John Hoover

John E. Hoover: Grant Calcaterra’s shocking retirement is another profound loss for football, but he’ll be better without it

John E. Hoover: Grant Calcaterra’s shocking retirement is another profound loss for football, but he’ll be better without it

Oklahoma tight end Grant Calcaterra (80) hauls in a touchdown pass from quarterback Kyler Murray in front Texas defensive back Brandon Jones during the first half of the Big 12 Conference championship NCAA college football game on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

Oklahoma tight end Grant Calcaterra shocked Sooner Nation on Thursday night when he abruptly announced his retirement from football in an emotional video released on his Twitter account.

“Dear Sooner Nation, my friends, family and everybody who’s had an impact on my career and my life,” Calcaterra reads. “Over a month ago, I received a concussion in practice. What most of you may not know is I’ve had my fair share of concussions in my career. I’ve spent countless hours visiting with OU medical professionals and specialists around the country. Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that it would be best for me to step away from the game.”

Calcaterra, a third-year junior from Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., hasn’t appeared in a game since the Sooners played at Kansas on Oct. 5.

Coach Lincoln Riley has simply said Calcaterra was not ready to return and that his status was unclear. Some presumed the 6-foot-4, 227-pound Calcaterra might be skipping the rest of his collegiate eligibility to jump to the NFL.

Instead, he’s giving up the game entirely and said he plans to move back home to Southern California after graduating next spring and wants to be a firefighter.

Calcaterra delivered a positive and even somewhat uplifting message in the video about friendship and life lessons and God’s plan and fighting SoCal’s infamous flames.

But the profound truth is that the game of football has claimed another of its brightest stars. Calcaterra was a game-changing talent, an athletic tight end with sticky hands and a figure skater’s feet. He had a pro career waiting in the NFL, where his long frame and longer arms would have made him a supreme red zone threat.

Football needs more great tight ends. It is the most physically demanding position in the game — part offensive tackle, part wide receiver. Tight ends take repeated hits to the head from very big, very malicious defensive ends and linebackers, and should they break free of those brawls, they’re suddenly in the crosshairs of the game’s hardest-hitting safeties and cornerbacks.

But tight end also has its rewards: a 6-foot-4 Adonis elevating over a 5-10 mighty mite corner, or a 250-pound Olympian sprinting away from the leviathan horde, daring the little guys to step up.

Calcaterra will hurt without the game, and the game is diminished without his skills and enthusiasm. Hard decisions are hard for a reason.

But he will ultimately be better for leaving the game on his terms. A 21-year-old athlete’s sports retirement is reason for sadness. And with a history of concussions that forced this difficult decision, it is also reason for fear.

But as Calcaterra suggests in the video, this is also a reason to celebrate life and carry on with hope and faith and passion.

Calcaterra played in 33 games in his OU career with 14 starts. He came in as a freshman behind Mark Andrews and caught 10 passes for 162 yards and three touchdowns in 2017, then blossomed on his own as a sophomore with 26 receptions for 396 yards and six TDs. This season, he caught just five passes for 79 yards before his final injury.

He made one of the most impressive and important catches in school history in last year’s Big 12 Championship Game against Texas, a one-handed touchdown grab on a fade route from Kyler Murray in the corner of the end zone with a defender draped over him. That TD put the Sooners up two scores with two minutes to play and gave OU its fourth consecutive Big 12 title.

Calcaterra was named preseason All-Big 12 this season. He was named first-team All-Big 12 last season by both the coaches and the media, and earned honorable mention in 2017.

The three-minute video, in which Calcaterra sits in a chair inside the team’s tunnel between the locker room and Owen Field, includes Calcaterra career highlights throughout.

“This has been the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life,” Calcaterra reads in the video. “But I haven’t been alone. I’ve been able to stay positive throughout this process, with help from my family, close friends, girlfriend, teammates, coaches and different OU staff members. I want to thank each and every one of you for being there for me when I needed it most. You know who you are.

“Football has been the biggest thrill of my life, and it kills me to know it’s over. But I’m confident God does everything for a reason, and he has a plan for me. I believe football was preparing me for this moment my entire career.

“Football is just a game, but what makes football so special, it’s that it’s a game of life. Every single moment is basically a choice. In football, you have to make that choice immediately. You can let that moment define you, or you can define the moment. Life is the same way. I’ve been faced with a choice, and I’ve chosen to keep swinging and not let this moment define me. I’ve chosen to trust God’s plan for me. I’ve decided to attack this next phase of my life, just as I’ve attacked everything else up until this point.

“My love for football was for more than just a game. The big catches, the touchdowns, the big plays, the championships and the awards, those are all moments I’ll remember forever. But the thing I love about this game the most is my teammates. Throughout my career, I’ve been blessed with lifelong friendships, and lifelong memories. I want to thank all of my teammates throughout the years for making my football career so special.

“I want to thank coach (Bob) Stoops and coach Riley for giving me an opportunity of a lifetime. I want to thank coach (Cale) Gundy for investing in me and helping me become the best player I can be, but most importantly, helping me become the best man I can be.

“This coming May, I will graduate from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in communication and a minor in health and exercise science. However, I plan on pursuing a career that is similar to football as possible. The impulsiveness, teamwork, leadership, camaraderie and most importantly, being part of something that is bigger than myself, is all I want in a career. I plan on returning home to Southern California to become a firefighter.

“To everyone in Sooner Nation and everyone who has been a part of my football journey, I thank you again so much for making my career so memorable. I gave everything I had to this team and to this game. I’d like to think I made a positive impact on this university this football, and all the people around me. Thank you, God bless, and Boomer Sooner.

“Calc.”

______

Formerly co-host of “Further Review” and “The Franchise Drive,” columnist John E. Hoover is a college football insider on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover co-hosts The Franchise “Inside OU” Podcast with Brady Trantham and Rufus Alexander, and the Locked oN Sooners podcast on the Locked oN Podcast Network. He also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his YouTube channel at YouTube.com/c/JohnHoover, and his personal page at johnehoover.com.

John Hoover
@JohnEHoover

John Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he was co-host of "Further Review" and "The Franchise Drive." Now he's The Franchise college football insider: Oklahoma's state Heisman rep, a voter in the FWAA Super 16 poll, an FWAA media access liaison, and a Big 12 writer at Sporting News and Lindy's preseason magazine. In his time at the World, Hoover won numerous writing and reporting awards, including in 2011 National Beat Writer of the Year from the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work covering the Oklahoma Sooners. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist and won national awards in 2012 and 2014 from the National Athletic Trainers Association for reporting on sports medicine and in 2015 won first place in sports columns from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists. After receiving a journalism degree from East Central University, Hoover worked at newspapers in Ada, Okmulgee, Tahlequah and Waynesville, Mo. He played football at Ada High School and grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Hoover and his family live in Broken Arrow.

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