Every once in awhile a special student will come along and try to make an impact. This certain student, a current University of Michigan student, is trying to gather support in an attempt to tryout for the school’s football team.
He doesn’t want to stop there, he wants to earn a place on the team, and he wants to dominate. World, meet Chris Mays. He is on a mission.
The Big House Report will be helping Mays on his journey and will be following him each step of the way. Mays took some time out to answer a few questions for us. What is Mays inspiration? Read on to find out more!
Q: To start, talk a little about your journey. What made you decide to work towards trying out for the football team?
A: Well, to be honest in order for me to give you a great look at my journey, it really didn’t just start when I became a Michigan student, it actually started when I was really young. The first time that I could ever recall having a great interest in Michigan Football or football in general was when I was in kindergarten. I was attending Fairlane Christian School at this time and the year was 1997. I remember when I was a kid always seeing friends and teachers wearing and Michigan clothes, football jerseys, and Michigan flags all over the school halls and windows. I never had the opportunity to watch a full game but I remember Monday during their season students were talking about the wins and highlights whenever there was a TV on local news for a brief second. I heard names that when I was kid had no significance to me like, Charles Woodson, that was all that you heard on my lunch table. People saying they were going to games and meeting the players. This continued on well into the Rose Bowl I think. That was when football in general started sparking my interest.
Fast forward to around middle school (2006) and I was attending Southfield Christian. During that time, we were just getting a football team of our own and I still harbored some interest in football. But, I when I first started having interest in the football team for the inaugural season during my freshman year, there were some people that did redicule or mock the idea that I wanted to play football. I was called a skinny stick, too thin to play, and that really did lower my morale and unfortunately I let that get to me. Yeah, I was very skinny, barely past the 100lb mark on the eve of getting into freshman year and with those comments and other discouraging things, it got to me so I folded and decided not to play for the inaugural season. That’s something that I greatly regret to this day. But, I vowed that I would prove people wrong. So along with getting good grades in school and hoping to get into Michigan, I was also starting to workout with the football players and this time I was determined to prove them wrong so that when sophomore year came around I was more then ready bring down the criticism. I was greatly encouraged by my close friends and especially the coaches. My first ever conditioning day, I just completely exhausted, but I gave it my very best. I was so nervous that I would get cut right that day, but our then head Coach Jim Mark told me that he saw that I had gave a lot of heart into it and that if I keep at it I’ll become something. That really inspired me to keep going, but then again I kept facing some of the criticism that I faced in expressing interest for football. Now it was that I couldn’t start or that I was never going to make a play. But I never let that get to me, I kept getting better and I earned some additional respect for that. I played again our Junior year when we had Coach Fracassi and Coach Tryon, who was a college football athlete himself, and they really brought out the courage in me to keep at the sport and never give up. I will never forget the encouragement that they gave me when I first wanted to quit after all the peer pressure. I still never told people that I wanted to play college football because I was worried that it wouldn’t make the criticism any better or that I would be overlooked.
Then I had to transfer to Southfield High for my senior year of high school and it was huge adjustment going from a private Christian school to a public school like that. During that time I was worried again about being ridiculed and additionally that I wasn’t good enough, so once again I let my low-self esteem take the most of me and I unfortunately passed up on playing football over at Southfield High. I kept following up on Michigan Football, holding on to my dream. Obviously at that time I knew the only way I was going to walk on, so that’s when I started taking advantage of lifting weights at home, in the school gym, and running late at night. I joined the track team so that I could gain some extra speed–again all of this with no one knowing that I was planning on trying out for football. I feel that what dealt the final nail in me wanting to chase this dream was after I saw an HBO documentary about the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry late at night and that was when I said to myself, “I want to be part of that tradition”. At this time I was living at my aunt’s house filling out paper work for admission to the University of Michigan. I actually got to also befriend Mike Martin and I asked him for some great advise and he was extremely encouraging and told me to never give up and never to worry about peer pressure because they never want what is best for you. And that’s when I started working out a plan to tryout during the Summer Bridge program that I was in or my sophomore year. Eventually I decided to keep working hard during my freshman year and hope to tryout my sophomore year but I got even a lot of encouragement from the then-new recruits of Michigan to try out. From that point on I was determined to make the Michigan Football team, I was determined not to graduate without experience that once-in-a-lifetime point of my life that I’ve dreamed of since I was a child and I wasn’t going to let anyone get in my way. I worked out like heck starting freshman year and even to this day-and that’s where I got my start. I even picked up a buddy named Alex and worked out with him and it was an enjoyable experience. He made it past the first round of tryouts, but I didn’t and that’s what got me started to continue this route a second time stronger and better.
