Grit.org Podcast - Episode 8: Connor Furu
Colby Harris: Welcome back to the “Grit.org” Podcast. My name is Colby Harris. Alongside me as always is mister Brian Harbin and we're here with today's guest Conner Furu. Conner, thank you so much for joining us today.
Conner Furu: Appreciate coming out.
Colby Harris: Absolutely. So, born in Olympia, Washington, Conner found a passion for sports at an early age but football truly stole his heart. When his parents divorced, when he was just 8 years old, he found his happy place on the field as though somewhere he could focus his mind, build self-confidence, and release some built-up aggression he typically had to suppress. As he grew up, Conor started to make a name for himself in football. From middle school to high school, Conner excelled at the running back position and knew he wanted to play at the collegiate level one day. This would send him on a roller coaster of ups and downs over the next few years as he pursued this dream. Conor suffered seven season halting injuries over the course of his high school and collegiate career including a torn ACL his senior of high school.
Conor made a promise that he would one day play football again and was lucky enough to be given an opportunity to play football at Drake University. Little did he know his journey back to the field would take 1646 days from his last injury in high to his first collegiate game. During that time, he went on a journey of trial and triumph from more injuries in the COVID-19 pandemic to finally suiting up as a Drake Bulldog his senior year. Conner, now Drake University graduate with a bachelors in psychology, utilizes his past to help enlighten and inspire others. From his own personal hardships of battling generational trauma and injuries to understanding the difference of being mission orient and goal oriented. Conor's new purpose is to help others build resiliency, become more disciplined, and refuse to succumb to the pain of pass.
So, without further ado, Conner, welcome to The “Grit.org” Podcast and welcome to Jacksonville. So, this guy actually flew across the country to be here today from Washington. I know he was getting on his first flight about 2:30 AM yesterday. So, we're super happy to have him. Very grateful. I actually came across Conner's story through a mutual friend who described him as the most inspiring person he had ever met and with that, I was fully sold on meeting Conner having good conversation in hopes eventually we could have him on here at The “Grit.org” Podcast to share it with all of you at home. So, nonetheless, Conner, diving right in. Everyone knows you're a division one football player at Drake University but can you take us back to beginning and tell us a bit about being brought up in Washington and some of the components you really enjoyed about living there.
Conner Furu: Yeah. So, growing up in Washington, I was a very active kid. Growing up in mostly a single mom situation. My mom was always trying to get us out of the house and find ways to keep us busy whether that be in sports. Me and my sister both were year-round and whether it be soccer, baseball, basketball, and for me I really lashed on the football. So, always finding a way to be active whether that be Washington had a lot of hikes and things like that nature, being outdoors enjoying it. But I really gravitated towards sports.
Colby Harris: That's awesome. Yeah, and it's a beautiful area up there I also grew up in the mountains so I can really come to appreciate the area you had up there and kind of the last of a generation before technology too. So, just getting into football now, were there any early memories you hold close to your heart that really kind of sold you on wanting to be a football player?
Conner Furu: Yeah, so funny story like my first year I played football. My mom thinks it's hilarious that I became a division one football player, because I was the kid. Like I got a minimum like of eight plays per game my first year, which was like the league minimum that every kid had to get. I was like the only one with a clean jersey I was playing a backup corner position on an 8-year-old team who don't throw the ball. But my second year, I really saw the running back position and I was like, I really play that. And unfortunately, for me the coach's son was playing that position and so I actually went to my coach after I cried to my mom and was like, hey, can you go talk to the coach to let me play. Mom was like, no, you got to like if you really want this you got to do it yourself. Which I'm in super grateful for because I was a running back ever since. But I went to him and explained why I thought I should be a running back and I worked with him after practice like the first week of the season. He ended up giving me the position of running back. And I've been a running back ever since, which was a huge deal for me getting his son's position and he simply told me later. He's like, you wanted it more and I really believe in society today it's a meritocracy. You get what you earn, so that was my start of love for football.
Colby Harris: That's awesome that's an incredible start and I really love that your mom kind of made you get into the nitty gritty of it and have to go earn it yourself usually to get that position. It’s a quick phone call, chew out the coach real quick and then you move right into it. But as mentioned, football is really an outlet for you and a place you could release some of that built-up aggression and funny enough when I moved to Florida, I was in a similar position with my parents. I tried football and was terrible. That aggression was useless to me on the field. So, I couldn't really apply it and as you're growing up playing football and utilizing your aggression to really excel on the field, how did that kind of work for you or did you feel some sort of pressure to really perform?
Conner Furu: Yeah. So, my parents divorced when I was around 8 years old. My father has dealt with alcoholism and is currently suffering from it. My uncle died of liver failure and alcoholism and if you really look at my family history, alcoholism and substance abuse is spanned almost a century. So, during that time, I was told that I was not worth my name by my father and that I should change it multiple times, countless times throughout my childhood. When I started finding my worth and I found out I was good at football and getting recognition from external sources, I've started throwing myself into this. Because whenever I would have a good game and I would have to go over to my dad's house with my sister, it would kind of distract him from his reality and it would give him something to talk about and deflect his anger or at least like postpone it until we were gone. So, in my mind, I was protecting me and my sister by having good games and excelling, which was actually detrimental to me later on.
