I was walking home after school one day in grade twelve and felt like I was doing everything wrong. Another football season without a championship or an MVP or any local recognition just finished. Again. More importantly, another season without any interest from division one college programs. Plus the batteries in my Panasonic Shockwave were dead. Luckily, this was before being alone with your own thoughts wasn’t torturous. I rarely, if ever, went to church but I somehow knew I needed to talk to God. I asked Him to show proof. “If You really exist, prove it. Prove to me that I am on the right track. Tell me: Who Am I? That it is all going to work out.”
I felt relieved after questioning Him. I believed that some form of clarity would follow. When I got to my front door I checked the mailbox. Like I’d done every day on my walk home from school for the last two years.Two envelopes were inside. Both had my name at the top. The right hand corner of the first one read University of Wisconsin. The second one came in a cobalt blue envelope and read Fighting Illini Football in big block letters. I took them inside and laid them on my bed. And just stared at them, daydreaming about possibility. Believing that God was in fact real. And that he knew who I was. Answering.
I didn’t open them that night. Instead I spent the first thirty minutes of sleep lying in bed with my eyes half opened half closed thinking about my future self. Going to practice in a Fighting Illini jersey wearing a single digit number like the one I asked for and earned in high school. I thought about what it would be like coming back home for Christmas break with an adopted American accent that I would so easily and obviously pick up after being immersed in the country I always dreamed of living in. I wanted to go downstairs to the computer and look up both team’s rosters on the internet. To analyze the heights and weights of all the guys who played my position. How heavy and strong should I be by the time I left twelve grade. Thoughts and dreams poured over me until I finally fell asleep.
The next day I put the letters in my backpack and showed my boys when I got to school. I told them “your boy is about to be out the hood” at least twenty times that day. I didn’t tell them about how meager I felt the day before. Before I got to the mailbox. We never talked about our meagerness. How weak we felt as boys, who thought they were men, inside of ourselves. We still hardly ever do. Not to each other at least.
That evening I decided that it was time to open these two letters. Carefully opening the first one by peeling off a side, I pulled out two pieces of paper. Thank you for sending your film to the University of Illinois. We have a proud tradition of Illini football that dates back 60 years and we strive to put the best product on the field. Because of the amount of film we receive, we cannot guarantee we will be able to personally reach out to every recruit. We have included a questionnaire for you to return if you are interested in attending any of our camps in the future.
Good luck with the remainder of your season.
The second letter, almost identical.
Maybe God didn’t really know me after all.
Still, I had received my first two letters from NCAA universities. It was a start, I guess. Or somewhere close to the end. Or maybe somewhere near the middle. I knew my journey had to continue. I took a big sip of the juice I had poured before sitting down. The glass still looked half full. Reading the insides of those letters I found on the inside of my mailbox, well, made me check the mailbox each day after that.