Some of the greater lessons I’ve learned in life often start off with me thinking that I’m the shit and then getting proved wrong. Such was the case when I enrolled into ninth grade at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School.
I had just finished up my middle school career at one of the top ranking schools in the country: Julia R. Masterman Lab & Demonstration School. I had straight As throughout most of middle school. A few Bs scattered throughout and once unmentioned grade in my sixth grade art class. I wasn’t the most imaginative on a blank canvas. But even with all these high flying grades I didn’t want to stay. I was naive and felt like an outcast because the popular kids wouldn’t accept me. Masterman also didn’t have a football team. I wasn’t a huge fan of the sport, but was in love with playing it. Football was a way for me to let my hormones rage. And a way to release the anger built up from being teased all day. In those days, kids actually feared going up against me in tackling drills.
Early into eighth grade I didn’t have St. Joe’s on my mind. My older cousin was a senior there, but that’s about all I knew about the school. Also, I wasn’t too turned on by the fact that it wasn’t co-ed. Where would I find time to talk to girls? After attending the open house though, my mind changed.
“So this is how the wealthy live…” I thought to myself as I walked through the clean halls of the Prep with other prospective students and parents. Of course, because of the modest style of many wealthy people I couldn’t readily discern their social status at first glance. But it was something about the environment. The way people talked and what they talked about. The lack of diversity. It all gave off an air that was previously foreign to me. For some reason I was intrigued by it all. Not the mention, the Prep had a good football program too.
Football was a big deciding factor in my choice to go to St. Joseph’s Prep, but there were a few other reasons too. I wanted to see how the rich lived, because I knew for sure that I’d be living right along the Main Line with them once I became wealthy (whenever that would be). My family wasn’t super poor. Yet seeing how being perpetually broke caused so much stress to my parents, I knew that I didn’t want to live the same way as an adult. It made perfect sense at the time that I should surround myself with my future business partners and next door neighbors.
In addition to these reasons I also felt that being at the Prep would help me feel more “black.” Let me explain. I was raised super early in my childhood with knowledge of black culture, slavery, history, etc. My family didn’t raise me to be a baby Black Panther, but I still felt a strong connection to my blackness at a very young age. So when I arrived at Masterman and kids called me white because of how I spoke and the neighborhood I lived in, it tore me up inside. I thought that if I went to the Prep in high school, no one could strip me of my identity. I’d be one of the few blacks in an all-white school. There was just no denying my background in that situation. I stood out by default.
My parents were of course very reluctant because I had just spent the last four years getting a free public education. Fortunately, I got just enough scholarship money for them to scrape up the rest from wherever they could. Time for a new beginning. I walked into those doors in September 2005 feeling bigheaded and black. I had just graduated from the top middle school in the city. I was practically a genius, right? Should have just handed me my diploma right there. Should have just placed me on the varsity football squad, too. Man I was sooo wrong.
I started off freshman year taking any upper level courses I tested into. I wouldn’t say any one class was more challenging than the other, but they required time and dedication if I wanted to get As. I sometimes found myself shifting my focus to whatever class seemed to be important at the time. In middle school I could do everything. Play the saxophone, soccer, football, videogames…I would still find time to get my homework done. High school was a little more challenging. I couldn’t spread myself thin. I had to learn how to focus on what was important for me.
Football wasn’t going to well. Growing up I played in the trenches on the line. It wasn’t because I was a huge kid. I was just tall, so I outweighed more of the kids on the team. I was always the big guy. That all changed in high school, when I instantly became one of the smaller guys. Yet I still moved like the big guys. I wasn’t no wide-receiver or safety. So I played defensive end and took a stab at fullback on offense.
Like many kids, I still had a glint of hope that I could become pro. But as much as I thought I was the best, I really wasn’t that good. In the offseason I trained and trained, and hoped for that starting spot next fall. But there was really more hoping going on than actual training. I was still trying to do everything. Football wasn’t my life. I quit at the end of sophomore year. I told myself it was because I didn’t like the head coach’s style of coaching. (He really was a douche though. All yelling and cursing with no positive reinforcement). But it was more than that. I wasn’t ready to give up those other obligations in my life. I wasn’t ready to eat, sleep, and breathe football. If I learned anything from my decision to quit football it was that focus and dedication produces results. I learned this lesson during off-season weight training. I saw my physique change right before my eyes. But the dreams of playing in college had faded. The sport just wasn’t for me.