In the world of sports, athletes often dedicate their entire lives to reaching the pinnacle of their profession, but for many, life at the top can be short-lived. Sometimes all a player gets to experience at the highest level is one minute on the court, one trip to the plate, one shot on goal or one checkered flag, but more often than not, that fleeting moment in the spotlight is a story all its own. This is One and Done, a FOX Sports series profiling athletes, their paths to success and the stories behind some of sports’ most ephemeral brushes with glory.
After a couple days to process it all, Bram Kohlhausen still can’t believe how the weekend went down.
Named TCU’s starting quarterback on Thursday after Trevone Boykin’s arrest the night before, the fifth-year senior squeezed in one practice and one walkthrough with the first-team offense before the Horned Frogs’ Alamo Bowl date with Oregon.
Kohlhausen was named the game’s offensive MVP for his efforts, and for most, that would seem like a great jumping-off point for next season. But in Kohlhausen’s case, there will be no next season, no more Saturday gamedays to look forward to. His first career start was also his final college game, and most likely his final game, period.
That may sound bittersweet, but if you’re going to have to go out — and at some point, every player does — there are certainly worse ways to do it.
"It’s all pretty surreal," Kohlhausen told FOX Sports Monday by phone from his family’s home in Houston. "It’s unbelievable. I’m still trying to figure out if this is actually happening or not. But it’s a good kind of crazy."
It’s unbelievable. I’m still trying to figure out if this is actually happening or not. But it’s a good kind of crazy.
For those looking for the ultimate Cinderella story, Kohlhausen’s isn’t exactly that — but it’s close.
The 23-year-old began his career as a three-star recruit playing for the hometown Houston Cougars. After taking a redshirt in 2011, he played sparingly in 2012, then transferred to Los Angeles Harbor College in 2013 after sliding down head coach Tony Levine’s depth chart before his redshirt sophomore season.
Kohlhausen’s JUCO experience was short-lived, as he played three games before injuring his non-throwing shoulder. It was enough to get an offer from coach Gary Patterson at TCU — he walked on amid rumors that he was going to do the same at Texas — and last year Kohlhausen appeared in four games, including the Frogs’ Peach Bowl rout of Ole Miss.
Though Kohlhausen made the most of his limited minutes in 2014 (7-of-9 passing, 43 yards), there was never any question who TCU’s starter would be in 2015. That, of course, was Boykin, a Heisman hopeful and one of the best players in the country. Kohlhausen and redshirt freshman Foster Sawyer were simply insurance, but Kohlhausen turned out to be a pretty decent policy.
In September, Kohlhausen threw his first career touchdown pass in relief of Boykin during TCU’s 70-7 win over Stephen F. Austin, and in October he appeared briefly in wins over Texas and Iowa State. Then on Nov. 14, Boykin left TCU’s game against Kansas in the second quarter with an ankle injury.
That opened the door for Kohlhausen, who went 13 of 19 for 112 yards before being benched for Sawyer late in third with game tied 10-10. (TCU escaped the winless Jayhawks, 23-17.) Things appeared to be going that direction again on Saturday after Kohlhausen completed 9-of-19 passes for 96 yards with a pick in the first half against Oregon, but this time, Patterson stuck with his guy.
"It was more penalties and things," Patterson said after the game when asked why he didn’t replace Kohlhausen under center. "We dropped some balls. I told the defense they weren’t having any fun. I mean, there were a lot of seniors, played a lot of defense, played the best in the league. Not anything good was going to happen if they didn’t have fun."
With the pressure lifted, Kohlhausen finally let himself enjoy the experience in the second half, and unsurprisingly, the game started looking a lot like TCU’s Nov. 21 loss to Oklahoma, the last time Kohlhausen was able to play unburdened by expectations.
Against the Sooners, Kohlhausen replaced Sawyer with 2 minutes left in the third quarter and TCU trailing 30-13. Over the game’s final 17 minutes, Kohlhausen completed 5-of-11 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns, the second a 14-yard pass to Emanuel Porter to cut the lead to 30-29 with 51 seconds left.
Bram Kohlhausen and TCU’s rally earned some nice hardware.
