HANCEVILLE, ALA. – Former Auburn University punter Lewis Colbert was born with a clubfoot, grew up in a poor household and his father left home when he was three days old.
Colbert, 52, didn’t let that prohibit him from etching out a successful punting career at Auburn University and in the NFL.
Colbert, an All-American at Auburn in 1985 and the author of “The Unlikeliest Tiger,” recently visited Wallace State Community College and discussed his journey to overcoming obstacles in life. He also encouraged the capacity crowd at the James C. Bailey Center Auditorium to never give up on particular dreams or goals in life.
“It’s never too late for anything, no matter where you come from, what you are doing or what you are intending to do,” Colbert said. “I didn’t write the book to be an author or to make money. I wrote the book to try to make a difference in people’s lives, by telling a story that hopefully people can relate to. I hope it can motivate people to make a commitment. Committing is the first thing you have to do. It’s absolutely easy to walk away and quit. I had millions of opportunities to quit.”
Colbert was born in Smiths Station. Three days after Colbert was born, doctors told his mother he might not ever walk because of a clubfoot. Throughout his childhood, Colbert eventually underwent six extensive surgeries on his clubfoot, allowing him to walk with a brace. Colbert said his right foot today is about the half the size of his left one.
Despite certain limitations with his leg, Colbert developed into a stellar baseball pitcher at Glenwood School. Colbert had dreams of earning a collegiate scholarship as a pitcher, but during his senior season, his shoulder popped and he was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff.
Before his senior year of baseball, Colbert spent one season as the Glenwood football team’s punter, averaging 42.1 yards per punt.
Colbert thought his athletic career was complete after suffering the shoulder injury on the mound. Nonetheless, Colbert always wanted to pursue an education, and Auburn was less than 30 miles away. He was determined to enroll in college, especially since no one in his family had previously graduated from high school.
“I led the state of Alabama in punting my senior year, but had no scholarship offers, no conversations with a college, a coach or even receive a letter,” Colbert said. “The main thing I wanted was an education. An education in my mind was something no one could take away from me. I’ve had my shoes taken. I’ve had my money taken. I’ve had my baseball bat taken. I’ve had my glove taken. No one could take the education away.”
Colbert’s life drastically changed at Auburn. While sitting in class one day, Colbert was asked to visit the football complex because coach Pat Dye became aware of his punting ability through a chain of mutual friends. During the first practice he attended, Colbert competed against 17 punters.
Colbert turned a simple walk-on invitation into memorable punting career.
Colbert played for the Tigers from 1982-85 and is considered one of the best punters in school history. Colbert was a first-team All-American selection by Kodak in 1985, the same season he boomed a 77-yard punt against Southwest Louisiana. His 45.8 punting yard average in 1985 is still second-best in Auburn history, and he maintains the most career punting yards for the Tigers (10,179 yards; 41.7 avg.).
The Kansas City Chiefs selected Colbert in the 8th round of the 1986 NFL Draft, and he played two seasons with the Chiefs and one with the San Diego Chargers.
Since 1987, Auburn has recognized the top special teams player at its annual A-Day game with the Lewis Colbert specialty MVP award.
Years after his punting career was complete, Colbert said he realized how much his right leg was supposed to make a difference in people’s lives after suffering another injury to his right shoulder. As an adult, Colbert fell off a horse one afternoon, and despite what he was told in high school, it was discovered that Colbert never tore his rotator cuff in high school.
“I was much better in baseball, but someone tell me I’m not supposed to be here telling this story. My right leg of which I strongly disliked is what I’m trying to use today to make a difference in people’s lives,” Colbert said. “Sometimes things happen for a reason. It may not be on your timeline. It may not be how you envisioned it or how you wanted it to happen. You’ve just got to have faith and confidence that sometimes it’s just blind luck of fate. I can honestly tell you today had I know what was really wrong with my shoulder, it would have been fixed and I would have tried to play baseball.”
Colbert added he wrote “The Unlikeliest Tiger” to reveal the hardships he navigated through early in life.
“During that time there was a lot of mental anguish. One thing I do know is the Lord will put always put you in a position to succeed if you are listening and you do your part. Nothing comes easy,” Colbert said. “If something is worth it to you, things seem to have a way of working out if you are able to stay positive, committed and have a great attitude. It will take a lot of hard work, but it can be done.”
Regarding his Auburn football career, Colbert said Dye became the father figure he never had growing up, and former teammate Bo Jackson is one of the most genuine, caring and hard-working individuals he’s ever met.
Colbert also added one his most cherished accomplishments was being named a team captain during the 1985 season. He was a member of Auburn’s SEC championship team in 1983 and played in the Tangerine, Sugar, Liberty and Cotton Bowls with the Tigers.
Colbert, who made the NFL All-Rookie Team in 1986, currently lives in Atlanta and is the Director of Operations for Exel – Supply Chain Management.
After his presentation, Colbert signed books, pictures and other memorabilia in the Bailey Center lobby. His visit was sponsored by Wallace State’s Diversity Committee.
For more information about Wallace State, visit www.wallacestate.edu.