Before I share my story, I’d be remiss if I didn’t use my platform to discuss the recent tragedy at the University of Virginia and the murders of three football players — Lavel Davis Jr., Devin Chandler, and D’Sean Perry.
I never, ever want people to forget about those three extraordinary young men whose lives were taken so unthinkably early.
I’m a quarterback for the Memphis Tigers. I didn’t know those young men personally, but like me, they were football players living out their dream of playing Division I football.
It strikes a chord with me.
I see my own teammates in those guys.
That’s why I’m so emotional about this entire situation.
I’ve had time to reflect on it. I’m not going to pretend I have all the answers, but I do know these murders in this country have to stop.
They’re happening far too often at high school and college campuses, and I’m tired of it.
We should all be tired of it.
We need stricter laws on gun control.
We need to further emphasize mental health.
We can’t just do nothing and wait for it to happen again.
As football players, I’m not sure we always understand the impact we have to impact lives. Playing on national television and ESPN is amazing, but if all we care about is playing football for fame and notoriety, our priorities are messed up.
Being a Division I football player is a privilege. It gives me the power to impact countless lives and bring communities together.
I understood all of this before the senseless act at Virginia, but it’s given me even more motivation in the days that have followed to take action and do my part to help heal a broken world.
Rest in peace, Lavel, Devin, and D’Sean.
Change the world
As briefly touched on, I have a unique opportunity to leave my mark on this world as a DI athlete.
Making an impact in people’s lives is arguably my biggest driver.
It’s one of the main reasons I started hosting football camps three years ago in West Africa in the Accra, Ghana region.
It was actually my mom’s idea to start a football camp in another country. I knew I wanted to give back in some way, but I didn’t know how to go about doing that.
These football camps give kids the opportunity to learn about a sport they otherwise wouldn’t know anything about. And most importantly, have some fun playing it.
I’ve worked with some incredible sponsors to help make this camp a reality. Wilson donated 60 football and soccer balls last year. Hustle Ink, based out of my home state of Georgia, donated dozens of football cleats the following year.
With each passing year, I’m looking to work with as many sponsors and organizations as I can to impact the most lives possible. For each camp, the goal is to always touch more lives than the previous one.
I’m a firm believer that there’s no greater feeling than doing something for other people.
It makes the world a better place.
And I’m incredibly blessed to use my platform to share that love in Africa every year. It surpasses any accomplishment I’ve ever had on the football field and is by far one of my proudest achievements.
Creating a pipeline
When I was organizing my first camp with my mom, I was excited about the opportunity to give back — but I don’t think it fully hit me until I was actually in Accra.
It opened my eyes.
Seeing those kids out there working in the 100-degree heat in socks, worn-out shoes, etc., brought me so much inspiration.
I never heard any of them complain.
They had smiles on their faces the entire time I was over there.
With every instruction and drill, they listened intently and were eager to go out there to have some fun and learn more about the game of football.
My goal with these camps isn’t only to give back – I want to create opportunities. My ultimate goal is to create a pipeline from Africa to colleges here in the States.
Trust me, these kids have more than enough athletic talent. I’ve seen it first-hand. They just need the proper coaching, instruction, and resources.
It’s unbelievably fulfilling to help grow the game that I love and put smiles on children’s faces in the process.
Being a role model to these kids is not something I take lightly. I want them to understand that with hard work, dedication, and passion, they can grow up to be a Division I football player — just like me.
They can do anything they set their minds to.
As I said, all it takes is the right resources and opportunities, and that’s the entire purpose of what my camps are about.
Privilege of a lifetime
I typically host my camps in Africa during the summer because that’s when I’m not practicing or playing football.
But my college football days and playing for Memphis will be done after the season, so I already have plans to head back out to Africa in March.
And I can’t wait.
Just because I go once a year doesn’t mean those kids aren’t on my mind all year round. I think of them quite often, actually.
I think of them especially when I’m facing trying situations in my own life.
When times get tough, I just remind myself that there isn’t one kid over there that wouldn’t give anything to be in my shoes.
At that point, I realize my problems are trivial to the hardships and challenges they’re facing on an everyday basis.
Going back to what I said earlier, being a Division I football player is a privilege.
It’s a privilege that gives me the power to let my voice be heard on what I think is right, and to give back to those in need.
I don’t take this privilege for granted.
At Virginia, we were reminded about the evil in this world, and I’m never going to remain silent about what I think we need to do as a country and community to help stop that evil from happening again.
I’m also going to spread as much love and happiness as I can — whether it be in the locker room and football field in my remaining time at Memphis or at my camps in Africa that I will continue to host for decades.
I’ve always loved the game of football, but it’s the platform to impact countless lives that I love even more.
And I’m just getting started.