Back then, I didn’t know how the game of football would change the course of my life. I just knew I enjoyed watching them work together as a team for one common goal as well as the love that they all seemed to have for one and other. It was something that I could easily connect with as I searched for the same qualities to have in my life.
I was a very loving kid when I was young, always looking to help out and be of assistance to those around me. Socially, I didn’t get along well with other students, as I was deemed by the girls as “too nice” and “annoying” by most of the boys growing up. Where all that seemed to get laid to rest was when I was watching or playing football.
Looking back at Elementary and middle school, I was always looking forward to recess so I could form some football game outside. I would always advocate for the girls to be able to play because some of the boys didn’t like them playing. I felt that the game should be all-inclusive. It felt like family to me, anytime we were playing the game.
As I moved through different foster homes from ages 3-7, in a world that seemed to be every day less and less trustworthy and secure to count on, there was always one thing that stayed the same and could be counted on. That was football, in particular, the Green Bay Packers and Brett Favre starting on Sundays.
Brett’s genuine passion for the game, the love for his teammates and most importantly, his consistency made him a childhood hero of mine, someone who I strived to be more like. I wanted consistency and faithfulness in my life, Brett Favre and the Packers gave me that.
Before I was adopted at age 8, my parents had to have me for a trial period as a foster kid to test the waters so to speak. When they came to my psychiatrists for the first time for them to be introduced to me as my new parent’s and family, I had some wild thoughts in my head. I had convinced my self that Brett Favre was coming to adopt me and he was going to take me out of all of this misery that I had been going through! Football would save the day surely! Well, as I peaked my head out the door while my new family walked down the hall, too my shock and surprise, it was not Brett Favre, but it was someone I knew, Mrs. Beecher, my elementary school nurse.
At that moment I implored, “What are you doing here Mrs. Beecher?! And Mr. Beecher?” They were there to change my life, give me hope and help me go through the most significant struggle of my life, figuring out who I was and why I was meant to be here.
I watched my first ever College Football National Championship with them. It was the 2000 Nokia Sugar Bowl between FSU and Virginia Tech. My parents were big FSU fans, especially my mother. Despite the memory of watching more football than ever with them, it was a transition period in my life.
In that time, my love for the game never wavered and the game never wavered. My dad would take my brother Kyle and I out to a Purdue game now and then. At the time I was a big Packers and Indiana Hoosiers fan. Being a Hoosiers fan was because that is who my foster dad at 4 liked and showed me. I didn’t become a Purdue fan until they let go of Bobby Knight.
As I grew up, the passion for the game grew as well. After experiencing games with my dad and seeing the live game experience and environment, I was hooked. At age 13, I started my first job, selling newspapers for the Journal & Courier before all the Purdue football home games.
I would get dropped off early in the morning on game day at Follett’s Book Store across from Mackey Arena. On early game days, the van I picked up the newspapers from was usually there, and I just got my courier bags and loaded up with 50-70 papers and headed on my way. If you could imagine a 60-pound kid about 4 ft, 5 inches give or take a couple, carrying around all these newspapers. It looked like I was struggling most of the time and a lot of the time it was heavy, but that was the game, the more papers, they less trips back to the van.
I would walk up and down throughout the tailgates going from one to the next asking them if they wanted a paper. I usually faired pretty well on tips making around $250 -$400 just on tips each game day since I was young caring about all those papers, the tailgaters had respect for the hustle. But there was another goal of mine each weekend, get enough money to save up some money, but also get a ticket to get into the game.
I can remember one of the most memorable moments for me at Purdue. It was a night game for the Boilers, against Penn State if I am not mistaken. I went about my usual Saturday routine, asked mom to drop me off early so I could roam the tailgates and eat breakfast before I went to work that day selling the papers.
Well, I had gotten my McDonalds hash browns, and biscuit’s and I start walking over to Ross-Ade Stadium’s entrance where their Jumbotron is. There big black gates keep you from coming in, but you can still see the field. As I am looking onto the field, a man in a security outfit walks up to me and asks if I want to eat my breakfast inside the stadium. I was elated with joy and quickly obliged.
