One of my favorite poems by Langston Hughes is Dream Deferred, where he explores what happens to the dreams that never get to materialize.
But Jamaal’s story adds another complicated layer, and has actually shifted how I see the poem. Why? Because he teaches us that behind every setback, disappointment, and “mistake” is a lesson.
And more importantly, that with each and every lesson, we get closer and closer to what it is we’re really meant to be and become.
When I first started playing football, I felt like a little kid who got to go outside and just have fun with his friends. That’s what football was for me. As I got older, it became a lot more structured. But when I made it to college, it became a lot more serious.
When people hear full ride scholarship for an athlete, they usually only see the glitz and glam component–the attention, parties, etc. I saw that, too. But suddenly the game of playing ball was different; instead of just going to practice to play games, your full day was scheduled for you, every single day.
At that point, it was still interesting and fun, but definitely a lifestyle change. Going up into my junior season, it was still really fun because I would meet new people and I got to see so much new stuff. But everything began to change for me when I got into trouble–that’s when it got real.
I knew the consequences in high school for getting in trouble was running sprints until I passed out. That was the full extent of punishment in high school. But when I got into trouble in college, I learned your consequences get aired on the news.
I wasn’t a perfect child growing up. But whenever I’d done anything wrong in the past, I just got a slap on the wrist, nothing serious. I was used to being pulled in by the coach and being disciplined by running sprints until I passed out. That was the full extent of punishment in high school. But when I got into trouble in college, it was everywhere on the news. The major difference between high school and college football is that in college, football is life, and they report everything, especially the negative.
My ego had gotten so big that I didn’t see the severity of my actions, and I had no idea getting in trouble in my junior year would negatively affect the possibility of me going pro after college. And not only did I not see how serious things were, I’d lost the discipline that got me to where I was.
For example, during the two weeks where I got suspended for bad conduct, instead of bettering myself and trying to show everyone who believed in me that I was serious about getting back on track, I was out in the clubs. I even remember while I was injured the night before a big game being in a club and everyone looking at me and asking why I was there. Even they saw what was going on and knew I should have been doing everything I could to get back on track. But in my mind, I was going to have fun; it still hadn’t registered.
My first game back during my senior years was with Colorado where I’m from, so I had an extra flame burning inside me. Everyone was really boosting it up and expecting a lot from me, especially with everything that had happened.
But the drive and motivation I had when I was going into my junior season wasn’t the same. I didn’t show up and ball out; I coasted and just put up the same numbers that game. Honestly, I was so positive that I was going to go to the NFL no matter what–whether it was draft pick or as a free agent–I didn’t feel like I had to work hard anymore.
My ego had gotten so big that I didn’t see the severity of my actions, and I had no idea getting in trouble in my junior year would negatively affect the possibility of me going pro after college.
What was funny is that, a lot of times, the main motivation for college football players to go pro is the money–the different lifestyle. But that wasn’t even a motivation for me because at the time I was dating a woman who had a lot of money. So, I was already super flashy with the cars and the clothes–I was doing too much and it was no one’s fault but my own.
For example, I can remember an occasion when the coaches got mad at me because the whole team was expected to ride the tram together to the practice stadium. But because I was driving a Hummer, me and all of my boys would ride around, blasting the music, having fun. We didn’t realize that we were doing all of that and the cameras and news reporter were there, catching us just being knuckleheads.
When I realized getting drafted would never happen, I tried to wash the disappointment and pain away by partying. It was so easy because I would walk into clubs and they would yell out my name over the intercom. I’d reached a point where I thought “This is Life,” and that went on for years. And every time I would snap out of partying, I would try to get back into footbalI, realizing I still had life in my legs and I was healthy.
The longest stint I stayed focus–and the closest I came to getting back into the game and possibly going pro–was when I went to a camp for the Cleveland Browns. I had got my fire back and my body was better than it had ever been. I was focused, serious, and had my head on straight. I really balled out; two of the three days I was there I got camper of the day, which meant out worked everyone at Rookie camp.
When I realized getting drafted would never happen, I tried to wash the disappointment and pain away by partying. It was so easy because I would walk into clubs and they would yell out my name over the loudspeaker. I’d reached a point where I thought, “This is life,” and that went on for years.
There was a Veteran player that I was always compared with. He was in his prime and many would say that I was going to be his backup. At that time they had also brought in another rookie to camp who beat a school record of the Veteran player’s father in college.
They ended up keeping him and cutting me. But the decision seemed to be based on politics, not the results of camp. Once I saw what was going on, instead of me wanting to get myself ready to compete, I just shut down. I felt like it wasn’t fun anymore because I had to worry about what people were saying and the situations I couldn’t control from my past.
More than anything, it hurt knowing that I was at a skill level where I knew I should be playing, but that my off-the-field activity from when I was younger jeopardized everything. That’s when it really hit me. I realized that had I been the blue-collar kid who did what he was supposed to be doing, like I was before the big ego, I could have still been playing and probably would have even gone pro.
That experience reset me and I went back to feeling like that little, short, fat kid. I realized I had to be a better person. Not for anyone else, but for myself. I didn’t like knowing that I jeopardized a monumental moment in my life because I thought it was a game. But I saw it as a moment God sat me down and told me to fix myself–that I needed to walk with him.
Before that, my responsibility was just to party. But I got a 9-5 job at a call center, which was super humbling. I went from an NFL prospect to working in a call center, making the same cold call over and over again. It felt ironic, going from everybody saying “yes” to you on and off the field to constant rejection every single day. But it was important because it re-sparked my work ethic.
I didn’t like knowing that I jeopardized a monumental moment in my life because I thought it was a game. But I saw it as a moment God sat me down and told me to fix myself–that I needed to walk with him.
I felt like if I was going to do it, I was going to be good at it–and I did. I got to a point that I was a manager and eventually was managing the solar company. It wasn’t my dream, but I realized I could do anything I put my mind to. And once I reached the level of a manager, I had the flexibility to go and do my modeling gigs, and eventually I started getting actual campaigns and print work.
I’ve learned that the best feeling in the world is being able to be a blessing to others. So, instead of focusing on being center stage or the life of the party, I serve others. I want this feeling all of the time. Keep God first, Stay Blessed!