A man on a mission

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Junior Chase Tennant plays against Detroit Mercy at the U-M Soccer field. Buy this photo

BY JAKE FELDMAN
Daily Sports Writer
Published September 15, 2009

For too long, he desperately tried to convince his companion to accompany him on a run, but to no avail. His companion refused to leave the apartment and he could not leave his companion, so he was stuck. No running.

Such was life on a Mormon Mission in Portland, Ore. for junior soccer player Chase Tennant. So after almost two years of living with various companions, he returned to Ann Arbor out of shape and 12 pounds too heavy. Tennant had been far removed from pop culture, current events, academics, and soccer, and obviously had some catching up to do.

Back in 2004, Tennant was still a highly touted high school soccer recruit in Rochester. His family was extremely involved in the Mormon Church, and Tennant was already planning to take a mission trip during his college years.

“Ever since I was a young kid, I was always brought up under the church,” Tennant said. “It’s always played a big part in my family’s life as well as mine. I think that’s why, my whole life, I had the goal of going on a mission was because from a young age, I was taught about the principles of the church.”

Tennant informed schools of his intentions and anxiously awaited inquiries from soccer coaches at major programs. Akron and Boston College both refused Tennant a scholarship, fearful that a two-year absence from the team might interfere with the chemistry of the squad. But Michigan coach Steve Burns was already experienced in the mission process. Cam Cameron, a redshirt freshman on Burns’s 2004 team, was preparing to leave for a mission in Montreal later that year, so Burns took his chances on Tennant. The gamble paid dividends right away.

Tennant immediately started for the Wolverines at defense and midfield, earning Big Ten All-Freshman Honors. He shined once again sophomore year and even garnered serious attention from the Columbus Crew, a professional team that offered Tennant a tryout. After the conclusion of the season, he bade his coaches and teammates farewell and embarked on his two-year mission trip.

The first stop was a missionary training center in Provo, Utah. For two months, Tennant underwent intensive Spanish classes coupled with religious seminars to further his understanding of the Mormon principles. He was sent to relay these messages in Portland, Ore., Tennant’s home for the following 22 months.

During this span of time, Tennant’s relationship with soccer drastically changed. After living and breathing soccer as a Division-I athlete, his playing was now limited to a weekly pickup game in a local gym.

“The competition that I was playing against when I was out there wasn’t very high,” Tennant said. “So I was kind of on my own to keep up my skill and my fitness.”

But Tennant’s strict schedule allowed for merely 30 minutes of free time for conditioning each day. Even this half hour was constrained by the wishes of Tennant’s companion. Companions shared apartments in the Portland metropolitan area and rotated every few months. The two were required to remain within eyesight and earshot of one another at all times.

Tennant’s life was tightly structured. He woke up at 6:30 a.m. and slept at 10:30 p.m. He spent most days knocking on doors and arranging appointments to teach people about the Mormon Church. He aimed at serving people in whatever capacity he could, often assisting with yard work alongside his fellow missionaries. After massive storms hit Portland in December 2007, Tennant helped restore the community by clearing the wreckage.

“One of the things that I gained most from my mission is learning to kind of forget about myself and put myself in other people’s shoes,” Tennant said. “To kind of see everyone as equals, trying to help everyone and anyone rather than being egotistical and just thinking about my own well-being.”

Tennant’s service to the Mormon Church ended last December. He was ready to come home, yet unprepared for the severe transition that lay ahead. Tennant had changed significantly in the past two years, and so had Ann Arbor. Only three players from his sophomore season remained on the squad. Most of Tennant’s previous teammates had either graduated already or were graduating in the spring. His parents had moved to Chicago, and he lacked the support system necessary to endure such a tough time. Although the two had never met, Cameron reached out to Tennant and the two became quick friends.

“Right when he got back, I called him often,” Cameron said. “Of course when you go on a mission, most of the guys that you know on the team have graduated, so the first thing we did was hang out with the team a lot. I asked him to come out with some friends and we would go out to either parties or get-togethers or church activities.”

Although Cameron alleviated the stresses of the social transition, Tennant was forced to recondition his body alone.

“When I got back I was pretty out of shape,” Tennant said. “I remember the first couple weeks, we would play pick up soccer here in Oosterbahn (Fieldhouse) and I just felt out of place. I felt a lot slower. I guess my spirits were down for a while.”

As a result, he worked harder. Tennant desperately tried to hurry the training process, but ultimately injured his ankle, requiring surgery in February. He continued to train while rehabilitating his ankle, making great progress in the summer months. Tennant’s attitude quickly impressed his new teammates and reinforced Burns’s decision to give him a scholarship.

“He’s come back a man, very simply,” Burns said. “He’s a guy that his teammates all like being around and he knows when to have fun. But he also knows when to be a serious and when to be a leader and address guys that need to raise their level of play.”

Tennant reclaimed his role as a starter and was named assistant captain before the season began. In his second game back, Michigan and Drake were tied late in the second half. In the 88th minute, Tennant found the ball 25 yards out. And as if he never missed a beat, the 22-year old junior ripped a shot just below the crossbar.

“As soon as the ball went into the goal, I just didn’t know what to do," Tennant said. "I was just kind of in shock. I just started running around. It really helped me feel like, ‘Ah I’m part of this team again.’ I’m kind of putting my stamp, I’m putting my foot back down and people can start thinking, ‘Alright this is the Chase that we’ve been waiting for.’ ”