During the Summer of 2022, I was making the biggest progress I ever had in my athletic career. After being the 4th and 5th string running back over the past two years of my collegiate football career, I had finally started making significant strides in my game.
That spring, I started to see a counselor to help with the anxiety and lack of confidence that I felt while playing football and in my daily life. For as long as I can remember, anxiety was a part of my daily struggle. It was like any article of clothing, a backpack, that I wore every single day, latching onto me, and becoming heavy whenever it wanted to. But this accessory was invisible, unnoticed by anyone I came in contact with, but more real than anything else to me. It was heavier than any football helmet or shoulder pads I could’ve put on, but the only problem was it was an accessory that I didn’t have the luxury of taking off any time I wanted to. All it would take is one thought, one situation, one doubt, and my heart would be racing and I would get a helpless feeling like I was a slave to this thing that could happen at any minute.
From struggling for years, I decided that it was time to break from the captivity it had me in and take control of my life. I never wanted to look like I didn’t have everything in my life together. I didn’t want to look weak. These things kept me from getting the help that I needed.
I learned that it took strength to reach out and get help. From working with my counselor, I had the best spring practice of my life. I jumped from 5th string running back to competing for the second string running back spot through the spring and I was performing better than I ever had. Yes, I still had thoughts of doubt and wondered if I really had what it took to be successful at UNC, but I now had the tools to deal with these thoughts and had someone that I could work through them with. I was able to speak out and develop myself as a leader and started a Bible study on my team. Things had been going well for me and I knew it was just the beginning.
Fast forward, It was a normal Thursday morning, I just finished workouts and class and I was in the training room getting some extra work in. I noticed that I had a couple of missed calls from my “cousin” Chase, who is like a little brother to me.
“Bryce is dead.”
Bryce is his older brother, who is like an older brother to me. Bryce has been my best friend ever since I was born, he was a role model, and someone who I looked up to for advice. I didn’t know what to think. Bryce had died the night before while going out with some friends for his birthday in a car accident.
This was the worst day of my life.
Then the funeral came. Over the next couple of weeks, I was distant from my family and friends regarding the situation because I didn’t know how to process the loss of my best friend. I thought about him every single day, and I tried to act like I was fine but I really wasn’t.
Three weeks later, our fall camp started, and the season was a month away. This was the time for me to take advantage of the opportunities that I had created for myself and earn the starting job. However, I probably had some of my worst practices, and I was not performing how I was in the spring. My coaches were asking me what was wrong and I truly didn’t know and then it hit me. I needed help from the loss of Bryce I was going through. I went from the second-string running back to the last running back on the depth chart again.
I then realized I needed to turn back and get the help I needed. So, I leaned on my counselor, family, and my faith. Then it came to the first game of the season. I got in at the last couple seconds of the game because we were blowing the team out and played great. On my first run, I broke out for 50 yards. I then broke my thumb on one of the last plays. It seemed like everything was going downhill for me. I had lost my best friend and now couldn’t play the sport I loved fully. I was probably not going to play this season and needed to have some tough conversations about thinking about possibly transferring or redshirting this year.
When I got to my lowest point, I leaned into my faith. My faith has always been the foundation of my life. I grew up going to church, praying every night, but sometimes when you go through difficulties it seems like God is so far away.
It took me a minute to realize that when we do go through hardships that He draws closer to us and reaches his hand out to help us through anything. I didn’t understand that at the time. In a way I blamed God for allowing the things to happen in my life. However, one verse that kept me going through these tough times was James 1:2-4. “Consider it pure joy when you face trials and tribulations of many kinds, because the testing of your faith produces perseverance. I stopped thinking with the mindset of “Why God?” Why is this happening, “Why would you allow this” to “What God?” “What am I supposed to learn through this” and “How do I stay strong through this?”
Once I realized this, everything changed. Alongside my counselor, I came up with a new plan to hone in on my mental health and latch onto my faith. I began consistently going to church, reading a daily devotional, thanking God for adversity, and doing all the little things to improve myself because I knew something greater was going to come from it.
I dedicated the season to Bryce at the beginning of the year, and through these setbacks, I lost sight of that. I didn’t want to let him down. So I did everything possible to bounce back. I came to practice every single day with a new attitude. I began to thank God for everything that I was given and appreciated my life more every day. Even though things were not going my way with football, I stayed confident and believed in God’s power and plan for my life.
Then, after 6 weeks I urged the doctor to take off my cast early and put me into a splint. I wasn’t supposed to be able to take my cast off for 8-12 weeks and was doubtful to play the rest of the season but I trusted God and the feeling I was getting. Concurrently, the starting running backs were injured and the coaches noticed me improving despite having one hand.
I finally got my opportunity again.
In the first game that I got to play, I scored 2 touchdowns to give us the lead over Duke. After that, I started the last 7 games accumulating almost 700 yards and 9 touchdowns. This was a testament to show how God works in mysterious ways and how important it is to take care of your mental health. I thought that my season was over and then my life was going downhill, but God used this adversity as an opportunity to teach me to appreciate my life and everything that I have. I knew I was able to make Bryce proud through how I handled the rest of the season. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my faith and knowing the importance of taking care of my mental health. God worked a true miracle for me. I now want to use my platform and what I have learned and advocate for how important it is to battle this “hidden opponent.”