A two-point try for the win ultimately failed in that game, but the comeback served as a fitting precursor for Saturday night.
"Nobody expected anything, and at halftime everybody counted us out," Kohlhausen said of the Alamo Bowl rally. "So you go out there and you’re loose and you just say, ‘Let’s have fun and play the game like it’s supposed to be played.’ All we needed was one more point than they had, and we got it."
Although Kohlhausen said he knew the game was his long before it went to overtime.
"Once we got some points on the board, there was a weight off our shoulders, and when we got to 31-17 I knew we were going to win the game," Kohlhausen said. "Just watching our defense play, I knew it was going to happen."
In the second half, TCU scored on every offensive possession, including a Kohlhausen touchdown pass to Jaelan Austin with 4:18 left the third and a 2-yard touchdown run by the quarterback with 36 seconds left in the quarter. Then in the first overtime, Kohlhausen hit Porter with his second touchdown pass of the game.
After the teams traded field goals, Kohlhausen’s 8-yard touchdown run in the third overtime turned out to be the game-winner, and if you didn’t know better, you’d say he looked a lot like Boykin out there. And maybe that shouldn’t have come as a surprise, considering that Kohlhausen looked to Boykin for advice regularly in advance of the game.
A comeback was in the mix for TCU in the Alamo Bowl.
"I talked to him every day and he just told me to go out there like nobody expected anything from me," Kohlhausen said. "He just said to sling it around and get the ball to some playmakers, and we had a whole load of receivers that caught passes."
The result was a stat line — 28-of-45 passing, 351 yards, 45 rushing yards, four total touchdowns — that certainly did Boykin proud.
"When you don’t have a guy as influential as Trevone at practice — when you don’t hear his laugh, you don’t see him make the plays that you’re used to him making every day — it’s tough," Kohlhausen said. "It’s tough to go to practice and not have your best friend there, and it’s not a fun situation.
"But I learned to never quit from Tre," added Kohlhausen, who wore Boykin’s initials on his wristband for the game. "He’s never quit in his life, and he hasn’t had an easy path to where he’s at now. And he’s not going to quit, even with the circumstances that he’s in."
So when Oregon quarterback Jeff Lockie’s pass fell incomplete on fourth-and-8 in the third overtime, Kohlhausen finally got a chance to celebrate the biggest win of his career.
"Me and (former TCU safety) Sam Carter, we grabbed the ice bucket," Kohlhausen said. "We found Coach P, and then I just tried to find somebody to hug."
The only thing I was worried about was talking to my mom. That was the most important thing, getting into her arms. That’s all I was looking forward to.
By somebody, he really meant his mom, Donna, and after Kohlhausen’s brother, Dash, was able to talk an Oregon fan into selling his sideline pass for $100, Donna joined her son down on the field.
"ESPN and a bunch of people wanted to talk to me right after the game, but I basically just said no," Kohlhausen said. "The only thing I was worried about was talking to my mom. That was the most important thing, getting into her arms. That’s all I was looking forward to.
"She just told me she loved me and she was so proud of me and that she wished my father were there," he continued. "It was one of the best hugs, and a great moment that I’ll always remember."
In November, Kohlhausen’s father, Bill, passed away following a year-long battle with melanoma. A fixture at TCU games, Bill Kohlhausen was able to see his son play in person for the final time against Texas on Oct. 3, but before Saturday’s win, Patterson pulled Kohlhausen aside and told him to play like his dad was there watching.
"He said, ‘Just go do it. Nobody has any faith in you, and everyone counts us out, but I know you can win,’" Kohlhausen said. "He said, ‘I know if your dad could be here, he’d come back to watch you play, so just go play for him and don’t look back.’"
Kohlhausen did just that, playing the half of his life and earning a victory for the ages in his first and only try, but even he admits the win also probably marked the end of his football career.
Kohlhausen still has to finish his degree at TCU and said he doesn’t figure he’ll strap on the helmet again unless "other people think that there’s a chance for me out there." It may be smart of him to leave the door open after the game he just played, but if the Alamo Bowl turns out to be last game of Kohlhausen’s career?
"If it is," he said, "it wouldn’t be a bad way to end it."