‘White lightning’ strikes black, gold at Western

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New Orleans native and speedy Griffon receiver T.J. Fannin has shown tremendous resiliency on his path to becoming a college football player.

In 2005, the same year Fannin graduated from high school, Hurricane Katrina forced him and his family to relocate to Missouri.

“I have been evacuated from probably 15 hurricanes in my life,” Fannin said. “I just thought this was another evacuation, but they weren’t letting people back in the state for a month or two this time.”

But this wasn’t just another evacuation. The city was ruined. Where Fannin lived was destroyed by wind damage, and 20 minutes down the road there was 40 feet of water.  Some of his friends lost their homes.

Fannin’s parents are originally from Missouri and decided to make the permanent move after being back here for a couple of months. Fannin’s heart was still in New Orleans, and he didn’t want to be in Missouri, away from everything he knew.

He went back on his own and began working and living in a FEMA trailer, which is a government-issued trailer given to victims of the hurricanes that sit in front of their homes and run off propane and electricity from the house. They have become part of the cultural landscape of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.

“It was 5 or 6 feet by 15 to 20 feet,” Fannin said. “We would run out of propane all the time. There were times during the winter when we didn’t have any propane at all.”

The trailer Fannin was living in was in front of his best friend’s grandmother’s house. She decided that she didn’t want them living there anymore and cut off the electricity to the trailer. At that point, Fannin was living in a FEMA trailer with no propane or electricity.

Fannin went back to Missouri and attended a community college. He grew tired of it and decided to go back to New Orleans. He planned to work for a while and then walk on to a football team and go to school there, but money and living situations forced him to move back to Missouri with his parents.  He met a girl that encouraged him to go to school, and he started looking for a place to play football.

“I wanted to play for a really good school,” Fannin said. “I sent my highlight tape out to a bunch of places, and it came down to here and Northwest (Missouri State).”

The choice became an easy one when the coach of Northwest told Fannin that they only allowed two players to walk on each year, so he shouldn’t even bother.

“Western let me know that they wanted me here and were happy to have me,” Fannin said. “When I got here they had a locker ready for me and everything. It was like God sending me a message, telling me this is where I was supposed to be: this is my new home.”

Fannin’s greatest gift on the football field is his world-class speed. He has been clocked running the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds, which is very impressive for any level of athlete.

“He is obviously very fast,” coach Jerry Partridge said. “His running ability is so great that he can catch the short ones and make things happen after the catch. When he catches the ball he turns into a running back out there.”

Fannin misses his two sisters, two nieces, a nephew and his many friends who are in Louisiana and still visits when he can.

“It’s tough watching your best friends get married and have kids and you can’t be there, but it is what it is,” Fannin said. “Never would have thought I would be playing football at Missouri Western. I had never even heard of it, but it worked out great, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

When you run as fast as Fannin does, there is always a chance at having a future in professional football.

“I’d go play anywhere, really. I’d play arena football, Canadian football. Why not? To be making money to play football would be really cool. It’s a game,” Fannin said.

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