To kids who have a dream,
So many people are motivated by proving others wrong. I never wanted to spend energy on the people who didn’t believe in me. Instead, I focused on proving the people who did believe in me, right.
As a little kid, I started dreaming about my future. We watched NFL and NBA games at my house. I knew I wanted to one day be a professional athlete. At the time, I didn’t know if I’d pursue basketball or football because I loved both, but I knew I was going to make it.
In first grade, I used to take a piece of paper, fold it up into squares and then sign each one.
Then, I would give my autograph to my teachers and classmates and tell them, “Keep this. I am going to be famous one day.”
My family and all the people around me thought I could do it. However, the journey turned out to be far more difficult than that six-year-old boy could have imagined.
I grew up in a small town in Mississippi. Everyone always told me stories about my dad, who played quarterback. They said he could run and he could throw. He went to Mississippi Valley State, but over the summer, he came home, married my mom and started our family. My dad left school and football behind.
After hearing all of these stories about my dad, I knew I didn’t want to one day wonder what I could have been or regret not doing what I should’ve done. At a young age, I was willing to do whatever it took to get to the next level. I missed parties. I ran in the woods and spun off trees. With three sisters and no brothers, I used to throw the ball in the air and try to run and catch it myself before it hit the ground. Whenever my dad had time to play with me, I always wanted to show him that I was better than before.
I played varsity basketball 8th through 12th grade and varsity football all four years of high school. Our town didn’t attract a lot of attention, so my senior year, the only school recruiting me was Mississippi State. But that year they had a coaching change and the new staff wasn’t interested in me.
With no other offers, I decided to go to Southwest Community College, a junior college. I played safety in high school, but the coach wanted me to play corner.
I was like, “Alright, cool.”
Right away, my teammates started telling me, “I don’t know why you are in JUCO. You are a Division 1 player.
Whether it was 4:00 a.m. or 3:00 a.m. workouts, I decided to work my butt off every day. But in game two of the season, I broke my arm and missed the rest of my freshman year. My sophomore year, Hurricane Katrina hit, which cut our season short. Then, I hurt my knee. So, I only ended up playing a total of six or seven games my entire time in Junior College. After my sophomore season, I didn’t have any offers and it felt like my NFL dreams were slipping away.
My mom kept telling me to keep working and stay positive.
She told me, “I just got this feeling like something is about to happen for you.”
My coaches got voted to coach the JUCO all-star game. Knowing that I was talented and struggled with injuries, they selected me to play. This was my chance and I made the most of it. I had a stellar game, where I caught an interception and had a sack, a forced fumble and multiple tackles. Following the game, the University of New Mexico offered me a scholarship.
Eighteen hours from my home, I never even heard of New Mexico. My parents drove me all the way out to Albuquerque and dropped me off at the dorms. I remember them driving off and realizing I didn’t know anybody except the recruiting coach.
There were so many days that I was homesick and lonely. With hardly any money, I’d often go to Wendy’s and buy a 99-cent bacon cheeseburger because that was all I could afford. While it was hard, New Mexico turned out to be a great opportunity for me and I met incredible people, including my wife.
As for football, I tore my groin and missed two games during my junior year, but I finished off that season catching two interceptions. My name started to appear on draft boards. Building off of that momentum, I had an unbelievable senior year. Despite playing much of the season with a torn meniscus, I became the first cornerback and the second defensive player in the school’s history to be named the team MVP.
On April 26th, 2009, I was sitting on my couch with my mom, sister, cousin and girlfriend (now my wife) watching the NFL Draft. It was the fourth round and the Houston Texans were up with the 112th overall pick. With 2:30 left on the clock, my phone began to vibrate. The Texans called to let me know they were drafting me. It was one of the best moments of my life. Even so, I knew I didn’t just want to make it to the NFL, I wanted to stay there.
The Texans drafted me to play nickel corner. But after a poor defensive effort and several injuries, there was an open spot at corner. I just kept working.
Then, on Thursday before game four of my rookie season, I found out I was starting.
My defensive coordinator said to me, “Hey, man, we’re going to start you this game. Don’t give us a reason to take it back.”
One hundred fifty-six games later, I never gave my starting spot back. I started every game I played in for the remainder of my 10-year NFL career, including 148 consecutive games. Never did I take a single day for granted.
Now, I am 35 and retired. The other day I went to the drive-through at Wendy’s with my kids. When I ordered a bacon cheeseburger, I nearly teared up. It reminded me of my time at New Mexico when all I could afford was a 99-cent bacon cheeseburger from Wendy’s. Fifteen years later, I can buy a Wendy’s.
I want you all to understand that my success is because I never gave up. Without knowing what was going to happen, I was not afraid to go after what I wanted. I was willing to take risks and learn from my mistakes and the mistakes of others. I worked hard on the field. Off of the field, I did what I was supposed to do, including getting my degree. On social media, you may see people at their best, but for 99% of people, success is a journey that requires patience, perseverance and courage.
As I reflect on my journey, I realize with God guiding me through it all, I proved all the people who believed in me right. From the JUCO coach who thought I could play corner to the University of New Mexico, the only school to offer me a full scholarship to the Houston Texans who drafted me to the Detroit Lions, who offered me a contract in free agency because they thought I could change their culture – I showed them all they made the right decision.
But the most important person I proved right was not a coach, a program or a team. It was that little boy who was signing autographs at six years old. It was myself.
Whatever your dream may be, the first step to making it come true is believing you can do it.
No matter what, always believe in yourself.