College football: Trimble sons keep their father’s memory alive

Geoff Burke/Getty Images - Virginia Tech’s Josh Trimble (49) and older brother Justin Trimble (Army) are still playing college football; two older brothers also played for Army. Their late father played at Maryland and in the NFL and coached at O’Connell High.

BLACKSBURG, Va. — When Virginia Tech’s Josh Trimble left his freshman English class in Pamplon Hall on July 11, 2011, defensive coordinator Bud Foster stood outside the door waiting for him.

The coach had never done something like this before, and searched for the right words as he quickly led Trimble into an empty classroom next door.

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“You need to call your Mom,” Trimble recalled Foster saying, a lump in his voice as he thought back to that day earlier this week.

So Trimble, who had arrived on campus a week earlier, called his mother, Gretchen. The line was busy. He then dialed all three of his older brothers. The lines were busy. They were all on the phone.

Josh Trimble turned back to Foster and asked what had happened. Foster didn’t know what to do, reluctant to be the one to break the news. Finally, though, Foster said words even he couldn’t believe: “Your father has passed. You need to call your Mom.”

Former O’Connell football coach Steve Trimble, a Maryland defensive back who played four years in the NFL, died of a heart attack in his school office at the age of 53. He had just finished jogging on the O’Connell track. His death was a complete surprise to friends and family.

But more than two years later, his legacy lives on through his children. When the 2013 college football season begins this week, Justin Trimble, a senior linebacker, will be the third Trimble brother to play football at Army. Redshirt sophomore Josh Trimble, meanwhile, will complete the unlikely rise from walk on to starter when he takes the field as whip linebacker against two-time defending national champion Alabama on Saturday.

“I always think about it, how he’d be at every single game he could make it to, splitting it between Army and Tech, of course. But it also drives me more, the fact that he’s not here but I know he’s looking down,” Josh Trimble said this week. “He’s still part of my life, part of everything I do every day. I definitely think football was a big part of us getting through it. It helped us carry on.”

Veering toward Va. Tech

Josh Trimble simply refers to it as “the path.” Once Jeremy decided to follow in Steve Trimble’s footsteps and play football, “the path” was set. All of the brothers decided to play.

So in 1999, once Steve Trimble was hired as a security officer at O’Connell, he began volunteering as a football coach. By 2003, when Jeremy was a senior, Steve had become O’Connell’s head coach. He coached all four of his sons.

For Josh, the youngest, there was a lot to live up to by the time he starred on both sides of the ball from 2007 to ’10 at the Arlington private school.

“You couldn’t just be normal. You had to do extraordinary things,” Justin Trimble said. “We all pushed each other and tried to be better than the next one.”

When it came time to pick a college, though, Josh strayed from “the path.” After watching his three older brothers receive appointments to West Point and play for Army, he decided his career would lead elsewhere. Though Trimble liked Army every time he visited his brothers, he wondered if it would even be a consideration had they not been there.

Gretchen Trimble said her husband secretly hoped Josh would change his mind, that he would’ve liked “the moniker of having four boys attending West Point.” But Josh had always been a Virginia Tech fan, and former Hokies running back Kevin Jones was his favorite player.

The only problem was that Virginia Tech did not offer a scholarship to Josh, an honorable mention All-Met in 2010. Only Buffalo did, and Trimble nearly accepted. But Foster had developed a relationship with Steve Trimble during recruiting trips, and approached him about Josh coming to Blacksburg as a preferred walk-on capable of earning a scholarship later.

Virginia Tech’s track record with walk-ons — John Engelberger (Lee), Cody Grimm (Oakton), Will Montgomery (Centreville, and now a starter for the Redskins) and senior linebacker Jack Tyler (Oakton) all became mainstays in the Hokies’ lineup — convinced Trimble he should head to Southwest Virginia.

“He was too good for Buffalo,” Foster said this week.

Football kept in perspective

For a family full of football players, the sport rarely came up in the Trimble household. Steve Trimble, naturally quiet and reserved, wanted it that way.

“He put football in perspective. Football was a way in which to get things in life,” Gretchen Trimble said. “If you knew Steve, in Cumberland, Md., they idolized him [after he led Fort Hill High to a state championship in 1975] and Steve didn’t want that, and I didn’t want that. They have a hard enough time living in each other’s shadows.”

The only moments Steve Trimble mentioned his accomplishments were when one of his sons would gloat, because “it would shut everyone up,” Gretchen said. As a coach, Trimble measured his success in how much effort his players showed. He compiled a 30-51 record and earned Washington Catholic Athletic Conference coach of the year honors in 2008.

“He just wanted the best out of everyone,” Josh Trimble said. “He was more of a mentor than just a football coach.”

Josh Trimble said this week when friends asked about his father’s football career, he never had a good answer. Eventually, he went in search of highlight videos on his own. But the sheer magnitude of Steve Trimble’s accomplishments — he was a member of Maryland’s 1976 ACC championship team and held several state track and field records — have only come into focus since his death. Talking about his career has helped with the grieving process.

“It gives us an outlet,” Justin Trimble said. “That part of our life can still be there.”

Just last week, Gretchen Trimble found an article on the Internet ranking the top 10 ArenaBowl performances in the history of the Arena Football League and sent the link to her sons. (Jeremy, 27, is currently stationed in South Korea. Jordan, 25, just returned from a tour in Afghanistan and currently lives at Fort Stewart in Georgia.)

Steve Trimble was No. 10 on the list after finishing with a record three interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown, as a member of the Denver Dynamite in the inaugural ArenaBowl in 1987.

It was the first his sons had heard about it. Coincidentally, the story was published on July 11, exactly two years after Steve Trimble died.

“Every single time I talk to my mom she has something new to tell about him,” Josh Trimble said.

‘Make something happen’

Gretchen Trimble still laughs when she thinks about the “nervous energy” her husband showed whenever his sons played football, particularly Josh. Whether it be in the stands or on the sideline, he could always be heard murmuring under his breath, “Okay Josh, make something happen.”

Gretchen even had shirts made featuring Steve’s face and his saying. Jordan, Jeremy and Josh wore them under their jerseys during the first game after his death. Over the course of the 2011 season, the entire O’Connell community embraced the message, and the stands were covered with fans wearing “Make something happen” shirts.

It also stuck with Josh Trimble, and he repeated the saying often last year when he was a standout on special teams for Virginia Tech. He finished with 13 tackles and one fumble recovery. This offseason, Foster moved Trimble to outside linebacker because of his proficiency tackling in open space.

Earlier this month, the position switch thrust Trimble into the spotlight. During a scrimmage, whip linebacker Ronny Vandyke dislocated his shoulder and doctors determined he needed season-ending surgery. As a result, Trimble will be on the field with the first-team defense when Foster isn’t using his nickel package this season.

“What he lacks right now is just experience playing that position and that’s kind of the drawback,” Foster said. “But I think he’s gonna continue to improve as it goes along. He’s as solid as the day is long, and I trust him.”

Foster often sees similarities between Josh and his father, such as Josh’s quiet demeanor, and the two have an uncanny resemblance. And two years after delivering the worst kind of news, Foster and the rest of Virginia Tech’s coaching staff informed Josh Trimble on Friday that he would be put on scholarship starting this fall.

Gretchen Trimble had planned to attend Justin’s final home opener, when Army takes on Morgan State Friday night. But she’ll now fly from New York to Atlanta on her birthday to witness her youngest son start his first college game against the No. 1 team in the country.

Josh Trimble is certain she won’t be the only one watching.

“I always play for him,” he said of his father. “I hope I can make him proud.”

 
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