People often ask me why I’m so positive or how I can be in such a good mood all the time. Let me tell you, it certainly wasn’t always that way.
The start of this journey begins with the biggest disappointment of my life, which turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.
I’m not exactly sure where my story truly begins. I suppose I could take us all the way back to the beginning, or I could start with one May morning 25 years ago in Philadelphia when my mother brought me into this world. For now, however, I’ll go back to the start of my new life, my real life.
It was August of 2011 and I was ready for my big moment. I had spent the previous three years learning from my friend Andrew Samson, one of the best kickers in Penn football history, and I was finally prepared to follow in his footsteps. I am so so thankful for the lessons I learned in those three years from the formidable trio of Andrew, Trevor Charlston, and Dave Kuncio. Andrew taught me about humility, Trevor about perseverance and generosity, and Dave about being true to oneself. I am forever grateful for their leadership and camaraderie and those days we shared on the practice field. Try finding a better squad than this one right here, I dare you.
Playing college football was a glorious experience full of innumerable fun times and our fair share of triumphant victories, all the better shared with 100 brothers. That being said, I would be remiss if I didn’t elaborate on the fact that it was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Managing school and football and LIFE was a daily balancing act that required constant adjustments. Just trying to stay afloat with teachers and coaches alike expecting your full dedication at all times could be draining. That being said, I couldn’t imagine doing things any differently. Football truly saved my life in those years, giving me a solid foundation to hold me up whenever I was feeling down. Through classroom struggles and relationship troubles and all the other adjustments to be made at that young age, I always had a light at the end of the tunnel. I was going to be the starting kicker my senior year and help lead our team to one final victory lap. Everything was always ok in my head because that dream was still alive. No matter the circumstances, I could always channel my energies towards achieving that goal.
I was young and really pretty naive in those days. Maybe it was just blind optimism. Or maybe I felt the world and the football gods owed me another chance at team and individual glory after a fateful hook and ladder brought a sudden and shocking end to my high school career. Either way, I convinced myself that another opportunity to make a lasting impact was awaiting me. This steadfast belief carried me in my college years, but I now realize the damaging effects this mindset also had.
I’ll never forget the countless nights I walked back across campus at ungodly hours accompanied only by the lights of Locust Walk and the music in my headphones. Disheartened by yet another long night of studying subjects that I was too afraid to admit I didn’t really love, I turned to my favorite hip hop voices to lift my spirits before laying my head down to rest. I cranked up the volume and filled my ears with the aspirational, motivational stories of J. Cole, Kanye, Kendrick, Eminem, and so many more of the greats to keep me going. I would glide through the night and dance back home to 41st Street with epic visions of the 2011 football season filling my head.
It’s kind of sad looking back, realizing I was trying to manufacture happiness by deluding myself with visions of an idyllic future. I was really pretty miserable and constantly stressed in those days. Yet I was convinced that this one hypothetical situation, seeing the field senior year, would be the panacea to right my entire ship. Rather than simply enjoying where I was, or analyzing the things that made me unhappy in my current situation, I was convinced that something better awaited me.
Slowly but surely, the summer I had been waiting for rolled around. I had waited and worked for three years and was finally ready to live out my dream.
And then I didn’t win the starting spot.
I had gotten my one shot. You know, that opportunity that comes once in a lifetime. And I had let it go. I had missed my chance to blow. That was it.
I immediately began to run through numerous “what if” scenarios in my head. What if I had gone somewhere else for school where I might have had an easier road to the field? What if I had just quit freshman year when things seemed bleak? What if I had done x, y, z differently this summer?
I started to drive myself crazy with these scenarios until I finally realized that what was done was done. Whether I liked it or agreed with it was totally irrelevant.
At that moment, I realized I had three options. I could quit the team and not have to face the realities of this unfavorable situation. I could also show up every day and make it through the season while still holding onto the resentment I had about the decision. I immediately knew that giving up on my teammates, those brothers that had been through so much with me and carried me through the lowest of lows and the highest of highs, was simply not an option. And that’s when I realized the third option, which ultimately came down to a matter of mindset.
The only real option I had was to get the best of the situation, and not the other way around. Being miserable everyday for the final 4 months of playing the game that I loved with the people that I loved sounded just awful. And I knew my teammates deserved better than that. It certainly wasn’t always easy, but I simply let go and spent the season being the best teammate that I could be.
I soon realized that by missing out on everything I thought I wanted, I realized I already had it all.
It didn’t hurt that I had another formidable squad of special gents to share this final campaign with.
Yeah…we had fun.
I want to thank all of these guys for making that season such a memorable one. Our team didn’t accomplish the goals we had set out to, but I honestly had some of the most pure fun I can remember in a football uniform. My attitude adjustment certainly brought that out, but I owe so much of it to these fellas right here.
I’ve spoken before about the importance of Gratitude. I first learned of the true power of this emotion during this senior year experience. I stopped imagining or wishing for life to be a certain way and started appreciating where I was. I was going to the school of my dreams in my home city and playing football with my friends. It gets no better! I was just too blinded for too long to really fully appreciate these simple statements of fact. With that in mind, I have a few people to thank.
Thank you to Bradford for being my right hand man always, through hurricanes and anything else life could throw our way. Thank you Edwin for always knowing how to brighten my day and for showing me how to transform a stagnant life situation. Scotty, you taught me how to work harder and smarter than anyone I know and how to do so with an unwavering smile. Michael, those few months we spent together consisted of some of the realest, most honest conversations I can remember with anyone. You always cared and you just understood. Connor, you reminded me of the importance of a tight-knit group of warriors and your optimism and positivity are inspiring. I wouldn’t have been able to get through that season without each of you guys, so thank you all so much for being there. If you’re special and you know it..
That golden group of merry men was there for me every step of the way senior year, but the entire Penn football family was responsible for uplifting me that year. Whether they knew it or not, all of my teammates gave me so many reasons to show up every day and be my best self.
The first half of my college career, I was lucky enough to be in the presence of a football legend. Coach Lake Staffieri was the world’s greatest motivator and had more spirit than anyone I’ll ever meet. Here is a shot from a JV game freshman year that I recently found of Lake giving some of us one of his timeless pep talks full of motivational sayings and call-and-response chants.
Lake always taught us that “setbacks pave the way for comebacks!” It’s one thing to believe in a saying like that and another to experience it firsthand. The whole situation I’ve just described was seemingly a huge setback for me at the time, but I am so grateful that it happened.
After years of living in the future, I was finally free.
My friend Gisele always used to tell me, “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” Regardless of the particularities of your current life situation, you always have control over your outlook. You can decide how to respond to what life throws at you and how to carry yourself when the unexpected happens, as it inevitably will.
You have the power.
To be continued…