If you would have asked me as a kid what I was going to be when I grew up, I probably would have told you I was going to the military. Football wasn’t even an option.
So it’s crazy for me to sit here right now and say that I play for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Honestly, I’m still trying to process it all.
Some people have been playing football their entire life — I didn’t start until I was 15. Before that, I was a full on hooper haha. You couldn’t tell me I didn’t have a chance at the NBA back then, when I was playing in all my AAU games (and fouling out of most of them). I’m from Charlotte, so I grew up a big Bobcats and then Hornets fan. Man, to this day I still have the Kemba Walker poster he signed for me when I was a kid.
If I wasn’t playing basketball, I was at home playing video games with my friends. And I think after a while my mom got tired of seeing me just sitting in the house all the time. So one day during summer she asked me to take a ride with her. Didn’t say where. I’m thinking we’re going to the store to run errands, or get something to eat.
But then she stops the car at this football field. I’m looking at her like…………… What are we doing here? And she just says, “Get out. I’ll pick you up later.” Can you believe that?? Mom really set me up.
That was my first-ever football practice that day — and it was HORRIBLE for me, for real. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. Not to mention it was hot as hell out. And then the worst part is, they expected me to come back the next day and do it all over again!!
So every day I would get dropped off by my mom, and I’d just be out there sweating and counting down the minutes till I could go back to the crib in the AC. I’d even be hiding in the bathroom sometimes, playing on my phone and trying to avoid lifting weights. I just didn’t see football as being a part of my life. Couldn’t see myself having any potential or being successful in it.
Lucky for me, other people did.
I started doing better, and then I started gaining confidence. Pretty soon I stopped being that kid who was hiding in the bathroom. Now I was in the weight room with everyone else, lifting and grinding and doing whatever it took.
Eventually I got good enough that I had some college offers coming in, but even then I wasn’t a 5-star recruit by any means. I was still really rough in a lot of areas, and schools knew that. Georgia, though, they believed in me from the beginning. It’s like from day one, they had the mentality of, We already think you’re the best in the nation at your position. Now we just need YOU to think it. And then play like it. Don’t get me wrong — the culture at Georgia is not easy. They run that program like it’s the NFL in a lot of ways. I’m not even kidding. It’s the gauntlet of fire. But they also didn’t care that I was a late bloomer one bit. So for as much as they were challenging me, they didn’t just throw me out there and let me fail. They always took their time and taught me.
And you know I’m bringing up that my Georgia career ended with a NATTY! I can’t even explain to y’all how special that season was for us. That’s one of my proudest moments — knowing how when I first got on campus, that’s all we used to talk about, competing for championships. And then to do it on that stage, and to bring that trophy back to Athens?? It was everything. I’ll never be able to tell Georgia enough how much I appreciate them. It’s Go Dawgs FOREVER.
Leaving school was tough, but after all we’d accomplished I knew it was time for me to take that next step.
Man … Draft Night is so intense, though, because all you can do is sit around and wait for your phone to ring. If anybody was to call me at that time I was going to pick up the phone haha. Every little ding or notification I got I was picking up with no hesitation. And then when Philly traded up, I kinda looked at my mom like, O.K., this might be it. But what’s funny is, when my phone rang I actually think it came up as maybe a spam call. Then the area code hit me: 215???
WAIT THIS IS A PHILLY NUMBER.
Hearing Howie and Coach Sirianni on the phone was surreal. I was just mumbling at that point, that whole call is like a blur. But they made it clear they were ready for me to come to Philly and get to work. Walking that stage, shaking the commissioner's hand and holding up my jersey … it’s a moment I’ll never forget.
On our way to Philly the next morning, I couldn't stop thinking about how far I’d made it to get to this point. The kid who had to be tricked into going to football practice back in the day — now he’s in the NFL!!! Can you believe that?? Just looking over at my mom, and knowing how hard she worked as a single mother to raise me, and then raising my little brothers too. And now we’re all flying on the private jet to my new home, and my new career. I wish I could better put it into words for you guys what I was feeling, but it was just like: Wow. This is REAL?
Also, I didn’t tell y’all this before, but it’s almost like destiny aligned me with the Eagles — because my mom has been an Eagles fan for years!! No lie, that’s been her team. So you can imagine her excitement as we were passing Lincoln Financial Field and going to the facility and just soaking everything in.
That was a really cool moment.
If people get one thing out of this article, I hope it’s knowing that they can do whatever they want in life. And I don’t mean just from my journey to the NFL. Because as happy as I am to be playing this game, I know there’s a lot more to my story than that. Like, the real key I took from being a late bloomer in football — it isn’t even about football. It’s about how in life you have to be willing to try new things.
And I’m still big on trying new things to this day. I’m always picking up new hobbies. My big hobby right now?? It’s building Legos. Yeah I bet y’all didn’t expect that haha. I’m not a pro or anything at it yet, but I’m seeing that progress. But that’s just an example, you know what I mean? What I’m saying is more how one thing doesn’t have to define you. And you need to have an open mind, since there’s just so many damn things.
That’s why I was really ready for training camp to come around this summer, and to be out there with all our vets. I know as a rookie there’s a lot of lessons for me to learn, and I’ve been wanting to just soak in as much as I can from everybody. Like — being around O.G.’s like Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox, and getting to see how they approach the game?? That’s so valuable to me.
Rookie lessons never end, either. There’s all types. Like I gotta tell y’all about the first time I met Slay. That guy really is the funniest on the team, because I go up to him during training camp and I’m like, “Hey, Darius” — and he just looks at me and he’s like, “It’s Slay. Not Darius. Just Slay.” HAHA. Lesson learned!! Now I know.
If there’s one word I would use to describe this year’s Eagles team, it would be that we’re connected. I think it’s hard for organizations to have that in this league, but we really are going out there to compete with and FOR each other. It’s a job, but at the same time it feels like a real brotherhood.
Seeing a guy like Jalen go out there and be the kind of leader he is, that’s inspiring. Or going up against a guy like Jason every day in practice — I swear it’s like he plays even faster than when he started. Then you got a guy like DeVonta, where you blink and he’s 40 yards down the field — that dude is insane in person. And so many guys here are like that. The players on this team are some dawgs, man, I’m telling you. And we’re ready to go out there and show everybody our standard.
Coach Siranni always talks to us about the details, and how “paying attention to the little things” will lead us to success. And I think that’s why it’s such a promising year. It’s like, you take the level of TALENT in this group, and the level of DAWG in this group, and you combine that with the level of WORK we’re putting in??? O.K. … now that’s a scary sight.
We understand what the goal here is, and we know that Eagles fans are ready to get back to the promised land. I already love those people. I think I’m really spoiled, to get to play for the best fans by far in college football and then the best fans by far in the NFL. And I’m excited to show what I can do.
I’m excited to keep pushing forward for this city.