“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too can become great.” – Mark Twain
We all heard it from our parents, in one form or another, when we were kids. “Be mindful of the friends you make.” Of course, at the age of 10, I don’t think we truly understand exactly how important that statement is, not just as a child, but as an adult as well.
In elementary school, there also aren’t a lot of options when it comes to circles of acquaintances. You mostly have to make do with what you’re handed. Sometimes it works out and you end up with life-long, solid friendships that are the core of who you become as an adult. These people lift you up, support you, get into trouble with you and grow alongside you. You ride all the way to the end together, for better or worse.
My childhood wasn’t that. I never really fit in anywhere. I was a bookworm. I read encyclopedias for fun. I liked doing math and studying history and science. I was an introvert when it came to social circles in school. Hard as I tried, I always ended up being kind of a loner. The kid everyone took turns picking on, teasing, pushing around, you name it.
I’m not here for pity. I’m not asking anyone to feel bad for me. That is not the point of this story at all. I just want to get that out there. Carry on.
Elementary and middle school were hard. I was the constant target of pranks and the butt of many jokes. This ranged from girls pretending to “date” me on a dare just so everyone else in class could make fun of me for thinking that was even possible, to being pinned down on a playground and having a dirty toothbrush from the gutter shoved in my mouth.
Not exactly ideal for a child. But I kept my head down and in books, studying and getting good grades. It was all I could do to get through. Even my athletic prowess couldn’t pull me out of it.
When high school came I was excited for a fresh start. I even turned down a full-ride athletic scholarship to a prestigious private school to get away and find a new “me.” I had underestimated how hard it would be for the socially awkward kid from a Catholic school to find his place in a large public school.
I was instantly an outsider. Most of these kids had been going to school together for nine years heading into freshman year. They had formed friendships and cliques that were not open to new members. I quickly learned I wasn’t the only one that was in this awkward position. I wasn’t the only person on the outside looking in, wanting to be a part of something, anything. And just like that, I found my crowd.
Now begins the cautionary act to my story.
I had found a crowd. People who didn’t care about my past, for the most part. I discovered they really didn’t care about much at all. Especially education or rules. Old Nate would have run away, knowing this wasn’t good for him. New Nate just wanted to fit in.
Suddenly, I found myself blowing off schoolwork, ditching class and chain-smoking cigarettes down at “The Pit.” I wasn’t popular by any stretch of the imagination, but I wasn’t getting picked on the way I had been before.
I grew tired of this initial group I had latched on to and the trouble they brought. So, through a year of random connections in classes, I managed to assemble what would become my “crew” for the rest of my school days. These friends weren’t particularly nice to me, but no one was shoving a dirty toothbrush in my mouth or pressuring me into ditching class. They were good enough.
Those last three years of high school were still hell for me. The mild pranks and jokes got old. I found myself doing things to try to be “cool” that only ended in suspensions and being grounded for an entire summer. My “friends” encouraged me to do these things & laughed heartily at the consequences. I always knew this wasn’t me, but I wanted so desperately to be someone that I just didn’t care. I lost myself in a quest to be popular.
Post-high school, though I had separated from my “crew,” I pretty much repeated this cycle through a handful of different cliques. Drugs, binge drinking, finding myself in seedy and dangerous situations, all in the name of “being cool.” I look back at some of the things I did and am amazed I’m still alive, let alone not in jail. The entire time, I knew this wasn’t who I really was, but in my mind that innocent kid who just wanted to study and get good grades was dead.
All the potential I had when I was young was gone. I had managed to graduate high school by the skin of my teeth. I finished with a 2.1 GPA and needed night school credits to walk on the stage, despite having scored a 29 on my ACTs. I attended one semester of college but was more interested in working in a kitchen and partying. I was constantly finding the wrong crowd, and I didn’t stick with any one group for long. I was a troubled nomad with no direction and no future.
Then I met Jen. In addition to her being beautiful and insanely cool, she also had friends. Good friends. Friends who had been by her side no matter what since they were barely able to read. Friends who didn’t pick on her or make fun of her. Friends who lifted her up and supported her striving to be the best she could be. I honestly couldn’t believe this actually existed.
The real kicker was they all accepted me with open arms. No questions asked. And not only did they accept me, they also supported me. They believed in me. To this day, 15 years later, these people have become my closest friends, and I cannot imagine living life without them. They give me something I had never really had: a friend support system.
While they may not know it, they saved my life. While that sounds dramatic, it’s very much true. I was well on my way to absolute self-destruction. Who knows how much longer my body and my brain could have tolerated my lifestyle. Who knows what I would have done in the name of survival, what direction my actions would have taken me. What I do know is they helped me realize my worth and potential. They made me feel like I was wanted, needed and accepted.
