“Underperforming. Overrated. A bust.”
Man, I never thought people would even think about associating my name with these comments. Ever since I put those pads on for the first time in middle school, I’ve worked hard to stay humble and push myself at every level of the game, never resting on the talent God gave me.
For some people, they don’t see the process. They want to be quick to judge you. Quick to write off a young kid that might have a million other things going on that’s preventing him from performing as well.
But that’s fine, let them judge. It will make you that much tougher when you get to prove them wrong.
What made these comments often more difficult, was how it felt like everyone had changed their minds overnight. Growing up, I couldn’t get away from the hype. It seemed like everywhere I went, from camps to recruiting visits, people wanted to tell me how amazing I was.
But as I mentioned before, I worked hard to stay humble every step of the way.
Even when I was offered in my first camp as a freshman by Old Dominion, which caused many other schools to do the same, my Dad and I worked hard to block out the noise and stay humble.
But this noise was actually the same reason I found the University of Virginia.
I was very thankful for the many scholarship offers I was given, but with UVA, it just felt different. The conversation was built on having a long term relationship, something that felt like home.
Heading up to their camp because my boy Eli Harold was already committed there, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The state of Virginia has great talent, but for years it’s been heading out of state, so I wasn’t exactly committed to keeping myself there either.
But getting on campus, the conversation was simple.
By committing to UVA, I would get the chance to come in and make an impact immediately and be able to build the program back up. Plus, with a degree from UVA, life after football would come a lot easier as well.
Sitting down with my father at the end of my senior year, I knew the decision I wanted to make. It was difficult with so many options, but staying home so my grandparents could easily come watch me play was the final piece to get me to commit.
I was ready to become a Cavalier.
Little did I know, it would be a long journey before I found success again.
Heading into that first camp in Charlottesville, I felt like I was on top of the world. Nothing could go wrong.
I had just returned from the ESPY’s, a result of winning the Gatorade National Player of the Year, so I felt like nothing could stop me. I couldn’t wait to get to work with my new teammates.
But with that first practice, I quickly realized the college game was a whole new arena.
Walking up to our defensive coordinator, I went to introduce myself, hoping I would get to build that relationship early.
Instead, he told me to get out of his face. I was a freshman and needed to act like it.
I tried to not let this get to me, but I couldn’t seem to get on the good side of the coaches who controlled my playing time. With every practice, I thought I was giving my all, but it didn’t seem like any of them noticed. With each mistake, I felt like I sank farther and farther.
This really got me down, but what crushed me was my toe injury. Being sidelined with a constant pain through my foot, I now had football taken away from me entirely, without a chance to show the team what I was really made of.
This was rock bottom. How did I get here?
The only thing I could think was, wow, I guess I’m not the same guy anymore.
Honestly, this was one of the most humbling experiences possible. But I promised I wouldn’t let this ruin things. Instead, I used this as motivation to get ready for that next season.
Picking up boxing, watching my nutrition, and focusing on learning our defense, I promised myself I would show why I came here that next season.
Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned. I thought I had committed to the process, but I still didn’t see the results.
That next season, I found myself even more unsatisfied. This time, it wasn’t my health that was keeping me sidelined, but the same couple of coaches who had been difficult to please before.
With each game, I felt like I proved myself to our staff, but I still was only playing sparingly.
Whether it was the UCLA game where I had multiple QB pressures, or against Duke, where I was close to two separate sacks, nothing seemed to change their mind. To them, I would have to wait another year to get my shot.
And that next year, man, I finally got my shot.
With a new coaching staff, brought new opportunity to the team. And with that new opportunity, I found myself playing once again.
Even though there were countless moments of doubt, I don’t regret a thing. The process made me who I am today and prepared me for the next level, where I know there will be countless obstacles as well.
Now, all I want to do is ball out for my team and prove to the nation that I am still that same guy who people only had good things to say about four years ago.
If I can do that, I know I can reach my ultimate goal of honoring my mother and funding breast cancer research.
With her passing, it has always been tough on me, but using her as my greatest motivator, that extra chip on my shoulder, I promised myself I would stay true to the process and honor her one day.
I just want to say I made it and I did it for my mom.
So if you ever find yourself at the bottom of the depth chart, not getting the opportunities you deserve, forgotten by everyone, don’t sulk and complain.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Instead, put God first, stay humble, and commit to working as hard as you can. If you do this and take advantage of every opportunity, you will find your place.
Trust me, I’ve been there.