Ty Shrader: From Ball Boy To The Big Time

Oct. 15, 2012

By Brian Gunning, Army Athletic Communications

When most people describe the characteristics they equate with an Army football player, they use words like passionate, dedicated, intense, smart and relentless. They could save themselves a few syllables and just say, "Ty Shrader."

Standing 5-8 and weighing 184 pounds, the Stevenson, Ala., native isn't the prototypical Division I free safety. Then again, there is not a whole lot of Shrader's journey to West Point that was typical. Most kids who grow up in the heart of the Auburn-Alabama rivalry dream of one day running out the tunnel in the blue and orange at Jordan-Hare Stadium or the crimson and white at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Shrader always pictured himself in the black and gold of West Point or the blue and gold of Annapolis.

"I've always been interested in the academies. I was really into history growing up so I knew about West Point and Annapolis," Shrader explained. "I always wanted to go to one of the academies. I told my dad, who was our defensive coordinator, to send all my tapes to the military academies. Army and Navy were pretty interested. I was actually more focused on Navy because I knew someone who played there, but Army showed a lot of interest too. Coach (John) Mumford offered me, and I didn't want to pass up the opportunity."

The fact that he has been able to live out his football dream should not be a shock. While he's never the biggest or fastest player on the field, he often times may be the smartest. His father, Barry, served as the defensive coordinator at North Jackson High School for 26 years. He coached both Ty and his older brother, Blake, who was a three-year letterman at Auburn. The proverbial "coach's kid," Ty has been focused on football since his days as a ball boy.

"He's a coach's son. He knows the defense inside and out," Army head coach Rich Ellerson told reporters during preseason practice. "He's a fierce competitor. He's not the biggest guy, he's not the fastest guy, but he runs well. He's a step and a half ahead because of his understanding of his position. He's going to be hard to root out of there."

Even though he learned the game from his father, things on the field weren't always smooth between coach and player. While it can be awkward calling your coach "Dad" during practice, it can cause even more trouble when you change a play call during a game.

"It was intense," Shrader said with grin. "When I started to actually understand the game, I started going to practice every day. I watched my brother for five years before me, and then right after he graduated I was a freshman. Right after Blake graduated, I stepped on the field and my dad and I were always clashing. I knew the defense pretty well. I changed the defense a lot, and he didn't like that too much."

Despite the occasional speed bump, Shrader attributes his success at West Point to his upbringing. Sports and discipline were a common theme in the Shrader house. While his father instilled the structure that has benefitted Shrader in the academy environment, his older brother was helping to develop physical toughness.

"We were always ball boys for my dad's team," Shrader recalled. "The other guys were always bigger than me, but I was toughened up real quick. We would play a ball boy scrimmage before every game on Friday, and they would just beat the living daylights out of me. I think that instilled some discipline and toughness in me. I learned a lot about the game just by watching my brother."

If those experiences weren't enough, Shrader also shared a dinner table with his mother, a two- time state champion girls' basketball coach who was not intimidated in the least by her two football- playing sons.

"She used to beat Blake and I in basketball all the time," he said. "We used to live next to a church when I was a kid, and she would always take us up to the court there and whoop us good. She's shorter than me, but we couldn't stop her. She definitely gave us some of our athletic ability."

Shrader has taken all those lessons learned from his mother on the pick-up basketball court and his father on the football field and used them as motivation for success. Not only is he one of the smartest Army defenders, he's also one of the most intense. While tiffs on the Army practice field are rare, when a scuffle does break out chances are No. 4 is close to the action.

"I've always played the game that way," Shrader said. "Growing up, my dad told me I was always going to be undersized, but I couldn't use that as a crutch. I've never used it as an excuse. Playing with a chip on my shoulder helps me focus and get to where I need to be. It helps me get to the edge like Coach Ellerson always talks about."

While he is always trying to get "to the edge," Shrader rarely lets his emotions overcome his intellect on the field. During his first extended playing time as a freshman at North Texas in 2009, Shrader called on his vast football knowledge to help seal Army's come-from-behind victory with an interception. While most plebes' minds would be spinning in such a crucial situation, Shrader feel back on his football IQ. As he describes the play almost three years later, he sounds more like a secondary coach than a player.

"My football instincts took over," he remembered. "There was less than a minute left, and we were playing a curl coverage that we still play today. I knew they had to get out of bounds because they were out of timeouts so they were going to run some kind of out route. As soon as the receiver broke, the ball was right there. When he threw it, I knew I was going to catch it. I knew then that I could play at this level, and I felt comfortable."

That experience playing so early in his career has made him an ideal mentor for the 2012 Army defense which counts multiple underclassmen on the depth chart. Not only can he pass on his knowledge of the defense, but can also relate on a more personal level by sharing his experiences.

"We have some really good younger players coming into the system," Shrader said. "Coach Ellerson is definitely recruiting the right guys. Playing at a young age really did help me, and I've talked to some of the guys about that. When they do get their shot, they can't second guess themselves. As a young player you can go out there and second guess yourself, and before you know it the game is already behind you. I told them to just go out and play. Don't worry about this or that, just make sure you go make a play. If you make a play full speed, it really doesn't matter where you're lined up."

Shrader has been living his dream for the past four years. A three-year letterwinner, he has been in the Army secondary rotation and a vital member of the special teams for most of his career. Having grown up watching the Army-Navy game every year with his father, Shrader could not believe he was actually part of the tradition when he stepped on the field in Philadelphia.

"I can't really describe the out-of-body experience I was having," he remembered. "I got kind of wheezy and I couldn't see straight, but once I got calmed down, I was fine. It's a dream that I'm living. The feeling has never changed. The last three haven't turned out like we've wanted them to, but it's a special feeling that I'll never forget for the rest of my life."

While his father coached the game for 26 years and his brother is also now an assistant coach at the University of South Alabama, Shrader doesn't see himself joining the family business. The leadership major is hoping to join the Infantry branch of the U.S. Army following his graduation in May.

"I love football," Shrader said. "It's the best game for life, no question. It's going to teach you to get up when you get knocked down, and keep moving forward when things are bad.

Knight Vision


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