You were born just a few years before my 11-year NFL career ended. Despite going undrafted, I was named to the New York Jets Four-Decade Team and All-Time Team.
While I love football, I never once thought about you following in my footsteps. After two daughters, I was just excited to have a son – someone who I could teach how to be a man.
However, at a young age, you started to excel in soccer and flag football. You were fast and quick. No one could catch you.
On your eighth birthday, we went to a Friday night football game. One of the youth coaches knew me and asked if I was going to let you play tackle football.
I said, “Nah, I am going to let him play more flag football. He’s not ready for tackle football.”
You immediately nudged me and said, “No, dad! Dad, please, please, let me play. Dad it is my birthday. It would mean the world to me.”
I gave in. By Tuesday, you were practicing with the team.
At first, the coach put you in at tight end.
I told the coach, “He’s not a tight end. He can’t block.”
A couple of games into the season, the team’s running back got smacked hard. He didn’t want to go back in the game as a running back. You took over and scored three touchdowns. As a father, it was exhilarating to watch, especially since I played running back as a kid before switching to safety. Right then and there, a star was born. At that moment, I knew you were special.
Quickly, you started to show some qualities that reminded me of myself.
That first season you got hit hard. You didn’t want to let yourself cry, but I knew you were hurting. You got back up and you showed toughness. As a 5-11 safety in the NFL, toughness and aggression defined me as a player.
You decided you wanted to play Division 1 football. Four days a week, we train together. In the summer, we go hard. On Saturdays, you take karate to work on your hand-eye coordination, footwork and hand quickness. When I played, no one was going to outwork me. Elijah, you have that same grit and are on that similar grind.
Your athletic career has not been without setbacks. After coming off a solid sophomore season where you received your first Division 1 offer from the University of South Carolina, you broke your ankle. While you were disappointed, you didn’t let that discourage you. Instead, you went to work, rehabbing and doing whatever you needed to do to get back. When I went undrafted, there was no guarantee I would make an NFL roster. But I played with a chip on my shoulder. Like you, nothing was going to stop me.
Obviously, I made an NFL roster. Your senior year you scored 21 touchdowns and became MVP of the state championship game, which your team won three years in a row.
When I played, no one was going to outwork me. Elijah, you have that same grit and are on that similar grind.
While we have similarities on the football field, off the field, you maintain your unique interests and personality.
You taught yourself how to play the piano, you enjoy robotics and you even know code to build websites.
You are kind to your mother, you never fight with your sister and you always listen to and respect my advice. The other day we got a call from your friend’s mother, telling us how nice it was that you texted her that you and her son got to school safely after she said she told you to be careful driving in the rain.
While we regularly watch TV shows together, like All-American, sometimes you skip out on me because you have too much schoolwork. That discipline is why you have a 4.5 GPA.
Soon, you are going to head to the University of North Carolina to take the next step in your life and career as a student-athlete.
I won’t be there to train you every day. I won’t physically be by your side like I have always been.
But I am not worried.
For years, I have been teaching you how to do interviews. You already know the importance of education. You know you have to walk in there like you belong and have confidence. I know you will step on that field, whether it be a game or practice, as someone trying to make a name for himself, someone who will work hard to do what is right.
You haven’t even touched the surface of how good you can and will be.
I want you to know just like you were the first time you went on the field as a running back, you are ready to be a Division 1 athlete. You have always been ready. It’s who you are.
Also, I want you to realize that while you may be playing football like I did and you may have the same grit, work ethic, tenacity and even last name as me, you are not following in my footsteps. Instead, you are using the qualities we share and even the ones we don’t to lead the way to your greatness…
Wherever that takes you, whether it be on the football field or somewhere else, I will always be excited to be on the sidelines of your life. What makes me so proud is not the athlete you are but the person you have become.
I love you. You got this,