“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
My mom has been telling me about that Bible verse my whole life. We usually read it before football games to prepare for the battle ahead. But we also read it when things in life get hard in general.
Psalm 91 is my go-to.
I’ve gotten to the point where I now know the whole thing by heart.
Honestly, it’s important that I do because nothing hits harder than life—not football, not anything.
Injuring my Achilles during last year’s COVID season was just proof of how quickly everything can be taken away. It was also proof that if you’re determined enough and have enough conviction, man, you can do anything.
The non-breakout year
That moment came for me last summer during a workout session with the rest of the defensive line group. It was at the height of COVID, and we really couldn’t work out with the entire team at the time. We weren’t even sure if there’d be a season, but we were still doing whatever we could to be ready.
On that particular day, we were doing sprints. I just remember taking off running as fast as I could and—POP!
I just sat there for a moment, trying to process what happened.
But instantly, I knew it was my Achilles. No doubt, something was really wrong.
I didn’t get a lot of time on the field in 2019, and I was really depending on 2020 to be my breakout year. But that’s the thing about plans sometimes, right? They don’t always go as you want them to.
That injury changed everything because it took the game I love away from me. I feed off the crowd, energy, and just being out there with my teammates.
And if I’m being completely honest, it’s just so much fun tackling people.
What can I say? It’s fun being aggressive and competing against the best players in the country. Having something like that taken away, man, it was hard.
John Tate 2.0.
Fortunately, there was never a question of me coming back. Even with a bad injury like that one, I was always determined to find my way back onto the field.
Sure, there were some difficult days, but all in all, deep down, I knew I was going to come back stronger and tougher than I was before the injury. I was determined to come back as John Tate IV 2.0.
And so I went to work.
I spent my time grinding behind the scenes through some intense rehab sessions to get back to where I needed to be to play football again. I thought about a lot of things, you know—helping my team win games, having that breakout season, and just finishing things on my terms.
But nothing could have prepared me for that first moment back out there on the field. After being away from something for that long, it’s just a different feeling than it ever was before. I guess you just learn to appreciate it more.
I remember even feeling kind of nervous. You walk out onto that field in front of thousands of screaming fans, ready to lay it all on the line. My parents were out there as well. Honestly, I felt like a kid on a playground. That’s probably the best way I can describe it.
I was back to business.
But most of all, I was back to playing and competing at the game that I love.
When the ride ends
Now that I’m back, I just want to put everything I have into helping my team win out the rest of the way. I want to do all I can to get back to another Bowl Game for a second straight season.
Personally, I feel like I can show a little more on the field. I just want to go out there and have fun, you know? I feel like I’ve been a bit robotic at times instead of just playing loose and enjoying the moment. This ride doesn’t last forever. I mean, we’re already nearing the end of the season, as crazy as it sounds.
My one goal since returning is to enjoy every last second of it.
Once the ride is up, I think I’d like to try out either coaching or being an athletics trainer. So I’m planning on going the graduate assistant’s path.
I’ve made a lot of connections during these last few years, and I’m hoping I can use it to my advantage once my playing days are behind me.
The crazy thing is my Achilles injury unlocked my interest in college coaching. While I was undergoing my own personal rehab, I’d come to practice and help out Coach Kyle Pope and the rest of the defensive linemen on drills and whatever else was needed when I was out there.
Coach Pope always talked about me being a coach in college. After a while, the idea started to really stick. So hopefully, I can be a defensive line coach or maybe even a defensive coordinator someday.
But whatever I decide to do, I’ll keep my Bible bookmarked at Psalm 91 just in case.
I might be needing it.