My Journey

Share
Braden Lenzy, Wide Receiver / Tigard High School - The Players' Tribune

Before I announce where I’ll be going to college, I wanted to discuss something that’s been on my mind.

I guess a good place to start is to just say flat out that I never expected to have the chance to play college football one day. Not just Division I, I mean at any level. Honestly, that was fine with me because I never played football with any sort of end goal in mind anyway. For me it was all about love.

Thinking back, I can still remember the exact moment when I fell in love with the game.

It actually happened the first time I ever carried a football. I was in third grade, Pop Warner — huge shoulder pads, the whole deal. This was back in Tigard, Oregon, where I’m from.

We ran the wing T offense, and on that first play I was lined up as the running back on the right side. When the ball was snapped, the running back on the left side ran toward me, the quarterback tossed him the ball and then he handed it off to me on a reverse.

And then … I just ran.

I had always felt like I was fast, but it wasn’t until that moment, as I was running past all of these defenders, that I realized I was actually faster than other kids. Like a lot faster. I ended up going for about 60 yards without anybody touching me and all I remember was this amazing feeling I had. It was a mix of adrenaline, happiness and pride. I loved that feeling, and I knew right then I wanted to experience it again and again.

I fell in love with football on the spot.

And that was enough for me, just having the opportunity to play the game for fun. The only real dream I had was to maybe — maybe — play for Tigard’s varsity team one day. This is a football town. Everybody comes out to the games on Friday night. All I wanted was the chance to experience wearing that jersey to school on a game day. I wanted to have people look at me and know, That guy’s on the football team. I thought that would be so cool. When I finally got that opportunity as a freshman, I was over the moon.

Around my sophomore year, colleges began showing interest in me, but I was so naive to the whole concept of recruiting I didn’t really understand anything that was going on. I got invited to my first ever “junior day” at Washington State that year. I had no idea what to expect, or honestly what a junior day even was. I was mostly excited just to get to attend it with my dad.

When it came to football, he definitely saw something in me at an early age. He’d tell me all the time that if I worked hard I was good enough to play in college. I always appreciated that, but even then I didn’t fully believe him. I mean, what else was he going to say? He’s my dad.

I remember that at one point during that junior day in Pullman I was sitting in a room with all the other recruits and one of the assistants pulled me aside and told me to follow him and to bring my dad with me.

We went into a room, and met with Washington State’s DB coach. He exchanged pleasantries and he spoke to us for a bit, and then near the end of the conversation he offered me a full-ride scholarship.

When that happened, it kind of knocked the wind out of me honestly. It was just surreal.

The following day, my dad and I visited Oregon State, and they ended up offering me a scholarship as well. And then, the week after that, Oregon offered me.

That two-week stretch was magical — like this world of possibilities was suddenly open to me. But being a “prospect” also came with some pressures that I didn’t really anticipate. There was a darker side to it that I wasn’t ready for.

I’d say things got pretty real the first time I visited Notre Dame.

Honestly, I didn’t even want to go. Like most people with no really connection to Notre Dame, I didn’t really like the Fighting Irish. I couldn’t tell you why exactly. It’s kind of the same way how a lot of people hate Duke basketball. It’s the type of team that’s so established that its rival is basically anyone else.

So I showed up in South Bend pretty certain that the visit was a waste of time.

That all changed within 30 minutes.

It kind of caught me off guard to be honest. Instead of looking at the program in a negative light while I was there — surrounded by the tradition and the atmosphere — I realized it just felt right. This was a place where I could grow.

Not long after that, I committed. And I was really happy about that.

But after a few months, there was some confusion about whether I’d also be able to run track, which was something very important to me. So, five months after I initially committed, I decided to flip to Oregon, which also had a lot to offer me.

Not long after I announced that decision, a notification popped up on my phone for a DM from Twitter. It was from somebody saying they hoped I tore my ACL.

I got another one saying negative things about my family and how I was raised.

And then, I started getting some death threats.

There were around 100 messages total. It got to where I would cringe every time my phone buzzed.

Maybe I should have reported it or told somebody. Instead I just kept it to myself. I didn’t even tell my parents until a few weeks ago because I was worried about how they’d react. I figured, Why spread the worry?

