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Chris Lacy: Engineer, Cowboy, Patriot
According to the National College Athletic Association, nearly 8 million students currently participate in high school athletics in the United States. More than 480,000 compete as NCAA athletes. In 2018, the probability of competing in Division I collegiate football was 2.7 percent. The chances of an NCAA football player making it to the professional league was 1.6 percent. But Chris Lacy has beaten the odds and will be playing in the next level, for the New England Patriots.
Lacy, originally from DeSoto, Texas, came to Oklahoma State University in 2014 with a scholarship to play football as a Cowboy.
“[In high school] I came to visit Oklahoma State and just loved the campus, loved the environment, the football team, the facilities,” said Lacy. “Then I met with an advisor in the engineering department and I learned about the Industrial Engineering program and felt like it was a good fit for me.”
Industrial Engineers design, build, operate and improve production systems by producing goods and/or services for customers around the world. OSU’s IEM program, established in 1925, is the oldest IE program west of the Mississippi River, according to their website.
“In high school I always excelled in math and sciences and had all A’s and everybody told me I should do engineering,” said Lacy. “So I looked into it and felt like that was something I’d want to do. I like challenging myself. When I master something it’s very satisfying.”
Pursuing a degree in engineering is challenging but adding athletics to that creates another level of work. College football athletes spend more than 40 hours each week devoted to the sport, according to the NCAA. College advisors’ rule of thumb is to spend a minimum of two hours of studying per one hour of class. During the football season, Lacy was enrolled in 12 credit hours at OSU. So, 40 hours of football plus 12 hours in class plus 24 hours of studying. That comes to a total of 76 hours a week. That doesn’t include the extra labs and projects which could require seven hours in one day.
“A typical day [during the season], I would wake up early and lift at 6:30 in the morning,” said Lacy. “Afterwards I’d eat breakfast and go to class around 9 or 10, depending on the day. When I was done with class for the day, around 1, I’d get some lunch then head over to the stadium and get ready to practice. Then we’d practice and have meetings that lasted from 2 to about 5 and after that I’d eat dinner. Then I’d do any homework or studying until about 7. After that I’d just chill at the house, play a video game or something until it’s time for the next day and do it all over again.
“I had to be responsible. I was forced to be responsible because I had a goal. I wanted to graduate and I also wanted to excel in football so I just had to make good decisions,” said Lacy. “I had to manage my time well. I couldn’t always do all the things my teammates were doing because they didn’t have as much on their plate as me. I had to set time apart to do my work and make sure I was studying so I could understand the things that were going on. If I didn’t really pay attention in class, it would take longer to do my work. So I had to make sure I was as efficient as possible and have good time management skills.”
The staff in IEM were also there to support Lacy and hold him accountable.
“The IEM staff was understanding and they knew I was juggling football and engineering and they knew it wasn’t easy, but they were supportive and always made sure that I was on top of everything. They never let me fall behind,” said Lacy. “The staff and the teachers and my classmates that came through the IEM program with me, it’s all one big family.”
Lacy’s hard work and dedication were recognized by his IEM family as well.
“He is an all-rounder,” said Sunderesh S. Heragu, Regents Professor, Head and Humphreys Chair for IEM. “I am simply amazed at what he has been able to accomplish as a wide receiver for the Oklahoma State Cowboys Football team, his success in the highly competitive bachelor’s program in IEM at Oklahoma State, and how he finds time to volunteer.
“He was on the OSU President’s honor roll, developed teamwork activities for Native American children and engaged in a number of other activities, but you wouldn’t know all this by talking to him. He is very respectful, modest, and just one of the nicest guys you will come across.”
Lacy’s list of achievements continues in his role as a student-athlete. He was a three time, First-Team Academic All-Big 12 recipient and two time Vernon Grant Award recipient. The Vernon Grant Award is given to a player each year by the OSU football coaching staff for outstanding leadership, spirit and enthusiasm.
“I guess you could say I was a respected player on the field,” Lacy said. “I was always working hard and always pushing my teammates to give that same effort. It felt good to know that all my hard work and passion for the game was being noticed and recognized. It was a good feeling.”