It was like if I didn't have good game, I felt like it was on me, the thing we had to go through. So, that was when I really found my worth is because I was like this is one way for me to get recognition and find my worth but also, I need to protect me and my sister during that time. So, that was the start of my work ethic and things of and my love and passion for the game because that was my only outlet I had. Because my mom had, I didn't want to go to my mom with issues with my dad because had already dealt with them and I didn't want to bring her back in as they divorced him and I didn't want to involve her in that and I didn't feel like I had any other person to go to. Me and my sister being at a young age. So, that was my outlet.
Colby Harris: Yeah, it's awesome and sure enough by middle school you were standout performer and just as you said getting that recognition throughout your town. Everyone knew who's this Conor guy, really starting to make your way up. So, this was really enjoyable for you and you've started to feel that worth just as you described getting that recognition. But it was in middle school 8th grade year that you suffered your first of 7 injuries to come over the next 7 years. I can imagine that was very hard for you to overcome as a young and up and coming athlete little did you know what would come over the next course of the few years as well. But what was it like to overcome those first few injuries during your early years of middle school and high school?
Conner Furu: I mean it was super tough because for one I was not able to do the thing I put all my value in. But at the same time, it was a little different than my injuries later on as like I had the mindset of, I have plenty of time to recover like the plan hasn't changed you know I just got detoured a little bit. So, in that sense, I was a little more optimist but on the same time I kind of started to take a mental toll on me as I've had my first few injuries, I started getting the label of injury prone. And even if it wasn't in a malicious way by coaches and players, little did they know that affected me greatly because I had put all my worth into this thing. Like this is the only thing I valued about myself and about like my life was playing football and excelling at it. When I didn't have that little did people know like joking about that whether it be malicious or not, was pretty detriment to me. Because I didn't have anyone to like have another outlet to go to and deal with those issues.
Brian Harbin: Well, and it sounds like you kept pushing through and then sophomore year we're healthy and we're still progressing and then junior year ended up earning the starting position averaging what a first down a carry over 10 years.
Conner Furu: So, just under a first down a carry.
Brian Harbin: So, tell us what it was like playing the sport you love at a high level and making that starting position junior year.
Conner Furu: Yeah, so it was almost like finally my bad lucks ran out kind of deal and I was told later after the season by multiple seniors that I had beat out two senior running backs who were all conference level backs. I had like relatively was not really known like prior to that and they said that they were super angry that I got the starting spot in the beginning of the year but I proved my worth over that year that I was capable and I was the best of the backs at that time. So, yeah it was an awesome feeling the progress I made through my junior year and it just gave me a lot of optimism. Going up until I had some injuries or my injury at the end of my junior year. So yeah.
Colby Harris: So, you suffered another season injury. Season ending injury junior year. It's broken collarbone, correct.
Conner Furu: Correct.
Colby Harris: Yeah, so kind of had to wrap up another season and now the scary part is you're getting closer and closer to graduating and that time frame to find an opportunity to play at the next level is just shrinking day by day. Obviously, getting recruited requires a lot of skill on the few but you also have to set yourself up for success through going to training camps and getting exposure doing stuff like that. So, fresh off of an injury at the end of that junior season, how did you attack the off season to keep pursuing collegiate career. Do you have any advice for other young football players looking to make it to the next level?
Conner Furu: Yeah, so that off season coming out of my junior year I play most of my junior year. So, I had a good amount of film going into recruitment I had worked harder than I ever had and I was bringing people along with me. Like the team and we were looking to have a really good senior season. I worked really hard and I've had to raise a lot of money to go to various camps and showcases and whatnot throughout the spring and the summer going to my senior year. We didn't have a ton of money and so I used an outlet my mom thought of which we actually had people donate the things that they were going to take to Goodwill. They donated to us and we had a garage sale by donation to raise money for mine and my sister's sports because my sister was a collegiate athlete as well. But we didn't have the money to afford those things and I need get my name out, I needed exposure. So, that was a way that we were able to pay for it and going into that summer I had gone to multiple camps 1 MVP.
My recruitment started to really pick up from larger schools and I was just super optimistic. And if I had any advice to give to recruits early in the process or later in the process is don't allow your situation to be dictated by anyone else. I didn't have situation where my high school coaches were sending my film out to a bunch of people. I sent out thousands of emails by myself because I knew I wasn't going to put my situation I was going to be in on anyone's shoulders but mine. Then also going where you're valued. Ultimately, that's where I made my decision. I felt like that was the best fit for me don't necessarily. Go where other people might want you to, go where you feel like you have the most room to grow and where you're valued the most.
Colby Harris: Yeah, it's great. I think that's amazing advice for anyone looking to go play somewhere and just knowing that your coaches have your back, your teammates have your back, the administration, the school has your back. I think that's a huge thing to success in the collegiate level and high school level as well really any program needs good backing where you can feel that value like you're an asset. So, your persistence definitely paid off as you start getting recruited by multiple schools and honestly had a lot of eyes on you. So, can you tell us more about your mindset coming into your senior season and how everything unfolded from there.
Conner Furu: Yeah, so going in my senior season I was in the best shape of my life. I was set to be one of the top backs in the state and we actually had a younger running back come in where we were slotted to probably be one of the best backfields in the entire state of Washington if not the best backfield. Through the first four games of the season, I think between me and him we had 1600 yards rushing and led up the entire Western Washington region in rushing as like an entire offense. But then the 5th game of my senior year, I was having the best game of my life. I had like 180 yards by halftime. I had a couple touchdowns we were blowing this team out and I was set to have like a career day basically and then I did an outside zone play. I planted my foot to make a cut and I just felt a pop in my knee which ended up being a torn ACL unfortunately. And from there on like schools drop me left and right, because they had known about my injuries prior and other injuries were just like bone things where like just bone things. But like they heal a lot easier than ligaments do and there's less of a concern.
