It’s game night for football fans as they enter a once dim lit empty stadium that is now full of bright lights, flashing cameras, and fun entertaining music that’s blasting through every speaker in the arena. As fans walk to their seats, full of excitement, they fill their hearts with anticipation for a night full of fun, competitive football. On the opposite side of the field, in the locker room, are players who face extreme anxiety to bring notoriety to their franchise by winning the game. Their adrenaline is rushing through their blood like running water. As they get dressed: putting on shoulder pads, team jerseys, knee-high socks, cleats, and helmets, thoughts about the plays drilled into their heads during weeks of practice become the primary focus. And past experiences serve as stimulation. Obstacles they overcame growing up are a quick reminder of the blessing bestowed upon them. Men playing semi-pro or professional football are living the dream that most young and old men only envision. Some people don’t realize there is so much more to the man behind the helmet. Many don’t know the struggle of the player in the numbered jersey, wearing cleats, running a 50 yard dash to score a touchdown. When the bright lights go off, the cameras stop flashing, and the atmosphere once filled with loud hype-music and screaming fans becomes silent air, who are these men? What do they face in their daily lives when they’re not on the field? For some players, football is a sweet escape from the harsh reality of having no one or nothing and for others, the sport is a therapeutic release for those who battle loneliness in the dark night of their empty, soundless home. This article takes a rare look at a few players behind the helmet.

10580260_1511846669032846_8615211261001627972_nJerimiah Spicer grew up in Los Angeles, California: the city of angels. Spicer was born to a drug-addicted mother and a father who seemed to be worlds apart, but actually close in distance. At the age of two, Spicer was taken from his mother and spent most of his childhood in foster care and group homes. As he entered his pre-teens, he then went to go live with his grandmother. €œShe tried, I€™ll give her that, she tried,€ Spicer explains as he remembers his grandmother, who passed away in 2008. He reminisces on his time spent with his late grandmother. Spicer mostly recollects running away, being in the streets, and being in a juvenile center for teens with behavioral issues. God, if you let me out, I won€™t do it again, Spicer remembers praying. And as it seemed that all hope was lost and options were few, Spicer was released from juvenile and found football.

The sport became his outlet of frustration for life’s daily problems. It seemed that the prayer pleading with God had been answered. Now 24, he only thinks about those experiences instead of living them. Spicer is signed to the Utah Stand of the MLFB and plans to sign with a NFL team within the next five years. As for now, the optimistic, upbeat football player uses his story to motivate other children going through the same problems by attending schools and seminars as a motivational speaker.

Across the country is running back Shakeal McCall, a single father helping to raise his daughter and helping his mother to recover from a severe stroke she had two months ago. Starting late in the game, joining a team his junior year in high school, he has not allowed self-doubt to overwhelm his process to make it into the league. During the 2016 Beyond Sports Network Combine, McCall came to Indianapolis with only $60 in his pocket. Upon the running back’s arrival to Indianapolis, he was prepared to sleep in his car during the cold winter night, but fortunately for him, he was able to room with a fellow football player. Despite all the odds facing the rising star, he remained relentless, hopeful, and confident that the opportunity to tryout in front of coaches and scouts would pave the way to allowing him to provide a better future for his family. Limited finances have not put a cap on his dreams or determination to succeed. Although McCall is still looking to sign with a team, he continues to hone his skills, train during his off days, and works to support his family.

Spicer and McCall are just a few players that share similarities in having rough beginnings and short childhoods. Anttonio Brown says, his kneeling down to give God praises, humbles him and reminds him of where he first began and where he could be. Quincy Smith and Jonathan Querisma are other players who have allowed tragedy of losing people close to them to equip and inspire their hunger for the game. Many of these men remember having to mature faster than most young boys due to their circumstances. It’s so much more to this game than glitz, glam, gold, and a Sunday night win. For some of these players, this is life, a first love, a family, a career.