Today’s inspiring stories for your sons (and for you as well) are provided by members of both teams in today’s Super Bowl.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, considered by some to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, didn’t have an easy road to success. Brady’s unyielding commitment to hard work and his willingness to persevere in the face of difficulty in his early years of playing football got him to today’s game.
Brady was recruited to the University of Michigan to play football, but the two coaches who recruited him left the school before he got there. He rode the bench his entire freshman year. His sophomore year, he got to play for a bit in two games, but his first pass was intercepted and run back for a touchdown. His junior year he played quarterback in four games. In his senior year he didn’t earn the starting quarterback position until the team’s seventh game of the season. Discouraged but determined during his college years, he kept practicing, seeking advice from team counselors, networking with team members, and continuing to learn about football. He considered transferring but enjoyed his classes, friends, and volunteer work too much to leave Michigan.
Brady played well his senior year, and entered the NFL draft after college. He wasn’t picked by the Patriots until the sixth round, the 199th draft pick. He began his career with the Patriots as a fourth string quarterback with no chance of seeing any action in a game. But he threw himself into every practice, worked out at every opportunity, continuing to improve, and the coaches noticed. They made him the backup quarterback in his second year with the Patriots, and when the starting quarterback was injured Brady had a chance to go out on the field. And the rest is history.
Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, who in 2011 had the best season by a first year wide receiver in Giants history, and whose #80 jersey is the best-selling football jersey in the country, also had a long and bumpy road to the NFL. In his sophomore year as a wide receiver for the University of Massachusetts, he was expelled from UMass and his football scholarship was revoked because he could not maintain the C average necessary to stay on the team. (Today’s New York Times has the full story which can be found here.) From all reports, Cruz was not a bad kid, and did not get in trouble at school. But as he now puts it, “I just wasn’t acting like a college student who understood that college is about learning and getting a degree”. In order to return to UMass, Cruz was told he would have to take courses in an accredited New Jersey school (his home) and do well in those courses.
Cruz went back home, defeated and embarrassed. He came from a tough neighborhood, and knew that if he stayed there, he’d have no chance of achieving the life he’d imagined while in college. He gave this some thought, and decided “I could change, and if I did, my future would change with it.” And he did. He enrolled in a community college, and ultimately earned a B/B+ average.
Even the devastating unexpected death of Cruz’s father while Cruz was back home didn’t deter him from his goal. In fact, it motivated him to work harder. As he explained, ” I had to be the man of the family. It was up to me not to waste the opportunities I had been given. I had to study and work. There was still light at the end of the tunnel for me, and while it might have been dim, I had to run to it with everything in me”. He improved his grades sufficiently to return to UMass later that year. While he did not start in a game until his junior year, he led the team that year with more than 1,000 receiving yards.
Cruz played well his remaining two years at UMass, but was not drafted by any team in the NFL. It wasn’t until the Giants saw him in an open workout day for undrafted free agents that they invited him to training camp. He struggled at the beginning of his Giant’s tenure. He missed the 2010 regular season, as he was on injured reserve, but still regularly attended the wide receivers film prep meetings. The coaches were impressed by his determination during this time and when he returned to active play. The Giant’s offensive coordinator noted, “We were very hard on him and put him through some demanding coaching. Victor would just smile and do it better the next time.”
Two star players in the Super Bowl, two stories of how determination and perseverance paved their roads there. Please share these stories with your sons.