked both of them on their back's after they collided heads. Casey felt poor physically after the hit, but was also left feeling uneasy about the injury after this hit was celebrated by his teammates and coaches while watching film the following day. Then in eighth grade, he suffered two more concussions and was forced to sit out the rest of the season. During this time Casey did a science project on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and became concerned for his long-term health. However, this concern didn't stop him from having a very successful high school career. While in high school, Casey suffered 1 concussion freshman year, 1 sophomore year, 3 junior year, 1 senior year and none were diagnosed. At multiple points throughout the interview, Casey also goes in depth on what it is like to battle depression and ways to find help. In addition to being a stud on the football field, Casey was also a scholar in the classroom, but his grades suffered due to the concussions. Casey had multiple opportunities to play football in the IVY League, but listen in to learn why he ultimately chose to play at UCONN.
It has been a little over two years since Casey stepped away from the game he dedicated most of his life to. Casey describes this decision as being one of the scariest he has ever made and says he only recently established some level of normalcy in his life. Most of all, Casey misses the camaraderie with his teammates, but has found new purpose in his advocacy work and learning to play the guitar. Casey has some great tips on transitioning to life after sports in our conversation. This transition is a difficult and inevitable one for all athletes. Know that you are not alone and that your feelings are normal. If you're a struggling athlete in transition, this is a must-listen!
Some additional topics we covered include:
Advice to football players on how to protect their brain’s and body’s
Why football is hard for Casey to watch now
Thoughts on the NFL
No guaranteed money and are incentivized to play injured
The benefits of playing baseball as a kid (The guy can obviously sling it)
Casey's definition of toughness (He would get along with Bill Anthes from Episode 54)
Casey's book in the works