The price of freedom
By Sarah Ishak
Parents weekend is traditionally the time when students show off their collegiate achievements to their parents. For one Hillsdale College football player, however, the weekend brought a fan from across the world. Senior tailback Brett Neller was able to play at home on Saturday in front of his father, Maj. Gen. Robert Neller, who is stationed in Iraq for a year. The general was on a two-week vacation and made sure to attend his son’s two games during the stretch.
General Neller arrived late on Oct. 13 and attended his first Charger game at Wayne State University the next day � a game in which starting senior Phil Martin was injured in the first quarter, giving Brett the opportunity to play out the rest of the game in front of a quiet but proud father. During the game, the general spoke little of himself and instead went on to list his son’s recent achievements � how Brett walked on to the team and battled with injuries for two years. The general called his son a “resilient player” driven by “pure love of the game.”
Brett’s past two games are not the only ones the general has followed � he keeps up with his son’s season while overseas. Even though the general is unable to listen to the games live online, he regularly checks the score, and, thanks to head football Coach Keith Otterbein, watches game CDs.
“I appreciate the fact that [Otterbein] thinks enough of me to send me the CD,” General Neller said.
Otterbein, having missed some of his own sons’ high school games, said he does it because he can “sympathize” with the general’s situation.
“It’s killing him,” Otterbein said. “He loves football. He’s been around Brett and his career.”
In addition, Otterbein said he wants to do all he can for those serving America overseas. “[It’s] my way of saying thank you,” Otterbein said. “I just respect what General Neller is doing . . . to protect our freedom.”
After Saturday’s home game, Coach Otterbein gave the general the game ball, which Brett said that his father plans to take back to Iraq and put in the Operations Center. This gesture means a great deal for the other officers stationed in Camp Fallujah, since they too have been following the Chargers this season. Brett says he has received voicemails from officers commenting on his games. The general talked about how the men’s love of football keeps them together by reminding them of home and their children.
But there is not much room for weakness in a military family.
“There is a lot of emotion and sentimentality in a military family,” Brett said. “But you learn to be very strong and not wear all of your emotions on your sleeve.”
Although he can’t call his son before every game, the general sends Brett a weekly e-mail advising him to “Run hard, stay low, deliver the blow.” Brett says his father has told him that since high school. And although Brett can’t see his father after every game, he said that his teammates’ families are very welcoming of him.
“All the families are really supportive,” Brett said. “I feel like I’ve been adopted by all the Charger families. They’ve been awesome.”
Though it can be hard not to have his father around for his final season of football, Brett said he understands his father’s sacrifice.
“I wish he could be here at every game,” Brett said. “But I understand why he’s doing what he’s doing.”
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