So, from there like all the thing I put all my worth in like I started feeling zero value from like from the schools that I thought were going to be potential destinations for me later on. Which basically just went like radio silence from those schools when they found out. But yeah, from there on out after I tore my ACL, I made a promise to my coach as well as my family that they were going to see me play again. And to that point that's the that was the biggest promise I'd ever made in my life and based on my situation with my family history and things like that. I set a goal to you know be the best version of myself every day and I knew if I didn't give my all to this promise which will be a continued trend that I wouldn't be the spouse, I wouldn't be the man, I wouldn't be the father like the eventual father like I aspire to be. If I didn't know in my heart, I gave it all. So, I intended to keep that and so that was the start of my issues at like post high school as I eventually picked school and then had to rehab and whatnot, but yeah.
Brian Harbin: Yeah, so kind of along those lines obviously you kept your nose to the grindstone in terms of finding a school and ended up at Drake University in Iowa over 2,000 miles from home. But tell us about kind of that decision to go to Drake. I know obviously you wanted to go somewhere that you felt valued and somewhere you could grow. But tell us about kind of that transition to Drake and those first a few months there.
Conner Furu: Yeah, and so I was at the tail end of my rehab for my first ACL surgery. I was feeling good I was super optimistic, like it was a fresh start. I believe I was going to red shirt my freshman year as I was still recovering and I got to about the second month of the semester and I'd finally got cleared to play. I believe it was in later and first practice went great I was super excited to get back out on the field and I'd started to kind of build relationships with guys and friendships. I was like all by myself 2,000 miles away and I was like, got that independence which was really cool. Then the second practice I had it was literally almost the same exact situation as my senior year, a same exact play. It was just an outside zone play and I just a jog through kind of scenario and I ended retearing that same ACL in a very basic way. It was nothing. I didn't get hit. It wasn't anything crazy I wasn't even going full speed when it happened. So, when I found out later on that I tore my ACL, I had to, was a dark time because it's like I said I've been building relationships but I hadn't really ingrained myself there.
So, I did not want to be a Drake at all after that I wanted to go home and be in my comfort zone. But for some reason, something told me like this isn't it. I like, I spent many hours nights crying because over my career, because I knew I wasn't going to give up. Part of me wanted to but I knew I had something left in the tank and honestly that got to me people think I would be upset and I'd want to quit. And that's why I was crying, it was like I was upset because I knew I wasn't going to and I knew the pain it was going to take to get through it. But I knew in my heart that if I didn't give this my all and I did use up whatever was left in the tank, I was going to regret that the rest of my life and I would have been worse off for it. So yeah, that promise I had made to my coach and my family still was the biggest one that I had made or I intended to keep it.
Colby Harris: That's amazing and I can imagine that having the understanding of injuries how it operates the rehab process as you just rehab that ACL for a year to do it again, you now understood the road it was going to take to get back. So, I can definitely understand that just be a huge mindset thing of just knowing what you had ahead of you to get back out there especially when you were so charged up in great shape ready to go. But I do believe since you did stay at Drake, you kind of stayed uncomfortable, you didn't go home back where you had been for so long. You found ways to cope with those healthy ways to cope by staying around the game and getting involved. So, how did you try to stay involved in the program at Drake even after your ACL tear.
Conner Furu: Yeah, so what I always struggled with early on was just like have a role on a team and I think a lot of people struggle with that in whatever capacity they're in whether it be that their job or whatever it might be. It's like what is my role. Like, do I have one and like finding your value in that. So, I found my role in being the hardest worker on the team and I have 100 guys that can vouch for that with no promise of any outcome. Because I found my role being that if I worked as hard as possible, I gave no one else a reason not to and they didn't have a reason that they weren't to be working hard because if I was then what's my excuse? And so, that's where I really found my role. And something like that I had to deal with was we used to have student filmers for our practices. But we ran out and didn't have anyone to do it. So, I actually spent a lot of time filming practice. And not being down with my teammates watching soon to be best friends, do what I love. And just not being able to do it myself.
So, to stay involved with the game, I would literally like take mental pictures of like what they were doing at practice, every drill, every rep, everything. And then after practice, after I got done filming, everyone had gone inside, I would replay the entire practice outside until the lights went out. I remember one senior who actually talked about it in the senior speech when I when I was a freshman. Like he was just drying off after a shower like an hour and a half after practice and I came in and I was drenched in sweat and had just basically myself through a whole practice. But that whole idea of no one really cares what your situation is. It doesn't give you an excuse to not. If there's so many people with so many extenuating circumstances that are against them that they don't give themselves that excuse.
So, I had to find a way to close that gap with guys who weren't injured and beginning to excel and get better and with me not being able to practice I needed to find every edge I could to close that gap and make my team better in the end so.
Brian Harbin: Well and what a powerful statement in terms of just how you were able to influence your team by not even being on the field. It's such a huge takeaway for somebody that you know maybe it's not an injury but maybe they're just not quite starting yet, but a way that they can totally influence their team. So, even in the off season though you found a way to give back. So, tell us about campus to community and kind of how that started and what that was all about.
