Professional Football Vanderbilt University '89-'93 NFL-CFL-XFL-AFL '94-'06
One of my best friends in High School was an athletic wonder! He had been a speed skater (ROLLER skating) which had caused him to develop massive, strong legs. He and I became fast friends when he decided to “take me under his wing” and show me how to lift weights. Until that point, I hadn’t really taken football all that seriously. I had been taller than most during Junior High (7th-9th grade) and just thought football was a fun thing to do… excluding two-a-days of course! Anyway, he introduced me to squats which I still don’t know if I should appreciate him for that or not! We would have leg workouts so intense that we would literally be unable to walk the next day. My mom would always ask me why I did that to myself and worried I would get hurt. I don’t think she ever really liked the idea of me playing football, but that’s beside the point. As the years progressed, my friend’s grandfather told me he thought that I could be just as good as his grandson. That was saying a lot!
My friend and I would continue to have these crazy workouts that would include running outside in the woods after severe snow storms. The theory was that if you train when nobody else would be dumb enough to train, then you would get an advantage on them. Our gym ritual was to work hard, try not to puke, and then relax in the steam room and share stories of our conquests with the ladies. Those were some of my very best memories. You see, he was such a stud at our school that he basically had his pick of girls and that made for some very interesting “story times” in the sauna! I knew more about pretty much every cute girl in the school than they would believe! Sunday afternoons we would go to his grandparent’s house for a Sunday feast. I was tall, about 6’4” but underweight so they were always trying to fatten “their project” up! I really enjoyed the candid conversations we would have about playing football and the goal of getting an athletic scholarship and ultimately to play in the NFL. He lived near an elementary school and on the weekends we would go sit on the monkeybars and talk about us playing for the Dallas Cowboys. They were THE team back then with Troy Aikman and Emmit Smith showing off their skills every Sunday. These visualization sessions really made us both believe it WOULD happen. He was very intuitive like that and what he said would happen usually did. He started getting letters from Barry Switzer at OU and all the other major schools in the South Western Conference (it’s not around anymore). I would just sit back and be amazed by the stories he would tell me about the visits he would take during our senior year. One of my favorites was when he visited OU and saw Brian Bosworth, the BOZ, running 40s in the Sooner stadium. He and I were big fans of Boz and I would actually go on to meet him when I played in the XFL! Being from Arkansas, playing for the Razorbacks had been a dream of most kids our age but the Sooners were pretty amazing back then as well Nobody knew where he was going to play. Personally, I was still too underweight to be considered at any major schools and that issue followed e for decades! I had had a kidney injury during my Junior year that threatened to take me out of the game permanently until my Dad found a urologist that would approve me to play. I remember my buddy coming by the house in tears because he couldn’t imagine not being able to play football. I, on the other hand, was ok with it. As I said, I finally DID get approved to play and didn’t start until my Senior year. That is when things started to get interesting. Senior year found me weighing a whopping 200lbs. At six four that was NOT Division I size for a defensive end. My buddy was a linebacker and he weighed about 230! We had gone to the State Championship game the year before and had been destroyed by our crosstown rivals but Senior year was going to be different. We ended up in the championship game AGAIN facing our crosstown rivals. Our starting QB had been in a car accident several weeks before. He had been at a party and wanted to get a ride back to his car. Little did he know that the person he got the ride from was drunk. The car swerved off the road and hit a tree. He had been pinned between the dashboard and windshield for hours before the fire department cut him out with the jaws of life. He slipped into a coma and had just come out 3 days before the championship game. It was like a movie. He was still unable to speak but had the ability to write and had scrawled out a note for the team that said WIN TONIGHT. We had it above the door on the way out of the locker room and everyone touched it on the way out to the field. That was the best game of my High School career. I was playing like a man possessed and ended the game with 13 tackles. In my head I thought it was the last football game I would ever play. We ended up winning 7-6 after my buddy blocked an extra point! We were State Champs! A few weeks later was early signing day for colleges and my buddy signed with the University of Arkansas. Some people were shocked but I knew he was going to the right place. Arkansas had a great connection with the Dallas Cowboys because Jerry Jones had played there. My friend ended up getting Freshman First Team all SWC and was the captain of the team as a Freshman playing in the Cotton Bowl! The