My Football Life Part 1
It all started when I was 2. I didn’t know it though. But I’ll never forget that day. Before then, I was a quiet, reserved kid that loved learning about my new world. That all changed that day. It was my birthday. I was playing with my new toys when I heard my mother and father arguing. Out of curiosity (or concern, I came closer to see what was going on and sat on my tricycle. And that’s when I saw my dad hit my mother. I froze. I remember a numb feeling coming across my entire body. I started squeezing the brakes on my bike, pointing the handle at my dad as if I was shooting him. At that point, being the only boy in the family, I realized I had to be the man of the house. I was afraid of my new responsibility, but my father left me no choice. Somebody had to protect my family. The next day, I heard my mother on the phone with my dad. I took the phone from my mother and told him “if you ever hit my mother again, I will kill you!”. Then I walked away. I never showed aggression before but since I was the “man of the house” now, I felt the need to protect.
A new problem arose because of this: fear. Since my world was awakened to a darker side, I had to see the world in a way that I did not want to. The world was a beautiful playground before, now I see threats everywhere. The world was a much scarier place. With my new responsibility as the protector, I had to be prepared to confront this scary world. And that’s where football came in.
My mother enrolled me in football when I was 7 years old. We had just moved to a new town and my mom thought getting me into ports will help me make friends. I loved football immediately. In my 1st 2 years, I played flag football. I liked it because it was like playing tag. If you're on offense, don’t get your flag taken. If you’re on defense, take the flag. Simple. However, I did not realize how impactful football would be in my life until I played tackle football.
In my 1st year of tackle, I was 9 years old playing on the 95 lb pop warner team, the Union Rangers. I was the youngest on the team and about 20-30 lbs lighter than my teammates. At that age, 30lbs was half my weight. The 1st time I got hit, I got completely drilled. But something awoke in me. I felt a purpose. This is where I can confront my fear. At the time I didn’t know, but I knew I wanted to be good. I now had dreams of playing in the NFL. That entire season, I was the team’s punching bag. Every practice I was getting laid out by my teammates. I played the minimum number of plays a player had to have so we didn’t have to forfeit. By the end of the season, I knew one thing: that I was tough. As life went on, that attribute was put to the test constantly.
When I was 10, my mother was diagnosed with kidney failure. Easily the scariest moment of my life. I was one bad day away from being an orphan. I cried so hard, some tears for my mom, some tears for me and my sister. That day, I started to prepare myself to be independent. I was so scared of losing my mom, I felt like I couldn’t “need” her because if she passed, then I’d be broken beyond repair. That numb feeling I felt at 2 years old, started to become permanent. I started playing football differently. I was playing to hurt people. I wanted these kids to feel what I felt.
That same year my mother was diagnosed with kidney failure, my mother started dating a coach on the 110 lb team, the Union Raiders. By the time I was able to play for him, they have been dating for 2 years and got engaged. They got married during the season. I loved having him around. I was a football fanatic and he was a football coach. A match made in heaven for a kid with big dreams. The year I played for the Union Raiders was my best football year to date…by far. We ended the season in Disney World competing for the 110lb team national championship. This was the year I knew I could take football somewhere. I played with a little more edge because of the pain I was dealing with and it helped me tremendously on the field. We ended up being National Champion runner up but just the experience of traveling to Florida to play football was amazing. I felt like a pro.
My freshman year of high school was another year of turmoil. It was my final year of Pop Warner before I went to play in high school. I was playing on the 145 lb team, the Union Rams. My stepfather still coached the 110lb team but he was missing a lot of practices and games to go to the doctor. I had no idea what was going on and I didn’t ask, I trusted that they’d tell me what I need to know. As the season went on, my stepdad continued to miss games and practices. I was having a good season, we won a lot of games but lost the championship. Since we lost, we couldn’t play in the national tournament so we played in the state tournament.
Before the state tournament, at the end of October, we finally got news about what was going on with my stepdad. My sister and I just came home from the Boys and Girls Club when I saw one of the guys my stepfather coached with walking out of the living room wiping his eyes. I didn’t read into it much because I had no idea what was going on. I just knew my stepdad was going to the doctor a lot to figure out what was going on. I was not ready for the news I was about to receive. My stepfather had untreatable liver cancer and his days were number. My stepdad was the toughest dude I ever met and he couldn’t keep from crying when he was telling us the news. I seriously felt like I got stabbed in the heart. I wailed so loud. I haven’t cried that hard since I found out about my mother’s kidneys. My sister, completely distraught, got up and walked straight to her room. I felt like I was in a nightmare. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
Watching him deteriorate every day was one of the most trying experiences of my life. He was my role model, my guide to manhood. And he was leaving me at an alarming rate. Thanksgiving was the day we hoped would never come. That day remains vivid in my memory. One of my stepfather’s friends took me to the high school’s Thanksgiving game. The game didn’t count, my high school was already going to the State Championship. We lost to a much inferior team. When I get home, my mom asks me and my stepfather’s friend to get him out of the bathtub. By this time, my stepfather had a hard time breathing just sitting still. It took so much effort to pick his naked body out of that bath and get him to the bedroom. That moment still traumatizes me. The rest of the day, my stepfather could not catch his breath. It was Thanksgiving so my family was over to celebrate. My stepfather stayed in the bedroom as my family ate and chatted in the kitchen and living room. By the time the sun was going down, my stepfather needed to go to the hospital. It was getting harder and harder to breathe for him. The EMTs got him out of the house, he died an hour later in the hospital. Once again, I was numb.
The day after my stepfather passed, was the last pop warner football game of my career, the state championship. We won the game, I ended up scoring the game-winning touchdown and got the 1st down to seal the game. I cried uncontrollably after the game. I had to send my stepfather off right.
The way I played football intensified when I got to high school. All the trauma led me to play with pure anger and aggression. I was not very expressive as a kid. I internalized things and used them as fuel. Before games, I would pace the sideline, crying ready to make the other team feel my pain. Football was the only place I could express myself correctly. I was in pain and I played like it, similar to Adam Sandler in The Water Boy. My aggressive play made me one of the best players in the state.
When I was 16, my mother finally got a kidney. And what a relief that was. For the entire 6 year period, I did not know whether I would have a mother or not. Once she got her kidney, I felt a weight lifted off of me. I could finally see a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel. My senior year, I stopped crying on the sideline before games but I still played with the same passion. I was just more in control.
As good as I thought I was, I did not have any scholarship offers. I was receiving interest from schools but nobody offered me. Mostly because I was a 190 lb middle linebacker and no school believed I could make a successful position change. It wasn’t until the end of the season, in December, when Fordham University offered me a scholarship. Because of my youthful arrogance and my head coach who did not want me to go there, I thought I was too good for Fordham. I thought that was the beginning of the offers rolling in. But there weren’t anymore. A month after they offered me a scholarship, the Fordham coach called me and asked me what I was waiting for. Fordham was hosting more recruits that weekend and if one of those recruits accepted their scholarship offer, mine was gone. So I committed to Fordham to keep my only offer.
To Be Continued...