Everything was going great.
I was living my dream. Growing up as a young kid in Lexington, Kentucky, all I ever wanted to do was play football for the Wildcats.
I finished high school with three regional championships, two school receiving records and All-State status in track.
But at 5-foot-8 and maybe 148 pounds they called me “undersized.”
I’ve been the scrappy guy my whole life, never afraid to outwork a bigger guy and earn my spot. Through countless hours in the weight room, the support of my parents, and my faith, I ended up making the Kentucky football team as a walk-on.
I’ve always been one of the fastest guys on the field and I was fortunate enough in high school to have great teammates who always helped me play better.
But things were different in college.
I was competing for a roster spot in the Southeastern Conference, arguably the toughest conference in football. I wasn’t trying to break records anymore, my priority was just getting on the field.
I still remember arriving on campus for our first seven-on-seven drill.
That’s when I realized just how good all these other guys were. I was just one athlete in a collection of some of the nation’s best talent. I knew if I wanted even a shot at playing I’d have to set myself apart somehow.
So I did.
I put on almost 30 pounds of muscle. I trained like never before and bugged our quarterbacks to throw with me constantly (they weren’t always chomping at the bit to practice out-routes with a tiny walk-on).
I was doing everything they tell you to do: lift weights, eat right, get extra reps, study film, but I was still at the bottom of the depth chart.
I’ve always been a positive person. I never saw much point in having a negative attitude because it’s never helped me solve anything. But we’re all human. No matter how hard we try we can’t keep that doubt locked in a cage forever.
Eventually, some of that negativity started to creep in.
I knew I was better than a fourth-string receiver. For some reason, no one seemed to notice my talent. I was getting overlooked for guys I knew I could outperform if just given the chance. I was upset, but I never once felt sorry for myself.
Religion has always been a huge aspect of my life as well. Growing up going to Catholic school in Kentucky we’d pray together before and after every game.
It’s always been drilled in my head that football is not close to the top of your list of priorities. The first is my faith, then family, then friends, with football as a strong fourth.
As part of my faith, I’ve always tried to give back to those in need. Volunteer work is something I take pride in doing and it has been an eye-opening experience. One of the most rewarding parts about being on the team has been an opportunity to give back.
It really brings you back down to earth when you see young kids dealing with cancer treatment and going through what they’re going through. Their faces light up when they see Kentucky football players coming to visit. It’s just a really cool feeling.
This past spring, when I was dealing with all my frustrations and wondering if I’d ever play, I went on a mission trip with my church to Mexico City. We visited some of the poorest communities in the world and it humbled me and gave me a chance to really reflect on what I had.
I’ll never forget the smiling faces on those children. They had nothing but the clothes they were wearing. Caked in rubbish from the disease-filled sewers they called home, these kids didn’t care about their conditions or something stupid like playing time on a football team, they were happy just to be alive.
I’d never imagined a life as poverty-stricken as the one these kids were going through. Their hardships didn’t stop them from receiving my group with wide-toothed grins and open arms. I thought to myself, ‘I can’t be whining about playing time when these kids have so much joy amidst so little.’
I was playing football at the highest level there is in college. This was the good life even if things weren’t going the way I always wanted them to go. Compared to so many others, I had it easy.
That following summer when football started back, I had the best camp of my life.
I’m not sure how deserving I was of this title but our offensive coordinator, Eddie Gran, named me the camp Most Valuable Player. I was in a groove with the quarterbacks and I was playing with confidence.
I caught four balls in our spring game and finished with over 50 yards. I just felt free. I was so loose I didn’t even feel the pressure of having to earn my spot. My whole outlook on football was different.
From having to redshirt due to my lack of size, to busting my butt for a spot on special teams, it was all coming together. After four grueling seasons, I finally earned that full scholarship. Coach Stoops told me and two other guys after a team meeting one night.
It was one of the most special moments of my life.
The momentum continued after camp. I caught a touchdown against Central Michigan and then at Florida, too. I was simply out there just having fun. I was no longer wrapped up in playing time or whether not I was getting the ball.
For me, it was about finding the right balance between care and carefree. It was also about finding what’s most important in life. To me, it’s about being kind to one another and doing things to help one another.
I love playing football and all the life lessons it can teach us. But even my worst day is nothing compared to what so many in this world go through. I am so fortunate to live in the United States of America and play a sport I love.
I’ll never take it for granted.
David Bouvier | Contributor
Wide Receiver, University of Kentucky