I’m going to start by telling you something you already know: I love you.
Now I’m going to tell you something that the rest of the world just found out: For the next four years, I’m going to be attending Ohio State.
It’s crazy to actually see that written down because as you know people have been asking me about where I wanted to go to college just about every day since I was a freshman in high school — when I got my very first recruiting letter in the mail.
Honestly, it’s been a lot to deal with at times. I realize now why the recruiting process can result in kids buying into their own hype and going down the wrong paths. But that’s why I feel so very lucky to have someone like you in my life. I understand what unconditional love really is because of you and the way you raised me.
When you’re getting recruited by a bunch of schools, it’s easy to be influenced by people who are just telling you what you want to hear. They’ll give you constant praise and adoration. Honestly, that can feel great, but it’s not real. The love that those people are giving is entirely conditional — it can go away as quickly as it appears. I always understood that, and it really helped me. And it’s one of the many things I learned from you.
There’s something else you taught me: the importance of courage.
You’ve been sick with lymphoma since I was two years old, so for as long as I can remember, you’ve been in pain. It’s a type of pain that I’ve seen up close but also a pain that I probably will never fully understand. But your illness has never influenced how I view you. Not at all. Rather, it’s how you’ve responded that I will always remember. My entire life you have fought and fought and fought for every day. You’ve shown so much bravery and strength, even when things seemed really bleak.
And somehow, through it all, you always tried to put smiles on the faces of others. You’ve sacrificed so much just to make sure my sister and I could live successful lives. That’s always inspired me. Whenever I approach a challenge that seems too difficult or daunting, I know that I can persevere because I’ve learned everything I know about toughness from you.
This past year has really been something else, Mom. I’ve traveled around the country and met so many amazing people while trying to decide where I was going to college. And during the whole process, you’ve always been a source of support. But because you’ve been fighting your own battle, I wasn’t always able to share everything with you. So when I took my official visits this fall, I jotted down some notes about the different lessons I learned, so I could share them with you when the process was over.
Mom, you aren’t going to believe how crazy this recruiting thing actually is.
During my official visit to Oklahoma last fall, I had the opportunity to go to chapel with the team before the Sooners played against Ohio State. While I was there, I got to listen to a man offer a really intimate testimony about his life and why he hadn’t let his past determine his future. It really had an impact on me, particularly one thought he left us with that still sticks with me: “We were brought into this world to become better men, not football players.”
Every school that recruited me was offering much more than just the opportunity to become a better football player. Any one of them would have offered me the chance to take the next step as a man — to continue the work that you started, really. I feel fortunate to have had so many great programs take an interest in me.
I think it really hit home for me on my trip to Florida State, while I was talking to Jimbo Fisher. While we were visiting, I began to think about that scene from The Blindside, where the different coaches come to visit Michael Oher’s house to recruit him. Throughout this process, I’ve sat across from Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Les Miles, Bob Stoops and many other famous coaches. They all left an impact on me in different ways, and also offered the opportunity for a better life.
The experiences I’ve had during this process have created lasting memories that I’m going to treasure forever.
I got to watch Georgia’s Jacob Eason throw a Hail Mary touchdown pass against Tennessee at Sanford Stadium with 10 seconds left in the game. And then, with the stadium still in a frenzy, I watched Vols quarterback Josh Dobbs end the game with another Hail Mary pass that broke the heart of every single person in Athens. Mom, legit, it was one of the craziest things I’ve ever witnessed.
I got to visit Barry Switzer at his house, where he talked to me and couple of other recruits about life and football. That wasn’t too surprising. But what was surprising was when he took us outside to his yard, where he showed us the dozen or so police and rescue dogs that he’s trained to do things like sniff out drugs, or save people who are stranded in the mountains. I had no idea that Coach Switzer was so into dogs. For real. He’s quite the guy with quite the hobby.
I was in the middle of 80,000 diehard Florida State fans of all ages doing the Seminole war chant. I still get chills thinking about it.
I got to watch some of the best college coaches in the country break down film with their teams before really important games.
I got to sit 10 yards away from LeBron James and J.R. Smith when they played catch on the field at the Horseshoe before the Ohio State–Michigan game. Then I got to rush the field with the rest of the students after the Buckeyes won in double overtime.
I’ve eaten amazing food, talked to amazing people and watched some of the best football games I’ve ever seen in my life at the coolest stadiums I’ve ever been to.
See what I’m saying, Mom? This whole thing has been crazy.
I feel so blessed to have experienced all of these things in only a few shorts months — but it came with a downside. The most difficult part of all of this has been meeting so many great people and being shown so many great opportunities that I ultimately wound up saying no to. The recruiting world is all about rankings. The players, the teams, the coaches — everything has a value attached to it. But I’m not sure that’s the best way to look at things.
I know everyone thinks that where they went to college is best place in the world, but what I’ve learned was that — at the highest levels — there was no such thing as better or worse. The schools were just — different. I got to develop some very real and meaningful relationships with players and coaches at universities I won’t be attending. It sucks to leave those opportunities behind, but I’m also really thankful that they were presented to me. It meant a lot. And I’m incredibly grateful that I was ultimately able to find the right place for me.
Mom, of all of the memorable experiences I had, there’s one in particular that stands out. I think you’ll understand why.
Last June, Coach Schiano at Ohio State said something that really stuck with me. In fact, I think it ultimately played a big part in my decision to go there. He told me, “Jeff, you’ve had a tough life up to this point. It’s time for some good things to happen to you.”
When I was growing up, I never had the power to change my circumstances — our circumstances. I tried to give you as much support as I could, but a lot of the time I felt so helpless. I wish that you never had to spend one more second in the hospital. I feel so bad about the opportunities you’ve been robbed of because of your health, but I’m also so thankful for everything you’ve given me in spite of it.
I’m grateful for your love, your guidance and also for your sister – my Auntie. This past year, as the hype built up around me, she kept me levelheaded. If it ever seemed like I was doing the wrong thing — and you weren’t there to tell me differently — trust me, she took care of it. The last couple of years she’s been the person who I’ve been able to lean on for advice about much more than recruiting. Mom, you probably already know this, but your sister is really dope.
Now that I’ve finally chosen a school, I know that the work is just starting. I don’t want to be just another student-athlete while I’m at Ohio State. I really want to one day be remembered for what I accomplished while I was there. I know that’s saying a lot given all the great players who have come through the program, but that’s exactly the kind of challenge I’m looking for.
I’ve been told I have the talent to one day achieve my dream of playing in the NFL, and that’s great — but that’s not all that I think I have the talent for. In college, I want to take classes that challenge me to reconsider the way I look at the world. I want to intern at Fortune 500 companies, and to gain experience in boardrooms that are just as competitive as any locker room. And one day, I want to start a business that will ensure that my family will always be comfortable, whether football works out or not.
I know that college will be tough. At the next level, I’m going to be competing against the very best players in the nation. But I’m ready, because I’m doing this for so much more than just me.
Mom, you’ve done such an amazing job raising my sister and me. Now that she’s off at Texas A&M and I’m headed to Ohio State, you might think your work is done. You’ve always said that you would be content with your life once you saw both of us attending college.
But just you wait, Mom. You’ve spent your whole life giving me the support I needed to achieve my dreams. Someday soon, I promise you, I’m going to help you live yours.
I love you.