Cameron Friend, 51, closes in on a ball carrier.
Cameron Friend, who played his last football game as a Northern Colorado Bear Nov. 17, was one of four captains on the team, and there probably wasn't a player on the roster better suited for that role.
Diagnosed with degenerative nerve damage as a youth, Friend has suffered continued hearing loss from a young age and is now legally deaf. But instead of letting his disability hold him back, the Denver native has used it to lift himself up, and everybody else around him, too.
On the field, Friend plays and acts like a captain, leading by example and making teammates believe there is no adversity or obstacle too large to get in the way of the team's goals. If he misses a defensive formation hand-signaled from the sidelines, the closest teammate shouts it to him.
Off the field, he wears hearing aids, and has already earned a bachelor's degree with a double major in Political Science and Philosophy. He's also found his faith and uses it to overcome whatever obstacles he encounters.
Friend starred at linebacker for Mullen High School and received plenty of attention from colleges around the country until he injured his knee during his junior season. As the national attention started to dry up, Northern Colorado's coaches happily realized they had found a hidden gem in their own backyard.
"God just laid out a plan for me," Friend says. "I got hurt during my junior year but everything led up to where I am now. All the coaches have been amazing, and I've really gotten a chance to grow here."
According to Friend, his faith development started during his first year with the Bears - a year in redshirted on the football field - and led to his involvement in organizations such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Ultimate Training Camp.
At one UTC, his story gave another camp participant, a track and field athlete from the University of Oregon, the inspiration to completely change her life. She was struggling with whether to switch her major to audiology but after listening to Friend talk about his life, she quickly made the decision and began to focus on audiology.
Friend says his interaction with this current Bears' coaching staff has also helped him along his journey.
"I've had amazing coaches during my whole time here," Friend says. "But one thing that is different about Coach (Earnest) Collins is that he is so strong in his faith. It helps me so much to be able to come to anyone on this staff if I have a question and just know that they can help me with whatever I need."
Friend's story and leadership ability is apparent in everything he does, especially on the football field.
"Cameron is a guy that leads by example," says Terrence Robinson, Northern Colorado's director of football operations. "He doesn't necessarily always do it vocally, but just watching him - his persona on and off the field - he's just a great guy to be around.
"If you ever need anything, you can go to him and he'll talk to you about anything. He even comes by the offensive coaches' offices just to talk - not even about football sometimes. He's just a great guy. He takes care of his business; he's a very smart individual and has a great passion about everything he does."
Friend's talents on the field have progressed steadily during his four years as a player, beginning in his first season when he started several games while injured linebackers recovered and continuing throughout his student-athlete career.
His strong play in the middle of the Northern Colorado defense last season earned him an All-Big Sky Honorable Mention selection, and gave him more of a platform to assert his voice in the locker room as he tried to inspire his teammates.
This year, Friend continued to push forward, serving as an example for his team of how to turn a potentially devastating disability into something to use as a tool to lead.
He helped lead the Bears to their best season since UNC transitioned to the NCAA's Division 1 FCS ranks. and his 23-yard interception return, two tackles for loss and a quarterback sack helped lead the Bears to a 28-27 win on Senior Day against North Dakota.
And with his football career at Northern Colorado at an end, Friend will have to decide what the next step in his journey will be. He's considered entering a seminary, serving in another way or continuing his football career.
"I just want my teammates to see that it's all about overcoming adversity," Friend says. I just want to see us grow and learn to overcome anything."
- Zach Bond, UNC Athletics Communications Assistant