Q: How are you utilizing social media to help you gather a following of supporters?
A: Well, when I first started using the social network, the first thing I wanted to do was get some support. After my first failed attempt of trying out, it was kind of hard and depressing to try to be your own cheerleader and in many cases I doubted myself. None of my peers knew I was trying out for football until the night before the first tryout in January. They said there were a lot of signs that they knew I was training for something with my late night running and doing drills on Palmer Field late, late at night, but again that was because I was worried about what people would think of me if they heard that I was trying out. But I got so much encouragement, so much praise, and so many inspirational text messages that it really got me to boost my self-esteem that I could do this. And even when I failed, there were still people that wanted to lift me up and told me to try out again but do it better. So another reason for social networking is to get the attention of the coaches and hopefully they’ll catch on.
So I wanted to use the social network for this time was because I was hoping to get some more of that encouragement, get the word out to people that I am doing this, and it’s hard and I appreciate all the help, prayers, and connections that I can get to make this dream a reality and so far it has just been so positive beyond my wildest dreams. Several football players have given great words of encouragement like Jibreel Black, Marvin, Jordan Kovacs, Jordan Pasorkz, Mike Martin, Fitzgerald Touissant, and many many more. Honestly, that especially gave me encouragement to try again and regain that determination that I know I have. So social networking is a way to get my name out so that people know my story and I hope that if I’m given the opportunity that this can encourage other kids that are doubting that they can’t do athletics or feel that you have to be superman in order to dream that, to look at someone who was in the same shoes that they were in and say that if you have the determination, will power, and stick-to-it-ness you can model yourself into something far incredible then what you imagined. That’s my overall goal, because you see so many times when people fail they are ready to give up and I want to say that, ‘hey I’m still beating the odds, I know it’s hard, but if you keep at it, you’ll get there”. And social media I think helps broaden that message and help people to follow up on my progress.
Q: How can you contribute to the football team? What are your areas of strengths? Why should Brady Hoke and Co. choose you for their squad?
A: I am a very positive person. I have a lot of energy and I have a heart for this game. One thing that I have recognized that I got as a complement from friends, parents, and coaches is that I am a very determined person. If I don’t get something right, I’ll keep trying until I get it perfect. That’s something that I always heard. I’m a team player, I’m not someone out looking to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated, I just want to accomplish a dream that I’ve always had. I would have to say that my strength is running, I love to do it, especially foot drills. I may not be the fastest or run a four second flat but give me time and I can promise they would not regret having me. Off the field, I’m a great person to be around. I love to do community service with organizations and foundations, especially involving children with special needs or illnesses. I could promise the coaches would not regret giving me a shot, because I would make it worth their while. I would be very happy if they reconsidered.
Q: Your story of your quest for triumph reminds me a lot of the movie “Rudy”, the Notre Dame walk-on who found himself making the Notre Dame football squad. What’s it going to take to make your own “Rudy” story?
A: You would be very surprised at how many times I was compared to that. I didn’t know if it was either a complement or an insult (because during the football season in a game against ND I do recall a lot of “Rudy Sucks” t-shirts), but now I know that it’s a word of encouragement and I’m deeply humbled by that and have the highest respect for. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie, but I definitely see a lot of the comparisons between our events and there is no question that that’s one of the ways that I get hope to continue about my journey.
I feel that in order to get to the level of success is determination and faith in myself. There are many times, especially after being cut the first time that I felt that I couldn’t do it. It especially was hard for me after losing the CSG elections for LSA representative. But eventually, I realized that in order for me to get to my goals, I needed to pick myself back up, be positive, be energetic, and be ready for the next round not looking back or being worried about what people think. Once you get that mental block that “you can’t do it” out of the way, it gets easier and you build more confidence in yourself. I worked hard the first time and so now I have to work harder and by having that determined spirit to keep at it, there is nothing that you can do and there is nothing that can stop you from reaching your goal.
And just as important as having faith in myself, people need to have faith in me. Everyone needs support in hopes of reaching a huge goal of theirs and I feel that for any kind of story about a guy beating the odds, there is always that group of friends or in this case in a social networking world, a mass of people that have this person’s back and are always telling them to keep going. That’s the best thing that you can do to help anyone reach their own is be a positive influence or strike a word of encouragement to them. Then I think you have a story that will be worth telling thousands of times over.
Q: How are you overcoming your obstacles? What is your plan of action to overcome future obstacles you may face?
