I focused on my choices not my struggle…


From: Johnathan Cyprien (As told to Lauren Brill)

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To the CYPSQUAD Kids,

When I was young, like you, I was considered an at-risk youth. My family struggled to the point where there were nights that I went to bed hungry. But even though we didn’t have a lot of money or even a lot of food, I didn’t worry and I don’t want you to worry either.

There is a scripture in the bible that says, “Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?”

The idea is that there are so many birds in this world and they don’t know where they will get their food, but thanks to God they eat just fine.  If they are able to get their next meal, God will make sure we get ours as well.

So instead of allowing your circumstance to get you down, focus your energy on choosing right over wrong and let God take care of the rest. If you stress you won’t be able to enjoy the moments of life. And I want all of us to enjoy our journeys, even if, like mine, they come with some serious challenges.

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My parents are immigrants from Haiti. They came here for the same reason most other immigrants come here – for a better life.

However, early on in my childhood we had it rough. We moved from place to place. I had a seven-person family: five kids and my parents. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment together. The lights often turned off. We lived in homes that were infested with roaches. We would heat water up on the stove just so we could take a warm shower.

Johnathan Cyprien attended North Miami Beach High School.

My dad was a taxi driver.  When I was about nine or ten my mom became a certified nursing assistant. That’s when we became more stable. My mom mostly supported us and we moved into a house in North Miami Beach.  Watching my mom work as hard as she did to improve our family’s situation taught me a valuable lesson at a young age – women are extremely strong people.

Even though we were more stable, when I entered my teen years we still lived in a tough area. I looked around and I knew I wanted to do better than what I saw in my neighborhood.

Instead of following the lead of the people around me, I said to myself, “I don’t want to be like this. I want to do something different.”

This is the time in my life where recognizing right and wrong became critical.  I saw a lot of drugs. I saw people go to jail because of drugs. So, as a teenager, I stayed away from drugs entirely.  At the same time I found my love for sports. It was perfect timing because while other kids got in trouble I was preoccupied with practice.

I didn’t start or get much playing time until my senior year of high school but I played because I loved football.  My senior year I began to compete with a purpose. I wanted a college scholarship. Western Michigan and Florida International University (FIU) both offered me full rides. I chose FIU.

I said to myself, “I don’t want to be like this. I want to do something different.”

Cyprien became the highest draft pick in FIU history when Jacksonville drafted him 33rd overall in the 2013 draft

I was a little discouraged that I didn’t get attention from any big-time programs or more schools but I showed up to FIU ready to work. My tireless work ethic immediately separated me from the rest of my team as well as my competition. But it wasn’t until my senior year when I went to the Senior Bowl that I really caught the attention of NFL scouts.  I told myself I was going to go out there and be the best defensive back in the entire game. That’s what happened. I won Most Valuable Defensive Back.

My draft stock skyrocketed and the Jacksonville Jaguars chose me with the first pick of the second round. It was an amazing moment for both me and my family. So far I have been in the NFL for six seasons: four with the Jaguars and two with the Tennessee Titans. I started my foundation, CYPSQUAD At-Risk Youth Foundation because I know you can do well in life, too. I host camps so you have the chance to fall in love with sports as I did. I raise money to try and find ways to ease the financial burdens in your life.  I want to give you more opportunities to achieve and to find your passion in life. As someone who made it, helping you is my responsibility and I am happy to do it.

Cyprien started the CYPSQUAD At Risk Youth Foundation to help and inspire children.

I want you to recognize what is right and what is wrong. When you see people going to jail or getting involved with drugs don’t let that be you. You may have to make choices different than your friends or the people around you. Lean on sports or any organized activity that you enjoy. Be disciplined and be committed to something productive. Look for mentors in the right places and make real and authentic friendships that will last forever.

Right now I can see how my past impacts my mindset, as I am a free agent, waiting for a team to call and sign me. The Titans cut me in March after I tore my ACL last year in training camp. Whether I play football for five more years or if the last time I played football is when I tore my ACL, I believe my story is already written and what’s for me is what’s for me. So my focus is on continuing to make the right decisions: working out, helping you and staying ready for whatever is next.

Cyprien holds free football camps for children. Courtesy: Willy Dade

Our past or even our present, as hard as it may be, prepares us for our next challenge and this one is mine.

While I wait to see what’s next for my future, I already know what I want for your future.  I want you to be more successful than I am. I want you to do better than I have done so far.  I know you have the strength and ability to be great, whether it’s on the football field or any other arena in life. When you do reach your goals and find the success you are right now dreaming about, I want you to go back to inspire someone else the same way I am doing for you.

If you can steer away from the wrong and teach others to do the same,  we will not only get the most out of our own lives, but help lead our communities to live the right way.

Just always remember, I believe in you.

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