Conner Furu: Yeah, I was literally showering after practice one day and this idea just came in my head. So, like 4th of July, we was the 1, week where division one kind of got off as a break and I always went back home any chance I could being so far away and I only got to go home a couple times. So, I contacted a bunch of guys I grew up playing with and I know played college football who were from the Olympia, the Olympia Seattle kind of area and said, hey, we're all going to be back probably this time. Would you guys be willing to put on this free camp for kids? Because I went back and I saw some of the youth fields that were just like empty playing. So, I wanted to put on something to try and bring back what used to be. Because I remember field used to be full when I was growing up and for some reason that interest was just not there. So, I got a bunch of college guys to come back and be the coaches of the camp that was the premise of the guys who grew up in the same communities that these kids were coming back to coach the kids that were growing up in their environment that they went through.
So, I got a bunch of guys and we had over two years about 600 kids over two years and did like a 2-day totally free camp. Got the county's youth football league to donate all the gear and there was no expense to anyone. I got my high school to like sponsor it as in just like let us use the field and what not. It was an awesome event and it was super cool like we got pictures with like the different high schools and like the young theater schools into it like the elementary school kids. So, you could see like the couple college guys with like 10 or 20 of the kids that were going to aspire to be those guys. So, it was a great way to give back and just trying to fill a need where I thought that I had such an amazing experience in growing up in youth football and I want that for other people. So, that was an awesome outlet for them.
Colby Harris: Yeah, it's incredible I think it's so enriching to see someone that was in your similar position as a kid. Just loving the game, so much passion, just wanting to be outside enjoying it that's such an incredible experience to see that. It kind of is just it gives you a chance to reminisce and remember the real reasons you love the sport of just enjoying it and being outside. I think me and Brian can say from experience you running a summer camp is no easy task. So, that's all to you for doing that. I mean, I can't even imagine especially at that caliber with a bunch of college students coming home for a week or so. But sure enough, that ACL tear from freshman year ended up following you through your sophomore season and you had to take extra time to rehab.
So, you actually sat out your sophomore season as well, just adding on to those days here still. But summer going into your junior year, you were healthy, you're ready to perform that fall. But before school start again you and a group of your teammates decide to travel across the globe to combat human trafficking in India. How did you get involved in the trip to India? What was the mission and what effects did have on you as you were preparing to return to football for the first time in a few years?
Speaker3: Yeah, so my offensive coordinator approached me with this idea because he had worked with this organization at prior schools he was at and he kind of looks just for guys who he believed had the heart for it. So, he reached out to me and then I reached out to a couple more guys to see if they would be interested. So, essentially, we went for about two weeks and stayed in this a safe house. We stayed in India, but then everyday we'd go and interact with these girls who had been rescued from human trafficking. It was such an amazing experience because these girls had obviously some of the worst experiences that you could imagine especially with males as these girls range from 9 years old to 20 years old at the time. They were very shy and reluctant at first, but then they really began to open up to us and like playing games and everything.
Our purpose there was really to just kind of rehabilitate their image of like not everyone's going to harm them. Especially from the male perspective of all their trauma was caused by male. So, it was amazing them to see that not everyone was going to be out to get them and traumatized them in that way. But nothing we did over there was insanely drastic from the perspective of like the rehabilitation part of it. It was more so it's like we just play games with them, we interacted, we were just people you know caring for one another. Like when I hear these stories of the atrocities that they went through and here's this girl drawing and like we're playing games with her and she seems like a normal kid. Which just blew my mind the entire time we were there is that the really like how resilient the human psyche can like be of like knowing what that little girl went through. Which gave me the perspective of like I put all my worth into this one thing but there's seven billion people in the world who didn't know I played football and these girls did not care at all.
I forgot I forgot the word for it but called me and the other guys on the team by the Hindi Word for Big Brother. And I still talk to them on a semi regular basis just like little videos sending back and forth and unfortunately with COVID I haven't been able to go back out, which I intend to do. But it was just an incredible experience to see that for myself where I'm valued for more than just the sport. Like these people didn't care. So, that didn't deter me from working as hard as I could from football, but it made me become more mission oriented instead of goal oriented. Because I saw all my goals just like when I first came in to Drake, I wanted to be a starter. I wanted to be a 1000-yard rusher. After my knee injury, I was like you know what, maybe in rehab come back being a rotational role whatever. And then further down the line I just saw my goals, like I started moving the goal post back for myself and I was like no, I'm not going to do that anymore. I'm just going to work as hard as possible with no promise of any positive outcome and then I'm just going to, my mission. Like I said was to keep my promise to my family but my mission in life is to just serve people and then become the best version of myself and become better than I was the day before.
So, if I do that then whatever comes out of it, I'm going to be happy with and I'm going to be at peace with because I know in my heart that I gave it my all. So, that was really the start of it and being like need goals so you can measure your success but if your goals aren't under the umbrella of a bigger mission and a bigger purpose in your life. Then if you don't make a goal and you take that and that part of it crumbles, you don't want the whole building to fall down kind of thing. But when I didn't hit a goal, it was like, alright what's next, kind of deal. It really change shifted my perspective in that way.
Colby Harris: Perspective's everything I believe and I think it's so important whether you're traveling across the world to India to do what you did in combat human trafficking or even just volunteering at your local Boys and Girls Club to talk with other people. That's really what helps you see the world in a different light just as you said. So, I really love to just the whole idea that you still try to stay involved with, still talk to these girls and kind of that shift. I really believe in that shift of from goal and into missionary which I know is something you really love. So, this gave you a lot of momentum, a lot of positivity heading into your junior season. Although you're still the football guy, you now almost had a new superpower that you knew you had more worth to yourself which again really just set the momentum. So, tell us more about heading into what looked like your first at Drake first opportunity to play football and then what kind is you prepared for the first game that fall.
