As you continue your athletic endeavors, “leveling up” takes a lot of work and discipline. Whatever sport you’re playing, you have to stay focused on those skills and be prepared to take advantage when a door opens for you. But in order to take advantage of those opportunities, you have to be academically on task and committed to leading a positive lifestyle, including practicing good nutrition, being a leader in your home and the community, and setting ambitious goals.
More Than Talent
Our defensive coordinator always told us that we had to have two things to be successful in football: our reputation and our film. For example, if you’re getting in trouble in high school, but your film is great, it doesn’t matter because your reputation has to match your film. He really emphasized that you can’t just be a talented player; you have to be a well-rounded person – someone that’s focused in school, supports their teammates, practices healthy eating habits, respects others and has a good attitude.
That’s where I almost made the biggest mistake of my life. In high school, I was not focused on my studies and didn’t prioritize fueling my body with the best foods. My leveling process took four steps because I went from high school to a junior college to a university and then to the NFL. It was something I needed because of the situation I put myself in, and I had to take smaller steps on the path to my goal. Yes, it worked out for me, but a lot of other guys derailed themselves before they got to the next level.
Sacrifice Over Regret
There are two types of pain: the pain of sacrifice and the pain of regret. You never want to regret anything during the process of leveling up. You want to sacrifice everything that’s not helping you achieve your goals, so you can make it as a player or a coach or any career choice.
In college, I had to live with the choices I made in high school. It meant additional sacrifices I had to make – like studying harder and choosing better foods, such as dairy, vegetables and whole grains – as I continued down the road. But I can live with the pain of sacrifice because I’d never want to live with the pain of regret. Sure, I could’ve had more fun doing things other than studying, practicing, training or eating healthy, but there were greater things that I wanted to accomplish.
Setting the Bar
And while I wouldn’t say I doubted myself, I should have set my expectations higher. My mindset was on making it to the Canadian Football League (CFL) coming out of high school. Then going into junior college, my mindset was to make it to a university and get an education before going into the CFL. I didn’t start thinking about the National Football League (NFL) until the second game of my senior year at Boise State University.
When I set my mind on the NFL, I thought “Boy, it would be great if I could get a couple of years in the league then go to the CFL and play for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats,” which is near my hometown of Windsor, Canada, or maybe play for the Montreal Alouettes because my cousin, Daryl Townsend, played for that team.
But you can’t limit yourself because down the line you’ll regret not striving for greater things. Limiting yourself is closing the door to those opportunities.
Set your goals higher than the ones I originally set for myself. It took extra steps for me to get to where I am now, but your path can be smoother. To level up, you’ve got to stay on track in school, remain positive, maintain a good reputation, work hard on your skills, eat foods that will fuel your body and, most importantly, know that the sacrifices you make today outweigh the pain of regret.