The Tenacity of a Wolverine
As a boy growing up in Pittsburgh, Chase Winovich had a sign on his bedroom wall with the quote, “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Years later, this quote still resonates with the Cleveland Browns defensive end. From his high school days, to college football at the University of Michigan where he worked his way from a 7th string freshman to a MVP senior, to three seasons with the New England Patriots, to this fresh chapter with the Browns, Chase has never opted for the easiest or most obvious path.
“Growing up, I was always a rebel. And I always questioned things that I saw or things that were said. I just had a curiosity about me,” he says. “…I look to continue to push the boundaries of what's possible within my own life.”
Talk to anyone about Chase, be it current or former coaches, teammates, or opponents, and a few of the same words undoubtedly come up—words like grit, determination, dedication, and tenacity. He’s never been the biggest guy on his college or NFL teams. But he’s well-known for stopping at nothing to improve, whether that’s studying ju-jitsu to better his agility or ballet to improve his balance. His determination, grit, or whatever you want to call it, all distills into a sort of life philosophy.
“There are only so many days that we have in this existence,” he says. “Everything I do and every day that I exist is important, because I'm trading one of those days in exchange for whatever it is that I have. If you can recognize that there is a fleeting nature to this existence, you'll put a lot more priority and a lot more emphasis on those things. That's just how I live my life. I try to find that balance between working hard, playing hard, and just enjoying this time on Earth.”
Chase credits his work ethic to his blue-collar roots. His grandparents and others in his family worked grueling, seven-day-a-week jobs in the steel mills of Pittsburgh in order to provide for their families. He admires the amount of sacrifice this took, all for the sake of giving him the opportunity to excel.
“It definitely left me a message,” he says, “the message that I could have anything in life if I wanted it bad enough and I'm willing to work for it. That’s something that's always stuck with me.”
These lessons, he believes, gave him an amount of strength far exceeding the mere physical. This strength, Chase believes, is coincidentally embodied by his college mascot, the wolverine.
“The notion of the wolverine was really cool to me as a player that has to go against the biggest strongest humans on Earth,” he says. “Not necessarily being as tall as them, but knowing that, just like my ancestors that came before me, I could be strong in spirit. And in certain things that you can’t measure, like heart.”
This attitude has helped Chase develop a resilience that’s allowed him to fight through adversity and injuries. He views this resilience as a kind of a faith in himself and in his work ethic, and as an ability to focus on the things he can control without dwelling on the things he can’t.
“I knew that the only thing that really mattered was the investment that I put into myself and ultimately the faith that things would work,” he says of difficult seasons plagued by injuries in the NFL and of struggling to make an impact early in his college career. “I kept attacking it in that way.”
As a football player, Chase sees a lot of focus on his physical strength and toughness. When asked to describe himself in one word, he doesn’t even have to think about it before he says, “beast.” But for him, mental strength is even more important, as evidenced by his spiritual and philosophical nature. He’s always given a lot of credence to the concept of spirit animals, believing that a person can have several spirit animals at any given time.
“The one that I’m currently feeling is a whale,” he says. “I think whales are caring, they’re intelligent, they’re smart, and they’re tough. Those are some of the things that I’m currently feeling. Whale energy.”
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