October 8, 2012

Friend's leadership is a key cog to Bears turnaround

Editor's note: The following story was first published in the Saturday, Oct. 6, edition of 'Bears Gameday,' the official program of Northern Colorado Football. 

By ZACH BOND
UNCBears.com 

Cameron Friend is one of four captains on the Northern Colorado football team, and there's probably not a player on the roster better suited for that role.

A captain's job is to lead teammates by example, showing other players how to act—both on the field and off—and making teammates believe there is no adversity or obstacle too large to get in the way of the team's goals. 

On the field, Friend plays and acts like a captain, as he's one of the only Bears to have four years of playing experience under his belt. 

Off the field, he has found his faith and used it overcome some rather looming obstacles. 

Diagnosed with degenerative nerve damage as a youth, Friend has suffered from continued hearing loss from a young age and is now legally deaf. But instead of letting his disability hold him back, the Denver native has used it to lift himself up, and everybody else around him, too.

Friend's story picks up at Mullen High School, where he starred at linebacker and received plenty of attention from colleges around the country until he injured his knee during his junior season. All that national attention started to dry up, until Northern Colorado happily realized it had found a hidden gem in its own backyard. 

"God just laid out a plan for me," Friend says. "I got hurt during my junior year but everything led up to where I am now. Northern Colorado was where God wanted me to be, and I am thankful for it. All the coaches have been amazing, and I've really gotten a chance to grow here." 

Friend came to Northern Colorado and really began his faith development during his first year with the Bears—a year in which he would redshirt on the football field. Over the next five years, Friend has become involved in a number of organizations that provide an outlet for Christian athletes. After first getting involved with Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) during his first year at Northern Colorado, Friend became more and more involved—even participating an the Ultimate Training Camp (UTC) during the summer to help learn how to blend competitive sports with his faith. 

These organizations have given Friend a way to share his story with others across the nation. 

During one particular UTC in Oregon, his story gave another camp participant, a track and field athlete from the University of Oregon, the inspiration to completely change her life. She was trying to decide whether or not to switch her major to audiology but after listening to Friend talk about his life, she quickly made the decision and began to focus on audiology. 

"Taking part in Ultimate Training Camp has given me a chance to testify in front of a lot of people," Friend says. "It is an amazing feeling to go up there and tell your story and then have somebody come to you afterwards and tell you how much your story impacted them." 

While his work for both FCA and UTC has profoundly impacted Friend's faith, his interaction with this current Bears' coaching staff has also helped him along his journey. 

"I've had amazing coaches during my whole time here," Friend says. "But one thing that is different about Coach [Earnest] Collins is that he is so strong in his faith. It helps me so much to be able to come to anyone on this staff if I have a question and just know that they can help me with whatever I need." 

Friend's story and leadership ability is apparent in everything he does, especially on the football field.

"Cameron is a guy that leads by example," says Terrence Robinson, Northern Colorado's director of football operations. "He doesn't necessarily always do it vocally, but just watching him—his persona on and off the field—he's just a great guy to be around. 

"If you ever need anything, you can go to him and he'll talk to you about anything. He even comes by the offensive coaches' offices just to talk—not even about football sometimes. He's just a great guy. He takes care of his business; he's a very smart individual and has a great passion about everything he does."

After redshirting his first year with the Bears, Friend stepped right into the spotlight during his redshirt-freshman season. 

With the Bears suffering from some injuries at the linebacker position, Friend was pushed into a starting role during his first collegiate game. If that wasn't enough pressure, that first game took place in Lawrence, Kan., home of the Big 12's Kansas Jayhawks. 

"That [first game] was pretty intense," Friend says. "It was crazy for me to be able to go out there, my first game ever, and play against a Big 12 team. I just wanted to help my team wherever I could. Those first few games were crazy." 

He performed admirably, notching a season-high six tackles while filling in for injured All-Big Sky performer John Eddy. 

He then continued to start for then-head coach Scott Downing during the first four games of the season as the rest of the linebackers continued to get healthy. During that four game stretch, Friend tallied 18 tackles and 1 1/2 tackles for loss. 

During his sophomore season, Friend continued his progression toward becoming one of the Bears' best linebackers, playing in all 11 games and tallying 34 total tackles and two tackles for loss. 

But last season, his junior campaign, was his real coming-out-party as he inserted himself as one of the leaders of the Bears' defense. His efforts, along with those of Clarence Bumpas and others, helped make the Bears' group of linebackers one of the best in the Big Sky. 

Friend finished last season second among the Bears in total tackles (93) despite missing a game. He also notched four tackles for loss and a sack. His most surprising stat, though, may have been the fact that he led the team with three interceptions—showing his diversity and ability to defend the pass—with two of those coming against instate-rival Colorado State. 

His strong play in the middle of the Northern Colorado defense earned him the recognition of the Big Sky Conference last season, as he was named an All-Big Sky Honorable Mention selection, and gave him more of a platform to assert his voice in the locker room as he tried to inspire his teammates with his attitude and faith. 

"I just want my teammates to see that it's all about overcoming adversity," Friend says. "I hope that I can show them that there is nothing we can't overcome as a team. I just want to see us grow and learn to overcome anything." 

So far this year, Friend has continued to push forward, serving as an example for his team of how to turn a potentially devastating disability into something to use as a tool to lead. 

He has continued to lead a linebackers corps that gives opposing offenses nightmares. He enters Northern Colorado's home game against Montana with 17 tackles this season, including his season-high eight in the Bears' last game against FCS No. 2 Montana State. 

Now, with his career at Northern Colorado nearing an end, Friend will have to decide what the next step in his journey will be. He's considered entering a seminary, serving in another way, or continuing his football career. 

Regardless, Friend knows he has seven games left to leave his legacy in Greeley. 

"In these last seven games, I just want to see our team continue to get better," he says. "I feel like we've come together as a group this year. Now it's time to learn how to overcome that adversity that we will see during a game and get some wins."