My football life started from the moment I could walk. My father was a huge football fan and I grew up to love the game as well. He used to have me watch College Football with him as his favorite team, the Michigan Wolverines, would face off in the biggest game of the year against the evil Ohio State Buckeyes. My home was a Michigan house, praise the Blue and Maze! Well, until I grew up to be an Ohio State die hard. Our house was divided and I loved sitting down every season as my Buckeyes would beat Xichigan more times than not. It happened so much so that my dad eventually stopped watching with me.
I started playing football at a very young age, unfortunately my parents couldn’t afford to put me in pee wee football (football for young kids) so I spent most of my young years playing football with my brother, father and random people at the park. My favorite football players growing up were Barry Sanders and Deion Sanders, the best offensive and defensive players in the NFL respectively. I wanted nothing more than to be these two future NFL Hall of Famers and it showed in my game. I learned very quickly how to juke, run, catch, read the field, etc as I spent hours watching highlight film of these two players. Early on I learned how to bait the QB into throwing the ball to a receiver he thought was open and using my god given quickness and speed I could easily make up ground, make the pick and take it back to the house, high stepping my way for a Touchdown. On Offense no one could bring me down, I had to wear clothes I didn’t want anymore to a game because by the end of it my clothes would be ripped by the people I juked, trying to hang on and bring me down. It was clear I had some talent.
All I wanted to be growing up was a football player, but I never had the NEED to go pro, all I ever really wanted to do was play for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Once I got to high school in my freshman year I joined the football team. I was a very shy kid, was picked on a lot growing up, got into a lot of fights because of it and for that reason I ended up walking off the field in the middle of my first practice. Back then I was afraid and shy and frankly not confident in myself as I had only played against kids at the park at this point. Looking back on it, I do wish I had the ability, mentally, to get in there because I didn’t come back until my Junior year.
I didn’t plan on going back to be on the team again as I was still this shy kid and I had already been suspended twice for getting into fights because kids were picking on me. But at the tale end of my sophomore year they used to play Football in the parking lot in the snow, kids who were on the team and other kids who weren’t, and that was my specialty, pick up football. So during this time I started playing, nobody really knew me and I don’t believe anyone even knew me from that one half day of practice. They didn’t even know my name and I was always picked last or second to last, at first.
After the first week they started calling me “Green” because at the time I used to wear this green Adidas jacket when I would play. I was beginning to earn some of their respect playing because as the days went on I started getting picked faster and faster. On the field I didn’t care who you were, on the team, not on the team, starter, back up, I ran over and juked them all. Made some big plays and won the game quite a few times. By the end, they all knew my name and almost every single one of them told me to play on the team that following year.
After getting that confidence boost, when the summer of my Junior year came I was on the field in full pads practicing with the team. I already knew about half the team from my time playing in the parking lot so I wasn’t that scared anymore. I wanted to play DB (Defensive Back) and WR (Wide Receiver) or RB (Running Back), what they gave me was WR and DE (Defensive End). I wasn’t to happy at all about DE because that wasn’t my game. I knew how to play DB but the coach never even gave me a chance. I believe he just threw me there to fill a spot, so I had no choice but to play it. We get through the Summer and to my surprise.. I didn’t make Varsity. I was put with the Junior Varsity team and I was crushed. I knew I was better than the starting WR’s but most of them were Seniors so the coach instead went with them.
Despite not thinking I deserved to be in JV, I made the newspaper quite a few times because of how well I was playing. At one point in the middle of the season my JV coaches were pushing the head coach to start me, and the coach just wouldn’t. The assistant coaches would even hold a “scimmage” of sorts after practice and the goal of every other player who stayed was to catch me. They would give me the ball and say “go make em miss” and I would run, juke and dive over everyone until I got to tried to run anymore. That’s the kind of faith they had in me at that time. I don’t know what the head coach’s problem was with me, but we never really got along. Maybe he remembered me from that first day and thought I wasn’t worth it? I don’t know, but in the final days of the season my coach FINALLY brought me up to start me in the biggest game of the season, against our rivals (a school that was literally 5 mins away from us) on the day before Thanksgiving. I was so happy… until I was told I was in ONE play in the whole playbook. It was a 5 wide set, and I was lined up closet to the offensive line doing a quick 5 yard out route. I was pretty upset once again, as I may not even play the entire game and my family was coming to the game, it was going to be a very disappointing night.
