To kids in foster care
Please stay strong – stay strong and trust the process. Like you, I know what it is like to be in a low-income community, where there are not a lot of opportunities and there are a ton of broken homes. I know what it’s like to be taken from your parents to live with a family that’s not yours. It’s strange. As a kid, it’s hard to even understand what’s happening.
But I want you to know what is possible. I want you to believe in your future because as a little kid, I always believed in mine.
Until age five, I grew up in the Bronx with my parents. Then, I moved in with my grandmother in Connecticut. When I was about seven years old, I was told I had to move in with a foster family. Thinking back, I don’t remember exactly how I felt at that time but I do remember as time went on there were days and moments that I felt hopeless.
It just seemed like I was constantly facing obstacles and once I got over one obstacle another one would be right ahead.
Around the start of high school my mom passed away. I was in survival mode and school didn’t exactly provide stability. I went to three different high schools. To be honest, it was hard. I don’t know how I did it.
For eight years, I lived with one foster family. Then, just before I turned 16 I went into a group home. That’s part of the reason I had to switch schools so many times.
While high school had its challenges, it also was the beginning of many blessings in my life. That’s when I started playing football. It was a lot of fun and I knew I was pretty good but I didn’t realize how good.
At 18 years old, the Duggans came into my life. They were a family that offered me a home – not a group home, not just a room in their house but a home, which included love, warmth and kindness. They made me a part of their family and showed me that generous and selfless people really do exist in this world.
They encouraged me. They supported me and they even cheered me on at my games. With them in my corner, I went to junior college to play football before transferring to Toledo, a division one program.
When I got there, I thought to myself, “Yeah, I got this.”
That was when I realized how good of a defensive football player I was and how far I could possibly go with the sport.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]My first year at Toledo I played in every game and recorded 22 tackles. But the following year, I tore my ACL and my father passed away.
After losing both my parents, my defensive coach told me it just makes me a warrior. I am not a survivor anymore, I am a warrior. That’s how I coped and that is the mentality I had as I continued to pursue my life.
As for my injury, it was extremely disappointing. It was a big injury and it was my first big injury. You hear ACL and it is has a bad reputation. Players have said they didn’t come back from it. They didn’t feel the same. Their production went down.
Even so, I kept a positive outlook and remained focused on the bigger picture. I wanted to be committed to the promise I made to my coach, to my teammates and my support system. I told them that I would get back in shape and be ready for next season.
So, I worked and I worked.
When I came back, I had a solid final season. I made third-team All-MAC. I tied for third on the team with 60 tackles and led my team with 8.5 sacks.
Also, I graduated Toledo with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and a minor in business.
While I went undrafted into the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steelers picked me up. The Steelers cut me but they were going to sign me back. However, the New York Giants beat them to it.
I caught some people’s attention in preseason but it wasn’t until I made the 53-man roster that I had this I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening moment.
I am in the NFL.
The little kid in me who always believed can’t stop screaming.
Now, my goal is to be the best player I can be as well as the best person I can be, because I never want to take this moment for granted.
So why am I telling you all of this?
It is because I want you to learn from my journey.
As tough as it is right now, it could always be worse. You’ve got to stay focused on working for the things you want. Even when you think that you are far from your goal, put in the work. You are closer than it appears. Embrace the hard work and try to have fun with it. That’s what I am still doing today.
Also, control what you can control. While right now your circumstance might be out of your hands, once you grow up, I promise you will have the opportunity to put yourself in a better position.
Please just never give up. Look at me. Look at where I came from and the obstacles I went through. I made it and I promise if you stay strong and trust the process, you will too.
Just stay positive and keep working,