Although I will always be a Hoosier, I’m still a southern boy at heart.
Being from Atlanta, which is within a 7-hour drive from almost every SEC school, many people thought I would stay down south to attend college and play football. After all, the south produces the top football talent in the country, so that would have been the easy choice.
But I’ve always liked to choose my own path.
For me, this path really started when entering high school. Unlike the majority of the top players in Georgia, I went to a small private school that was not known for football when I first got there.
With this decision, my parents are really the ones to thank. They didn’t feel like I was being challenged enough in my public school, as I was pulling straight A’s with almost no work. So instead of allowing me to remain in the same school, they wanted to push me by enrolling me in Our Lady of Mercy Catholic High School, one of the top schools in the state.
I was actually fine with the new challenge in academics, but what really worried me was my ability to be recruited from a small private school with an unknown football program.
My parents assured me that if I was good enough I would still be found and that I just needed to trust in God’s plan. And no matter what, I knew academics was the first priority, so I was willing to trust them and believe that things would still work out.
But coming from a smaller school, I knew I would now have to prove myself by attending camp after camp. Thankfully, I had a father who was willing to support my dream.
Driving all over the Southeast, I would camp during the day, while at night, my father would drive us home and allow me to sleep.
Although it was something I could never truly thank him for, I just wanted to ball out and earn a scholarship to make it all worth it.
With countless camp visits, one of the most memorable was my first to Florida State.
After arriving on campus, I was asked to meet Coach Jimbo Fisher in his office beforehand. I had dreamt of this moment many times before, but the conversation was far from how I planned it.
I remember being so excited to introduce myself to him, but he stopped me mid-sentence. My heart dropped but he just smiled and said,
“I know who you are, you’re a really good player Rashard.”
With that meeting, I wanted to show Coach what I was really about. So the next day when I camped with them, I made sure to tear it up. Going 10 for 10 during one on ones at receiver against the top two corners they had, the coaches got the message.
After that performance, the coaches came and told me that the staff had seen enough. All I needed to know was that Florida State wanted me. As I finished up, I looked over at the other field and saw Coach Fisher there, giving me that same smile and a nod.
I knew from that point on, I wouldn’t have to worry about being noticed.
Eventually, when the recruitment really started to get serious, I was blessed in having my choice of over thirty schools. It may have taken me longer than any of my friends to receive my first offer, but now I had the opportunity to make the best decision for me and my family.
Although it was difficult, that decision, was Indiana University.
When I committed to IU and ultimately signed, I received backlash from people, even those closest to me. They couldn’t understand how I could make that type of decision when I had offers from other schools, especially from some of the top SEC programs. To them, I was only committing to some Big-10 school that was traditionally known for basketball.
For me, it was much bigger than that.
I chose to come to IU because I saw the opportunity I had both academically to get a great education, but also athletically with the opportunity to change a program and the culture around it. By coming here, I had the chance to build my own legacy and become one of the greatest to play the position at Indiana like Tracy Porter.
So when I first stepped foot on campus, I was filled with an excitement and eagerness that only a freshman can truly explain. I wanted to quickly make my mark, showing that any hype about the recruit from SEC country was well deserved.
And with the first few practices, that’s exactly what I did.
But as summer workouts winded down and I was just getting a chance to really show my skill set, I reaggravated my hamstring, a previous injury from high school. It was unfortunate, but I was still set on making it back for camp and competing for a spot.
As camp started, I was optimistic that my injury had healed. By the end of the second day, I had moved from fourth string to second, so I thought things could only go up from there. But just as I was finishing my third practice, I pulled that same hamstring again, sidelining me for over a month.
When you’re a freshman and you miss most of camp, a redshirt is pretty much guaranteed.
Many don’t actually know this, but the reason I redshirted was due to my injury and the practice time I was forced to miss. Although the coaches told the media I would redshirt solely because of my weight, the real reason was that I wasn’t healthy enough to compete for one of the top spots, therefore designating me a redshirt.
But me being designated as a redshirt, the process was much different than for most.
With every week that I was viewed healthy, I inched closer and closer to stepping on the field in our games. Throughout the season, a corner or safety would go down, and the coaching staff would be faced with the same choice of putting me in and burning the redshirt, especially because of how many plays I was making against our first team offense during scout team periods.
Overall, redshirting was definitely difficult for me because it shattered the vision I had of graduating in three years and entering the draft as a junior. Although it would be difficult for me to accomplish the latter of these goals, I still knew that God had a plan for me, and the opportunities would still be there if that was his plan.
And thankfully what this extra time really allowed, was for me to develop into a leader, something I have tried to work on since high school.
When it comes to me as a leader, I’m not considered the vocal type. It’s not really my style.
I have always just tried to lead by example and figured that was probably good enough. But during that first year, I had the opportunity to see how guys like Tim Bennett, Michael Hunter Jr., and Ryan Thompson all helped lead the team, so I tried to mix some of their leadership styles to create my own.
And now as I have gained more experience each year, I have begun to really find my own style. As more is expected from a veteran, I am willing to speak up when the team needs it. I will never be the guy screaming in the locker room, but when we need to get refocused or make a play, I’m your guy.
I know my teammates will always help, but when it comes to the important times, they know I will always speak up.
And as many Hoosier fans know, one of those times happened last year.
When I originally thought to raise my fist during the National Anthem, the message I wanted to send was clear. For such a great country, sometimes we forget to see the similarities that all tie us together, so I wanted to express unity and the importance of being unified as a nation.
At a time where so many people are being caught up in judging others, I just wanted to share the message of being ONE. Spreading LOVE and not hate, UNITY and not division.
This was a surprise for some, as they had never seen me speak up publicly. But for my teammates and coaches, they weren’t surprised, as they knew I would speak up for something I truly believed in. And overall, the support I received from Hoosier nation was a blessing.
But after the season, I was faced with another time I needed to speak up.
Many people thought the opportunity to enter the NFL draft was a no brainer, but there were many things I needed to consider. For a program that had given me so much, I still felt like I had things left to do here.
From leading our team to finishing a graduate degree, there were a few goals that I needed to achieve and skills I wanted to refine before I could think about a professional career.
So I spoke up.
Now as our team is ready to start the season, I know I came back for a reason.
I may not be the one who will always be yelling during practices or banging my head against the locker, but I will do everything I can to help us win.
Since I came to Bloomington, I’ve learned that leadership does not always need to be loud and that in order to help the team, just find your moment to speak up and lead in the style that is most comfortable for you.
With all this being said, I want to leave everyone with my favorite bible verse, the one that has helped get me through tough times and helped me stand tall and achieve great things as well.
“Be strong and be courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” -Deuteronomy 31:6
Rashard Fant #16 | Contributor