When Chandler Wooten arrived on Auburn University’s campus to join the football team in the spring of 2017, the then-17-year-old linebacker from Kennesaw, Georgia, fully expected his experience on the Plains to be a smooth ride.
“I graduated high school early in December of 2016 so I could get on campus and start practicing right away,” Wooten said. “I expected my experience to be a smooth ride to be honest.
“I had no idea being a college athlete would unveil so many challenges and obstacles.”
Wooten’s arrival on campus was highly anticipated as he came in as a highly recruited four-star outside linebacker from North Cobb High School in Cobb County, Georgia. During his time as a Warrior, Wooten registered 124 tackles and 15 tackles for a loss his senior season.
Wooten received high praise for his scrappiness and leadership as a 6-2, 229-pound force on his high school defense, as he was recognized as the GHSA Class 7A all-state and regional defensive player of the year. After a dynamic senior season, he showcased his talents one last time as a high school student at the highly-coveted Under Armour All-America Game.
After racking up 29 offers from Power-5 schools all across America, Wooten settled down to one and decided to spend the next four years on the Loveliest Village on The Plains.
As classes kickstarted for spring and the Alabama cold turned into a beautiful spring breeze, Wooten began to fall into line of what has been his typical day for the past four years as an Auburn football player.
As his alarm rang each morning at 5:30 a.m., Wooten began each day as an athlete of Auburn University.
He would handle his morning routine before heading over to the Auburn football complex for workouts at 6 a.m. After an intense workout, he would hurry to the showers so he could have enough time left over to squeeze a nice breakfast in before making the trek past the Student Center to begin his day as a student of Auburn.
Carefully blocked with not one minute to spare, Wooten would navigate a series of academically-rigorous classes and tutors from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., leaving him approximately an hour and 15 minutes to decompress and grab a bite before he ended his day as number 31 for Auburn football.
By 2:15 p.m., he was in meetings, learning game plans and plays for pending game weeks. By 4, he was on the field practicing for those cherished Saturday night lights. After two hours of hustle, homework and more tutors, Wooten would find himself in his room relaxing and resting until the cycle began again.
That was Chandler’s day for the last four years. Unchanging and unwavering, he submitted to his love for the game, driving him to blossom into a veteran in Auburn’s well-respected linebacking corps.
During his time at Auburn, Wooten developed from a true freshman in the backup role at middle linebacker to a game-changing defensive player by his senior year, notching 27 tackles on his belt with 4.5 TFLs last season.
That was life for Chandler Wooten, the student and the athlete and, for a time, that was the normal experience he expected. After all, the only difference he ever noticed in himself and the vast majority of Auburn students was the one that would soon become the one that mattered the most — the color of his skin.
Yet, he never felt that he couldn't handle being at a predominately white institution. According to Wooten, he can credit his time at North Cobb, in the suburbs of Atlanta, for teaching him the value of a diverse classroom.
“We had one of the largest and diverse schools in the state of Georgia and my graduating class had almost 1,000 students,” Wooten said. “I grew up seeing and being around so many different ethnicities and backgrounds, which I believed prepared me to adapt to my surroundings.”
For a time, it worked.
Wooten graduated from Auburn University’s College of Liberal Arts in December 2019 and began work on his second bachelor’s degree soon after.
He found friendship and romance in fellow Auburn University student, Camryn Collins, and the two soon announced a surprise of their own — a baby boy, whom they have dawned with the name “Chance” — would soon be joining them on the Plains.
Life was falling into routine. Then, in the blink of an eye, it all changed.
As Covid rolled in and sent students home, America tuned into their televisions and local news to stay informed on what would become. Like every student in limbo, Wooten tuned into Covid while traveling between Georgia and Louisiana, Collins' home state, to check in on the growing baby bump. However, Covid wasn’t the only news that caught Wooten’s eye.
Instead, Wooten watched and followed as the ballad of George Floyd, a 46-year-old man from Mineappolis, Minnesota who was choked to death by four MPD officers, unfolded into civic unrest and nationwide protests for days to come.
It was at that moment that Wooten realized he had a different purpose to serve.
He immediately took this to his social media platform as a public figure, one that he had carefully navigated for years because of this very fact, and he did something that he had kept separate for quite some time.
Wooten spoke his mind.
“I’ve always been outspoken,” Wooten said. “I never really cared what anyone has to say about me. When Covid hit, followed by social and racial injustices coming to the forefront, it was no longer about sports.
“It made me realize I had way more influence than I think.”
Wooten began sending out tweets in support of Black Lives Matter. He began mentioning the names of black citizens killed by police, relating himself by standing in solidarity with those on the front lines at protests nationwide.
He joined hands with hundreds as Auburn took the streets, raising their hands in the somber “Don’t Shoot” position.
And as he continued to pursue his activism, he continued to tweet. Some tweets were met with love and support while others were met with disdain, calling for him to stay in his place as an Auburn football player. Yet, the hate didn't bother Wooten too much. After all, he had the gratifying support of his teammates — even the ones who didn't look like him.
“To be honest with you, the dynamic of the locker room is strong,” Wooten said. “I remember back in June, when everything transpired, our team came together and leaned on each other.
“A lot of the white players reached out just to show support. If the world could get along like our locker room, it would be a much better place. We don’t see color — it's real love for who we are as individuals.”
In the blink of an eye, Wooten had added one more thing to his list of routine — he was now an athlete of Auburn, a student of Auburn and an activist of Auburn. According to Wooten, it was the motivation of him becoming a dad that pushed him harder to be a voice for the generation to come.
“Now that I'm about to become a dad, it's important for me to make sure his life is better than mine,” Wooten said. “I want the absolute best for him, I don’t want him to have to worry about leaving the house one day and encountering the police as a black man.”
Wooten also wants it to be understood that his status as a collegiate athlete does not make him exempt from the harsh reality for many men who look like him in this country.
“Just last week, I was stopped by the police and racially profiled,” Wooten said. “I was told I was going almost 15 miles per hour over the speed limit and he leaned over in my car trying to see if he could smell drugs.
“He then proceeded to laugh and jokingly tell me I smelled good. He ended up letting me go with no ticket. It's a crazy experience.”
That moment set it all into perspective for Wooten — he began to firmly understand that he is more than football. Outside of Auburn and outside of football, he is seen for the color of his skin. According to Wooten, it's that very reason he refused to simply “stick to sports.”
“It’s a slave master’s mentality,” Wooten said. “I refuse to shut up and play.
“I’m going to keep speaking up and speaking out for those who feel like they have no voice. When it's all said and done, I want to be remembered far more than football.”
As protests continue and America begins the hard conversations of a generational plight, Wooten only wants one thing — to continue to spread awareness and bring change.
“I’m a believer so no matter what happens, I’m going to stand tall and keep on moving,” Wooten said. “I know I'm unique and special and I don't mean that in a boastful way.
“I’m just confident in the man that created me, which is in turn making me more confident in the man I’m becoming. I’ve come to realize that there is purpose in our pain, both individually and collectively.
“With everything going on in our country, the time is now — go harder for what we want, go harder for what we believe in. For me personally, that’s change.”