Charlie Trammell has taken the adage that the first step is always the toughest to a new plateau.
Trammell, a freshman safety at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., made his first appearance in a game against Hendrix two weeks ago and registered one tackle as the Sewanee Tigers fell to the Warriors, 48-42.
What makes this so significant is where he started from. Charlie was born with bilateral clubfoot, and without significant surgeries before the age of 5, he would not have been able to walk normally, much less run and play sports.
Trammell considered giving up football after high school and attending the University of Arkansas solely as a student.
"I was having a hard time deciding my senior year if I wanted to keep playing football or just go to the University of Arkansas," Trammell said. "Football has been really hard, especially on my feet, throughout my life. I talked to my coach (Matt Richardson) and Coach (Rick) Fowler (a principal at Ashdown); he and I were really close while I was at Ashdown, so I went and talked to him during baseball season.
"He (Fowler) told me, 'I need to do what my heart tells me, and it's my decision and mine only.' I decided coming to Sewanee, getting to play football and getting a great education, was the best opportunity for me. I decided to come here and give it a shot, and I haven't had a regret yet."
Trammell, an Eagle Scout and honors graduate, is undecided on a major, but he has interest in agriculture business. He is looking at economics or agriculture majors, or perhaps a natural resource major with a business minor.
When Charlie was younger and Fowler was the head baseball coach at Liberty-Eylau, he would come to Fowler for after-school baseball lessons and training.
"The workouts have been hard; college football is definitely more demanding than what I experienced in high school," Trammell said. "It was a pretty severe case when I was born. It was both feet, but my right foot is usually the one that gives me more problems because it was more severe. I went through five surgeries from the time I was born until I was 6 years old, and the worst one would've been when I was 4 or 5. It was the major reconstruction surgery on both feet, and I was in a wheelchair for a matter of time.
"As far back as I can remember, that's usually what I can recall was the wheelchair surgery. It was tough, but it's OK."
Dr. Richard McCarthy performed all of Charlie's surgeries in Little Rock, and when he told Trammell's parents that simply standing for long periods of time will be difficult for him.
"To this day, standing for long periods of time is hard; it takes a toll on me," Trammell said. "I remember as a kid, rehabbing from those surgeries, standing was really tough. It's gotten better, but it still hurts. Playing football and being good at it was kind of a stretch of the imagination. Playing with pain has always been a factor, but I push it to the side now.
"I've gotten used to it and just accept that it's going to hurt, but as a kid it was really tough, just running or standing for long periods of time."
Charlie remembers when he was playing tee ball as a youngster and being in the outfield during practice that his feet would bother him to the point that he would have to sit down in the outfield.
When he got in the eighth grade, he questioned whether he would continue in sports.
"I though about giving up sports a couple of times, especially when it became a big issue with my feet hurting in the eighth grade," Trammell said. "During the eighth-grade football season, my ankles, especially my right one, were hurting really bad. We went to the doctor and got treatments, and I got special orthotics that help my muscles fire in different way to help keep some of that stress off my ankles and my joints."
When he got into ninth-grade football, the severe pain started again, but this time the doctors said there wasn't much more they could do for him.
Charlie's dad had a friend from his days at the University of Arkansas named Chris Arnold, who was an orthopedic surgeon, and Arnold saw on his MRI that Charlie had ligament tears that he had just pushed through because it felt like normal pain, bone contusions, scarred tissue and cartilage damage in his ankles.
"He was the one who knew what direction I needed to go in," Trammell said. "He recommended me to see Dr. Norman Waldrop in Birmingham, Ala."
Waldrop is a sports physician and orthopedic surgeon at the Andrews Sports Medicine Clinic, and he specializes in foot and ankle surgery.
"I got treatment from him (Waldrop), everything got better and I started to enjoy sports again," Trammell said. "That helped a lot."
Trammell continues to receive treatment at the Andrews Clinic every 18-24 months.
Like anyone who had endured such surgeries early in his life, Charlie's speed was behind kids his own age for a lengthy period of time.
"The rehab from my early surgeries was long, and getting up to speed after going through something like that takes a long time," he said. "My speed as a kid was slow. I started noticing when I was about 10 or so that I was as fast as the other kids; I was actually faster than some kids. Playing at Ashdown, there's a lot of skill and speed there, so I definitely wasn't the fastest, but I could keep up.
"I was fast enough to come play (NCAA) Division III football, but I'm definitely not the fastest one here either."
Trammell was an outside linebacker for the Panthers and garnered All-Conference honors his senior year. He is playing strong safety for the Sewanee Tigers, almost a hybrid position between a safety and linebacker.
Trammell also played baseball, but he chose to stick with just football in college.
"Football has been my true love, ever since I was a kid. I wanted to be Darren McFadden so bad," Trammell laughed. "I know the doctors have said there will be the possibility of long-term effects, but I just take it day by day. Another day is another great day to be on the field, and I'm thankful for it. I'll deal with long-term effects when they come; that's all I really can do."
For the time being, he is enjoying the college football experience and thankful he stuck with a life-long dream, despite the rough road that led him there.
"Nothing is ever impossible," Trammell said. "You just have to stick with it and know that everything's going to work out. Being told that standing up for long periods of time is going to be a struggle and being a football player is a whole different thing. You can do anything you set your mind to do and work at. I'm appreciative of all the coaches at Ashdown for not giving up on me, and I'm grateful to Sewanee for this great experience, playing at a school with a long-standing tradition."