Sophomore year of high school was when I had a realization.
I realized two things: that football was going to be my passion, and that I was pretty good at it.
I had been playing basketball up to that point too, but man sophomore year was when it really started clicking on the field.
Up until that point, I had played against mostly the same competition, with all of the same teammates. Growing up in a small town like Ahoskie, North Carolina, that’s just kind of how it is.
But Sophomore year was the year I got my first varsity action.
With each opportunity I was given, I seemed to always find a way to show I belonged out there. To be honest, it kind of shocked me a little that I was performing like that against older competition.
But then came the recruitment, which opened my eyes to the talent outside our town.
I always had a dream of playing for a big school growing up, one that we’d always watch on TV. So when recruitment started, and I had been balling for a few years on varsity, I made that my goal.
I knew I could play at any of these programs, I just needed one to give me a shot.
But after I didn’t get any offers from the big programs, I knew I had to refocus on where I wanted to play college ball. Obviously, I was discouraged, but I knew there was still a team out there that would give me a shot.
All I needed was an opportunity.
That’s where Old Dominion came in. They had been giving me a lot of attention for a long period of time, always letting me know they wanted me to be a part of the program, so I thought this might be my opportunity.
I also was blessed to have some of my high school teammates like Antonio Vaughan and Kevin Privott already with the program, so they showed me around and really gave me a good understanding of what the program had to offer.
But there were still some hesitations about joining ODU.
First, they wanted me to redshirt.
Then there was the fact that they were just becoming an FBS school, so they were new to the bigger stage.
Looking back, these two “problems” have turned into huge opportunities for me and the program, but I couldn’t really see it at the time. I was also still hung up on not going to a Power 5 school, but I just decided to use that as motivation and commit to the program.
When I got on campus, I wanted to prove myself right away. But when the staff sat me down, they explained that I could play four years of college football only if I redshirted that first year.
Obviously, I was discouraged.
But it was a struggle getting used to college life, so it was probably good I wasn’t being asked to contribute right away.
Everything from balancing my time between classes to my time with football, it was a grind I wasn’t quite used to. I knew I needed to change my routine.
With all the work I put in that first year, I was happy with the position I put myself in. I didn’t think I’d start that next year since we had a couple of talented guys in front of me, but I figured I’d get a chance to make an impact.
Then, right before the year started, one of the guys in front of me transferred.
There was now an open spot in the starting lineup, and I wasn’t about to let anyone beat me for it.
But like I said, all it takes is one opportunity.
So That’s how I got my first start. I’d love to say I was confident, but I was so nervous. It not only was my first start, but my first game suiting up at all. The moment got to me a little at first, but once I got used to the stage, I found my way.
With that first game, I got my first sack too.
It felt like all the work I had put in paid off, and I finally had my shot to prove myself.
That next year, our team had a successful year that really put us on the map. Playing for the conference championship and then reaching our first bowl game, it was a special moment for us all.
I also got a chance to see how the senior leadership really made an impact. Guys like David Washington, who led our team and consistently made plays to put us in an opportunity to win made all the difference.
And I knew I wanted to do that at some point too for our team.
With these last two years, I’ve tried to do just that. By making plays for our team, I just want to find a way to give us a chance to win.
I like to compete with myself from each year to the next. It’s a good way of looking at things because it’s the best way to improve and challenge yourself.
Last year, I had 8.5 sacks which was a school record, and I’m already past that this year.
Now, no matter where the next step takes me, I’m just looking for that one opportunity. I know people will doubt me and things might not go as planned for our team or for me as a player, but there will be someone who will give me a shot.
And that’s all I’ll need.
Looking back at so many things that I viewed as obstacles, I realized it has all made me a better player and a man. Adversity, no matter what type, is what you make of it.
So whether you’re a backup discouraged because you’re on the bench or a small town kid from Ahoskie that isn’t getting the attention you deserve, just remember it just takes one shot for you to prove yourself.
Don’t take it for granted.