Ready to Roll

“Dylan! Dylan! Get out of bed!”

I was in a deep sleep when my mom suddenly burst into my room and started yelling at me.

I sat up, confused. Just a few hours before this, I had returned from a couple of grueling days at a football camp and collapsed on my bed the moment I got home. I wanted to say something but I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t get any words out.

She was whispering, but not that softly. I could tell it was urgent. “Dylan, hurry!” she said. “Wake up! Come downstairs now!”

I rubbed the crust out of my eyes. Everything was still blurry. You know when you get woken up from the middle of a really good sleep, and you’re just stuck? You see things, but your mind can’t process them fast enough to understand what’s going on. That’s what was happening to me.

“Mom, what’s going on?”

She didn’t answer, she just left my room and ran downstairs. I ripped off the sheets, jumped out of bed and followed behind her.

With each step, things got more and more confusing.

What time is it?

What’s downstairs?

Where’s Dad?

When I got into the kitchen, I glanced at the clock on the microwave. It was 4 a.m. I looked at the table and saw my dad sitting there. All the lights were off, but his face was illuminated by a white glow of his computer screen. The only thing I could really see was his mouth.

He was smirking.

“Dylan, come over here and read something,” he said.

I shielded my eyes from the glare, bent down and, when my eyes finally adjusted, I made out the big, black letters spread across the web page.

My mom was standing behind me with her arm on my shoulder, and my dad was looking up at me, still flashing his huge grin.

All I could think was, Why did you guys wake me up to look at this?

I turned to my mom, and then back to my dad. Then it kind of hit me.

Whoa, I thought. LSU offering an eighth grader. That’s crazy. I wonder who it is?

I squinted my eyes and read the smaller letters below the headline.

I saw my name.

Then it really hit me.

The eighth grader was me.

I was just nine years old when I really started to focus on football.

I was an only child until I was eight years old, so sports was how I interacted with other kids. My dad had signed me up to play in our hometown of Alexandria, Louisiana, when I was eight. I did O.K. that first year, but I was still just getting my feet wet and learning the basics. My dad thought he saw that I had some potential as an athlete, so he set up a training regimen for me.

We had a big field just across the street from our house. Starting when I was nine, my dad and I would go out to that field and train three mornings a week. I’ve been grinding ever since.

We’d wake up at six and get started. Four hundred push-ups, 800 sit-ups, 10 minutes of jumping rope and a one-mile run. After 90 minutes or so, we’d go back home, and then I’d shower before catching the bus to elementary school. As soon as school was over — and if I didn’t have track practice — I’d get back on the bus and go home, where my dad would be waiting for me. Then we’d head back over to the field to train some more.

In the summer, we’d do three-a-days. I’d train at 6 a.m., at noon and then again at 5 p.m.

Some people might think my dad and I were crazy doing all this when I was so young, but truthfully, it wasn’t all about football — it was about where football could take me. I can vividly remember my dad saying, “I want you to get a degree one day. That’s goal No. 1. Get that degree.”

At first, I didn’t really see the value of a degree the way my dad did. It all seemed so far away. But the reason it was so important to him eventually dawned on me. See, outside of my parents, somebody in my family graduating from college was rare. Not many kids from my neighborhood get a chance at higher education. But my dad and I knew that, if I kept my grades up and committed to football, college would one day be a possibility. I wasn’t training just for me — I was doing it for a lot of people.

When I wasn’t in school or playing on that field, I spent a ton of time with my friends, playing hide-and-go-seek or throwing water balloons at each other. As we got older, I started to notice that I could run faster and throw harder than most of them. If we were playing tag, I barely ever got caught.

Over the years, one guy who always kept me in line and helped me to stay focused on the ultimate goal was my uncle. He’s only eight years older than I am, so he treated me more like a younger brother than anything else. We had fun times running around the neighborhood and wrestling in the house.

And even though he was older, he didn’t hold back on the football field. He’d tackle me me like any older brother would: hard.

I remember when I was 10 years old, my uncle and I would play football on the field near our house. He’d invite a bunch of his friends over and we’d go at it. Full tackle, no pads. It was only fair, they’d say, because even though they were 18 and I was 10, I was just as big as they were — around six-foot and 200 pounds.

I’ll never forget those afternoons. Those football games taught me a lot about pride. There was no way I was going to allow myself to get embarrassed after a big hit. I’d pick myself up out of the mud and keep going. My speed and strength might have been what caught the eye of college recruiters, but I’ve always been most proud of my toughness.

I’d like to think I brought that mentality with me to my first youth football camp.

I first attended LSU Football Youth Camps & Clinics when I was in the sixth grade. The camps lasted only two days, but we’d always do a lot of drills, one being the 40-yard dash. I remember looking out across the field at my first camp and seeing hundreds of kids lining up and whatnot. It wasn’t an easy place to stand out.

When I ran the 40, I clocked in at around 4.6 seconds. I think I caught the attention of a lot of coaches with that number. I watched them show their stop watches to each other and laugh.

I was in eighth grade when I went to the camp for the third straight summer. By that point, I had begun to make a name for myself in my hometown — but not much further beyond that.

All that was about to change.

The coaches called my name and I lined up for the 40.

Someone blew the whistle, and then….


A few moments later, a coach yelled out a number: “4.5!”

I looked back at the coaches with the stopwatch. I was smiling. That was the fastest I had ever run.

By the end of the camp, the LSU coaches had already talked to my father. A month later, I was back on LSU’s campus for another camp, but this time, I was invited to workout with high school kids, some who were 19 years old.

The first thing I did?

Ran the 40.

My time: 4.4.