So that morning, I sat inside an empty Ross-Ade Stadium in the endzone fan zone seats in the front row, just eating my breakfast and dreaming about the game as I gazed at the beautiful field. It was a moment that I will never forget. Well, it turned out that the security guard that gave me that opportunity was the guard that protected the ref’s as they walked on and off the field. He asked me if I was coming to the game later that night. I told him I didn’t have a ticket, but I was going to try to get one after I worked before the game.
Well, he told me to come back before the game and meet him at the same gate and to text him. So I went out and did my usual thing, selling papers, getting tips. Then about 45 minutes before kickoff, after dropping the rest of my papers at the van, I walked back to the gate and sent the text. He comes back and takes me inside the entrance and into the ref holding area in a tunnel right by where they kept the ambulances on the right-hand side by where the railroad tracks where the Boilers walk into the stadium are.
He offers me chili and tells me to wait in there, and he will take me to a seat as soon as he can. So he goes off for a couple of minutes and the next thing I know, the Purdue Football team starts walking right past where I am standing, they walk across the “tracks” painted on the ground and then out to the inflatable train. The security guard comes and gets me and takes me right to the entrance of the train and as the Boilermakers run onto the field with the “World’s Largest Drum” I am standing just inches away watching.
After the team runs on, he walked me right up the stairs that enter the stands by the entrance where the team runs on. He told me to sit there and watch the game from the corner of the end zone in the front row. That was middle of the season, but the rest of the year that was my seat. I even sometimes went over to his and his wife’s house for a bonfire. Once again, football had become a catalyst for change in my life. I was closer to the game than I had ever been before.
Fast forward to when I was 16 and in an inpatient treatment facility in Kouts, Indiana for six months getting help for my suicidal issues. I wasn’t able to watch TV while I was in there unless it was a movie with the group at my unit. However, I was able to get a radio. On Saturdays in the fall, I can remember listening to the am radio broadcasts of the games and the rakings. Very specifically I can remember being by myself at the end of the hall laying on the ground listening to the Michigan vs. Ohio State game on the broadcast as the two battled in a #1 vs. #2 matchup.
In a world full of chaos and uncertainty, football was there to make it all seem sane and seemed to give my life purpose. I know that football was something that I would love forever. It was safe to love because it could be trusted. It created relationships and gave me hope. It also was one of the big things that I loved doing as well. I never played on an organized tackle football team. I planned to try out right after getting out of treatment; however, I quit a week into summer workouts.
I had the passion and desire for the game, but what I lacked was love for myself. How could I love a game more than I loved myself, I wasn’t entirely healed. When I was in the Army, I was on the flag football team for my unit at Fort Hood. It was awesome! It was the first time I experience being in a competitive organized version of the sport first hand. I played quarterback and cornerback, I threw too many interceptions, so I was quickly replaced at QB, but I was a hot ticket in my opinion at CB. I loved watching the QB’s eyes and getting early jumps on plays. I remember in the championship game we played, I had three picks and took one of them back to the house for 6.
It was a far move up from when I was in the backyard of my house back in West Lafayette, throwing the ball to myself and working the ball up the yard and back doing play by play. Speaking a little more on that time when I was a kid in the yard, I can really pinpoint that as a time that I evolved a passion for broadcast and sports media. It was the Super Bowl or Packers vs. Bears all the time in my backyard. I would keep points totals and stats. I would make sure each throw to myself had to go far enough that I would have to dive to get it or else what was the point right? Had to make it a challenge.
Back in the Army is where I had my head injury that changed a lot of things for me. It happened post class at AIT at Fort Gordon, GA. We were throwing the ball around, getting some exercise in when I went deep for a past and was running full speed. I was looking back for the ball, and as I went to follow the ball into my hands, I ran head first into a wooden post that was a part of pull up bars.
My arms wrapped around the post and I fell to the ground, with blood gushing out of the front of my head as a gash above my right eye had opened up.
My first bowl game experience came at the 2009 Texas Bowl between NAVY and Missouri. Some of us had received tickets from the USO for the bowl game while at Ft. Hood. I remember walking through the pep rallies and just seeing that whole environment.
Well, much to my surprise and pleasure, the next morning after submitting the credential, there was the approval email in my inbox. From that point on, it was a mission to figure out what The SkyBoat could become and what its purpose was in this world. Once again, football had cemented itself as a life-changing event in front of my eyes.
