Randy York's N-Sider
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How else do you explain the decision to have the oldest walk-on in Husker history lead the football team out of its famous Tunnel Walk on the ninth anniversary of 9/11?
Meet Tyrone Fahie, a 6-3, 255-pound senior defensive end from Virginia Beach, Va. The son of Floyd and Dafney Fahie (pronounced Foy) was born in the nation's capital and will be 28 years old three days after Nebraska completes its non-conference schedule.
Hardly a household name, perhaps because he's only played in one game in four years, Fahey was nevertheless the team's choice to lead the 6th and 7th-ranked Huskers into battle Saturday against Idaho.
When Memorial Stadium's hallowed gates swung open, shortly after two WWII fighter planes flew over, there was Fahie, flanked by two police officers and two firefighters, all five carrying American flags. What a sight it was to see a Nebraska football uniform in the midst of this nation's real heroes in uniform (military, police officers and firefighters).
It was an appropriate sight because no one is prouder to wear a Big Red uniform than Fahie, who spent six years in the U.S. Navy and was deployed twice to the battlefields of Iraq.
One experience heavily influenced the other. Going from a battlefield that means life or death to another that means winning or losing makes Fahie one of the unique walk-on stories in Nebraska history.
Know up front that he enlisted in the Navy at age 17 after getting his high school diploma, and understand that he didn't play a down of football during his last three years of high school.
Fahie Went Nine Years Without Football
Consider, if you will, the odds of making the Nebraska team after nine full years without a ball in your hand or a tackle in your mind.
Fortunately, he had a dream in his heart and that gives him the insight and the wisdom to understand the secret to one of Bo Pelini's all-time favorite expressions - "It's Not About Me."
You've heard it. We've all heard it -- Pelini preaching to his players and his coaches almost every day that "It's not about me."
If it's not about me, I asked Fahie, who is it about?
"Everyone else," he replied. "You learn that on the battlefield. You learn to care about everyone but yourself and when you do, everyone comes together, and everything gets easier ... and better."
It gets easier and better for the team, right?
"Right," Fahie said. "Everything you do should be for the benefit of the team, not yourself. I'm in graduate school, and I'm still on the Scout Team. But I'm doing my part every day to help this team win."
He is working hard - on the field and in the classroom where he will complete his master's degree next spring in business administration to keep up with his mom, who is finishing her doctorate degree at the University of Central Florida at the same time.
Once You're Part of a Team, You Quit Worrying
Fahie is sacrificing, encouraging and doing everything he can to help his band of brothers on the football field.
He admits he was apprehensive about his first tour of duty in Iraq and confesses a certain fear factor in hearing bombs and rockets going off all around him. Then, one of his combat leaders gave him some friendly advice.
"Once you're part of a team, you quit worrying about yourself," his leader told him. "It's not about you. It's about everyone else. You practice and you prepare to go to battle together. You realize that the worst thing you can do is get someone killed if you don't concentrate on what we're asking you to do."
Sacrifice is the key word here. When you focus on what benefits everyone else, you quit worrying about what might go wrong for you.
"On the battlefield, there is a certain mantra," Fahie said. "If you see it explode, and you hear it explode, it didn't kill you, so you're fine. You can't worry about all the other stuff because when you do, you can't do your job."
When Pelini plasters signs in the football offices, the hallways, the meeting rooms and the locker room - signs that say "Focus on the process. Compete every day" - Fahie says a battle-tested mindset is implied.
"You're not focusing on yourself," he said. "You're focusing on the team, doing everything you can to make everyone around you - and next to you - better."
Nebraska's Offense a Testament to Focus
Somehow, in the process, you get better yourself. Look at Nebraska's top three quarterbacks. They're all better than they were last year because they've pushed each other selflessly and relentlessly. The same is true of the running backs, the wide receivers and the offensive line. Even the nation's best defense against scoring in 2009 is using that mantra to improve in 2010.
Perfection, of course, is never achieved, and success is a never-ending journey.
Fahie, who became a Navy Petty Officer, 2nd Class, monitoring communications for the Navy Seals Team One, will never forget meeting Casey Sok, a St. Paul, Neb., native in boot camp.
The two became quick friends, and the conversations often revolved around Nebraska football. In 2005, before leaving for a six-month tour in Falluja, one of Iraq's most dangerous cities, Fahie made his first pilgrammage to Memorial Stadium.
He fell in love with the sights and the sounds and after hearing about Nebraska's walk-on tradition, he made a vow to return someday and see if he could write his own chapter in a book that knows no boundaries.
Fahie was one of two players who survived an 85-player walk-on tryout in 2007, and he's still living his dream to be Rudy whenever the coaches call his name.
Fiance's Father is a Retired Firefighter in Omaha
There are no promises about when he might enter a game again, but when Fahie heard what role he would play Saturday, he was so locked in to the job that he decided it should be a surprise to everyone, including his fiance, Kristen Kennelly, the daughter of a retired Omaha area firefighter.
He has a close friend from high school, Rashan Stroman, who enlisted at the same time he did and is now on duty in Japan. Stroman told Fahie earlier in the week that he planned to watch Nebraska play Idaho on the Armed Forces Network.
"Maybe you'll get in the game," Stoman told his buddy.
"Maybe I will," said Fahie, saying nothing about the honor of leading every one of his teammates onto the field.
"I love being a part of this team," Fahie said, "and I can't believe it's been nine years since 9/11."
On that day, Fahie and Sok were in training camp in San Diego.
