When I graduated from college, I took a positon as a teacher at a juvenile detention facility. It was a unique situation since they had a football team that participated in the local high school league. While I was excited to coach, I was unable to overcome the frustration related to the end of my own football career. A torn knee ligament disrupted my senior season and, subsequently, my chance to try out for the NFL disappeared.
Feeling sorry for myself, I was constantly asking, “What if?” These thoughts changed, however, as I began working with the kids in the classroom and on the football field. They often had stories of a home life that included caretakers who were neglectful, drug-addicted, or abusive. I realized quickly that being there was not a result of circumstances fully in their control.
I will never forget meeting the boys for the first practice in Spring 2001. Not one of them had ever played organized football before, and many threatened to quit during the conditioning drills. The season did not look promising…I needed to form an offensive line with a group of lazy, undisciplined kids. I decided that these kids needed me and that I could help them become football players. More importantly, it became my goal to teach them the skills necessary to leave their current situations behind.
My favorite time was having meals with them and discussing their life challenges. We would compare those to the ones they faced on the football field. With 32 consecutive losses, the football team had never won a game prior to the 2001 season. Over the next two years together, we won seven games, the team led the conference in rushing yards, and four players made 1st team all-conference.
While it was my goal to be a positive influence for them, they showed me that regardless of circumstances and adversity, anything is possible. I opened a door for them to see other opportunities in life that they never knew existed. They opened my eyes to the new opportunities that were waiting for me after my playing career. Little did they know, I needed them as much as they needed me. I am a better husband, father, coach, and person because of that group of boys. And for that, I am forever grateful.