That first year of SkyBoat was a whirlwind or redesigns and living in what I could only describe as a dream world blessed by God himself. We started covering the Tampa Bay Storm and Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League in March of 12′. Then we were able to gain access to UCF Football and FSU Football. We only covered home games, and UCF only gave us a limited number of games. Well, that year FSU went undefeated, and UCF lost just one game and earned a spot in the Fiesta Bowl, while the Noles’ earned a trip to Pasadena to play Auburn in the 2014 BCS National Championship game at the Rose Bowl.
Danny covered the Fiesta Bowl for his college newspaper, the Valencia Voice, while I covered the Fiesta Bowl with my photographer and friend, Jody. After the Fiesta Bowl, he flew home to Orlando, while Danny and I caught a flight to LA to cover the Natty! It was a real dream, it felt like just floating in the air, and nothing could hurt me. However, I was very anxiety-ridden because I did not want to mess up the opportunity or falter.
Before we even knew if we were going, we had to wait on purchasing plane tickets. After we submitted our credentials, it took a while to get an approval back. I had emailed the Bowl SID, who is now one of my mentors and friends, asking if we would be approved. She told me that she appreciated me reaching out and we would have to wait to talk with the FSU SID and get his backing first.
About two or three weeks before the game, we received the approvals back. I had just received a nice paycheck and had a decision to make. Pay for the trip to go out to the Fiesta and Rose Bowl and buy a bicycle to get around, or stay and don’t go and buy a car. Well, I think it wouldn’t have taken you long to figure out that I made the trip and bought the bike. A vehicle could wait, and we went on the trip, and I spent the next year and a half biking to school each day. But by golly, it was more than worth it!
In the FSU locker room after the Noles won the National Championship, I stopped the SID for FSU and thanked him for the opportunity. He told me “ You know; it really feels good when you vouch for someone and it pays off. Thank you guys for taking it seriously.”
I would learn later on as my mentor came to my Alma mater to speak, she would tell me that she gave me the opportunity based on his recommendation since she had built such a good relationship with him over the years. Again, football provided a substantial life-changing experience. I am blessed to know her and so many other amazing people in the sport that I so dearly love.
As I sit I the press box today and think over thoughts and dream of the future, I continue to have this love for the game that has changed my life. Now, with my organization, The SkyBoat, I get to see the sport that I love, impact so many other people’s lives.
Prime example, my buddy Colt, who was in SkyBoat in 2013-15 and died in February of 2015. Before he was in SkyBoat and going to Full Sail, he was a highly recruited 6ft. 9inch offensive lineman. He had an offer from Florida State, but slipped a disk in his back and suffered other injuries, so his playing days were done before getting to college. However, after working with SkyBoat and being back on the field taking photos of the game that he loved, he wanted back in.
Colt also taught me lessons about life. One moment, in particular, stands out to me, from back in January of 2015. It was a day before Colt, and the other two of our crew were supposed to head to Dallas to cover the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship game between Ohio State and Oregon. I was sitting at Buffalo Wild Wings when he called me and told something that will stay with me forever.
“I am not going to be able to make it to the National Championship game. My dad is in the hospital, and I don’t know how much time I will have left with him.”
So I found a replacement for his position and emailed the CFP and let them know of the situation. Meanwhile, Colt got an extra seven days with his dad. Family, that is what this world is all about.
A month later, Colt passed away at the age of 25. It just shows you how precious life is an how important every second you have with your family is. That is what we all want in life, real purpose. Colt is a hero of mine, he lived a short life but a strong and faithful one as he walked in the path of righteousness with the Lord. He followed his dreams and lived happily. I wouldn’t have met him if it hadn’t been for Football. Once again Football made that impacting change in my life.
We have one life to live, with choices every day. Sometimes the road gets rough, and we tend to have thoughts of quitting. True purpose lies within your heart. As I sit in the press box and work with the next generation of journalists and content creators, it gives me pride to know that I get to make an impact in their lives and introduce them intimately to the game that changed my life. Who knows, maybe it will change theirs.
Thinking back to when I was just young kid, I never could have imagined the