At an age where some professors are retiring from Southwestern College, 55-year-old Dave Wade has just begun his career chasing around teens and 20-somethings out on the football field. Not as a coach, but as a player.
Wade strolled into the locker room for summer football and exited this month, making school history as SWC’s oldest student ever to play on the football team. He is the only SWC athlete ever known to be eligible for an ASO card and an AARP card.
Football head coach Ed Carberry said he found it hard to believe Wade would be able to make it through the whole summer of training, let alone keep up with 20-year-olds.
“I thought he would quit within a week,” said Carberry. “I saw him and I told him that this was a little more up-tempo than maybe he was used to. He got in there and he asked for ‘no quarter,’ which is a military term for saying ‘no break.’ He asked not to be treated differently. He wanted to do all the work everybody in the class was doing, which involves a lot of heavy lifting and exercises that most older people’s lower backs might go out on.”
At the end of summer, Wade gave Carberry his biggest surprise.
“He really hung in there and did a great job all summer,” said Carberry. “Summer is over you figure, ‘Well, he is done, nice experiment, you surprised everybody,’ and then he tells me, ‘I want to try out for football’.”
Athletic Director Terry Davis said he was surprised when Carberry told him of the geriatric Jaguar.
“It was strange news,” said Davis. “I did talk to Dave about it and he said he wanted to play football his whole life and he never had the opportunity. He wanted to take the opportunity, which I thought was phenomenal. It was also a little scary because you’re concerned for his health and welfare.”
After passing his physicals and practice assignments, Davis and Carberry decided to give Wade the go ahead.
“He went out there and he survived,” said Carberry. “He practiced hard everyday and was on time to the meetings. He was an inspiration, really, to a lot of people.”
Wade was no one’s token old guy. He became a big hitter on kickoff units.
Offensive lineman Marc Pouvave said he looks up to Wade.
“He sure has inspired me,” said Pouvave. “Especially when I feel hurt, I look at him and he’s 55 and has no complaints about anything.”
Once during practice Pouvave sent Wade flying through the air on a tackle. Pouvave blocked him down field and hit him pretty hard. He was amazed that Wade got right back up
Pouvave is 6 feet 4 inches tall and 340 pounds.
“I have knocked a lot of guys out this season and he got up,” said Pouvave. “Some of the other players didn’t.”
Pouvave said Wade’s attitude towards playing is great. He always comes out with a good attitude and no complaints, he said.
Wade’s older brother, Paul, who lives in Peoria, Arizona, found out his younger brother was going to play football over the phone.
“It doesn’t surprise me that he would try something like this,” he said. “I asked him why he was going to play football and he said he never had a chance to play. He thought he would give it a chance, so I said go for it.”
Paul Wade said when Dave gets something in his head he just goes full blast for it.
“It’s one thing trying out for it and it’s another thing when they actually put you on their team,” he said.
Wade said he believes the most important body part in football is the heart.
“I did some boxing and that was a tough sport,” said Wade. “I don’t know which one is harder, football or boxing, but both of them take heart because you know you are going to get hit and you are going to get hit hard. It’s knowing if you can mentally and physically take it.”
On the fifth game of the season, Carberry decided to put Wade in the game against San Bernardino Valley College on kick-off coverage.
Wade’s memorable first play against SBVC is his favorite.
“I was nervous and scared because you don’t know what was going to happen,” he said.
Wade ran down the field towards the ball carrier as fast as he could. He saw that the ball carrier had him beat running up the middle of the field. Wade angled in on him, stretched his left arm out under the players chin and smacked him straight to the ground.
“Everybody in the sideline realized ‘Pops’ was on the field,” said Carberry. “He makes the tackle and people just went berserk. All the players ran on the field to high five him.”
Wade said he did not realize what had happened since it happened so fast.
“Our bench erupted and my teammates were slapping me on the helmet,” said Wade. “I didn’t know what was going on, it happened so fast! The first thing I saw after seeing the guy go down was Carberry jumping up-and-down.”
Carberry embraced the moment along with all his players.
“You can get penalties for excessive celebration, but they didn’t really care,” said Carberry. “I was chest pumping and jumping in the air, too.”
Wade showed toughness, passion and heart that some players lacked this season.
“He has grit,” said Carberry. “He has that toughness that allows people to fight through hard times. He has the ability to continue and fight through and press on even at times of adversity. He tells me ‘Hey, I’m going to dress up every day. Yeah my shoulders hurt and my knees hurt, these things happen, but I am going to keep coming.’ And that’s what he did.”
Adversity is nothing new to Wade. Going through the ups and downs throughout his life, he struggles with tough times in San Diego county. Currently homeless, he lives in his van that remains parked on the same spot it has been in for three years.
“It would be much easier living in a house or apartment, but I have gotten used to it,” he said. “Not having a job, I’m not able to afford a place. Hopefully that will change soon.”
Wade said he will attend City College next semester to earn his AS degree in manufacture engineering in hopes of landing a better career and job.
Carberry said he will not remember Wade as SWC’s oldest player, but as an inspiring soul.
“He was a great teammate,” said Carberry. “He was respected by his peers and I think that’s the hardest thing to earn. He was productive because of his games and because everybody saw him here every day on time at the meeting. He didn’t let things get in the way. He understood what his responsibility was from a student and athletes standpoint and he lived up to it.”
Davis said he believes this was a unique experience.
“That is what we do as a college,” said Davis. “We help people achieve their personal goals. We should all wish that we have a chance to reach our personal goals in life as we go on.”
Wade has no rituals or good luck charms, but he gives credit to his higher power for his ability to play football.
“Lets face it, I am 55 years old,” he said. “I have never heard of anybody playing college football at my age and I do not think it is me. As long as I am entrusted in Him, He will take care of things. I give credit to Him for giving me the opportunity to do this.”
Wade said he can check an item off his bucket list.
“I have watched football all my life. I’ve always wanted to play, but I didn’t have a chance to play at the schools I went to. I finally got the chance at SWC and I tried to make the most of it.”