Don’t be afraid to wait for the right people in your life. It isn’t always easy. It can be a lonely road. Surrounding yourself with people just for the sake of having “friends” is a time bomb waiting to go off. Believe in yourself, and know that there are people who will believe in you as well, no strings attached. I was lucky to find that with my wife’s friends later in life, and then again in the fantasy football community. Be unapologetically you and the rest will come.
Unfortunately in football, this isn’t necessarily true. Where players land, at least as a rookie, is mostly out of their control. Making the best of any situation is something that these men have no choice but to embrace and work hard for. Landing spot means everything. The right situation for the player’s skill set is vital to their success. So with that, let’s get to it!
Decoding Dynasty: Rookie Review
With the NFL draft almost upon us, this is an important thing to remember. We’ve tirelessly studied film, read articles, run through hypotheticals and poured over analytics in an attempt to grade these young men, all without knowing what their situation will be.
For some, it doesn’t matter. Exceptional talent will always win. For others, though we may not realize it, what could have been a promising career will never reach its full potential due to an ill-fitting system or scheme. I have a few prospects for which I think this is especially true in this week’s “Decoding Dynasty: Rookie Review.”
Mac Jones (QB, Alabama)
The NFL world was abuzz just a few short weeks ago when the San Francisco 49ers traded up to the third-overall pick in the upcoming draft. With Jimmy Garoppolo seemingly out of favor with Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco coaching staff, the assumption is they will be looking for a quarterback. Mac Jones has been a name mentioned as someone they could potentially be targeting.
It appears that the first two picks ahead of San Francisco are settled, with Trevor Lawrence going No. 1 overall to Jacksonville and Zach Wilson going second to the hapless New York Jets. This leaves Jones, Trey Lance and Kyle Trask as the next three in line to be taken.
There are a lot of questions about Jones and his ability to translate to the NFL. He has been compared to former and current players like Trent Dilfer and Joe Flacco; essentially a game manager who will never truly excel at the pro level. There’s also the stigma of Jones coming from an Alabama system that has yet to really produce a successful NFL quarterback. I believe that changes with Jones, but only if he lands in San Francisco or Denver, should the 49ers pass on him and go with one of the other three. Let me explain.
Jones has a big arm. He has an accurate arm. He had a 77.4 percent completion percentage in 2020 to go along with 4,500 passing yards and 41 touchdowns. Not too shabby. You need to remember, however, that this was with Heisman Trophy-winner Devonta Smith, and premiere talent like Jaylen Waddle and Najee Harris. He isn’t going to win games on his own. He needs players around him that can amplify his skill set and ease him into service. Denver and San Francisco both provide this.
Should the New York Jets surprise everyone and grab Jones with the second pick, it could be a death knell for his career. An unstable offense with one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL isn’t where you want to take your licks as a rookie. Think Sam Darnold and his as-of-now wasted potential in a system that didn’t allow him to blossom.
Kyle Pitts (TE, Florida)
Before you start yelling at me, I’m not writing about Kyle Pitts to say he’s anything less than a generational talent at the tight end position. There is no question that we haven’t seen a player with his size and ability as a pass-catcher enter the NFL since possibly Calvin Johnson.
That said, there are two places that have been mentioned as landing spots for Pitts that make me less-than-excited for his near future.
Let’s start with Detroit. With Jared Goff now at the helm, T.J. Hockenson already joining the conversation as an elite tight end and the probable emergence of D’Andre Swift as a top-tier running back, I have questions as to his fit in that offense.
My biggest concern is what his involvement would potentially be for the 2021 and 2022 seasons. The loss of Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola leaves 216 vacated targets on the table. But Swift should absorb some of those with a likely increased role in the passing game along with new addition Jamaal Williams.
And don’t forget about Quintez Cephus who is also a breakout candidate in 2021. I don’t see it being a good fit from a fantasy or football perspective. The volume simply won’t be there for the talented rookie.
The second team I’m not excited to see Pitts possibly play for is the Carolina Panthers. It’s very simple really. Matt Rhule and Joe Brady don’t utilize tight ends. Ian Thomas was the most utilized player at the position in 2020 in their offense, yet only produced 20 receptions for 145 yards and one touchdown reception.
Even if that were to change, there is still the fact that the Carolina offense also boasts pass-catchers Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson and David Moore. This all leads me to believe this would be a less than ideal spot for Pitts. Talent be damned, he would get lost in the shuffle and would be criminally under-utilized, destroying his fantasy value for the foreseeable future.
While the idea of Pitts not reaching his full potential is sad, it’s nothing a ridiculous dad joke can’t cure! Let’s cheer up and end this column on the right foot:
Why do you never see elephants hiding in trees?
Because they’re so good at it.
As always, thanks for reading. For more fantasy and life content, find me on Twitter @JeNateJackFF.