Tyler Trent will always be remembered as a Purdue football captain. It was his true passion to root on the Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium, but that didn’t stop him from leaving his imprint on nearly every team in the athletics department: volleyball, soccer, men’s basketball and others.
His willingness to share his story gave every team a new person to play for, to fight for and to win for.
While some teams did their part to reach out and make Trent feel part of the team during his grueling fight with cancer, other teams, such as the volleyball team, invited him to speak in order to learn the depth of what he was going through.
So began a strong, meaningful connection between Trent and Dave Shondell, the head volleyball coach.
“He has managed to put life in perspective for a lot of people, and certainly has for me,” Shondell said.
After learning of Trent’s situation via social media, Shondell reached out and invited him to become a part of the volleyball team. Trent spoke to the team and shared his entire story. He helped coach the team one night, sitting next to the assistant coaches on the bench in a wheelchair.
What impressed Shondell about Trent was his honesty, positivity and dedication. There is nobody else who has inspired him more.
“He’s my hero,” Shondell said, tears welling in his eyes.
As the head of a volleyball program that has to face a large portion of the country’s top talent night in and night out during conference season, Shondell knows his job is hard. However, Trent made him see that it really wasn’t hard at all, giving him a new appreciation for life.
“It’s who you are that matters,” Shondell said. “It’s not what you are or what your physical tools are. It’s how big is your heart, how determined are you, how motivated are you, how much do you care about what’s important in life.”
Shondell has coached the team for 16 years, and to this day has never seen any person become as popular, and impactful, as Trent.
Even teams that aren’t typically on television and don’t get as wide of media coverage have felt the impact of his words and have done their part to remember him, to contribute to this noble, worthy cause of donating to cancer in his memory.
During Purdue soccer’s Hammer Down Cancer match on Oct. 5, the team auctioned off a jersey signed by all the players. The parents of senior Hannah Mussallem bought the jersey and gave it to Tyler.
Tyler has been remembered at home games for both basketball teams since he passed away, but even on the road, opponents are doing their part to honor him. Iowa men’s basketball, who visited Mackey Arena just two days after his death, had warmup shirts made to honor him. When the Boilers visited Michigan State, the Spartans also wore warmup shirts, and even had a massive gold and black banner with the words ‘Tyler Strong’ on it for fans to sign before the game.
However, the Boilermaker who developed the strongest bond with Trent is former quarterback David Blough. He escorted Trent and his family to Atlanta, Georgia, for the College Football Awards show in December, missing bowl game practices to see Trent accept the Disney Spirit Award.
Blough has been through just about everything a player can withstand: a season-ending injury, getting a new coaching staff, losing seasons, learning a new playbook. But that all pales in comparison to what he learned from Trent.
“He has been through more in the last four years since he’s been diagnosed than any of us could ever imagine,” Blough said, his voice shaking. “Me breaking my ankle on the field, that’s nothing compared to what he goes through. His fight and his effort to continue fighting and still want to be a part of Purdue football is far more than any of us have (borne) the last few years.”
What Trent has meant to the football team and every Purdue team cannot be replicated. It may never happen again at Purdue. But that is who Tyler Trent was: a once-in-a-lifetime person who was bigger than life itself.
Tyler Trent is forever Purdue’s captain.