In the year 2000, due to injury, I became the starting middle linebacker for the San Diego Chargers. Although I had already been a member of the team for a full year, I was immediately thrust into a role that was far greater than any I had up to that point.
Needless to say, there were many doubters as to my ability to perform at such a level. However, I focused on continuously improving each day despite the detractors. I will never forget my very first time in the defensive huddle, I struggled with gaining the trust of the other 9 players, and I say 9 because Junior always believed in me. Most didn’t want to receive direction from such a young kid, and the ones who did would always question my ability to properly align them and to make any necessary adjustments prior to the snap.
A little discouraged, I asked Junior one day why the others treated me in such a way if we were all teammates fighting for the same cause? He explained to me, “Buddy, they don’t respect you because they don’t know if they can trust you.” Naturally I was taken aback by such a comment but Junior went further to say, “if you want their respect you have to prove to them that you belong,” I responded by asking him to show me the way.
Up to this point nothing had come easy for me. I was undrafted out of a small school one year prior and my previous success came against inferior competition. Yet, I was never deterred because I always believed that if given the chance I would prove to everyone that I belonged. So, when I asked Junior to show me the way to gain everyone’s trust he simply looked me in the eyes and told me that if I was truly serious about being good, I should meet him at the facility at 5:30am the next morning. Overly excited that someone of Junior’s caliber would even take an interest in me, I did him one better, I arrived at the facility at 5:00am ready to work.
For three hours prior to everyone’s arrival, Junior slowly but surely taught me how to be a professional. We maintained this routine for the next four years together. By doing so he helped me bridge the knowledge gap that I was lacking and increase my confidence levels tremendously. What I didn’t know at the time was that Junior saw something in me that many others didn’t. Whenever I was around him both on and off the field, I felt invincible. It wasn’t important to him what school I came from or what round of the draft I was selected. Rather, he was impressed more so with my willingness to work hard and learn fast. He very easily could have chosen anyone else to be his middle linebacker that year yet he chose me and my life has forever been changed because of that choice.
R.I.P. “USO,” you will always be in my heart!!!
NFL Alumni ’99-’06