In order to navigate through the jungle you need a tour guide. Born a Leo, I found out that not only did I not need a guide, but, like the king of the jungle, I have a natural instinct for survival.
My professional football career started in a pee-wee league at a park across the street from Old Dominion University. It seemed like a million kids showed up for tryouts, and the odds of me making the team were not good. On the other hand, I was a small kid, but fast, which made me the next Barry Sanders meets Jerry Rice. Since there were so many kids, the coaches decided to make two teams--the Dukes and the Lions, which was my team.
I told you I started my career as a lion, king of the jungle, right? Mufassa we were not. We were more like Scar--not evil, just sad.
I guess I considered myself the star of the team. I was the fastest, playing running back, wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback, and safety. I went home and studied how quarterbacks like Warren Moon, Doug Williams and Randall Cunningham played. When Cunningham scrambled he was like a throwing Barry Sanders, and that was going to be me.
The next day I went to practice and I said, "Coach, I am the starting quarterback." He said okay and we went in front the defense. I call my signals, got the snap, dropped back to pass the ball, and then somebody hit me harder than I've ever been hit in my life.
I got off the ground and told the coach, "I'm your starting wide receiver." He said okay.
The next year tryouts weren’t as crowded, maybe 40 or 50 kids. We only had enough for one team, which ended up going 10-0 and winning the city championship. I wasn't the fastest kid on that team, but I was still the starting wide receiver. I was getting ready for high school, and being on the city championship team put me on the top of the depth chart.
Then one day my father came home and put a monkey wrench in everything by announcing that we were moving back to California. That’s how I found myself at Palm Springs High School in my 9th grade year. I established who I was, and took the starting job as wide receiver. I made every catch, including ones going to other people. I was cocky, telling the prettiest girl in school to come to the game because I was going to catch a touchdown for her.
My first game everybody I knew was there because I told them I was going to show up and show out. Coming out of the tunnel into the stadium for the first time, I realized there were hundreds of people there--a lot for a high school game. A nervous energy surged through my veins. The first pass of the game came to me, and why not? I was unstoppable in practice.
There is a saying in football: you practice how you play. I've made it my life's mission to dismantle stereotypes, however, and I started with this one. I did not practice how I played because in practice I was unstoppable, unbeatable, invincible. In the game I was debilitated, irresolute, capitulated. The pass was perfect and hit me in the hands before it hit me in the face. One drop doesn't affect a whole game, but in my case it was the initial episode that told the whole show. I commenced to drop every pass thrown to me. I should have lost my starting job, but in practice I was phenomenal, so I kept my job and continued to drop every pass that was thrown to me that season.
The next season I was back in Louisiana. My grandmother lived in South Terrebonne's district, but all my cousins was going to Ellender Memorial, and that's where I wanted to go, too. Unfortunately, my grandmother was a by-the-book person. The first day at the new school, I spoke with the head coach, who wasn't interested. I vowed I'd never play for him, and wanted to switch schools, but my grandmother wasn't hearing it.
In order to survive in the jungle you gotta do what you gotta do. A week later I skipped school, went to the school board's office where my cousins went, sat next to an elderly Black lady, and struck up a conversation with her. I then went to the desk, got the paperwork to enroll in school, and filled it out. Every time the lady behind the desk looked up I would talk to the elderly lady and she thought this was my grandmother. I switched schools that day.
My first day at Ellender, I talked to the head coach and he told me to come to practice after school. It's no surprise that I did exceptional in practice, and took the starting spot. My grandmother discovered the switch but said if the people were stupid enough to let me switch, oh well. I was starting on the junior varsity team when game day came. The game was going well until it was a pass play. I had to run a 5 and out. I ran my route and completely lost my defender in my break. When I turned around, the ball was right in my face. Instinctively, I put my hands up to catch the ball and actually caught it! I just stared at the ball. The defender hit me right in the face and flipped me into the air, but when I came down I still had the ball.
Everybody congratulated me on the catch, but wondered why I just stood there and got flatlined. To me that was cool, since I had conquered a fear I never knew I had. With my head in the game, the gridiron jungle was easy to master.
Stay tuned for Part II, which will be published two weeks from now!
This is the fourth contribution to our new, bi-weekly blog post featuring creative content made by currently or formerly incarcerated people! If you or someone you know is a currently or formerly incarcerated person with creative content to offer, please submit your materials to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll be in touch! We'll share the content on social media and always give credit to the artist(s) involved. Any type of submission--whether stories, poems, illustrations, music, videos or something else--are welcome! Today, we're sharing the first in a multi-part story written by Eyba Brown, who is currently incarcerated at Raymond Laborde Correctional Center.