Writing my goals down has been a ritual as long as I can remember.

I know this because I’ve had the same notebook longer than I have owned most of my clothes, I think since seventh grade. That notebook shows exactly where I came from and where I still need to go.

Even though it might be worn down and maybe, just maybe, in need of a replacement, I still can see the first goal I ever put everything I had into: making the varsity team at Miami Central.

For me, this goal was put to ink in eighth grade. But, at Miami Central, this wasn’t something you just hoped for and it happened. Guys came from around the county just to play for the team, so I knew I needed to start early.

Doing workouts and drills with the team every day prior to my ninth grade year, I finally started to catch the coaching staff’s eye. Not only that, I began to earn respect from the players – the best kind of respect you can get.

So, by the start of my freshman year, I had achieved what I had written down a year before. Man, that felt good!

Joining the varsity team, I stepped into a whole new level of play. I was now competing with talent that was up to four years older than I was. With the new pressure, the older guys took me under their wing. They let me know that if I worked hard, I could be the next big guy out of Miami Central.

I took that to heart. With seniors like Devonta Freeman pushing me to get to their level, I started to write down new goals in that same notebook, looking to follow up my first one – which I had been able to cross off.

Like most young guys, I just wanted to ball. I wanted to show everyone I was good enough for that next level, too.

Leaning on my defensive backs coach, Derrick Grills, I started the recruiting process with only some idea of what I wanted. I knew I wanted to play close to home and with a great defense, but those requirements still left me with a few options.

That’s when I got noticed by the University of South Florida.

Showing up at our practice from Day 1, Coach Taggart made a promise to me and my teammate, Dalvin Cook. He said, “I may not get both of you, but by the end of this, one of you will end up at South Florida.”

We always laughed it off, but something always stuck about the program.

Not only was USF close to home, but its tough defense had made a name for itself throughout the country. This was exactly what I could see myself being a part of. That combination, along with the fact that I would have the opportunity to help the team early, made my commitment to USF a dream come true.

After that goal had been achieved, I grabbed my notebook before heading to Tampa. I had a few more pages to fill up.

Stepping in as a freshman, I tried to do the same thing as I had done four years before in high school – earn the respect of my teammates. With that goal in mind, I knew my playing time and my other goals would follow.

Of course, I wanted to come right in and make big plays. But I’ve always lived by the idea that,  “You have to put money in the bank before you cash out.” For me, that always starts with my teammates.

With every new goal written down, I realized this statement was even truer. Goals, like more interceptions or becoming all-conference, needed to be matched by watching more film and a deepened level of trust in the coaching staff to put me in the right opportunities.

By matching my goals with my level of investment in the team, I began to be able to cross each off, one by one.

Now, with my senior season here, I’m not looking to what might fill the next pages of that notebook down the line. I want to finish off with the guys I came in here with. As a result, each page of my notebook is filled with ways I can help lead our team.

Whether it requires learning a new technique or learning a whole new position entirely, I’m willing to put in whatever investment is required to make sure I cash out to the fullest with my teammates.

So, my advice to a young player who wants to set their goals high is don’t let them just be dreams. Write them out, so they become real. Detail exactly what you want. Then, when everything is put to ink, be ready to make the investment to make sure you can cash out yourself.

Deatrick Nichols | Contributor