I wish I could say I just brushed off the negative messages, or that I was big enough to just ignore them entirely. But that wouldn’t be true. I did read them. And I thought about them a lot.

I committed to Oregon because the program checked a lot of boxes for me. I’d been an Ducks fan my entire life and I loved Eugene. I’d be close to home, have the opportunity to also compete on an amazing track team and it didn’t hurt my best friend, Borna, was going to enroll there as well.

But what sold me more than anything was Coach Taggart’s vision for me with the program. He made it really easy for me to picture my role in the offense and how I’d be able to develop.

But in early December news broke that Coach Taggart was leaving Oregon to take over the team at Florida State. I’d previously gotten reassurances that he wouldn’t be going anywhere. Him leaving wasn’t something that made me dismiss the idea of attending Oregon altogether. But it definitely made me take a step back to reconsider all of my options.

This decision upset a lot of people. It was almost like, Who is this kid to go back on his word again? What’s wrong with him? Now I was having my character questioned. I was being called selfish and immature.

And for what?

Because I was a high school kid who wasn’t sure where he wanted to go to college?

It was around the same time that I realized how much my perspective had changed in such a short time. Not long before, I played football just because it was fun. I never thought about it in terms of my future. But once I reached a certain level, I got a closer look at the business behind it. Suddenly my decisions meant a lot to a lot of people. There were reports on what my whims might be that were based on nothing. I had coaches telling me everything I wanted to hear, and fans hitting me up saying why their programs were the best. Ultimately I realized I couldn’t rely on what people were saying to make this decision. I had to lean on the people closest to me who really mattered.

It wasn’t until I blocked out all the outside noise and just focused on what was important to me that things became a lot clearer.

It wasn’t until I blocked out all the outside noise that things became a lot clearer.

Braden Lenzy

Next year, I’m going to Notre Dame.

There were a lot of reasons I felt like it was the right choice for me, but ultimately it came down to a feeling.

When I made my official visit last week after opening my recruitment back up, I had this one moment of clarity that I’d been waiting for without knowing it. I was walking out of the locker room and onto the field. The weather wasn’t great — it was 30° outside and snowing — but for some reason it also seemed perfect. It was almost like an itch had finally been scratched.

All the lights were on in the stadium, and I was standing on the field looking into the empty stands. And that’s when it just hit me. This is what I wanted. This was the place I needed to be.

And that was that.

Now I’m going to guess that some people might be a little confused by this decision. Why would I attend Notre Dame after having gotten all those nasty messages? Why am I writing this instead of flipping a bunch of hats around?

Well the answer to that is something I want to make clear not only to those people who sent me those messages directly, but also to every other high schooler who has experienced the same thing: Negative people exist everywhere, but you can’t let them dictate how you live your life.

If I let the loud minority of people who aren’t looking out for my best interest affect this decision, then I’ll never stop listening to them. If I could go back to before this whole process started, I would tell myself that I should only trust those people who knew me well before I had any stars next to my name. Those are the only people who are going to stay by your side regardless of what comes next. And I’m really lucky to have a lot of people like that in my life. This entire journey has made me appreciate them more than ever.

There’s my mom, who’s my best friend, and always gives me the advice I need to hear, but who’s also going to give me a smack me upside the head when I really need it. My dad, who was the first person to really believe in me and will never stop believing in me. My brother, who I know is going to be an even better player than me one day. And then all the other people in my life — the close friends, coaches, teammates and teachers — all of whom just want me to be happy.

I made this decision for them, and most importantly, for me.

One thing I think has gotten lost is that by virtue of choosing one school, it doesn’t mean a recruit looks down on the other schools who were interested in him. Not at all. So many times people might read a headline about a guy changing his mind and take it personally. I wish that would change.

I really hope any fan reading this can understand how difficult and stressful this process is to navigate as a teenager. It’s taken up a lot of my headspace the past two years, and now that it’s over I just feel relieved.

To any recruit reading this, just know that this decision is an important one, but it isn’t everything. Honestly, it’s just practice for the many more tough decisions that you have ahead in life.

Basically, you got this.

I couldn’t be happier or more excited about what the future holds for me.

But now the work is just getting started.

Loading