Dear NFL GMs and Coaches,
I’m writing to express my interest in becoming your next dominant football player.
I’m not one to tout my own accomplishments. It’s not really in my nature. But I also understand that this is a time when I should be open about what I’ve done in the past and what I plan to do in the future.
When I’m selected in the upcoming draft, I’m pretty sure I know what the guys on TV are going to say: “This is the kid who broke Reggie White’s all-time sack record at Tennessee.”
That’s true. That’s something I did, and it’s something I’m very proud of.
But one thing I want to make clear is that breaking that record was never a goal of mine. It wasn’t what motivated me or what I had set out to accomplish before I enrolled at Tennessee. Instead, it was a by-product.
It was the by-product of countless hours spent studying offensive linemen. It was the by-product of coaches taking the time to help me develop my physical gifts. And it was the by-product of my teammates doing their job very well so that I could do mine.
Achieving that sack record definitely meant a lot to me, but I would have traded it away in a heartbeat to have won a championship while I was in college. So understand that even though I’ve achieved some noteworthy things and won some individual awards, they are not what drives me.
I want to lead a defense. I want to be an important part of a winning team.
I want to win a Super Bowl.
Wade Payne/AP Images
I’m sure you’ve heard from plenty of players who talked about the work they’d put into developing their craft. I understand that working hard is the very minimum of what you need to do in order to make it at this level. I want to tell you about the person who really taught me what it means to give everything to your profession: my mom.
She’s my best friend and my inspiration. All throughout my childhood, I watched her come home from work only so she could change and go to another job. She’s worked her entire life — sometimes three jobs at once — just so I could one day be in a position to write you this letter today.
When I make it to the NFL, she knows that I’ll be able to take care of her. She deserves for me to take care of her. But she doesn’t want that. She’s already told me that she’s going to keep her same job at the UPS warehouse — on her feet, sweating, sorting packages on a tight deadline — even after I make it to the league.
Working hard is not optional — it’s in my DNA.
I’m proud of the fact that I’m not a player who suddenly burst on the scene late in my college career. Since I arrived at Tennessee, I’ve produced consistently every single year. But that doesn’t mean I’m the same player I was as a freshman. Not even close.
I was really lucky at Tennessee to learn from a bunch of remarkable coaches, including Steve Stripling. Every day Coach Stripling had us working on our hands at the point of contact and how we anticipate the snap. I’ll you what, he was hard on me. From the very first day I arrived on campus, he was on me to refine whatever physical talents I had so that I could become a well-rounded football player.
He taught me that the game doesn’t start when the whistle blows. It begins the week before, when you’re studying your opponent. You put in that work so that when the ball is snapped you’re able to use your instincts to make the best decisions possible.
My freshman year, I played every down like my hair was on fire. But by the time I was a junior, the game had finally started to slow down for me. That’s what preparation does. That showed me that I was ready for this next challenge.
I’m not scared of the tougher level of competition. I’ve spent the past three seasons playing in the best conference in college football, and I was able to find success even when teams tried everything they could to take me out of games.
I’m not scared of the big stage. I know what it’s like to play in a stadium where you can’t hear the person next to you. I know what it’s like to line up across from a player who is just as physically gifted as me — and know that I can beat him using my superior technique.
I know there’s still so much work to be done, but I also think that I’ve only scratched the surface of my potential.
Right now, you might know me as the kid who broke Reggie White’s sack record at Tennessee, but that’s not the only thing I’m going to be remembered for by the time I leave this game.
I promise you that.