The plan was for Dave Borden to call Wednesday evening, after 7, on his way home from work, which he did, except that work was actually school.

Borden, a captain in the Marine Corps, is enrolled at the Expeditionary Warfare School (EWS), located in Quantico, Va.

In case you're wondering, as I was, EWS is a "nine-month course providing career-level professional military education, with emphasis on combined arms operations, warfighting skills, tactical decision-making and Marine Air Ground Task Forces in amphibious operations."

So never having spoken to Borden and relying on stereotypes, part of me was expecting the gruff, no-nonsense, all-business type, who spoke in sentences that ended abruptly and were as short as his haircut.

Well, Borden, a 2003 Kutztown University grad who played wide receiver for the Golden Bears, isn't that guy. He was just the opposite: engaging and sincere, easygoing and self-deprecating. He was also just a tad bit confused.

Friday night, as part of the annual NCAA Honors Celebration in Grapevine, Texas, Borden will receive the NCAA Inspiration Award, "presented to a coach or administrator, or a current or former varsity letter winner at an NCAA institution, (who) when confronted with a life-altering situation, used perseverance, dedication and determination to overcome the event. This person now serves as a role model to give hope and inspiration to others in similar situations. It is not presented automatically on an annual basis."

Pretty heady stuff.

Borden was unaware the award existed until notified he was receiving it. And that's when the confusion set in.

"I'm absolutely honored to receive this award, but, honestly, I don't know why they picked me," he said. "I still think they got the wrong dude."

I'm guessing you'll think otherwise.


When Dave Borden graduated from Delone Catholic in 1999, he wasn't rubber-stamped for football greatness.

Not heavily recruited, he got a scholarship to Kutztown, where he had a solid career, catching 45 passes for 617 yards and six touchdowns over four seasons.

He graduated with a double major in finance and marketing and got a job with Cintas Corporation in its management training program, only to realize he longed for a career path less traveled.

So he joined the Marines.

"I always thought about being part of something bigger than myself, such as the military," said Borden, now 31. "Anybody that joins the military, I truthfully believe it's a calling to a higher purpose.

"To represent your country and the Constitution of the United States, that's a calling."

Borden answered.

In January 2006 he entered Marine Corps Officer Candidate School, graduating as a second lieutenant and becoming a rifle platoon commander, in charge of about 40 Marines.

Borden and his unit were deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, in September 2007. Their mission was to increase security and safety, which makes what happened four months later cruelly ironic.

Borden was gravely injured by a suicide bomb. His body was ravaged: right arm, broken; left arm, shattered; right femur, broken; lung, collapsed; bladder, ruptured; right foot, gone.

His spirit, though, proved it could take a punch -- or how about 150 punches, one for each of the ball bearings doctors estimated were embedded in Borden's body from the blast.

His recovery was equal parts agonizing and excruciating. He went through 40 surgeries, overcame infection and had his right leg amputated above the knee. Simple tasks -- walking, standing, sitting up -- had to be relearned.

But through it all, there was one constant, one goal always in the forefront, driving him, motivating him: Hard as it is to believe, Borden wanted to return to active duty.

"People would say: 'Are you OK? What's wrong with you?'" he said. "But when you put so much time and effort into something, and it's taken away, being injured left me with a void. And for me, the only way to fix that void was to continue serving. I would not have been able to move forward without being a Marine. Filling that void was necessary for me."

Jan. 19, 2011 -- three years to the day after that suicide bomber nearly committed homicide -- Dave Borden, outfitted with a prosthetic right leg, got his wish: He was redeployed to Afghanistan, where he remained until January 2012. He's been enrolled in EWS since August -- hoping for another trip to the "combat theater."

"I'd love to be able to deploy again," he said.


Sports, a "big part" of Dave Borden's life, taught him lessons about teamwork, sacrifice and working toward a common goal.

Even more important, they allowed him to forge friendships that have helped him cope with and overcome an ordeal that most of us can't begin to imagine.

"That's what stands out to me about Kutztown," Borden said. "I have a lot of long-lasting relationships among professors, the president of the university, the coaching staff, my teammates they've all helped support me."

In addition to his service, as if that weren't enough, what Borden has provided in return -- and not just to the university community, but to anyone who knows his story -- is an example of courage and character that makes it clear why he's being honored with the NCAA Inspiration Award.

But he's uncomfortable being held up as a role model or a hero.

"With all due respect, I understand when people try to say I'm a hero," Borden said. "But to me, that's reserved for the men and women who make the ultimate sacrifice. So, no, I don't consider myself a hero."

I have a feeling I'm not the only one who would respectfully disagree.