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  • Writer's picture Llerraj Esuod

"Dear Athlete: A Tale of Triumph"

Photo credit: @dajuanmorgan38 (Instagram)

By Llerraj Esuod

In the exciting world of sports, pursuing excellence propels serious athletes. Former D1 college and NFL safety DaJuan Morgan's auspicious book debut, "Dear Athlete," is a tried-and-true testimony of "If I knew then like I know now" to empower young athletes in ways he wasn't. 

The book's panoramic approach responds to questions and answers to things he wishes someone had told him about cultivating mental tenacity and resilience, developing the ability to suffocate self-doubt, and the white noise of naysayers to navigate the highs and lows of an athlete's career. 

His life resonates with the introspective lyrics of Rev. Paul Jones's gospel, "I Won't Complain." 

Acknowledging that he wasn't the "strongest, fastest, or most athletic" among his three brothers, he fueled his tireless work ethic with a convincing faith that playing in the league was his only option.

"I remember being in elementary school, and the teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I told her I was going to play in the NFL." 

She and his classmates laughed. Morgan knew better.

When his mother challenged him to quit fighting in school and excel academically, and the older of his twin brothers encouraged him to thrive athletically, he redirected his middle school temper into earning good grades as a compromise to accommodate his passion for playing professional football.

"In school, I had to start choosing my friends wisely. I had to decide to do the right thing daily," he said.

Morgan's drive unfolds in the backdrop of his brothers' innate athleticism, yet he admirably rises to the challenge. He said he was "average" on the field and that his brothers "had all the tools."

"I wanted to play wide receiver like my big brother because he could catch well and would tell me, 'You can't play wide receiver because you are too slow. So, I worked on my speed, and I got faster.'" 

When he told his brother he wanted to play quarterback, he responded, "You can't play quarterback because you can't throw." So, he started working on accurately throwing the ball and becoming a quarterback. "I was the only freshman to make varsity," he said, adding, "I excelled at everything I wanted to accomplish because my brother was my motivation."

When Tragedy Strikes

As a high school athlete with promising potential, Morgan's senior year at Suncoast High School in Riviera Beach, Florida, was expected to be a defining moment in his football career. Fate had other plans. 

A season-ending accident, courtesy of a drunk driver, brought his dreams to a halt, leaving him sidelined and facing an uncertain future but grateful to be alive. He and his brother DeAndre were on their way home from practice when the drunk driver struck the car they were passengers in head-on.

Doctors told his mother he would never play football again due to his broken hip and dislocated thumb.

"I had to learn to walk again; I'm on a walker; I'm in a wheelchair; I needed help to eat, to use the restroom. My mom had to do everything for me. I learned not to take life for granted. To not be able to do for yourself is humbling," he said.

With dreams of a successful high school career on hold, Ohio State University briefly revived his hopes when it offered him a scholarship. However, life had another curveball in store for him.

Morgan was confident about his college destination after his official visit to OSU. Although he had shown interest in Florida, Ohio State's impact during his first official visit left little room for doubt. 

"I knew I wanted to be there. I committed to Ohio's football program as soon as I got home," he said—but the commitment wasn't reciprocal. Ohio State allegedly had changed its academic standards. His impressive 3.2 GPA did not meet the 50 percent of the graduating class for a scholarship, dashing his dream of being a Buckeye.

He landed at North Carolina State instead, leaving a legacy of intense play and crowd-pleasing celebratory dances before being selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in the third round of the 2008 draft. 

Now he's determined to pay it forward in a 186-page compilation of encouragement and enlightenment.

Dear Athlete: "I have had the neighborhood drug dealers say to me, 'Man, you think you goin' go to college? You believe you goin' get out of here? If you do go to college, you ain't goin' make it. You goin' be right back here with us.'"

Dear Athlete: "I didn't have the wisest counsel when choosing a college. No one told me not to commit on impulse. No one told me to take every campus tour for the experience. No one told me to pay attention to a coach's body language to see if he's lying to you. No one told me about the discipline needed to succeed in college. I want you to know these things and more …"

Morgan's narrative, a blend of struggle and triumph, echoes the sentiments of his gospel inspiration: "His good days outweigh his bad days, and he won't complain," so current and future athletes won't have to.

--Rebel Writes

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