French novelist, Gustave Flaubert, once said,
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world,” and I could not agree more. In my life I have not traveled to every corner of the world, sadly.
At most, I have been to about ten places outside my hometown and state. Internationally, I have seen beautiful beaches in Cozumel, I have met stereotypes in Kingston, and I have walked the Queen’s Staircase in Nassau.
Internally, I had a fantastic Senior Trip in Orlando, I had a blast at Six Flags Over Arlington, and I was forced into many family reunions in Memphis. But long gone are those days of luxury, and I never thought I would wish for them back as much as I do now.
The Queen’s Staircase made me feel tiny, but it had no effect on my modesty. That right is reserved by another journey: my journey to college.
Now, my current college is not an hour away from home, even though it probably should have been. No, the college I attend is 6 hours and over 300 miles away from home.
In January of 2017, I was over the moon to attend Southern Arkansas University. Because of my high ACT score I had earned an academic scholarship, and on Wednesday, February 1, 2017 I signed to SAU to receive an athletic scholarship as well.
There I was, lucky enough to receive a full ride scholarship to attend college right after my senior year of high school.
Ever since that day I made sure I did everything I could to keep that in good standing. I finished out the school year and since my graduation I had been in the gym every day to get myself ready for collegiate football.
I was genuinely excited. Then I had arrived at Magnolia. I had been to this podunk town only once before, but that was only with family. Now I was alone.
Two-a-day practices started soon after that. Our entire day was scripted from 6 AM to 10 PM. School started two weeks later, and we cut back practice to only once a day.
Freshman study hall started every Monday and Thursday night, freshman had to workout extra on Tuesdays and Fridays right after practice, and the season began the next week.
The fatigue was all a small part to pay for my education. I was a redshirt freshman, so I didn’t play any games which I was fine with. Then for the fifth game of our 11-game season the coaches took my redshirt, made me a true freshman, and had me play my first college game.
I broke my left foot that game, and I still played the whole game on it. The next day I was confined to crutches and boot for not just the rest of the season, but the rest of the semester.
A bigger price pay I thought at the time, but then came the end of the semester. Even though it was supposed to, I learned then that my athletic scholarship would not cover the excess after my academic scholarship.
So there I was with a broken foot and just over $1000 to pay for my schooling. Luckily, I had enough cash left over from my graduation party the summer before to squeak by.
I returned that next spring because of course I had. I was not going to quit college after my first semester, and at the tender age of 18 I hadn’t the brain power to look into cheaper options in schooling. Almost every morning of that spring semester come rain or come snow our team was up bright and early in the darkest recesses of the dawn.
Long harsh conditioning drills and circuits in the blistering cold. Our breath was quick on the exhale but excruciatingly slow on the intake.
Running crossed immediately over into weight lifting. There the coaches incessantly griped at us, pushed us, and yelled at us to get us to work harder and just maybe, push past our limits. Day after day. Bench Press max out every Monday, Deadlift max out every Tuesday,
Power Clean max out every Wednesday, Auxiliary circuit every Thursday, and Back Squat max out every Friday. It was a set routine of breaking down our bodies each and every day.
Rinse and repeat. Yet this semester, the fatigue was not worth it, because the cost of my fall semester reflected the cost of my spring semester. But this time I had no graduation cash to spare, so I had to scrounge up a loan for that spring semester.
I had had it. I aired my grievances with the head coached in a meeting before I left for the summer, and he assured me he would up my scholarship to fully cover the rest of my tuition in the fall.
For my Fall 2018 semester, I toiled 6 hours away from home at a college I had not wanted to return to since the spring semester before. Nearly every day for 123 days I forced myself through two-a-day practices before and after class just so I could attend this college I loathed.
For just over four months, I silently bore my personal feelings afraid to change because my parents, who did not, do not, and will not have to pay for my college, wanted me to stay there. At the end of the semester, I discovered again that my athletic scholarship that’s supposed to cover the excess of my academic scholarship, simply wouldn’t.
The head coach upped my scholarship thankfully, but my tuition was upped as well. Again, I was in a situation of owing over $1000 dollars and completely unprepared to pay it. As well, I injured my right ankle this time playing the sport I pretended to still love.
And because of an issue with the school’s insurance, the hospital I was treated at denied my claim. Now, not only did I need money to pay for my schooling and debt, but I received medical bills to pay. I was beyond angry. I was beyond disappointed. I was just depressed.
In January of 2017, I was so excited and giddy to attend SAU in the fall. By September of that same year all excitement in collegiate athletics was gone. And now in January of 2019 all the emotion I have left for this school is pure apathetic nihilism.
Now and always, it will confuse me how such peace and confidence could wither and die into such regret and apprehension.
How every time I take that 6 hour trip back to school, I get physically sick when I see that sign that says, “Welcome to Magnolia, AR.” My slow descent into madness was not the byproduct of a single journey to this school, but that of a raging odyssey spanning years. Every Thanksgiving, every Christmas, every Spring Break, every summer vacation, any trip home and the subsequent return to SAU only chipped away more and more cracks in the façade.
Short trips like Thanksgiving and Spring Break were cathartic, and yet longer homestays like summer and Christmas I somewhat dreaded. Not only had my outlook on school life drastically changed, but that of my home life as well. A mixture of you don’t know what you have until it’s gone and too much of a good thing is a bad thing.
I was on top of the world before college. I would hopefully say I hadn’t peaked there, but nevertheless, times were simpler. Times were sweeter.
Now, when your parents only ask you ask you about football when they talk to you or when all your extended family knows you for is football, you feel like a disappointment and a failure to them if you take that away from them; even if you truly need to.
When your coaches say you are great repeatedly and that you have a bright future or when they say they will pay your tuition and yet don’t for two years, it makes you feel two inches tall. It’s a vicious circle that I’m in the center of, and with each day that goes by that circle is that much closer to being completed. That much closer to cycling anew.
On this long winding road to now, I have learned that I am tiny. That I was so insignificant in the eyes of the program I was in. I was one in 100 something football players.
I was one in near 5000 students. I was one in 11.5 thousand Magnolia residents. I was nothing but a speck on the map, even on a small town map. On this long winding road to now, I have learned that despite what my coaches had said, I am not great. There’s a vast amount of flaws within myself and the decisions I have made up until now.
Despite my ACT or my GPA, I am average. I am a percentage of a percentage. However, my future can still be bright if I take hold of the reins myself. So I will. Spring of 2019 will be my last semester at Southern Arkansas University, and whatever university I choose to attend in the fall will be my next journey. Without a doubt that next journey will be a happier and more uplifting one.