Conner Furu: Yeah, and so prior to India we had a spring season that I thought went well and then going in the fall camp, I felt like I was clicking on El Cylinders playing really well. Again, in the best shape of my life and then two weeks prior to our first game slotted to play North Dakota who's a top 25 team in the division 1 FCS. We're in squad scrimmage. I got my legs taken out from under me. I fell on my shoulder and it was as if like you had potato chips in your hand and you just like crushed them. Like that's what it felt like in my shoulder and I actually tried to come back the next week and it just the same thing happen I ended up doing more damage. So, from that standpoint, I ended up having to have season ending surgery on my shoulder with I had some torn ligaments as well as a torn labrum.
So, that was really tough for me even though I did have that new perspective shift. I had a bunch of undealt with trauma that I had just suppressed and repressed for the longest time that really started to boil over at that point. I started having like some really like hard mental issues, which I still showed up every day and worked hard but I didn't deal with them in the most healthy ways. I started like suffering from a lot of panic attacks, anxiety. I would rush, like I would exhaust myself during the day just to go to bed sooner because I knew like that was the thing, I look forward to the most was going to sleep for that short time that I wasn't awake. Which I talk openly about because it was, I think a lot of the time a lot of people can feel that way. But to realize that there is help out there and to really take the resources that are there for you to your advantage. Because there are people that really care about you.
And luckily, I had that perspective of there's 7 billion people in the world who don't know me, know that I play football but that compounded repression of my trauma really got to me in hose times.
Brian Harbin: Yeah, and so that's your 6th injury at this point and still yet to suit up for a colligate football game. I know you mentioned some of the things that mentally you were kind of starting to get frustrated. I guess what were some of the ways that you dealt with that, I know you mentioned trying to get more sleep. But what were some things you felt like kind of help keep you on track?
Conner Furu: Yeah, so I went to our head trainer Angie Dahl who was like essentially my second mom being 2,000 miles away. I had gone to her and I was in really rough shape just psychologically and people could tell I had, like there was times I didn't speak for a really long time for weeks like in meeting and stuff and people started to kind of worry about it. I went to talk to her and she was basically like I'm not qualified to help, but got me in contact with the sports psychologist. It ended up not working out with that psychologist, but it allowed me to not repress any of my things anymore. It made me allow myself to open up and know that it's okay to not be okay and reach out and find help. And during that time, I just felt totally alone like prior to trying to find help and what not.
There's one story I really want to share is that the power of what empathy can do in a team environment. There's one day I was just really struggling and I was almost about to go into our head coaches obviously and quit. Like this was the closest I'd ever got to just hanging them up and saying I'm done. It was after a workout; I had got I was just sitting in my locker and then just having a tough day. I think people could tell and just kind of just let me be. I was one of the last people in the locker room and as I'm walking out, D lineman captain. One of the best football players I played with named Gavin Dineen. I was walking out and he said, hey, Conner like are you okay. It was more of just like a casual like, hey how's, it not, are you okay, but he's like hey how you doing kind of thing. I said, good. And then he like stopped me and he was like, no, are you okay? And I just started crying and I like rushed out of.
It wasn't tears, like I wasn't sad, I was so happy that someone actually had reached out and like in that moment I was like I'm valued on this team. Like there is a role for me here and people value me here and so I really got to allowed myself to build the relationships that I needed in my in my life at that time. Because I dreamed of having 100-yard rushing games at Drake. I dreamed of having this exceptional season, like I said 100-yard rushing games. But I had on my team 100 now friends and relationships that were going to last a lifetime. I think that I'm a man of faith and I believe that all the things I was praying for were the wrong things. All the prayers I was praying for weren't answered, but all the prayers I should have been praying for were. And I think having that those friendships and relationships and getting to travel the world. I went to Drake for a reason to we're the most diverse conference like geographically. So, I was like, oh, it's going to be awesome, like I get to travel to different places in the country.
I also travel to Beijing my freshman year as we played the first division one football game on Chinese soil. I didn’t, because I was recovered from injury. But like I looked back and I was like it was almost ironic. Like all the prayers I should have been praying for were answered. So yeah, that was having that family environment and building all those relationships that really are going to last a lifetime.
Colby Harris: Yeah, well what they say thank God for unanswered prayers, right. I think really having that good support system is so key to overcoming any adversity. Something that has always stood out to me when it comes to mental health is or really any circumstance whether you want to become a better player or a better employee or feel better or change the way you look, it's impossible to help someone that doesn't want to help themselves.
Conner Furu: Yeah.
Colby Harris: And I think that's where a lot of people find themselves and sounds like that's kind of where you were at for a period of time. But just as you said, you were getting new perspective. You really feel like you were valued on the team. People were looking out for you. Really were starting to properly attack some of those traumas and mental struggles that you were having. So, heading into fall of 2020. Although you're healthy and you're feeling good. You're excited. The world is now battling a new demon in COVID. So, every school handled the pandemic a little bit differently, created game plans for a season etcetera. But can you tell us more about Drake and the fall of 2020 and how your season was altered due to the pandemic?