For almost 4 quarters, I sat on the sideline useless, angry and upset. Not once did they call my play. My team drove down with under a minute to go and scored a touchdown but we were down 1 and our kicker had missed at least 3 FG (Field Goals) that night. So THEN they call my play, FINALLY, and I was so nervous going into that huddle, but once we broke and lined up for the 2 point conversion it was like EVERYTHING slowed down. The QB snaps the ball, I run my quick route, the DB is playing a bit off me, but the QB hasn’t even looked my way. I see him start to scramble as he is being chased, he is running my way so I cut back towards him and he throws it… TO ME! The ball hung up there for what seemed like an eternity before my hands came up and snatched it out of the air. The DB that was covering me came diving at me but I juked him with ease as I took off running. A second defender came rushing at me from the side but a stiff arm put him to the ground. Finally a third defender was able to get a hold on me but I was able to spin off him, until he grabbed my legs. The goal line was in reach, I stretched the ball out as far as I could and landed on the ground. I look up with the ref over me blowing the whistle and both hands in the air to signal that I had scored! I get up and start to celebrate and before I knew it, what looked like the whole team was jumping all over me. “I cant believe you just did that!”, “There you go John!”, “They cant handle you!” were some of the things I heard my teammates say to me while we were all in the endzone with about 30 seconds to go in the game. This was it, I finally showed everybody what I could actually do and I am forever going to be known as the hero of this game, or so I thought. With 30 seconds left our rivals drove down the field and scored a touchdown ending the game and my special lifetime moment.
Despite losing I was able to showcase exactly what I could do and with the summer only a few months away, my family was planning for our (at that time) annual camping trip with my cousins. I would be back in time for football and camping was one of my favorite things to do, to just get away and relax. So as I am looking forward to that I get approached by my head coach who sits me down and says “I am signing you up for track during the summer”, this was going to run into the time I was going to be camping so I immediately declined. He said he wanted me to work on my speed and stamina and at that time I was completely against it. As I said I would go all through practice and then stay after practice to do “scrimmages” and he is sitting here telling me I need to do track? I HATED to run, if I was playing a sport I could run all day long, but if I had to just run to run, forget about it, I would refuse. So I told him no. Looking back on it, should I have done it? Yes. Back then, at that time I was only thinking about THAT summer and going camping, I wasn’t thinking of how much I could improve for next season. A couple days later, another WR came to me and was so excited that coach told him we was the starting WR for next season. I became livid. So because I said no to track he is going to play someone who I am clearly better than in front of me? After all I have done this season? “Fuck him!” and I quit. That next year I was kicked out of school completely for getting into another fight with a kid that tried to jump me with his friends after school. My dreams of going on to play college football were over… or so I thought.
After being expelled (for what I still think today is bullshit), I went and got my GED, passed it my first time. I then went to work and continued playing football at the park here and there. After a couple years my brother was heading into college and though I thought my dreams were dead my parents and a friend convinced me to go to this private college. My brother and I were close so even though I hated school, knowing that if I got my grades up I could transfer to a bigger school to go play football was a great goal. So I left my part time job that summer and focused on school and training. By the time the first semester was over I had a 3.9 GPA and was playing football at the park every Friday night, Saturday and Sunday. At this time I wasn’t just playing with random kids, I was playing with Boston University Football Players, Former High School Football Players, and some very fast players and dudes that looked like they were in the NFL. After a couple weeks in, once again I was being picked 1st or second EVEN among this group of players and I would constantly hear how much heart I have and people asking why I wasn’t playing somewhere. This, like the parking lot days back in school, shot my confidence way up high. I was about 24 at this point and I knew at my age I probably wouldn’t make it to the Pros but my dream was to always play College Football. I knew it was a long shot to play for the Buckeyes but after all this training and doing great in school, and clocking myself at a 4.7 40 Yard Dash, I was ready to start making things happen.
