It’s been one year.
I remember it perfectly.
I was in Nashville waiting, just like so many of you are right now, to find out where I was headed.
I was excited.
I was nervous.
I was proud.
The minute I got off that plane with my mom and dad, I knew.…
Everything I had ever done, from the days of playing peewee football, to being a three-sport athlete, to making the move from A&M to OU.…
It was all about to become real.
All the hours.
All the commitment.
All the pain.
All the wins.
Everything had led me to this moment.
And the thing I’ll never forget is sitting there with my family when Arizona went on the clock and waiting … and waiting … and waiting. About 13 minutes went by — and I think I was turning blue, because my mom was squeezing my arm saying, “You gotta remember to breathe, son.”
That’s an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime memory for me.
Now, I know this year’s draft is going to be very different. But when you’re sitting there at home on the couch, surrounded by your closest family, waiting on that phone call, waiting on your moment, just remember something….
Remember the whole journey. This isn’t about the combine, or the mock drafts, or your last season in college with your boys. It’s not about the last few months. It’s about the years and years that went into this. You all know exactly what I’m talking about. You know.
It’s about the preparation. The perseverance. The nonstop grind. From the time you started throwing the ball in the front yard, or in the middle of the street, running around the neighborhood like crazy, to Pop Warner, to all those long bus rides and the two-a-days. And yeah, it’s about all the disappointments, too. Those tough moments during freshman year when you were texting your family, or your boys back home, just doubting for the first time in your life. (I had that moment, too, 100%.)
Remember, you didn’t make this journey alone. There was always somebody riding with you the whole way. Whether it was your mom or dad or uncle or coach or your boys’ parents, there was always somebody pushing you on. This moment is about them, too.
What’s about to happen to you is a dream come true. The pandemic won’t steal that moment from you. Whenever you hear your name called, no matter where you are in the world, it’s a dream.
This next year is going to be a blur for you. (It’s still a blur for me, if I’m being honest.) But if I could give you two small pieces of advice, it would be this….
Remember, you didn’t make this journey alone. There was always somebody riding with you the whole way.
- You’re about to get hit harder than you ever have. This next year is going to be the longest, fastest year of your football career.
- Your whole life is about to change. But don’t you go changing with it.
Look to the vets, man. When you finally step into that locker room, you’re on hallowed ground. You’re rubbing shoulders with legends — some who have been in this game for 12, 13 years. (Or if you’re Fitz, 17.) The good news, and maybe the surprise, is that these guys will be willing to take you under their wings, and help prepare you for what it’s like. And I’ve noticed there’s a common denominator for guys who stick around in this league: They have a purpose that’s bigger than themselves.
That’s the thing that nobody really tells you. And it’s easily lost in all the hype and the numbers and what people are saying about you on social media. But once your dream comes true and you get the blessing of putting on that hat for the first time, you have the chance to stand for something much bigger than yourself.
It’s about what you do off the field when no one is looking — especially right now. It’s about showing the kids from your city that you are worth believing in. It’s about being the man your family prayed you’d be.
So what are you going to stand for? It can’t just be the W’s and L’s.
For me personally, ground zero my whole life revolved around that school building. Whether it was in the classroom, on the football or baseball field, or in the gym shooting hoops. School was my sanctuary. Now, it’s important to say that I had it really good. I had my little lunchbox and my peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day, and maybe even some ice cream money if I wasn’t being too wild that week. But for a lot of kids, and even for some of my best friends, school was where they went to eat. It was essential. They needed those lunches.
Growing up, I had a lot of family members who worked in the Dallas Independent School District, and they shared stories firsthand with me about kids stepping into the cafeteria hungry before practice, or waiting for the school building to open the next morning just so they could get a meal. They didn’t know where they were going to find their next one.
Those cafeteria workers, those coaches, those school bus drivers — they’re family, looking out for kids when their own family isn’t there.
School is not just school for those kids. School is their lifeline.
And now, during this crisis, they need us more than ever. As I write this, about 124,000 schools are closed in the U.S. Thankfully, they’re closed for classes, but not for feeding the kids. It might be shocking to some people, but 30 million kids in America rely on school meals every day.
Thirty million kids. Every day.
Without those meals, they go hungry!! There’s no backup plan. And the number of kids depending on those meals is growing daily because of this pandemic. Those school cafeterias are what’s holding this country together.
That’s why I raised my hand to help GENYOUth feed our nation’s kids. Some of you may know GENYOUth as the parent organization of the Fuel Up to Play 60 program. (You see the Play 60 logo on football fields around the league.) They recently launched a COVID-19 Emergency School Nutrition Funding initiative that’s providing grants of up to $3,000 per school for meal distribution and delivery.
They need our help right now more than ever before. If we can’t step up as a football community during this crisis to help the most vulnerable, then it’s on us.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a quiet guy. I normally don’t speak out like this. I put my head down, I work hard, and I serve my team, period. But my team is not just my Arizona Cardinals family. It’s not just my NFL family. It’s the millions of kids across America who need our help – not to mention all the essential workers who protect those kids.
Maybe you were one of those kids, once upon a time.
And now look at you.
No matter what happens to you this week — whether you become an Arizona Cardinal, a Chicago Bear, or a Tampa Bay Buccaneer — the minute you hear your name being called, you’re being given a gift.
It’s not that NFL jersey with your name across the back. You earned that.
The gift is the platform to make a difference in the world.
That’s the blessing.
So now, the question is, what are you going to do with it?
All the best …
… And see you out there, rook.