It starts now.
I’m in the National Football League, realizing a dream that I’ve held since I was a little boy, surrounded by loving parents, 12 siblings and a ton of rocky situations.
As the youngest boy in my family, I’ve seen it all from my older siblings. I’m trying to lead my family, and it’s a challenge, but it keeps me going.
In my life, nothing has come easy. As a kid, I went through the death of my older brother, Jamelro, who was shot and killed at 22 years old, only a year younger than I am now.
I grew up in Elyria, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. Life was a battle. My family was on food stamps, and I was looking for a way out, a way to the good life. Luckily for me, a combination of football, hard work and good fortune provided that opportunity.
Coming out of high school, I was heavily recruited. I had my pick of the litter, especially within the Big Ten. It seemed like I was going to end up in East Lansing as a Michigan State Spartan, and then Ohio State made an announcement. It was hiring Urban Meyer. Once Coach Meyer and the Buckeyes offered me, it was an easy call. I’m an Ohio kid, after all.
True to form, things didn’t go smoothly. I was arrested in 2014 in connection with a cocaine possession charge. It eventually got dropped, but the damage was done. I had been suspended from the team, kicked off for being in the wrong place, and putting myself in a bad spot.
That was the turning point for me. All my life, I had watched people make the wrong decision, time and again. I wasn’t about that. When you see your dream flickering in front of you, you either let it go or hold on tighter, change your principles. That’s what happened for me. I chose the latter.
Once I went through the situation, I still had to battle my way back up to the top. The process was very challenging. I knew I had to be wise, mature and stay the course. Nobody has helped more than Coach Meyer.
He’s a great coach on the field, but he’s impacted me even more as a person. He’s a great leader. He can teach you how to battle and stay humble through the praise.
Going into my junior year, I felt ready to break out, but a knee injury held me back. Then, as a senior last year, I thrived. I took all my lessons on and off the football field and applied them. I became a star, the player I always believed I could be at the college level, making 10 starts. More importantly to me, I was named a captain.
Entering the draft, I was hopeful. I thought I might get drafted, although I knew there was a chance that I’d be going into the pool of undrafted free agents. I trained hard in Florida at Bommarito Performance Systems for three months. Unfortunately, I got hurt on the second 40-time at the Ohio State Pro Day in March. After a few team workouts, my destiny was left to the decision-makers of the NFL.
Then, after seven rounds of the draft, nothing. I watched with my parents, a few siblings and my cousins as more than 250 names were called.
Once the seventh round was nearing completion, I started getting phone calls. At least eight teams were interested in my services, but one stood out. I wanted to play for the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers have a great group up front, versatile and deep. Dontari Poe, Mario Addison, Julius Peppers, Kawaan Short and Vernon Butler are all studs. I wanted to be part of a room like that. I also wanted to play for Brady Hoke, my new position coach.
At 6-foot-3 and 293 pounds, I’m versatile in the 4-3 scheme. I can play inside and outside. I can flourish on the inside with my pass-rush ability. Although I’ve only been in it for a few months, I’m already comfortable with the playbook. Football IQ has always been one of my strong suits.
Additionally, Carolina has had success turning former Buckeyes into big names at the highest level. Andrew Norwell is one of the best examples, having been an All-Pro guard last year.
After all the challenges that I’ve faced, my biggest occupational one lies ahead. I’ll use everything at my disposal to conquer it, from the past heartache and adversity to the lesson learned along the way.
The competition is never comfortable, but it’s not catching me off-guard. Ohio State fostered plenty of tough battles for playing time. Still, it’s different here. You are fighting against grown men who are all trying to feed their families. Jobs are on the line.
Ultimately, I want to get through camp healthy. I have to be durable and keep my mind on the game. Some say you can have a great camp and make it elsewhere if things don’t work out here, but I want to be on the Carolina Panthers. This is my team. Now it’s time to hit the field and prove my worth.
I have to Keep Pounding.