Even before high school, my friends and I knew we had what it took to become something special.
I’m not going to say that’s where I started to get a chip on my shoulder, but my 8th-grade friends and I wanted to show everyone we could play.
For me growing up in Atlanta, it was pretty natural to jump right into football. All my friends got me into it, and by my second year, I was really starting to develop.
As our group headed into high school, I knew I could become the player I wanted if I really committed to the process and earning people’s respect.
But with high school, you’re no longer just playing against your class. As a freshman, your 1 on 1’s are against some big dudes, guys who’ve been around the game a little while.
One guy that really challenged me was a senior defensive tackle, by the name of Grady Jarrett.
Remember that guy who sacked Tom Brady three times in the Super Bowl for the Atlanta Falcons?
Ya, that’s the guy I was in charge of blocking.
But for me, I was excited about the challenge. I knew that if I could stand my ground against a Clemson-bound recruit, I could block anyone.
And after a few weeks on the team, we were splitting the reps, where I was winning the battle about five out of ten times.
He may not admit that though if you ask him….
But this was where I stopped and realized, man, I guess I really have a shot at the next level.
Fortunately, instead of getting angry or ignoring me, Grady took me under his wing. Teaching me different techniques, I wanted to learn from him in every way possible, hoping to help lead our team like he did.
With everything he taught me, I’m very thankful to have had his mentorship. And out of respect, when Grady left for Clemson, I wore his number 50 to carry on the legacy.
I actually still remember our battles as some of the toughest I’ve ever had.
But once Grady left, the challenges weren’t over. I now had to handle the recruitment process.
For a lot of people, recruitment is really fun. I definitely enjoyed parts of it, but it was stressful for my family and me.
Not only do you have coaches from every school telling you that you’re the greatest, but your family’s weekends now consist of driving to endless camps.
I knew I always had the blessing from my parents to make the right decision, but at some point, I knew I needed to start narrowing things down.
At the end, it was really down to two options: Mississippi State and North Carolina State. I really liked both staffs, but taking my visits, I knew there was only one place I could see myself at for the next four years:
Coming from Atlanta, there was more going on in Raleigh which I knew would help me make the transition to college better.
Not only that, but the academics are unparalleled, so I knew I could continue my career as a student as well as on the field.
On campus for my first year, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. We all knew our freshman class was going to be special, but we still had a lot of work to put in for our team to start getting noticed.
And for me, I had a few guys in front of me on the depth chart, which resulted in me getting tapped to redshirt.
But still making the travel squad, I just saw this as an opportunity to prove myself and make my teammates better. I knew if I put the work in, I’d get my shot.
I also had the benefit to learn from some amazing guys like Joe Thuney and Tyson Chandler, who took me under their wings and showed me what it took to be a college football player.
Not only did they challenge me during reps and showed me new techniques, but they also showed me the blue-collar mentality of Wolfpack football.
No matter the team we were playing, every practice, every game, is an opportunity to earn people’s respect.
And although this mentality was what pushed me our freshman year, this is the same mentality that’s carried our team through every season.
Last year was really when it started to show. Everybody on our team just wanted to make plays and help show what our team was really about.
Whether it was Jay Sam making someone miss or Mike Stevens locking people up, our team was just focused on using every opportunity that we could get.
For me and our O-line, we took this on ourselves as well. Our group, the Band of Brothers as we like to say, just wanted to be the best group out there, no matter who our competition was.
This was especially apparent in practice.
Getting to line up against guys like Bradley Chubb, we didn’t want to give up an inch. Our matchups were legendary, and if you ask him, he’ll tell you we challenged their group just as much as they pushed us.
But that’s just Pack football. And with this year, that chip on our shoulders is even bigger.
Starting with our senior class, we know we’re going to come together to do something special. People started to see it last year, but this year, the goals are set even higher.
We won’t be satisfied with almost winning or people just knowing who we are, we are coming to earn everybody’s respect.
If we stay with the same mentality, this year we’re going to earn respect across the country.
Tyler Jones | Contributor
OL, North Carolina State University