Conner Furu: Yes, so we had to cancel our season and now I'm fully healthy. I'm actually in a role where I could be a rotational player or even get significant playtime on special teams and as a running back. And now something totally out of my control is stopping me from playing. So, that was just like I just felt beat down at that point. I'm like I've done everything I can and now something totally out of my control is keeping me from doing that. My strength coach Ryan Martin came to me one day after I was talking to him and just angry about it and he was like, go write on a piece of paper everything you can control and then everything you can't control and then just cross out the uncontrollable. But we ended and which helped me because I was like you know what? Like that whole mindset of I'm going to work as hard as I can with no promise of any outcome and that I had bring myself back to that that mindset.
So, we had a fall inner squad season basically like we practice had inner squad games and whatnot and I played some of the best football I'd ever played. At the end of the fall, I was in a position to potentially start or be I guess significant contributor which everyone was super surprised at. Because they'd seen me in such limited capacities throughout my career that they're like actually really good at football and I was like I know you just haven't. I like, I always knew that. But and so going into I was still like another like super optimistic, because we were then given the spring season.
Colby Harris: Yeah, and that was going to be where my next question was spring comes around, you guys lined up a short season. But just to play other schools I know a lot of the division one schools like Drake were kind of offering that same program of like try to get out play 5, 6, 7 games if possible. So, you're set up to play a handful of games. How did spring season go and did you finally get the opportunity to suit up at Drake University?
Conner Furu: Yeah, so right before our first game it was the week prior that we were playing University of San Diego. We had an intersquad scrimmage and I ended up actually dislocating my thumb and then like doing some damage to muscles in my hand where I actually had to sit out the first three games of our spring season. Which I we didn't know if I was going to be able to play or not like at first. But luckily, I mean prior to my first game at Valparaiso or when Valparaiso came and played at Drake. It took me about 45 minutes to get ready for the game, because I was strapping up two shoulder braces and knee brace. I had to club my hand. Like I look like a walking tin man going on the field. I didn't care, but I didn't end up getting to play running back because of I having to essentially club my hand. But I found myself in a special team's role. Which I excelled at in in my first game versus Valparaiso.
We were given hammers for the guys who have like the biggest hits of the game and I had two nominations that game. I was remembering I was on the punt coverage team and we're going down to cover a punt and I go and make a solo tackle on the punt returner. Which was nothing crazy, but it was a solo tackle. I look back at the sideline, everyone's going ballistic. Like so excited for me, like the stands don't know why like that's such a big deal and what not. But I start like the water works jar coming, like our head coach Todd steps came over and just like gave me a biggest hug like out on the field and stuff like that. So, it was such an amazing moment because it was goes back to that was the moment I really realized like all the things I should have been praying for were answered and all the relationships I'd built.
I showed that I could be a very good division one college football player as I made a couple tackles in that game. I had some knockout hits and it was actually ironic. I went back and watched the play by play and the announcer goes, solo tackle by Mike Rogers. They got the name wrong on the one time I got a tackle on the field and I thought like three years prior to that I would have been so angry because like I wanted that recognition. I put all my worth into this one thing. But at that point I just thought it was funny because I'd realized that whole fall, when I did play running back and then this whole spring like seen how happy everyone was for me. My family saw got to see me play, my coach got to saw me play. Like everyone who was really important to and invested in me over that time span. Like they saw me play, and I was worried about the wrong things the entire time about like subconsciously you kind of want the recognition you want the social media like shout outs and the edits for like having big games and stuff. But everyone who was important to me and invested in me and who I did it for, got to see me play.
When I go back to making that promise to my family, that promise transferred over to our coaches and my teammates. Because they became part of my family too and I don't believe in loopholes like I consider them my family. So, I believe that promise and they became part of that promise I couldn't let them down and they weren't going to let me give up on that. It goes back to the empathy thing of like being like cared for and valued by those teammates is like they were there to keep me going on days I couldn't. When I couldn't help myself, they were there to help me. So yeah, it's just so many ironic funny like enlightening moments along the way. I got to play a couple more or three games which is ironic, because that's the same amount of reconstruction surgeries I had over my time. Which is another ironic just like I consider it like a beautiful kind of thing. It's like I'll always hold on to that and I think that everything happens for a reason and that's now just another testament to it, but yeah.
Brian Harbin: Yeah, and kind of talking about how things working out not the way you pictured but your crowning moment would be covering a punt.
Conner Furu: Yeah.
Brian Harbin: Versus running it and for a touchdown but like you said I love your perspective on it and how you've turned it all to be exactly the way it's supposed to be. So going into 2021, you did have another year of eligibility, but tell us kind of how you decided what to do next.
Conner Furu: Yeah so, I kept that year of eligibility thinking I might want to play. But after the spring season after that like final game of the spring season, that moment when I talked to you guys about how I cried because I had more left in the tank. I cried because I knew I had more to give and I knew the work it was going to take to get there. But then at that moment like most guys are really sad after their last game. But I was just like I was at peace with everything. It was like after my shoulder surgery I remember calling my mom like super upset crying and the only words I could get out of my mouth were, I'm tired. At that once I got done, I was like I can sleep, I can rest now because I have nothing else to prove to anyone like I did what I came here to do. And I was ready to move on to the next chapter of my life. So, because I left that year of eligibility open and a few credits left in school. My dream what I thought was to always be a college football coach, because my coaches were like my father figures growing up and I wanted to be that for someone else.
