July 15, 2024

My journey to the senior bowl: Part Two – My Playing Days

When it comes to playing sports, everyone has their stories. My story is one that shaped me as a man. It is a story of overcoming obstacles both on and off the field. It is an intricate part of the journey to where I am today. It is a story that I haven’t told too many people.

As a child growing up in Bartlett, TN I had a group of friends who loved playing sports. On a typical day, we would rush home from school and hurry through our homework {which I would have to correct later that evening} then meet up to play some sport together. Whether it be football, basketball, street hockey, amongst the many we would play we always had fun. I was the smallest on the fields of play generally all the time. This never deterred me from making plays and scoring. The reason why I am small is that I was born prematurely. In the year of 1985, I was a miracle baby. I was born at 1 pound 8 ounces and later dropped down to 1 pound and 2 ounces. My parents and family prayed for little me to make it into this world. I survived what many in that time did not. My height has never been the tallest {I consider myself a tall 5’4} but that has never stopped my heart.

My first vivid memories of spots were in baseball in the Ellendale Little League in Bartlett, Tn. The first coach that sticks out in my mind is a man named Duane Dunaway. In those days we had to try out for the league to play. We had a day of drills including baserunning, fielding ground balls, and pop flies to name a few. I can distinctly remember being in the backyard with my stepdad playing catch on that morning being nervous. On the way to the field, he could tell I was nervous. I can remember doing well hitting and fielding ground balls that day. The pop flies were another story. On the way home my stepdad would give me a pep talk in his special way by saying “If it weren’t for pop flies today you would have been perfect.” And he was right. I waited for the coaches of the league to pick what players they wanted. Coach Dunaway would call our house and let my parents and me know that he had chosen me. I was the smallest on the team, but he saw potential in the little kid with glasses. I played shortstop, 2nd base, 3rd base, and pitched in my time for Coach Dunaway. As a young man, he taught me through baseball that I had talent in ways I never realized. I will never forget those teams as a young kid having fun playing baseball. I would go on to play baseball for that league for my entire youth. Every coach at that time helped mold me fundamentally as a player and young child.

My Football Helmet From RCA

The summer after my freshman year of High School my parents moved to Somerville, Tn. I would enroll in a small private school named Rossville Christian Academy. The school was like nothing I had ever seen. Coming from Bartlett High School where my freshman class was well over 300 to a sophomore class of 20 was a huge shock for me. Being at a small school gave me as an athlete an opportunity to play multiple sports during the school year. Out of all the incredible coaches I had while at RCA there is one that stands out. Coach Joe Rocconi, who was my football coach during my junior and senior seasons. At Rossville, we didn’t have a stellar football program. The average per season for that time was roughly 14 players on the team. When Coach Rocconi arrived, we had won 1 game in 2 seasons. He came in and injected a winning attitude and work ethic. He used a quote daily in practice which was “Mind Over Matter”. This quote is something I have never forgotten. I have many memories of playing at RCA but two stands will stand out forever. The first one was my sophomore season and I guess you would say it was embarrassing. We were playing Kirk Academy on the road. I was playing cornerback at the time and was lined up against a wide receiver with a disability and had a deformed arm on his right side, The coach at the time told me to back off him and not to worry about it. At the snap, he would take off in his route. I stayed with him as best I could. I would get beat then turn and see that he not only caught the ball but had scored! A story that my stepdad still reminds me of to this day! The second story would happen my senior season. We were in practice, and we would receive news that the Center at the time was being suspended. Coach Rocco would ask if any players could snap. I raised my hand. Me, the 5’4 150-pound smallest player on the field. He would put me in there and practice and it would stick. I became the center on the Offensive Line. I will never forget him believing and trusting me with the most important position on the field. A position that no one talks about until they make a mistake. He made an impact on my life that I will forever be grateful for. He may never know what the words “Mind Over Matter” truly mean to me.

A young me after a softball game with my stepdad

The above times were all great in my playing career, but the most memorable moments were made as an adult on the softball field. My stepdad played softball my entire childhood and well into my adulthood. He, along with fellow family members and longtime friends would get together weekly for games all around the city of Memphis. As a kid, he would give me an extra jersey and allow me to sit on the bench with them. I as an adult began playing with him and it was an amazing time. It was times that now as I am getting older, I cherish dearly. He has since “hung up the cleats” from the field but the memories of watching him as a child and playing alongside him as an adult will forever be with me. My stepdad has been an incredible mentor to me on and off the sports fields. Teaching me the fundamentals of life and sports is something he didn’t have to do. I am beyond grateful that he did and continues to do today.

My playing days were times I will never forget. The teammates I shared the field with will forever be teammates for life. The blood, sweat, and tears we shed together can never be taken back. In my journey in the sports media world en route to the senior bowl I must remember my playing days. To all my coaches thank you! Thank you for believing in the little guy who didn’t always believe in himself and gave his all!

Further reading

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