John Hooper is one of HERO Sports' FCS Campus Correspondents, and he resides in the Greenville-Spartanburg area of South Carolina. He's a longtime Southern Conference "expert" and tracks the league for HERO Sports. You can follow John on Twitter @SoConJohn. Read John's SoCon picks every week.
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On June 26, 2000, Eugene Calloway Chizik was born in Orlando, FL. His father, Gene Chizik, who is known for his coaching prowess, most notably winning a national championship at Auburn and being an excellent analyst for the SEC Network, was the defensive coordinator for the Central Florida Golden Knights. While this story is not about his father, it does have something to do with his son Cally Chizik’s journey to Furman.
Some six years before Cally was born, Gene Chizik was busy working his way up the coaching ranks at one of Division I-AA’s (now FCS) most successful programs in the late 1980s-mid-1990s–Stephen F. Austin. In the spring of 1994, Gene Chizik served as the linebackers coach at Stephen F. Austin. One of the players he coached was Lumberjacks star linebacker Cally Belcher, who played for Chizik and at the time, was a standout, hard-hitting linebacker heading into his senior season. He had made the move from defensive back to linebacker in spring practice. Two weeks following the commencement of spring practice, high expectations for the star linebacker and Lumberjacks turned into tragedy, as Belcher sustained a serious head injury and staggered off the field before collapsing and being rushed to the hospital. A week later, he died in the hospital.
That would deeply affect Gene Chizik and the entire team and coaching staff. Chizik was especially close to the Belcher family and had formed a special bond with Cally Belcher because of his effort, character, leadership and just for being an all around good person. Earlier this season, the fifth-annual Cally Belcher was played at Homer Brice Stadium in Nacogdoches, TX. Some six years later while an assistant at Central Florida, Gene and his wife Jonna Chizik were new parents, as Eugene Calloway Chizik was born. The effect of Cally Belcher, and who he was as a person and football so impacted Gene Chizik that he named his first son after him. Fast-forward some 20 years later and it would be time for Cally Chizik to make a decision on where he wanted to continue his football future after having played a starring role at 7A Auburn High School, where he played on both sides of the football.
He had two offers coming out of high school–Chattanooga and Furman. It probably should have been of no surprise that Cally chose the program–that like his namesake Cally Belcher–wears Purple. Furman finds itself heading into the postseason and having won eight regular-season games for the first time since he was six or 2006, and Chizik has been a big part of that success, playing a major role for the Paladins this season, who at 8-4 will face Austin Peay on the road in the opening round of the postseason. During his first season at Furman, Cally Chizik has played in all 12 games at cornerback and is a part of one of the youngest positional groups of the Furman roster. Chizik has entrenched himself as a starter in that young secondary unit and has also solidified himself as Furman’s top punt return man, thanks in large part to having arguably best hands on the Paladin roster. In Furman’s 60-21 win over VMI a couple of weeks ago, Chizik registered his first interception in the win over the Keydets and I had the opportunity to catch up with him following the milestone moment for the Paladin freshman cornerback.
“It’s not even so much that I got the interception…It was that I was able to go out there and help my team win,” Cally Chizik said.
“I was happy I could go out there and get us off the field and we won this one big I was happy I could be part of that to help send our seniors out in the right fashion on Senior Day,” Chizik added. Playing against running teams in the Southern Conference often allows and requires cornerbacks to come up and be physical and make plays in the running game, as well as maintain their responsibilities in pass coverage. I had the opportunity to ask Chizik which one he liked to do more–make big plays and be physical in the run game, or play in pass coverage and be that “lockdown” guy. “I don’t know, I feel like I like doing both equally and I play more nickel right now just being young and all and I am trying to see where I fit in and I am trying to do whatever I can to help this team win and I kinda have to do a little bit of both sometimes as far as playing nickel and in coverage so in that respect, I pride myself on being physical and making plays against the run as well as being able to be reliable in pass coverage.”
Chizik has been key for the Paladins from the outset of the season. The first time I can recall him making one of several memorable plays for the Paladins this season occurred in the third game of the season against FBS power five foe and Atlantic Coast Conference member Virginia Tech. In that contest, Chizik posted three tackles and half-a-sack. The half-a-sack came at a point in the game which saw the Paladin defense dictating the tone of the game, and helped provide a surprising score-line at the half, with the Paladins leading 14-3 at the break.
“Cally has been exactly what I thought we would get when we signed him…a coaches’ kid…smart…a little bit ahead of the game in some respects maturity-wise on the field… and for being here in the short time that he has been here and he’s proven to be a big performer for us this season and he totally gets everything we’re doing defensively, as well as having been a key contributor on special teams in the punt return game,” Furman head coach Clay Hendrix said.
In an early Southern Conference win over defending SoCon tri-champion East Tennessee State, Chizik posted a pair of tackles and helped force a key fumble in the 17-10 win at Paladin Stadium. In the 60-21 win over the Keydets a couple of weeks ago, he posted six tackles, an interception and half-a-tackle-for-loss. In Furman’s resounding 64-7 regular-season finale win over NAIA Point, Chizik posted five stops, a tackle-for-loss and a sack, while contributing a career-best 71 yards on three punt returns, including a career-long 47-yard return which set up Furman’s second score of the afternoon.
All told this season, Chizik has posted 29 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks, an interception and has forced a fumble. As Furman’s primary punt returner this season, he has seven returns for 102 yards, averaging a solid 14.6 yards-per-return. Cally Chizik has already had an effect as a leader on this Furman football team as a true freshman. His humble, servant-first mentality comes through when you talk to him. He’s the true essence of a team-first guy if there ever was one. Both his father and the late Cally Belcher can be proud of that. He’s going to make that “Cally” name a memorable one for all the right reasons for a team wearing purple once again.
For more on this story check out this link from ESPN.com
CALLY CHIZIK ON YOUTUBE: View
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