So, I asked our coach if I could join the staff and he had open up his position as an offensive assistant. So, I worked with running backs as well as special teams and I did that throughout the fall. And I love doing it, but at the same time from a football side of things, I was an assistant coach, assisting the offense coordinator and other position coaches. So, I was doing a lot of work with like whether be making scout cards or like little things. But I found my real role where I made the biggest impact where there's a lot of young guys on the team that suffered in injuries. And some of those guys didn't know how to deal with it, because that was like they had never gone through something like that. So, I felt like that was a perfect way for me to kind of ease myself out of the game of football that kind of was a moment of clarity for me, and be around some of my best friends who I now as their coach which was kind of a weird dynamic. But like instill what I'd learned into these young guys who are now dealing with injuries and stuff.
I remember one particular story of a kid who ended up tearing his ACL and he like, did not know what to do. I just basically told him that you know he thought it was funny at first and we talk about it now, but like I told my dude, I don't feel bad for you. I empathize with you, but I have no sympathy because I don't believe in like sympathy being from the perspective of, I had a lot of people come up to me saying, oh I'm so sorry for you. Which never did me any good it just reinforced, the idea that I was in a terrible place. So, I said I've never, like where I was coming from when I said I don't feel sorry for is that, because I seen a bunch of guys come back from like major injuries. I said, if you give yourself, if you allow yourself to work as hard as possible and get through this rehab, I've never seen someone come out worse.
I'm not talking about from a football perspective but just in life in general building that work ethic. I said, in a weird way I don't feel bad for you, because if you put everything, I know you can into it you're going to be much better off because of this. so, I'm sorry about the way you have to learn this lesson but it's something that it's going to be so valuable to you. So, something I learned through that and then and just dealing with other guys is I was able to instill the lessons I'd learned through my adversity and kind of allow myself to get into other forms of way I could help people. Yeah.
Colby Harris: And sounds like it was very impactful for the other players and you as well. I mean you were still wrapping up school as well. So, you really had to push yourself day in day out to perform on the field coaching as well as in the classroom trying to get into the gym yourself. I mean as a football coach you have these early morning meetings, you have to go through run through practices and then you watch film. I mean football is one of the sports I just see as being extremely involved especially on the coaching level. Everything has to be articulated perfectly. So, you're extremely busy. Can you tell us more about what you really learned during that time personally and why was it so impactful for you as you were kind of taking your first step away from football?
Conner Furu: Yeah, so looking back on it kind of like in a third person perspective, I learned I talked about earlier about how my role in the team was to work as hard as possible without any promise of any outcome. And after our last game, there was like kind of like a function where parents and players that got together. Two of the guys who I had been teammates with came up and talked with, told my mom that because I hadn't given up it didn't allow them to and they saw how rough I had it and they were like I can't give up because Conner didn't. That was just like oh my God, like the role that, like it was just like I almost started crying like when they told her that. Because I was like my role that I aspired to do like I fulfilled that role to the best of my ability.
So, I think that you should never, like one lesson I really got out of it was you should never underestimate the significance of overcoming your hardships. Because you might have not been the only one to grow from it. There were two things I had on my locker, everyday my time at Drake there was something I wrote my senior year I was grateful for the opportunities. I'm given and motivated by the ones I'm not and then I had Romans 5:3-4 which is, “Not only so but we glory in our sufferings, because suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character hope”. That hope part of it was like I was able to give that those guys hope, because I didn't give up and that's something that I speak on a lot. Then also it allowed me overcoming all those struggles to know that I can overcome whatever some life throws at me, with my family's history of substance abuse and things like that. I truly believe that you either become your history or become the reason that your history is never repeated. For me, that was just another point for me it's like I'm going to day in and day out become the best version of myself or at least aspire to become the best version of myself. I have the wherewithal to overcome any struggles and I have the tools to do that now. So, those are probably the two biggest takeaways that I receives from all the lessons and all the hardships and stuff I learned over that time.
Brian Harbin: And it sounds like you were totally at peace after probably what 12 years of your life all about football. So, tell us how you decided what to do next after that chapter was over?
Conner Furu: Yeah, and so it was kind of ironic because, I'd always from early in high school thought I was going to be a college football coach and I wanted to be that the father figure that my coaches were to me to other people. But due to some extenuating circumstances, I remember going into our head coach’s office after or near the end of the season and be like, I can't do this anymore. I have to handle some things and what not and I got to give up coaching. Which I mean it was my first-year coaching but this was something I had for 8 years thought I was going to do. So, ironically that night after I left my head coach's office in tears thinking I had to give up on the next chapter of my life. So, in my mind for like the 12 hours in between that morning and that night like my mind was like what am I going to do with my life, kind of thing.
And that night I had got a call from John Gordon who's the author of the Energy Bus. He speaks to hundreds of thousands of people over the world. I got in touch with him about my story and he reached out and basically said, you're obligated to tell your story. So, that was just such a reaffirming moment for me it's like maybe this is the next phase of my life. But it was just so serendipitous of like what I thought was my life that morning, like I had to give up. Then literally 12 hours later I have one of the most incredible speakers in the entire world telling me to that like I need to share my story. So, kind of like that I was going back to all my prayers that I weren't praying for were answered. It was like, well, I was super upset that I had to give up coaching but don't discourage and answered prayer just because it didn't come in the form you envisioned.
That for me having to give up coaching was an answered prayer. In my mind, everything could change and another, the moment I'm talking about this, I might divert into another area of my life. I don't know, but I do feel like my path is to share my story and help young athletes and just people in general become the that unattainable, perfect version of themselves. So, you're never going to become the best version of yourself, but I'm going to get as close as I can and I really think that that's my mission and goal in life is to help as many people as I can become the best version of themselves.