After sending out letters and emails, the two schools that gave me the most attention and communication was SMU and Rutgers. I used to have their school pamphlets on my wall to remind me of what I had in front of me. After several talks, I was leaning towards SMU and was even planing a trip with them to go see their campus. I am terrified of planes so we didn’t end up making those plans final but the deal was (with both schools), if I finished my 2 years at my current school with a 3.5 GPA or above then we could proceed with me going and playing for their schools. I trained even harder… but like I said before I hated school, however I never got below a C in any class, during both years… except for the last semester where I got a C in algebra! I HATED math and I just couldn’t get the hang of it. Despite that I was confident I had finished with AT LEAST a 3.5 GPA and when it came to graduation all those who got 3.5 or higher got a special piece to their gown. I went in to get mine, they looked at the list and said “sorry, you aren’t on the list”. Wait… what?! How am I not on the list? I went and talked to the administrative people and they told me my GPA was 3.42. My dreams of playing college football was over and though I should have been crushed, I met a girl during my time there and luckily for me she went on to become my wife. I wouldn’t trade her for the world.
So once again I go back to working and playing football at the park, the only place that ever accepted me and respected my talent. That summer after graduating with a Business Degree we found this new group of football players at are local park. We had just finished playing our 3rd game and we were all tired but they asked us to play and we agreed. They were so fast and we were so tired, it wasn’t even a match. We didn’t really care about losing at that point and after we went home and didn’t think to much about it. A week later we hear from a mutual friend that those group of guys are still going on about how they tore us apart, so we asked them to play again and they agreed.
This time they were no match for us, we tore them apart from one end to the other, it wasn’t even a contest. At one point I got the ball and started running down the field. A member of their team came flying at me and without hesitation I put my arm out and all I heard was a smack followed by the entire field go “OOOOHHHH!!!!”””. When I stiff armed this dude I caught him right on the chin and he came off his feet before landing back on the ground as I took off for a touchdown. That moment has lived on in local stories ever since. A few plays later I got the ball once again, one guy tried to take me down, I juked him. Another guy grabbed on to my waste, but I am still running. A third guy grabs on to me, but I am still running. A forth guy gets my legs and now I am going down. But a 5th guys comes up behind me, grabs me with both hands on my face and throws my head down to the ground. I remember this warmth go over my body as I lost feeling in my limbs as my arms just flopped to the ground. I remember being up one moment and looking up at everyone staring at me the next. Everything was really confusing and I couldn’t get myself to my feet. I remember the other team being so pumped up about what that guy had just done to me and all I could do was sit there helpless as my father and brother carried me off to the nearest car where I ended up puking. For a quick moment I thought I was paralyzed, the way my limbs went numb and warm. It was the scariest moment in life. I have had my face busted open, ankles twisted, knees targeted and hit but nothing compared to this moment.
A month or two later my brother asked me to come down and play so I did. When the game started I didn’t feel like I used to. I wasn’t that monster that gained his reputation by being one of the best around, I felt like that 15-16 year old kid who left mid practice in his freshman year. Every time I got the ball I would go down as soon as I got touched, on defense I didn’t even attempt to make a tackle. It was clear that I wasn’t the same anymore and that concussion I had suffered, that scare that I recovered from made me change. I did absolutely nothing in that game and left back home right after. That was the last time I ever played football again, the end of My Football Life.
Looking back at my life with football and I know there were a lot of opportunities left on the table. Would I have been a big star in college and made it to the NFL? Could I have been a good player in College? Would I of just flamed out if I had gone to one of the two colleges I mentioned earlier? We will never know. What I do know is, I did a research paper on CTE back in 2011 for college and I know how real that situation is. Seeing more information and studies come out after that time and knowing that almost all football players are going to have to deal with this, I am glad that my life didn’t take me down that route. One scary incident was enough for me to completely walk away from the game I had been playing for upwards of 20 years.
I cant say that I don’t miss it, because I do. Making people miss, celebrating with your team as you make a big play, knowing you are one of the best players on the field… it is a feeling I will never forget. But from here on out, the only football I will play again will be flag, or Madden on my PlayStation (or College Football if THEY CAN EVER BRING IT BACK!) and I am okay with that because I had my time to shine and the book on My Football Life is now closed.