"I was asleep, and Casey came in to wake me up, telling me I had to see something on TV," Fahie recalled. "I walked in still sleepy and watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center. For me, it was like an out-of-body experience. I didn't know what was going on, and it felt like time had stopped."
It stopped for a few seconds again Saturday when Fahie stood with the police officers and firefighters and made one of Memorial Stadium's grandest entrances.
The good thing about this out-of-body experience was it being triumphant, not tragic.
Memorial Stadium All About Sacrifice, Freedom
"Every time we step inside Memorial Stadium, it reminds us of the freedoms we enjoy and the sacrifices others have made," Fahie said, adding that "We should never take for granted what police officers and firefighters do. They put their lives on the line every day, too, just like the military."
In other words, they all know why "It's not about me."
Now, hopefully, you know that, too.
Voices from Husker Nation
This is a top-class example of a person grabbing hold of the rope and pulling with thousands of other hands in the same direction at the same time. It's not about Tyrone? Well, in one respect, it is because he walked on, and that alone says a lot about his character and, by the way, the character of all "walk-ons" in any activity you can think of. It doesn't matter one bit if they made the team or not. I was born in Nebraska (about a thousand years ago) and now I live in the mountains of Wales. If I had a flag, I couldn't think of a better person to carry it than Tyrone Fahie. J. G. Weaver, Wales, United Kingdom
One of my sons is now in his senior year at the U.S. Military Academy. Most of his classmates were in junior high on 9/11, and that experience was transformational in their decisions to pursue appointments at West Point (N.Y.). My son's experience has caused me to see public service in a new way, and Bo's "it's not about me" message resonates with the reality of the lives of these young men and women at West Point. I appreciated the article on Tyrone Fahie because it's another great example of why "There is no place like Nebraska!" Dr. J. Tyler Martin, Sr., Berkeley, California
When I read about Tyrone Fahie, I couldn't help but think about the four corner inscriptions that are included in the 2010 Nebraska Football Media Guide; 1): "In Commendation of the men of Nebraska who served and fell in the Nations Wars."; 2) "Courage; Generosity; Fairness; Honor; In these are the true awards of manly sport."; 3) "Their Lives they held their country's trust; They kept its faith; They died its heroes."; and 4) my personal favorite in the Southwest corner: "Not the victory but the action; Not the goal but the game; In the deed the glory." It was interesting and somehow fitting that we couldn't find Tyrone's name in the game program. Like all heroes that Memorial Stadium honors, he was anonymous. Thanks for helping us understand why he was chosen. What an honor. Larry Anderson, Omaha, Nebraska
Thank you so much for the incredibly well written and amazing story about Tyrone Fahie. I was moved to tears yesterday just seeing the firemen, policemen and Husker player present the flag. I never would have known the even-more-moving story behind the scene if not for your article. Thank you for sharing! Amy Reeves, Shawnee, Kansas
The Tunnel Walk is always a big deal, but yesterday was in that special category. I would say that Tyrone Fahie went from obscurity to prominence in a matter of minutes, and after reading this, I know why. Steve Harrison, St. Louis, Missouri
Thank you for a wonderful story about a truly inspiring young man. What an example he has set for others. I wish him all the best in the future. He has more than earned it. Diane Ewing, Chaska, Minnesota
I grew up in Sidney (Neb.) and joined the Air Force soon after graduating. I served eight years and was stationed in Delaware on 9/11. My Navy fiance was stationed in D.C on 9/11, and it is a day I will never forget. We both served short tours in the Middle East. I became a Navy wife until my husband retired a year ago and now we are in Texas trying to finish schooling. I grew up watching Nebraska play every Saturday and listening to every game on the radio. Although I can't watch every game anymore I turn it on on Huskers.com (I'm listening right now!). I'm raising my kids to be Huskers even though they've never lived there. I loved the article about Tyrone Fahie. I wasn't asked to give much while I was on active duty, and my thoughts are always with those who were asked to do so much more. I think it's wonderful that Fahie was recognized for who he is and all that he stands for and for all of those that he represented coming out of the tunnel today. I also learned that it's not about me while I was in the military, and I learned what is important and what is not. It is wonderful that Fahie is able to share that wisdom with others. Brenda Fields, Copperas Cove, Texas
I worked with the Lincoln Joys girls softball and basketball teams in Lincoln from 1966-1981 and now teach in Phoenix. I get Nebraska athletics stories through my email and want to thank you for the wonderful story about "the oldest walk-on". What a GREAT story!!! I enjoyed it so much. Keep up the good work! :) Go Big Red! John Laird, Phoenix, Arizona
Thanks for another great story. What an example of courage, selflessness, and devotion to a cause, whether it be to our nation's security, or the fun and opportunity to play for the Huskers. That comparison may seem frivolous to some, but it exemplifies the best in all that we hope to be. Congrats, and many heartfelt thanks to this fine young man, and to his family that implanted such integrity. Paul Rath, Omaha, Nebraska
Great story about Fahie. GBR. Richard Vryheid, Hemet, California
Even if he doesn't play in one game all season, I hope Tyrone Fahie earns an honorary letter because he represents everything that's good about Nebraska football. Steve Thomas, Des Moines, Iowa
The more I read about Nebraska and what it really stands for and the leadership that should be obvious to most, I can't help but respect the Cornhuskers (and I have no ties to the program).Thank you for writing a story that goes beyond the football field and reflects the values that I believe every American citizen should hold dear. Mike Stephenson, San Antonio, Texas