whole town was so proud. I took visits to North Western Louisiana State, University of Tulsa and Vanderbilt. One of my other buddies had a sister that was 6’4” and she had been an All American basketball player at Vanderbilt so I figured I should apply at least. When I took my visit, the head of the football operations sat me down and said I was too slow and too small to play in the SEC. My Dad told me to not lose heart but he didn’t realize the challenge that man had just put in front of me. I spent the next several months training harder than ever and would go to church every Sunday and pray at the alter for the things you pray for as a kid. Bench press 300 pounds, run a 4.5 forty and get a scholarship to Vanderbilt. I literally felt like I had an express line to God and believed it would happen. I got a letter in the mail several days later and discovered I had been accepted to Vanderbilt based on my academics alone! Now I KNEW it was just a matter of time before I would get a scholarship. I showed up at Vanderbilt weighing a whopping 213lbs and, being a walk-on, didn’t even have my name on my jersey for team pictures. Not only that, I was wearing someone else’s jersey with THEIR name on the back! That first semester found me 100% focused on getting that scholarship. My parents had told me that Vandy was too expensive for me to go without a scholarship and I had one semester to make it happen. I would avoid anything that could prevent me from reaching that goal. I did not drink any alcohol, soda or eat junk food. I read a chapter out of my bible every night. I would go out to practice early and stay after, asking the coaches every day if I had a scholarship yet. I was underweight but I was quick. I was literally running for my life because if any of the offensive linemen got a hand on me they would just pick me up off the ground! At the end of the season we had individual meetings with the coach about how the season went and what their expectations were for next season. I remember walking into Coach Watson Brown’s office and having a seat in front of him at his desk. This is what he said:Well, John, as far as we’re concerned, you are on full scholarship as of right now. You have done a great job and we are happy to have you on the team.” I had been so focused on the goal that I wasn’t even surprised. I just nodded my head, smiled and asked him a favor. It was November and I had him write my parents a letter explaining my situation. I still remember exactly what it said. “Congratulations to you! John has earned a full scholarship to Vanderbilt. We think the world of him. You should be very proud!” I sealed up that letter and gave it to my parents as a Christmas gift under the tree. THAT was a great Christmas! Back to my buddy at the University of Arkansas. During the offseason I would start doubting my abilities and would call him up. He would always say, “you know what to do man, just DO IT!” He was right. That simple belief got me through some tough times. During my third year at Vandy I was sitting in linguistics class. I was an anthropology major. One of the assistant coaches came into the room and said I needed to go see the head coach. This was very out of the ordinary because they were VERY big on not missing classes. When I walked into his office, he said my Dad was on the phone. I picked up the receiver and thankfully he said the family was fine. But… my friend at the University of Arkansas had committed suicide.
Sadly, this didn’t surprise my either. He had been struggling with an ankle injury and wasn’t able to play up to the unbelievable standards he always put on himself. He had never just wanted to be a good football player… he wanted to be legendary. Now, he was gone. A combination of pain pills, alcohol and a 22 pistol ended his life prematurely. I remember going to the funeral and seeing him at the church lying peacefully in the casket. It was an emotional roller coaster for me. Thousands of people came to the church and the team had even bussed over from the University. I remember sitting in the pew and seeing all the girls walk by the casket in tears. I smiled to myself because I thought back to our “story time” in the steam room. I knew more about these girls than they realized. My friend had lived life on the edge…but now he was gone. I went on to get preseason first team all SEC my Junior year but I didn’t have my friend to call and share it with. After Vandy, I would go on to play twelve years of pro ball in the NFL, CFL, XFL and AFL. But it was never the same. I guess the point of my story is that you can have whatever you want in life if you work hard enough and eliminate any and all distractions. It is important, however, to keep perspective. Injuries are part of the game and you have to attack rehab just as intensely as you do practice. Keep in touch with your Faith. He will keep you safe and be with you regardless of where you end up. I went on to become a Doctor of Chiropractic and treat people that have suffered concussions, CTE and cognitive decline. I see my friend in some of my patients. The pressure they put on themselves can be productive… but destructive if it gets out of control.
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From my story above, the advice I would give would be based off of what he told me after I started doubting my abilities. He would always say, “you know what to do man, just DO IT!”