His Name is Tchissakid Dre Player. Born in Winnipeg, his mom Corinne Fontaine, is from Sagkeeng First Nation.
These days, the young man known as T-Dre, is one of the best offensive linemen in the NCAA, a star as a sophomore last season with the Northwestern State University Demons in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
His life today is quite idyllic. A college football star who gets tremendous marks in school, he could think seriously about going to law school or even playing in the National Football League, but his life wasn’t always this sweet. In high school, in Texas, T-Dre experienced racial discrimination from the inside.
“I was born in Winnipeg and moved to the Dallas area when I was about nine,” Player said. “It was pretty crazy with all the cultural differences I faced. I had big identity issues when I was young.
“There are not very many native people living down here. It was very difficult in high school because everybody was white, black or Mexican and I was none of the above.”
T-Dre did have four things going for him: he’s whip smart, he’s a great athlete, he’s a big, strong guy and he comes from a great family. His dad is Paul Player, a former basketball star at the University of Winnipeg and one of the greatest athletes ever to wear to a Wesmen uniform. These days Paul works for Child Protective Services while Corinne is involved with the Army and Air Force exchange service.
His athletic genes have obviously come in handy. At 6-foot-6, 295 pounds he is one of the most imposing linemen in the Southland Conference, a 12-team NCAA mid-major conference that includes Lamar, McNeese State, Nicholls State, Southeastern Louisiana, Central Arkansas, UT Arlington, Stephen F. Austin, UT San Antonio, Sam Houston State, Texas State and Texas A&M Corpus Christi.
He also has a unique name, Tchissakid, one that comes from the Ojibwe language, meaning “Sooth sayer,” or “Magic man.”
“When I was still in my mother’s womb, my parents were looking at a sonogram and they said it looked as though I had waved or ‘chopped’ my hand on the screen,” T-Dre explained. “My dad did some research and came up with that name from that experience, because the indigenous sooth sayers or shamans use their hands as a way to emit energy. Say, if someone wanted their fortune told, a soothsayer would use special stones and shake them up in their hands before throwing them onto the table and interpreting the layout. It is unique.”
He played only one year of high school football and was sensational. He was a unanimous first-team All-District selection for a 12-1 team that was ranked as high as No. 3 nationally and No. 1 in the state of Texas under coach Joey McGuire. He also made the Honor Roll at Cedar Hill High School with a 3.2 GPA.
That set him up nicely for Northwestern State where he has developed as an athlete, a student and as a person.
“In high school, I didn’t have a group to hang around with,” he said. “I pretty much stuck to myself and had a hard time fitting in with any of the groups. High school wasn’t easy for me.
“At university, it’s a lot different. In university, people are just people. First of all, they are all a lot smarter. Second of all, university students don’t care what you are or who you are. If you’re a good person, you’ll have plenty of friends. I feel I’ve really blossomed here.”
Almost all of Player’s courses are directed at pre-law and he’s thinking seriously about getting a law degree. He would definitely play pro football if he was drafted or if anyone showed any interest in him, but if not, he says he wouldn’t mind getting his PhD.
“Football was a big part of the journey for me,” Player conceded. “But academics was always the goal. Thanks to football, I have a wonderful opportunity to get a very good university education. It’s always been important to me to make the best of my opportunities.”
On the field, Player played sparingly in his freshman year but last year, as a sophomore, earned a starting position. The team went 5-6-0 in a rebuilding year, but he expects the Demons to be one of the top teams in the Southland this season.
“We have a new coaching staff and a lot more money has been pumped into the football program,” said the 20-year-old Player. “I’m excited about the coming season.”
He was also excited last week to be back in Winnipeg and to head out to Sagkeeng to meet with his family and his family’s friends again.
“There were a lot of bumps in the road for me,” Player said, forthrightly. “It was hard for me in high school and there was a lot of adversity along the way. But I overcame it and prospered and I’ve really enjoyed university.
“If any native person or underprivileged kid needs a role model or just somebody to look up to, I lead my life in a way that I think about that every day. I want to be a role model. I want kids to look up to me and I’m going to the work that’s necessary to make the best of my opportunities.”