You know the old saying, “You have to dream it if you want to achieve it.” I must’ve heard that at an early age, like a lot of you reading and really latched on to it, hard.
Like most kids, the first people I looked up to other than family members were collegiate and professional athletes. Their pictures covered my bedroom walls. I’d spend hours on my own replicating moves and scenarios that I had seen the night before on the television in the living room with my dad. It wasn’t always football either. During baseball season, I might as well have been a member of the Chicago Cubs. During basketball season, I’d recreate the Indiana Hoosiers (I know, blasphemy for an eventual Boilermaker) game on my driveway until the sun went down and the spotlight couldn’t provide me with enough accuracy to contend. During football season, I cried like a baby watching Notre Dame lose out on a National Championship bid. I would wake up in the morning to jog around the neighborhood, because my dad has told me Jerry Rice of the 49ers ran five miles after practice every day. I wanted to be a WR like Jerry, so I did what I thought he would’ve done at my age. Kind of funny, right?!
I was THAT KID that ate, slept, and dreamt it. Literally, I would sleep with my baseball bat, a basketball, or a football during their respective seasons.
As I grew older and had limited myself athletically exclusively to high school wrestling, I would fill notebooks with my signature, perfecting it for the one day that, by chance, someone asked for my autograph. Looking back, I guess I was slightly crazy to think that someone would want a wrestler’s autograph. But I kept on scribbling it everywhere I could anyhow.
I tell you this to tell you that I believe it wasn’t a mistake that I became a professional athlete. It was a boyhood dream fulfilled.
Now, I fully believe, too, that there was a massive amount of luck that went into it. If it weren’t for the genetics that allowed me to be 6’4” and have a large enough frame to support 295 pounds, no amount of wishing or work would’ve mattered. If I hadn’t been enrolled into the Navy ROTC program at Purdue, I wouldn’t have been asked by a fellow Midshipmen, Frank Avino, to walk on to the football team. If I didn’t show up to walk-on tryouts wearing my military PT gear with a fresh Marine Corps regulation high-and-tight haircut, I don’t think I would’ve stood out. If it weren’t for a key injury on the offensive line heading into my fourth year in school, I would’ve stayed at defensive tackle and probably would’ve been fairly average and never gotten a shot at the next level.
However, with all of that said, if it weren’t for my intense desire and admitted delusion at an early age to believe that I could’ve been a professional athlete, I certainly wouldn’t have said yes to attempting to walk-on at Purdue after NOT having played high school football. I mean that takes a few loose screws. And, of the 105 guys that tried out (the year that Purdue went to the Rose Bowl for the 1st time since 1967) even if I did get lucky enough to make the team, that probably would’ve been the end of the run, as I would’ve been satisfied to have been able to wear the Purdue Gold and Black uniform on game day and get a few snaps.
But, to a dreamer, just being on the team isn’t enough. At least that isn’t what I was dreaming about anyway.
Sure, at first I dreamt of making the game day roster and getting to wear the uniform and stand on the sideline. But I had to get good enough to do that, so I worked my butt off.
Then, as I realized that was possible, I started envisioning myself as a starter, and hearing my name called as I ran out of the tunnel.
As I became a starter, the dreams continued. They persisted as I got drafted to the Chargers. They continued when I became the starter. And they still didn’t stop when I made a Pro Bowl. You see, I really wanted to be a Hall of Famer. I mean, I had made it that far. Why not me? I have given that speech in Canton, OH at the Pro Football Hall of Fame hundreds of times in my mind. And up until my clock ran out in the NFL, I worked towards that dream. Now, I’ll never get to give that speech in public, but boy was it good! LOL.
And just because my boyhood dream of playing professional sports has ended, it doesn’t mean the dreams have stopped. You see, dreamers don’t stop dreaming! We just come up with new dreams. And hopefully we can pass the ability to dream down to our kids.
Whatever you’re currently trying to achieve, I want to encourage you to take the first step...simply have a Dream. But please, don’t just make it the regular ol’ kind. Make it a BIG dream. Like a ridiculously big dream. The kind you would grin at a kid for having, knowing that the world was cruel and harsh and the chances of success were HIGHLY unlikely. Allow yourself plenty of room to grow into this dream.
And then wake up and start acting in the direction of that dream.
Just so you know, I dream of helping to make the world a healthier, happier place!
All the best,