On the field, Lacy’s career highs during the 2016 season included 31 catches, 489 yards, three touchdowns and one start in 12 games played. Lacy’s profile on the OSU athletics website reads, “a reliable receiver who was a strong factor in Oklahoma State’s gameplan throughout his career, both for his pass-catching and his blocking.”
"[Lacy], in the last game against Texas, was as impressive as any wide receiver that I've seen here at OSU in a very long time," said OSU Head Football Coach, Mike Gundy after a game in 2016. “He reminded me of DeMarcus Conner, who used to just wear guys out blocking downfield. That's what Lacy did for us. That attitude is what he brings to the party and to have young men play like that when they aren't getting the football, that's pretty special to have on a football team."
While those at Oklahoma State saw the hard work and impact Lacy made to the football team, those on the outside were skeptical.
In his player bio on the NFL Draft website written by analysts, it reads, “Lacy was never ‘the man’ in Oklahoma State's offense, but his consistency, toughness, and intelligence have put him on NFL teams' radars… he hasn't shown enough on the field to consider him a likely ‘make-it’ player.”
“A lot of the media that don’t really know everything about football, they just see stats and they judge me on that,” said Lacy. “We had a loaded receiving core at James Washington and Marcell Ateman, all great NFL prospects. At times I felt I got lost in the shadows because all the star power I had around me and I wasn’t able to show my talent to my full potential. So a lot of the NFL teams weren’t able to see that.”
After seven rounds and 224 picks, the 2018 NFL Draft came to an end, and Lacy’s name was not called. But that didn’t mean it was the end for him.
“Soon after the last pick of the Draft, I had a few offers,” said Lacy. “It came down to New England and Detroit and I talked to my family and talked to my agents and we felt like New England would be the best spot for me to go. I went on and signed as a free agent with the Patriots. I have a great opportunity now to be able to go to the league and I’ll be able to show everybody what I wasn’t able to show here at Oklahoma State.”
Signing as a free agent with a team in the NFL means, though the player was not selected during the annual NFL Draft, the player is free to sign a contract with any team they choose. While this does not guarantee the player’s spot on the roster during the season, it shows the teams interest and commitment in the player. Undrafted free agents sign a contract and are able to participate in preseason training with the team.
May 10 started the rookie minicamp in Boston, Mass., home of the New England Patriots, for Lacy. But before he could fully commit to his new career in the NFL, he had to walk across the stage in Stillwater with his Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering and Management from Oklahoma State University on May 12.
“I made it a point that I had to come back and graduate,” said Lacy. “This was four years of hard work and I was going to make sure I walked with my classmates.”
But as soon as the commencement ceremonies and celebration ended, it was right back to Boston to continue training. Lacy will train with the Patriots during rookie training camp during the summer. The team will then take a short break and then start training for their first preseason game on August 9 against the Washington Redskins.
“I actually couldn’t wait until it was all football and I didn’t have to worry about a test coming up or studying after practice got over,” Lacy said. “It’s a dream come true getting paid to do something I love. To just catch passes from Tom Brady, he’s a very respected quarterback in the league. I might just mess around and catch a super bowl ring in my rookie year.”
Though playing football is a dream come true, the average career of a player in the league is six years, according to the NFL. But Lacy has plans for his life when his career as a Patriot in the NFL ends. He is an engineer.
“After football I want to be a director of operations for a NFL team or stadium,” said Lacy. “Just something to stay around the game. With IEM it’s more on the management side, the business side of things. My skills in improving processes and operations will help me with operations on the football field, somewhere I’m comfortable with.”
He will also have the support of his family at OSU and IEM during his NFL career and beyond.
“The entire IEM family is proud of [Lacy] – what he is able to accomplish on the football field and outside,” said Heragu. “We wish him the very best in his career and are confident he will make OSU proud.”
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Oklahoma State University is a modern land-grant university that prepares students for success. OSU has more than 35,000 students across its five-campus system and more than 24,000 on its combined Stillwater and Tulsa campuses, with students from all 50 states and around 120 nations. Established in 1890, Oklahoma State has graduated more than 240,000 students who have been serving the state of Oklahoma, the nation and the world.