Former NFL player who stopped his career early due to leukemia diagnosis chats with PHLBI student intern Joshua Moon about his life, career, and cancer experience.
1. Of all the places you visited where has been your favorite?
Honestly, California has been a pretty great place and I enjoy it.
2. How did you end up with football?
It started during high school, when I stumbled into a kid, that I didn’t even like, who asked if I wanted to play football. Actually, I thought I wanted to be a basketball player until the point when I stepped onto the football field. I fell in love with the sport – went to camps and lost weight. Several coaches thought I could play at a professional level.
3. What was your first reaction when you learned you had cancer?
My first reaction was of disbelief. I didn’t really believe it and it was just something that I couldn’t come to terms with until I was going through procedures to cure it. But even then, one of the first things I was told was that I had to work on my mental framework everyday rather than being physical fit. So, that’s what I really did. I never really faced a situation more than a common cold because I was in such good physical shape growing into it, so learning that I had cancer was something that caused me much disbelief.
4. Where did you find courage to face a situation that was out of your control?
Honestly, I just did what everybody else would do when put in a situation like that. I’m one of the people that thrive in situations of diversity. I never like things to be easy. I like things to be difficult and that’s the best way to see how you’re progressing as an adult and a human – dealing with things that are out of your comfort zone.
5. So, now you’ve gone from being this pro footballer to a very different routine, I’m sure. In what ways did your schedule suddenly change?
It didn’t really change. I wake up at the same time in the daytime, I go about things in the same way and work out. I’m thankful where my career and workplace is a place where I have so much fun. It’s not even considering my schedules different. It’s more or less the same. I like waking up in the morning early.
6. How about other practical adjustments— like your diet or exercise— how did these change?
That was the most significant change I had in my life. When nerve damage set in initially, it was really difficult for me. For a long period of time, the nerve damage bothered me to where I couldn’t continue exercising. I used be to very active, but chemotherapy caused nerve damage. I still tried to continue healthy regimen, though, and still tried to find time to work out consistently. However, I never got to where I was before and couldn’t be as healthy as I was once.
7. What do you think was the hardest part about the whole experience?
By far, giving up football. If you saw me on a day to day basis, you would see that I am very passionate about the game of football. I just miss football. There is nothing like dedicating yourself to something and being told that you couldn’t do it anymore. I had to say bye to the sport I loved when I was only 24 years old.
8. But you overcame it; what do you believe was the key to your victory?
Having a good mindset and believing that Lord has a plan for me. I never gave up being around the game of football. I always knew that I was going to transition into this world of football in any way, shape, or form. Even though I had to battle, I am still playing football – in a different way. I am back at home in USC.
9. Any piece of advice or words you could share with others that could benefit from your unique perspective?
Never give up and quitting is not an option. Until you take your last breath, just keep on fighting. That’s something I truly believe in because if I gave up a long time ago, I would have never gotten a chance to get into USC. If I gave up on my grades when I got into college, I would have been kicked out. If I had given up on my battle with cancer, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. With a positive attitude, you can do a lot of special things.
10. Did the experience change your priorities, goals, or values?
Yes they changed significantly. I realized that I love the football league, but as much as I loved to be around it, there are so many more important things than football and being part of the game. I found peace when I left the game of football, but it wasn’t until a year or two after when I came into grips with everything.
11. And you found your way back to football, in a different role—what factors pulled you back onto the field?
I really only saw myself being back on the football field, especially as a coach. If you know me personally, you know I’m a hands-on coach. I actually love getting in there, putting my hands on shoulder pads because I’m fairly young, especially in the coaching world. So, being on the field allows the guys to instantly relate to you, not only by me being a defensive linebacker in the past, but also by still showing them how to do things and interacting with them during practice.
12. I’ve read you’re one of the top recruiters in the country—that’s an incredible feat—how do you keep achieving at such a high level?
I’m never satisfied, which can be a bad thing as much as being a good thing. I love it. There is not one part of this job that I don’t like. One of the coolest things I know, as I was a former recruited athlete, is when a coach takes their time and comes to your school in order for you to be part of something bigger then what you’ve accomplished in high school football – that’s really cool to me. Building relationships is important. Recruiting is very easy when you know how to talk to people and get the most out of them. This is because it’s about how to connect to with these young men. You have to learn them and have to be consistent and honest with them. I love the fact that I get to do my job – building relationships with guys and making them Trojans.
13. You still have so much opportunity ahead of you; looking back though, given what you’ve been through, is there anything you would do differently?
You know what, I would honestly say no. With every mistake, with every opportunity and second chance at something, you always have the opportunity to do something better than you did before. The mistakes that I made when I was sixteen, I made the same mistakes at nineteen, but as you start getting older, you stop making the same mistakes because you realize how it affects you. With every opportunity, there is an opportunity to improve and that’s what I really try to emphasize on.
About the Author
Joshua Moon is an intern at PHLBI who is interested in participating in biomedical research and exploring the medical field. He will be a senior at Oxford Academy in the 2017-2018 school year. Previously, he has participated in the research of the West Nile Virus and has been part of a biomedical class for two years. Joshua is an Eagle Scout and loves to play volleyball.