From where I'm from, the NFL is a pipe dream.
I've been playing football on the streets with my friends for as long as I can remember. If you would have asked me 10 years ago if I'd be here, I'd have probably just been joking or talking or wishing if I said yes. At that point, I had never even played organized football. It's kind of one of those deals where we all said that's what we were going to do. "Yeah, I'm going to go play for a DI college. I'm going to make it to the NFL." We all said it, so none of us really fully believed it.
But that started to change my freshman year at MTSU, which was my first season playing only on defense. I ended up having 70-something tackles, four picks — two for touchdowns — and making the freshmen All-American team. It was sort of like, "Woah, I just started playing safety. I might be able to take off with this thing."
That's when I bought all the way in and realized I might be able to play at the next level. From that point on, I had tunnel vision. My mental focus was just don't waste what you've got. Don't waste what you can do.
I've always had a lot of aspirations. I reset my goals all the time. As soon as I complete a goal, I'm on to the next one. Before I got to the league, my motivation was my family and wanting to put my mother in a spot where she wouldn't have to move anymore or pay rent. I got drafted and was able to make that happen.
Now my motivation is proving to myself that I can become the player I know I can be. I want to go to the Pro Bowl and earn my next contract. I want to be able to talk about being a future Hall of Famer, hopefully having Titans franchise records. I want to be a leader on this team as far as people can look up to me and depend on me when it comes to making a play or anything else, on and off the field. I just want to keep elevating. Whatever's next, I've got to get it.
I play the game to be the best. I don't play the game to be mediocre. I don't play the game to just be one of the guys. I want to be one of the better guys, no matter where. I don't look at it on a small scale, wanting to be one of the better guys on the team. No, I want to be one of the better guys in the league. I look on a bigger scale.
But that drive that I have, it didn't come from being in the spotlight. It came from the dark days, from the struggle. My growing up years were not easy. My mom raised all of us kids on her own. We moved a lot and never really had one place to call home. Going through the struggle, it helps you appreciate things and it keeps a working mentality. The work is never done. There's always the fear that you can go back to that situation, so you just keep working. You never settle. My struggle taught me that nothing good ever comes easy.
I'm blessed to be where I am right now, but being a rookie reminds me of that struggle every day. I'm at the bottom, in terms of the NFL ranks. I haven't proved anything yet and I have a long way to go to reach my goals. But if there's one thing I know, it's that light always comes after the dark. You always have to go through something hard to start elevating.
That's what I hold on to, in football and in life. It's going to be tough before it gets easy. To be here playing for the Titans goes to show that no matter what situation you come from, no matter really what happens, if you keep on pushing, you can get there. You've got to stay steadfast, because light always comes after the dark.