I was alone my whole childhood. I had no adult to lean on. I never knew my father, and my birth mother wasn’t in the picture. I lived for a while with my grandmother, who cared about me, but even though she was elderly she had to work all the time. At least playing high school football in Lubbock gave me hope. People took a liking to me because of my athletic ability, but they only saw me as a sports hero, an investment, a future windfall.
During my junior year, I fell ill, and had no legal guardian to authorize a procedure my doctors deemed critical. I was helpless – until a special woman chose to become involved in my life. She lived in my neighborhood and she had plenty of other responsibilities, but she stepped up, volunteered to take charge of me, and ordered the doctors to get to work. Her name was Stephanie Hill, but I’ve called her Mama ever since.
Mama wasn’t wealthy. She didn’t have many material things to give me. But what she did have she shared without reservation, and that included her family. I belonged to someone at last. Mama stayed with me (and sometimes on me!) throughout my time playing at the University of Texas and my eight years in the NFL. And when I came home to Austin, she helped me become the first member of our family to earn a college degree.
I’ve carried the ball in my life, but understanding Mama’s courage has carried me through my life. People say blood is thicker than water, but I know love is bigger than both. I may not have come out of her body, but Mama’s my mama in every way.