It was only three years ago you were in the doctor’s office with me, pleading for answers.
You broke out in tears as you begged, “Please, my son is withering away.”
At this moment, you didn’t care that I wasn’t in school, and it didn’t matter that I wasn’t playing football. You just wanted your baby to get better.
That’s when I knew I had to step up and figure this out. I needed to push through this.
However, without realizing it until later on, my ability to persevere in life started long before that day at the doctor’s office. Growing up, you were a single mom of three, and I knew you didn’t have it easy. When you and my dad broke up, I remember seeing you cry in your room because we lost our house. It was in foreclosure because you couldn’t afford it on your teacher’s salary alone. But Mom, our lives never missed a beat. Somehow, you came up with a plan and managed to make sure there was always a roof over our heads. That was just one of many situations you faced as a single mom. But no matter the challenge, you always found a way, and most of the time, without us even knowing you were struggling.
All you ever wanted was to give us the best chance to succeed, be happy, and chase our dreams. You signed me up for honors and AP classes. Every morning, you woke up at 5:00 am to drive my sister an hour away to a school you thought was a better opportunity for her.
Having three kids was not only a lot of work but also expensive. Instead of taking the summers off, you worked several jobs to afford to pay for our back-to-school clothes and supplies and extracurricular activities.
When I was 14, the high school principal told you he believed I could make it as a football player. That’s when you put me in training and started taking me to camps. You were sick my senior year after undergoing surgery, but you found the strength to come with me on my college visits. Your efforts paid off. I was offered several scholarships to play football, but I chose Grambling State, an HBCU school, because they were a winning program, and the atmosphere felt like home.
Freshman year, I came ready and recorded seven tackles and two sacks. Grambling State awarded me the honor of Freshman Player of the Year. Everything was going as planned. Then, 2019 happened. I broke my wrist during the spring of my freshman year and needed surgery. While focusing on healing my wrist, I got very sick and started losing weight. I tried to eat more, but I kept dropping weight. At 6’5, I went from 240 to 200 by the fall season. Doctor after doctor, no one could tell us what was wrong with me. That’s when my coach sent me home, so I could focus on getting better. And when I went home, that’s when it happened; that’s when you broke down at the doctor’s office, and I knew this time I had to be strong for you. I had to get better.
Thankfully, in October 2019, we finally got a diagnosis, Ulcerative Colitis, a disease that causes inflammation in the digestive tract. Now that we had some answers, I had to put in the work to get better. I wanted to get back to where I once was – actually, I wanted to be even better than before I got sick. Every day was hard. I had to be highly aware of my triggers. I changed my diet to manage my condition, no longer eating pork or beef. I started eating less processed foods. I stayed active and avoided stress by meditating and addressing any issues hurting me. To get stronger, I was in the gym every day. I worked at Honey Baked Ham from 7:30 am-1:30 pm and then I’d work out with my high school d-line coach immediately after.
By January, I was headed back to school, and my weight was back up to 215 – still not where I wanted to be, but getting there. Before that first practice, I asked myself, “Can I still do this?”
In my first rep, I got my answer. I went straight for the quarterback and hit him as hard as possible. I just wanted to feel football again. After four practices, I already had enough plays for a highlight reel. But then, more devastating news arrived. Covid. No football and no in-person school.
All I could think was, “Are you kidding me?”
So, I went back home again. That summer, I started a landscaping business and made $25,000. I’ll admit that part of me thought about staying home – not returning to school or football. Then I remembered I had to finish what we started.
Between my health problems and Covid, I didn’t play in an actual game for three years, But when I finally got my chance, I took advantage of it. During my sophomore year on the field, I put up crazy numbers, making first-team all-conference with 31 tackles and 21 solo tackles. In my junior year, I also played well and received second-team all-conference.
While I already graduated with a degree in biology, I still have one year left of football at Grambling. And this year, I am aiming high. For school, I may go back and get a degree in chemistry, and in football, I want to be the Defensive Player of the Year, not just for the conference. I want to be the FCS Defensive Player of the Year, the Buck Buchanan Award.
I know you are already so proud of me, Mom. You tell me all the time how you brag on me to everyone. Whenever you meet someone out or at a party, you’ll show them my videos. But, Mom, I am not even close to done yet.
After college, I will try for the NFL, but if that’s not in the plan, I will be great somewhere else. My goal is to one day work in research for an environmental protection agency. Whatever I do, I will always give my best effort.
Sunny’s favorite motivational quote:
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I asked you once, “What do you want from life?
And you told me, “Nothing more than I already have.”
You just want the best for all your kids, Mom. And that’s why I want you to know I was able to come back from my illness and not give up on school or football despite one obstacle after another because I am a fighter. And I learned how to be a fighter a long time ago by watching you.
Thank you for your unconditional support and love.
I love you, Mom.