By Raul Dominguez

The drills in preparation for the University of the Incarnate Word’s (UIW) upcoming football season were painfully exhausting and the heat was oppressive.

The Cardinals were struggling to make it through a humid practice, but surely it wasn’t as difficult for their newest teammate.

Jason Everding enrolled in college after serving four years in the Marine Corps, including twice being deployed to Iraq for combat duty in 2007. Having lived through the heat and trials of war in the Middle East, surely playing football in 90-degree temperatures was a piece of cake for the Marine sergeant.

“You never get used to it,” Everding said, laughing. “Hot is hot.”

Nothing is ever easy, he said. There will always be difficulties in life, but those trials are easier to overcome if one properly trains one’s mind and body.

Receiving the right preparation is a big reason the 27-year-old chose to attend and play for UIW. Even after suffering a season-ending knee injury Oct. 5 in his first season with the Cardinals, the native of Bismarck, N.D., is glad he came to San Antonio.

“I’ve had a lot of opportunities I wouldn’t have had at a lot of other schools, it was the right decision,” Everding said.

At 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds and in possession of the G.I. Bill, Everding had numerous options after a solid two-year career at San Diego Mesa College.

He first learned of UIW from Cardinal tight ends coach Larry Moore, a former assistant at Mesa College.

Jason Everding in Iraq in 2007

Jason Everding in Iraq in 2007

“Initially, I didn’t know much about the program,” Everding said. “I started learning more about it. It made me want to play here more because it was a new program and they were trying to move to Division I. It was neat to be part of an up-and-coming program. The more I thought about it, the more it grew on me.”

It didn’t take long for the coaching staff to take to Everding, either.

A defensive lineman for all but his final four games at Mesa, Everding was asked to become an offensive lineman full-time for the Cardinals. He quickly became one of the team’s top eight linemen despite being unfamiliar with offensive schemes.

“I told them whatever you want me to do,” Everding said, “and whatever is going to give me a chance to play.”

He hadn’t even taken a step onto Benson Field yet and Everding was already a great teammate – if also a unique one.

“He is a military veteran; he knows what it’s like to be part of a team,” UIW head coach Larry Kennan said. “He understands team. He’s a great example for the rest of the guys. He’s very unselfish and the rest of the team can learn a lot from him.”

Everding’s perspective is shaped by the events of his life, not simply the number of years he has lived.

While many of his new teammates were just a few months removed from agonizing over how to celebrate Spring Break, Everding was only years removed from the rigors of war.

“If I had to do it all over again, I would (serve) again,” he said. “It helped me grow physically (and) emotionally. You meet so many people and it just opens your eyes. It made me humble, and made me realize there is more in this world than just you.”

It was an evolution Everding needed after graduating from Bismarck’s Century High School.

“I didn’t want to go back to school,” Everding said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I felt if I went back to school right away, I would have ended up doing something that I didn’t really want to do.”

After working for about a year, Everding joined the Marines five days after his 20th birthday.

During his four years of service for our country, he spent time in Djibouti, Africa, and saw combat as a forward observer for an artillery unit in Iraq.

As dangerous as it was, Everding somehow found an inner tranquility.

Everding served as a forward observer for an artillery unit in Iraq in 2007.

Everding served as a forward observer for an artillery unit in Iraq in 2007.

“The Marine Corps does prepare you,” he said. “We were prepared for anything that happened. Once you’re there, it’s a release, as you don’t have to train anymore. You’re there for the training you had. At first you feel like you have to watch out for everything, but then you start to relax. After a few weeks, you don’t think twice about it, because you’re trained to do the right thing.”

He has brought that inimitable perspective to UIW whether he is in the classroom or on the field.

“It doesn’t make me immune to any other difficulties in life, but I don’t stress because there are a lot worse things you can be doing,” he said.

Still, Everding does not want to be treated differently, but his teammates can’t help it. Along with teasing him about his age, they also admire and respect him for his service as well as his determination.

“If you’re around him at all, you realize what a really good human being he is,” Kennan said. “He is quiet, low key, has a great work ethic (and) great personal habits. The young guys can look up to him and see what they should be like when they get older.”

A kinesiology major, Everding plans on graduating in 2015 and hopes to become a graduate assistant for UIW while serving as a strength and conditioning coach.

But Everding isn’t getting ahead of himself. He can’t wait to get back on the field, better prepared to earn a starting position after a full season as an offensive lineman. He also hopes to help the Cardinals improve on last season’s 6-5 record, but he knows it won’t be easy in their next season in the Southland Conference.

The only thing one can do is prepare and trust in that training. It’s what Everding has learned and it’s what he shares.