Senior elementary education major Tyler Lovgren was not a five-star recruit for Redbird football. The walk-on special teams’ player did not play a snap of game action during his first three years on the team. Rather, he contributed on the practice squad and scout team, helping to prepare Illinois State’s weekly game plans by demonstrating opponents’ defense.

While completing one of the most difficult, time-intensive undergraduate programs offered on campus, Lovgren met each and every obligation set forth by his major and his team. He pulled 12-, 13-, and 14-hour days without complaint. And he did so while transitioning between a professional, reserved academic setting to the grueling environment that is division I football.

“My schedule was relentless, but I chose this,” Lovgren said. “And knowing the opportunities I was being provided made it easy to find that extra motivation.”

During his senior year, three important things happened: Lovgren was promoted to the active roster, he recorded his first tackle on special teams, and the Redbirds played in the national championship game. While the first two accomplishments were among his long-term goals when he arrived at Illinois State, the team’s performance exceeded his expectations.

Students from Lovgren’s practicum class at Trinity Lutheran in Lombard drew pictures to cheer him on for the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) title game in Frisco, Texas.

Students from Lovgren’s practicum class at Trinity Lutheran in Bloomington created signs to cheer him on for the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) title game in Frisco, Texas.

“It was a huge turnaround,” he said. “We were picked to finish sixth in the lower tier of the conference, but something clicked in the off-season. We became a team and that cohesiveness just propelled us forward.”

Lovgren had a year left of eligibility for 2016, but gave up that opportunity to begin his student teaching placement at Olympia West Elementary in Minier. This allowed him to check off another of his goals: Graduate in four years.

“Tyler loves football, and he battled to get on the field and carve out a role on the team,” said Head Coach Brock Spack, who earned his M.S. in physical education. “He is a smart, selfless, good person, and he put his profession first. He is going to be a great teacher.”

Lovgren’s dedication for refining his craft as an educator was apparent to his instructors, including Tom Lucey, associate professor in the School of Teaching and Learning.

“Tyler reflected deeply about his learning experiences, conveying a keen awareness and appreciation for the instructional strategies presented,” Lucey said. “These traits signified a high degree of self-respect for himself that was rooted in personal values of substance.”

Tyler Lovegren with President Dietz at the FCS Championship game.

Tyler Lovgren with President Dietz at the FCS title game in Frisco, Texas.

Like football, Lovgren first knew he wanted teaching to be a part of his life when he was just 10 years old. And given his focus, the administrator who hires him will immediately gain a teammate who will selflessly advocate for students and lift up colleagues.

“Going into my first year of teaching I am sure I will not be the best teacher, but if I set out to achieve long-term goals, I know I can continue to improve.”

While Lovgren’s time at Illinois State does not possess the flashiness of a Heisman Trophy winner, he experienced tremendous growth, and left a lasting impact on his fellow teacher candidates, instructors, elementary students, and Redbird coaches.

“Tyler is everything that’s good about college football,” Spack said.