Now … that was the fastest time I had ever run. After I caught my breath, I looked around and saw coaches, kids, ball boys — everyone — staring at me. I think they were wondering, Who is this kid? I didn’t really know what to do. I was just staring back like, Hey, I’m Dylan.

In the afternoon, we were put on teams for seven-on-seven games. I think the coaches wanted to have some fun, because when I heard them calling out our names, I heard some pretty talented dudes get picked for the same team.

“Alright, over here, we’ll have Fournette, Guice….”

The final named they called?

“… and Moses.”

Man, I felt like I was on the Dream Team. I had heard about Leonard Fournette for ages — he was a pretty big name in the Louisiana recruiting scene for a while — and Derrius Guice and I had been friends ever since we were like eight years old (for real, we go way back … Derrius is my Day One dude).

The coaches told me that they had been impressed with my performance throughout the camp, which made me feel good, but I didn’t really know what was going to happen next. After saying goodbye to a couple of friends, my dad arrived to pick me up. I was dead tired. So after the two-hours drive home from Baton Rouge, I immediately went up to my room. The last thing I remember was collapsing onto my bed.

Early the next morning, my mom barreled through my door and basically dragged me out of bed. That was when I found out that LSU had given me an offer.

That was when things got pretty real.

Life started moving pretty fast. Let me tell you right now: It was as crazy as you’d think.

Suddenly, my name was popping up on ESPN shows, in newspaper articles and on the radio. People knew me as the eighth grader who had been offered a scholarship by LSU, and they wanted to know more. Coaches from other schools started reaching out to me on social media. Our mailman must’ve been so confused because, after LSU made its offer, we started getting around 400 letters per week. Four hundred.

Like what!

About a month after LSU sent me an official offer, we were sifting through the mail when one letter in particular caught our eye. The return address?

Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Bama had already contacted me, but this was the real deal. My parents and I opened the envelope and had to take a couple of deep breaths while we read. It was an offer. I couldn’t believe it. I was 14 years old and had offers from two of the best programs in the country.

Like I said, crazy.

It wasn’t easy, man. I like to keep to myself. Part of that probably comes from being an only child for so many years, but my dad is the same way. We’re more about action than words. I’m not an attention seeker. I like being in my own space. It’s not that I’m a jerk, it’s just what I’m comfortable with.

Three months after I received that first offer, I verbally committed to LSU. Problem was, I was only in ninth grade then. Things change.

When I committed to the Tigers, I was listening to a lot of people, but I don’t think I was paying attention to what I wanted. The honest truth is that no one that age probably has a good idea what they’ll actually want when they’re 18. I was committed to LSU for two years, and it was great, but I learned that it’s very easy to be influenced by those who may not always have your best interests at heart. It’s important to have a steady voice in your ear. For me, that was my mom and dad. And, like I said, all my dad wanted for me was a great education — that was the reason behind every one of those early-morning workouts. Both of my parents wanted me to be happy. So they asked me to think long and hard about what I had decided to do.

In August 2015, I decommitted from LSU. My decision had nothing to do with my feelings about the program. I just realized that I only had one shot at picking a school, so it was really worth it to explore my options. Everybody has an opinion about where you should go, but ultimately you’re the one that will have to grind on the field and in the classroom. So make the decision for you. My parents told me that, and I took it to heart.

People say you only have one chance at a good first impression. My official visit to Alabama left an impression on me that I’ll never forget.

Yes, the Crimson Tide have amazing facilities, but that’s something many teams offer. What really captured my attention was something you can’t really see or feel. It was a general vibe.

One of the first things I did on my visit was sit in on a team meeting. As we waited for it to start, dudes were hollering at one another, looking at their phones and making noise. But when the door opened and Nick Saban walked in, the entire room went silent. I promise you, the entire room went silent.

You legit could have heard a pin drop.

I had similar measurables to pretty much all of the kids in that room. (Many of them are in the NFL now.) And every single one of them showed absolute and total respect for this man.

At that moment, I knew I was going to commit to Bama.

The way those great players treated to their coach was something you can’t fake. It showed me in an instant exactly why the program has had the success that it has. The respect that the players showed to Coach Saban was because of two things: How they feel about him and how they feel about each other. Even if you’re the weakest link, they’ll pick you up. They’re all really in it together. It was something I couldn’t turn down.

So this past September, I made a hard commitment to go to school in Tuscaloosa. After four years and thousands of letters and conversations with different schools, that’s what my heart and mind were telling me to do.

I know that a lot of people were surprised when I changed my mind. But I don’t really understand why. I mean, I get it. I had been associated with LSU for so long. But the recruitment process is one of the only times in your life where it’s O.K. to be selfish … it’s O.K. to put you and your family above everything else. And, in my mind, Bama was the best option for me.

Yeah, I’ve made some mistakes along the way. At times I felt like I had to rush into things instead of waiting for the future. But I’ve tried to learn from every experience, and now as I move on to college, I’m really looking forward to enjoying what I’ve been working toward since I was a little kid.

I have plans to major in business and minor in communications. Bama has a great business school, and getting a degree from it would go a long way toward preparing me for a life after football.

One day I want to go back home to Alexandria and build a state-of-the-art training facility for inner-city kids. I spent the past year at the IMG Academy down in Florida, and my experience there inspired me to try to create more opportunities for kids who share the same drive and passion as me. That’s my dream.

For now, I couldn’t be more ready to get started at Bama. I’ve been looking forward to getting to a college campus for a looooong  time — probably since I got that scholarship offer way back in eighth grade. But just getting to college has never been my goal. Not at all. The way I see it, it’s just another step. And I’m ready to roll.

An earlier version of this story contained three factual errors: that nobody in Dylan’s family has ever graduated from college; that he was an only child; and that he and LSU running back Derrius Guice have been friends since they were seven years old. The errors have since been corrected in the text of the story.