What is a Boilermaker?

What is a Boilermaker?

The above question gets asked pretty regularly, because it’s not easy to grasp or normal for our society…and with each passing day as society progresses, the defining characteristics of a Boilermaker are tougher to grasp.

The nickname itself first came as a putdown…a bunch of football players who weren’t your run-of-the-mill athletes were manhandling a foe in surprising fashion. They weren’t like normal players, they were brutally-strong and dominant. And they didn’t arrive in that position in the normal fashion.

Our pal Tyler Trent inspired me to write this. I wish every Purdue alum was as tough as him and represented his faith, family and school as well as he does. But the truth is, most of us don’t come close to reaching the bar that is Tyler Trent. That said, we can aspire to be just that.

A Boilermaker is a grinder.

Nothing comes easy to this type of person…and the fight, the process to get to the goal might be as important as the end goal itself. Look at the guys who really define Purdue basketball and football the last few seasons…most of them are flawed.

They came from tough conditions, they were too short, they were too slow, they were overweight, they weren’t athletic enough…damaged goods. These people understand what it means to fight, to scratch, to claw so hard that dirt is under their fingernails, even as they succeed.

The world might see a strong specimen at the end of the process, but the Purdue family remembers where they came from.

I am 43 years old, and I aspire to have the simultaneous grit and grace of fellow Boilermaker Tyler Trent one day. Those aren’t just hollow words - I wish I had it.

I’m positive that Tyler did not want the mantle that he’s now wearing. He’s an emblem of people who are also fighting cancer, he’s the symbol of what unwavering faith looks like while the conditions are the most grim. Tyler turns 20 years old today, and he seems to be living an exemplary life that any 40-something would aspire to live.

Many of the people in my age group have settled into a comfortable zone. Sure, being a parent isn’t easy, being a provider for a family has its pitfalls…but most of us are not embracing the battle, we’re running toward the path of least resistance. We need to learn that there is more to living than getting by. The process matters…the fight defines us.

Tyler is living a higher-octane life than most of us…today matters to him more than it does to most of us. I would wager that if his cancer went into full remission tomorrow, he would still be savoring life in a similar manner, but maybe with a slightly different focus.

He wouldn’t have to be an ambassador for the brave people who are actively fighting cancer, he might choose something else to represent. But rest assured, he would be representing the Trent family and the Purdue family in exemplary fashion.

Last week we heard of what the worst of Purdue’s family looks and sounds like. I hate seeing that side of Purdue…instead, I want to focus on a more idealistic concept of what I wish a Boilermaker could and should be.


The confidence of Carsen Edwards
The drive of Caleb Swanigan
The no-nonsense approaches of Coaches Painter and Brohm
The optimism of Mike Bobinski
The work ethic of Drew Brees
The tenacity of Brian Cardinal
The humor of Larry Clisby
The fight and faith of Tyler Trent

I am reminded by scripture:
…Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.

In an alumni base as big as Purdue's, there are plenty of examples of lousy people doing stupid things...Thank God that Tyler's example overshadows them all.

Happy 20th birthday, Tyler!

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