Published by Holly Ruvo
Interviewed by Ben Ruvo
Marcus Alston, Saint Francis University Football Alumni
From Baltimore, Maryland, Marcus Alston is an alumni Tight End for Saint Francis University. In Highschool, Alston was 1st Team All-MIAA and 1st Team All-State. At Saint Francis, Alston helped lead the Red Flash to their first Conference Championship as a D1-AA program.
Ben: Explain to us your athletic career growing up until today. How did you get to where you were as a college athlete?
Marcus: I began playing football at the age of 7. I played Quarterback majority of my football career. I went on to play football for Mount Saint Joseph’s High School in Baltimore. I made the transition to Tight End my Junior season where I went on to earn 1st Team All-MIAA and 1st Team Private School All-State honors. I started getting recruited by schools such as Towson, Temple, Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and my dream school Florida. I suffered a Lisfranc Fracture in my left foot that ended my Senior season. Due to the severity of my injury I was no longer recruited by those instead, I was offered a scholarship to play D1-AA football at Saint Francis University (SFU). I went through a 3rd foot surgery the Summer going into my Freshman year at SFU. I ended up redshirting but I suffered a shoulder injury my Sophomore season that required me to get surgery. I eventually made my way back on the field after almost 3 years of not playing. I sat on the bench the entire season but I eventually became the starting Tight End my Senior season, where I helped the lead the team to it’s 1st Conference Championship as a D1-AA program.
Ben: Can you please give us some insight on your mental health experiences?
Marcus: I first began noticing a change in my mental health around my freshman year of college. I was away from my family in Pennsylvania, I was going through rehabbing my third foot surgery, and I lost my Grandmother. I isolated myself a lot, I found myself crying more than usual, and all I would do was sleep. I knew something had to be done so that is when I began seeking counseling at Saint Francis.
Ben: How has your mental health journey impacted you as a college athlete?
Marcus: My mental health has impacted me greatly as a college athlete. I was diagnosed with situational depression my Freshman year after I had gone through a 3rd foot surgery and after I lost my Grandmother. These hardships made me skip class and football activities. I found myself sleeping a lot more than usual as well. I began seeing a decline in my GPA which later led to me being on academic probation.
Ben: I totally relate to what you went through. With my OCD, I was sleeping all day and I saw a sudden drop in GPA. How did you eventually help yourself and find the help you needed?
Marcus: When I was on academic probation, I noticed my mental health getting progressively worse. I knew that in order for me to get better, I wasn’t going to be able to do it myself. So that’s when I began going to the counseling services at Saint Francis.
Ben: How do you think we can become more aware as a society about disorders and stop the stereotypes?
Marcus: The first step would be education. I firmly support Mental Health First Aid. This will educate people more on Mental Health disorders and it will allow them to help someone going through a mental health crisis. If people are more educated on mental health disorders, they will begin to see the person and not the illness.
Ben: Do you have any advice for people struggling with their own mental health journey right now?
Marcus: That there is light at the end of the tunnel. Although things may seem bad now, the feelings your feeling will not last forever. You can overcome this and ultimately live a healthier life style.
Ben: What do you think schools and coaches could do to address this issue more?
Marcus: Schools should have mental health curriculum for their coaches and players so that they are more educated on these matters. I believe the athletic department should have at least one sports psychologist. Schools should also partner with other mental health organizations to hold workshops, events, etc.
Ben: I saw that you run a business called Alston For Athletes. Tell us a little about this journey and how you started helping others. Will this platform be one that can partner with schools?
Marcus: I’ve always had an entrepreneurial like mind, I ended up winning 3rd place at Saint Francis’ Business Competition in 2016. In September of 2018, I had just gotten out of my first relationship and I just found out about my diagnosis. This put me in a extremely dark phase in my life. But that experience made me realize what my purpose is. Around March of 2019, I began writing down my goals that I want to reach in my life. Majority of the goals were for later on in my life. But one of the goals was helping student athletes like myself who were going through physical, mental, and personal problems. I realized that I could begin this new venture right now. So in May of 2019, I began organizing what is now Alston for Athletes. For 3 months I worked behind the scenes and made everything public in September 2019 and since then I’ve had tremendous traction. I now have several business partners, I’m already working with several student athletes and Howard County Public Schools is interested in partnering. I firmly believe in not limiting yourself, so my goal with Alston for Athletes is to help give back to my county first and then partner with other school systems across the country.
Ben: Why do you think it is so hard for athletes to open up and talk with their coaches and teammates about what they are going through?
Marcus: As athletes, people expect us to be more mentally strong than others but in reality we are just like everyone else. Our coaches and teammates expect the best versions of us all the time to the point where sometimes it’s tough to live up to those standards. This tends to make it seem like asking for helping is making you soft or weak, so we don’t seek help because of fear of rejection.
Ben: What have you been doing to address your own mental wellness?
Marcus: First getting help! Once I was able to get help I was then able to educate myself even more on what I was dealing with. And now, I do a lot of reading on books that talk about CBT, DBT, EMDR, etc. I also began learning about Emotional Intelligence. Meditating, exercising, and stretching have also helped me. And music therapy has also been a great help. I’ve also found that helping others with mental health issues has been part in my recovery.