It’s hard to encapsulate four or five years of someone’s life into one fleeting moment.
Senior Day can force several athletes to do just that: put all the memories, the snaps, the practices and hard work all into one final walk through the tunnel with parents arm in arm.
In the case of ASU football, each individual has his own unique journey.
There’s the classic “Hometown Hero” story — wide receiver D.J. Foster has fulfilled more than everything it means to be a Sun Devil through his character, charisma and dominance in the Pac-12.
Others may come and go with a completely anonymous career, still integral to the program’s history and etching their own personal memories.
Then there’s guard Christian Westerman: the story of second chances. On his college signing day five years ago, he thought his senior day would see him in burnt orange or navy blue.
We’ll get to that.
Now, he trots off the field at Kajikawa Practice Fields in the maroon and gold, head down. He isn’t one to talk much about himself, often opting to scoot his way to the cart as quickly as possible at the conclusion of practice. It's become habitual for the players who don’t love being around the media, but Westerman appears to have perfected the art of evasion.
Standing at 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, it’s hard to miss him on the football field. He’s not exactly the easiest to slow down, either.
It’s not rude. It’s just not Christian.
He’ll walk off and crack a joke with senior center and roommate Nick Kelly, or go up to his teammate and talk about war movies as they hustle to avoid the media.
“He loves war movies,” Kelly said. “He just loves messing around with his teammates and hanging around with them.”
When he’s on the field, nothing has changed. He’s the same kid who strapped on his pads for the first time as a freshman at Hamilton High School in Chandler.
Wait, we’re getting ahead of ourselves again. We’ll touch upon that part of the story later.
In the present, Westerman holds his role as ASU’s best NFL Draft prospect in the senior class. Thursday, he received an invite to the Reese’s Senior Bowl.
His focus? Not on the awards. He’s got a football game to play, and a team to help finally reach bowl eligibility on the season.
The season has been disappointing to ASU football, but it’s nothing new to Westerman. He’s seen the best and he’s seen the worst in his time as a college football.
He also doesn’t like to dwell on the past.
“I don’t really talk about that experience,” he said. “I just talk about what’s in front of me, and talk about what’s going on now. I love what I’m doing now, and I love my team.”
Let’s go back to five years ago. Westerman, fresh off of winning his third consecutive state title at Hamilton, did not “Stay True” like Foster did after him. Instead, he signed to become an Auburn Tiger.
Just a month earlier, he watched his future teammates raise the crystal ball as BCS national champions.
He didn’t play the next season, stuck on his redshirt year under then-coach Gene Chizik to prepare Westerman to play at the SEC level and watch his team go 8-5.
When Westerman finally did see the field his redshirt freshman year, things were different. Much different.
Auburn went 3-9 the following season, missing a bowl game just two years after being national champions. They failed to win a single conference game, and Chizik was fired and replaced with the team’s former coordinator, Gus Malzahn.
Chris Westerman, Christian’s father, watched as his son’s college career veered off into the wrong direction.
“Things kind of went crazy at Auburn with circumstances that were out of his control,” Chris said. “The coaching change, the season they had when he was a redshirt freshman … There was a lot of controversy on and off the field.”
It was time to go home, Westerman thought.
“I think, at that point in time, he just wanted to come home,” Chris said. “There was just something about being home, being with family, friends and more so what he saw in Sun Devil nation.”
He announced he would transfer, opening up the next stage of his college career.
“When he decided he wanted to return home and leave Auburn, there were plenty of people who called,” Chris said. “I think the entire Pac-12 called.“
The choice quickly became clear — ASU and head coach Todd Graham. Graham, who took over for then-coach Dennis Erickson the year following Westerman’s commitment, struck a chord with the homesick lineman.
“It was a clear-cut picture that, ‘I want to be home. I want to be around ASU and Tempe and Sun Devil nation’, but also ‘I really see this coaching staff that’s there now has the right stuff going on and I want to be part of that,'” Chris said.
It was a second chance, not only for Westerman but also for the program he had spurned coming out of high school.
What he saw two years later was a program that was the polar opposite of the one that recruited him before.
“When he came out of high school, that year there was a lot of turmoil at ASU,” Chris Westerman explained. “It was a different picture than it is now. ASU offered him early and recruited him, but it was a different staff. (Dennis) Erickson was there and there wasn’t a whole lot of continuity. The program seemed to be at a downward spiral.”
Graham was a winner. He not only “spoke victory,” but his accomplishments in just two short years at that point spoke volumes with Westerman.
“Christian is a very humble kid,” Chris said. “Very soft spoken. He believes that your actions should speak louder than what you say. He definitely leads by example. He likes the fact that coach Graham really preaches the things fundamentally that really matter.”
Westerman was used to winning. In fact, he lost just one game during his entire varsity career at Hamilton High School, who under head coach Steve Belles claimed three consecutive Arizona state titles.
“It was an elite program that expected to win and won state championships and expected to win state championships,” Chris said. “There was a certain culture there that thrived.”
Belles gave Westerman an opportunity that hadn’t been afforded to him — an opportunity to let out his frustration. It was Belles, after all, who gave him his first shot at playing football after being denied at the youth level.
“He was too big to play youth football,” his father recalled. “They wouldn’t let him play. Even though he couldn’t play youth football, he played baseball, basketball.”
In sixth grade, Westerman took on a new sport.
“He trained as a boxer for about five years.,” his father said. “All that type of training really works on your core, your fundamentals, your footwork and your ability to be athletic and light on your feet. It also gave Christian an outlet for his aggression. He really likes to hit people.”
Back to the present day, where Christian Westerman’s imperfect college football story is on its last legs. Each moment appears fleeting. Westerman, like other seniors, seem to spend a little more time on the practice field each day before walking out. They look back at the past.
“We’ll reminisce on the past and who else we came in with, who left,” Kelly said. “We just have a great friendship that definitely will go on after football too. It’s surreal that I’m playing my last home game with him.”
Westerman and Kelly are particularly close. Both arrived in Tempe at the same time as transfers, with one goal in mind.
“Ever since Christian got here, we’ve been really close,” Kelly said. “We came in and we stuck together. We always hung out. When we first came here we talked and said we were going to start and we were going to be names on the o-line and finally we’re making a name for ourselves at ASU.”
Redshirt senior guard Vi Teofilo also posses the ability to make Westerman’s face crack a smile, a unique bond with his fellow offensive linemen.
“I really love those two guys — Nick and Vi — and have known them for like three years now,” Westerman said. “I’ve gotten really close with them, so it’s going to be a pretty emotional game playing with those guys and it should be a lot of fun.”
Westerman’s stoic demeanor may change, even if for a little bit, come Saturday, his father said.
“Knowing Christian, as big and strong and tough as he is, I’m sure he’ll shed some tears with his brothers,” he said. “Tears of joy, and also the sadness that it’s the last time those guys are going to run out of the tunnel together.”
One question remains: how will Christian Westerman’s story end?
According to his father, “He’s going to end up where he was meant to end up in the first place, and that is happy.”
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