Ahead of Friday’s ‘Salute to Service’ honor, Drew Chastain details Marine journey since Summit High football days
FRISCO — After United States Marine Corps service member Drew Chastain surprised his family with a return trip to their home in Summit Cove this past Fourth of July, his mother Melissa broke the news to him. The Summit High football program wanted Chastain, a former Tiger linebacker and 2016 SHS grad, to deliver the game ball at Friday’s annual Salute to Service game at Tiger Stadium in Breckenridge.
“‘Alright,’” Chastain said, “I’ll do it if they can fly me in in a helicopter.’”
The request was 100% a joke for Chastain. Having grown up watching military members undertake such honors at football games, Chastain would have delivered the ball with pride and gratefulness no matter the situation. Little did he know, though, that his part of Friday evening’s Salute to Service ceremony will actually follow a helicopter handoff of the game ball.
Before the Summit Tigers (1-1) take on the Conifer Lobos (1-0) at Tiger Stadium in Breckenridge Friday night at 7 p.m., the Tiger program will host its third annual Salute to Service celebration. About a half hour before the game, vehicles representing various service organizations across the county will process around the Tiger Stadium track. Ten minutes later, the Tigers and Lobos will take the field. Then, Chastain will take the handoff from the helicopter and deliver the ball to midfield where the coin toss and national anthem will commence.
Friday night’s honor — while watching the play of his younger brother, Summit sophomore defensive lineman Evan — will kick off the weekend of Chastain’s life. The 21-year-old will wed his fiancee and Summit High School sweetheart Autumn Ward on Sunday. For Chastain, it’ll be the exclamation point on a four-year journey since the senior football player decided in the autumn of 2015 that he wanted to join the Marines.
In doing so, the Indiana native followed in the footsteps of his father Don and Uncle Billy. Shortly before his 18th birthday on Oct. 14, 2015, Chastain was contacted via Facebook by a U.S. Marines recruiter. The beginning of the journey unfolded during the football season when the linebacker and running back was one of Summit’s senior leaders. Reflecting back, he has fond memories of his days in pads for the Tigers, including a sudden game-breaking touchdown run just before half against Grand Junction his senior year.
“Just before the half the coaches said, ‘If you go down, stay down. Run the clock out,’” Chastain said. “And, I don’t know, by the time I got the ball from behind to in front of the line, I just blacked out. I can’t remember how I got through the line. The next thing I know everyone is behind me and I’m just running down the sideline, and I’m in the endzone.”
The next phase of Chastain’s life also came rather suddenly. In July of 2016, weeks after he graduated Summit High, he was off to San Diego for three months of boot camp. Chastain eventually spent six months learning his new trade as a radio operator in his current home, Twentynine Palms, California, before he shipped off to Okinawa, Japan.
Sept. 6: vs. Moffat County, L 41-8
Sept. 13: vs. Conifer, L, 56-19
Sept. 20: at Woodland Park, L, 49-10
Sept. 27: at Elizabeth, L, 38-0
Oct. 11-12: Homecoming – vs. Battle Mountain, W, 35-12
Oct. 18: at Eagle Valley, L, 12-7
Oct. 25: at Steamboat Springs, W, 19-7
Nov. 1: vs. Glenwood Springs, L, 36-30
Nov. 8: at Palisade, L, 42-6
Over his several years on duty in the Pacific based out of Japan, Chastain underwent some familiar and new experiences. In terms of familiarity, he was able to play in a couple of football games dubbed “Turkey Bowls” with fellow service members in Japan stationed overseas on Thanksgiving. Chastain also took a trip to Pyeongchang, South Korea in February 2018 to watch fellow Summit County resident Red Gerard win the gold medal in slopestyle snowboarding. An avid snowboarder back home in Summit County, Chastain convinced his service friends to take the trip for the thrilling event, knowing they wouldn’t be disappointed.
In terms of life-changing experiences, Chastain said — though he never partook in combat — there were some nerve-wracking moments while he was stationed in South Korea. That included recent heightened tensions between North and South Korea.
Looking back, however, he’s grateful of his time in the service. It’s one centered around the central theme he’ll relay to the Tigers football team during a pregame speech Friday night.
“It’s about brotherhood,” Chastain said. “How everyone needs to put in their part, how everyone has to do their job to properly work together.”
It’s been four years since Chastain strapped in for the Tigers, yet football has been at the core of his globetrotting journey since. Before he moved to Summit as a sophomore in high school from Avon, Indiana, Chastain was a football lifer. As a child, he looked up to beloved players like bruising Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney and tight end Dallas Clark.
These days, wherever he is with the service, Chastain still channels his inner Freeney when playing flag football or seven-on-seven with the military’s football programs. This fall he’s hopeful he’ll be able to play tackle again. Chastain said he and fellow service members at his base are putting in work to start up a tackle league.
“Football,” Chastain said, “has always been the one constant I’ve had.”
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