Chris Ash can point to Division I players and NFL talents with whom he’s worked that are examples of resilience.
The Rutgers University football coach, however, couldn’t find a better model than Lauren Loose when he spoke on Sunday.
Ash was the featured speaker at the 14th annual Lauren’s First and Goal football camp at Lafayette College’s Metzgar Fields Athletic Complex.
“You guys need an inspiration, think about Lauren,” Ash told campers. “The journey that she’s been on, the things that she’s gone through. She’s the toughest one out here. We all think we’re tough; we think we can handle adversity. None of us can do what she’s done. I’m honored to be here and get a chance to be around her.”
The one-day camp/fundraiser welcomed 1,781 athletes from 500 different high schools, which represented 16 states and Canada. The huge group of campers alone raised more than $103,000 for brain tumor research and cancer services, with the event’s grand total approaching $130,000.
Ash, who is entering his second season with the Scarlet Knights, provided the attendees with advice on how to improve on the gridiron. He encouraged them to adopt the qualities that Loose, who has dealt with brain and spinal tumors throughout her life, exhibits regularly.
“She has tremendous mental toughness and physical toughness to go through what she’s gone through,” the coach said.
Rutgers was one of about 10 FBS programs present on Sunday, along with the likes of Penn State and Syracuse. Ash said participating in the event was an easy choice.
“This is an easy camp for us to be a part of because it’s more than just about football, it’s bigger than that,” he told reporters before his speech. “For us, and for me and my role, if we can help make a difference and help a cause as well as promote the game of football … it’s absolutely an event that we want to be a part of.”
Loose, the daughter of former Lafayette defensive coordinator and current Army assistant John Loose, also provided the crowd with a list of her own life lessons. The 20-year-old has recently had growth in one of her tumors, a challenge that inspired her message on Sunday.
“This change in one of my brain tumors, is not something that I have a lot of control over,” she said. “It is important to understand that, although you are not always able to control the circumstances you are faced with, there are definitely things that you can do to cope with difficult situations in life.”
She directed the campers to keep an optimistic vision and lofty goals.
“Sometimes people may think my ideas are ridiculous, but I don’t care,” Lauren Loose said. “I just keep dreaming, planning and doing — and proving people wrong. I also drag other people along with my plans and they always wind up loving it. I am a relentless dreamer.”
Even difficult situations can yield positives, she said. For example, Loose recounted how long hospital trips gave her access to a special dining menu, which included mozzarella sticks and bacon.
“Whenever I have an extended stay in the hospital,” she said, “I know that there is a bright side, and it is golden, fried and delicious.”
Sunday marked another successful outing for the charity. The 2017 installment in Easton had more college coaches in attendance than the first event (in 2004) had campers.
Lauren’s mother, Marianne, the LFG Foundation director, recalled how the inaugural staff was comprised of personal friends of the Loose family. Now, Lauren’s First and Goal draws some of the top names in college football, all of whom are volunteering their time.
“To think that someone like Chris Ash would want to be here, or (Penn State’s) James Franklin would want to be here, or (Michigan’s) Jim Harbaugh would want to be here, I think that tells you there’s a lot of talent here,” Marianne Loose said. “And it’s not just about talent. Some coaches might be a little higher on the meter in terms of looking for talent. But, they’re here because they see the greater good in what’s going on.”
Kyle Craig may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KyleCraigSports.