I once played for the football team. In 2012 I visited the campus and spoke to the coaches. They offered me a scholarship and I decided I wanted to be a Battlin’ Bear. I was ambitious with my athletic career at the time. I had only played football for three years in high school, but I wanted to take it further. Too many motivational movies and videos lead me to bite off more than I could chew.
I fell in love with football during my short time on my high school football team. I finally felt accepted by my peers, and I loved every aspect of the highs and lows. However, there is a difference between having a passion for something and being good at something. As Mike Rowe once said, “Just because you are passionate about something doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it.”
Going into fall camp, I was aware that I would be surrounded by a lot of good athletes. I tried to keep my goals realistic and I focused on improving my strength and position specific movements. I spent the first semester on the defensive line as a nose tackle, and was eventually moved to the offensive line by the head coach. Regardless of where I was placed on the team, I worked as hard as I could in order to become a better player. I was not known for my athletic ability, but I was known for my work ethic. I spent countless hours in the weight room constantly trying to improve myself. The harsh reality for me was that my work ethic could not compensate for my lack of athletic ability.
It is normally said that what you put in is what you get out. I thought if I could adopt the same mindset as Rudy Ruettiger, I would have my chance at the spotlight. But most stories do not end with a crowd chanting your name on the last play of your career. I eventually learned that my improvement as an athlete was slow relative to the amount of time and effort I put into the weight room. Most of my work did not translate to the field and I was still just an idle body in shoulder pads for the real athletes to practice their drills.
On top of being a below average athlete, factors outside of football began to weigh heavily on my shoulders. Tensions were high in my home life, I was broke all the time, and my grades were suffering. I had even changed majors to something that was “easier” so I could focus more on football.
I began to weigh my options out and analyze how my decisions were going to affect my life. It came down to my pride versus what was best for me. I loved football, but I witnessed my career devolving into a full-time job that I hated. And when a sport feels like a miserable job, it is time to hang it up and move on.
When I finally quit the team during the summer of 2015, my pride and ego took a huge hit. I was hard on myself and did not want to be seen as a quitter. But when I finally returned to campus, a massive amount of stress fell off my shoulders. I still felt embarrassed about my decision, but life moved on and no one else was bothered by it other than myself. Reflecting on this decision three years later, I know it was for the best. Life has a way to make you prioritize what is best for your well-being, and not for your ego. Persistence and “staying the course” is important in life, but staying the course only makes sense if you are headed in a sensible direction.
I have a few regrets and there are times that I wonder how I could have better spent my time had I not played a college sport, yet I realize those changes would also undo the wisdom and relationships I gained from those two painful years. I started playing football because I wanted to be accepted by everyone else, and I quit playing football because I had the courage to accept myself.