Colby Harris: Yeah, I love that and even me and you as we're spending some time together. I picked you up from the airport. I got Conner and now we're kind of spend this 48-hours in Florida together. We were talking something that resonates perfectly with that. What you just said is Matthew McConaughey's, who's your hero. He says, it's me in 10 years. They come back they ask him 10 years later, who's your hero, are you your hero now? He says no, no, no. 10 years from now and he makes it clear of they missed the point. It's the never-ending chase of who he could be one day. So, continuously pursuing excellence in your own life it's just so huge. So, coming into 2022 again you've now decided you want to share your story you want to help enlighten other people. Can you share some early experiences so far as you've been speaking as you've made a few trips now to talk to people? What have you had that really just cemented the idea of being a speaker and that you should be sharing your story?
Conner Furu: Yeah, so something that I maybe wasn't totally prepared, I didn't prepare myself for was people coming up and sharing their stories. Which was, I hear some very traumatic things from kids coming up to me and sharing stories about how they found their parents dead from, like from a like whether it be substance abuse or something or they're dealing with like some like mental health issue. Crying to me and which I wasn't necessarily prepared for, but that was another reaffirming thing for me it's like clearly my story resonates with people. And these kids are coming to me in these instances trying to seek help and it's not like I believe I'm some guru because I like I was unprepared and I didn't have answers and I gave the best advice that I could. But everyone has a story and everyone has things going on behind the scenes that you have no idea about.
So, really just approaching every interaction with empathy and kindness and trying to like I said help as many people as I can. But I truly have the belief that I could help end the suffering or it like a small part of ending the suffering of anyone I come in contact with. I know that's not true, but I know holding that mindset I'm going to help a lot more people than I'm not. So, it's kind of like a pragmatic approach to it of like I know I'm not going to be able to help everybody, but it's going to the same thing about like not getting or like being the best version of yourself in 10 years. Like I'm going to get as close as I can and I think I can help the most people with that mindset. So, just connecting with people and realizing that everyone has a story is the thing I've the biggest takeaway I've had of it.
I think if you go into every interaction, you have whether it be in a supermarket or in a relationship or anything and you're just like talking to random people. Like if you have that common ground of empathy and wanting the best for that person, it's just make such rich relationships that I value so much and have got to make some awesome connections with people as I started or as I've started speaking to high schools and stuff like that.
Colby Harris: Yeah, I love that and I think the part about everyone has a story is so huge and I think that even puts you in the same hot seat in that situation of, I came across you in a miraculous way from a buddy in Florida who's now at Drake University. Again, same thing who described you as the most inspiring person you'd ever met and what I find really cool about that is you only played three games in college. You didn't necessarily have the craziest stats and Drake isn't necessarily a Georgia or Alabama. But what's so cool about it is here you are telling this amazing story that can inspire so many people and it's now led you on this path of making it your mission to try to help people. So, that's what really caught my eye about your story and what I loved is the phone calls that we've had up to this point is just the respect you have for other people, the empathy you have for other people. I mean everything all in all just aligns so well with what we doing here and what Brian has really started.
So, I knew you were a perfect person to loop in here and nonetheless, I'm just super grateful that you came on with us today to share your story and it's already impacted me just getting to know you. So, I'm super excited for other young athletes to hear your story especially people battling with trauma, battling injuries, anything of that nature. So, again, really grateful that we're able to have you here today. Before we wrap up, just one last question for you, Conner as we asked all our guests this question. What part of the Grit Creed resonates most with you and why?
Speaker31: Yeah, I mean, it's kind of going to go back to that Matthew McConaughey thing. The first part your guy’s Grit Creed is I'm someday going to be what I'm now becoming. I believe of that every day of every week of every month or every year, I'm going to like aspire to be the best version of myself. And some days, I'm not going to live up to that standard. But one thing that has resonated with me is as I begin to speak with young athletes and high schoolers is that, we had to work out today. And things and I still push myself physically and mentally, whether it be like I'm an avid reader and things like that. I'm trying to every portion of my life get better and excel and I'm never going to attain that but I'm going to get as close as I can. So, I just love that version of that being becoming or I'm someday going to become what I'm now becoming. So, that just the first line when I read you guys’ Grit Creed, I'm like that's it kind of thing and it goes back to Matthew McConaughey's thing and I just love that.
Colby Harris: Yeah, day in day out it, takes baby steps absolutely. So, any final remarks you know if anybody wants to get in touch with you or contact you about speaking or just send messages back and forth. How could they get in touch with you?
Conner Furu: Yeah. So, I'm pretty accessible over social media. It's just at Conner_Furu. More than willing to reach out to I tell this to any high school I talk to or any group is that if 99% of what I say or goes over everyone's head, but that 1% sticks with one person. It's worth it to me. So, whether it be if you like wanted me to speak or maybe you just like as you're a coach on a team and you're having a kid who's struggling. Like I'm more than willing to reach out, because like I said my mission is to serve people. If I can do that in any way possible whether be coming to speak to your team or just speak to one of your players, I'm up for it.
Colby Harris: That's amazing make any impact small or huge. So, nonetheless thank you Conner. That's a wrap for the “Grit.org” Podcast today. Please check out our other episodes. Leave us a comment. Tell us something you enjoyed about Conner's story. Please share it with someone you think it would resonate with or impact. As always, we appreciate you tuning in for another episode of the “Grit.org” Podcast.