A: I overcome my obstacles by being determined to knock them down. I used to have a mentality that if it was hard, that I should give up or quit, in some cases I still struggle with that but not as much. I work harder, I try to get help whenever it is offered because not every obstacle can be overcome just by yourself and more importantly, I learn from the mistakes that I made in my first attempt at overcoming an obstacle.
I try to keep a positive attitude, it’s not easy, but it helps to make you think clearly and not be clouded by so much negativity; because what I find is that when I stay negative on a subject, it tends to show itself through my performance in whatever I do. So I try to stay positive, be determined and aggressive. I think those are a great combination that can knock down any obstacle no matter how big. You just have to keep that locked inside you and once you do, obstacles fall down like a deck of cards.
Q: Where do you find your inspiration comes from?
A: I find inspiration in a variety of people and things. Athletically I see a great deal of inspiration from Myron Rolle. He’s an NFL player who not only was a great athlete, but a great scholar too. He ended up going to Oxford University to study being a surgeon for a year instead of immediately being drafted in the NFL. He’s a role model for me because even though I want to be on the Michigan Football team, I still have great plans afterwards that I want to accomplish. I want to attend an Ivy League law or business school someday like Harvard, Yale, or even right here at Michigan. I want start my own corporation and foundation while at the same time looking back and saying that I did something that I loved when I got the opportunity and I think that Myron Rolle is a terrific source of inspiration for me because he showed that you can be book smart and athletically talented at the same time – you don’t have to choose one path over the other and I hope I can follow in his footsteps.
Another source would definitely be several of the football players that were on the team presently or in the past. Jibreel Black, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Richard Ash, and Jordan Paskorz to just name a few. They provided a great deal of encouragement to me and in some cases went about their way and helped me out with great advise and tips and I’m forever greatful to call them friends of mine. They will never know how much the smallest things that they did had an impact in keeping me going forward with this.
I also try to find encouragement through everyday activities. If you were to look in my room I have the banner that says “Those Who Stay Will Be Champions” and I constantly listen to encouraging songs on my iPod like “I Believe I Can Fly”, “I’m the World’s Greatest”, and “Man In The Mirror”. Seriously, if you look at my iPod those are the most played songs, I listen to them at least once a day. The number one song I find inspiring, though is “Dreamer” by Chris Brown. That one is number one on my playlist. I played that during my first tryouts and still do to this day!
I also find great inspiration from my grandfather who was a former Navy officer in the Second World War. He talked to me about how after the war he was a Michigan Football fan and would attend a lot of their games, especially during the Schembechler era. When I told him that I was going to the University of Michigan in the fall of my freshman year he told me about the football games there and always going. I remember showing him an illustrated book about Michigan Football and he just told me so many stories and legacies as if he was on the team himself. He knew that I played football in high school even as his memory was gradually fading from Alzheimer’s disease. But one thing that I will always cherish in the last times that I saw him before he passed was that he said that maybe someday I “could be out there”, implying the Big House, and that really touched me. He didn’t even know that I wanted to play college football then. He passed away in December 2010, but from that point forward, I’ve always worked to make that an inspiration.
My greatest source of inspiration would be Gerald Ford. He’s someone that I look up to because he was a Michigan Wolverine that ended up becoming President of the United States. It astonishes and inspires me that he played center for the University of Michigan’s football team I especially sought after him when I first had interest in Michigan Football because he had experience in the sport as well as have an interest in politics that took him to the White House – that’s something that I hope I can measure up in the future. I hope to follow in his footsteps in many ways, which makes him a a great source of inspiration as well seeing and hearing his name so frequently throughout the University.
Q: It’s April in Michigan and Spring practices are upon us for the football team. What’s next for you? What are your plans to prepare for tryouts?
A: Well before the Spring Game, I got the opportunity to meet Coach Borges at an event that I was invited to. Coach Brady Hoke was supposed to be there, but because of the recent passing of his father, I was unlucky to meet him in person and talk to him about getting a second shot. So I got to meet Coach Borges and he was really inspiration that night speaking about never giving up on your dreams and don’t let anyone tell you no and to always pursue everyone option even if it annoys people because the only thing that is stoping you from getting where you are is you. And that really spoke to me. So I got to talk to him and he encouraged me to write a letter to Coach Hoke to talk about how determined I was to get on the football team again despite being cut the first time and I was going to ask to see if there was any chance for them to reconsider to hold another tryout. So I typed it up on my Macbook and in 10 minutes had it printed and sent to Coach Borges as he was leaving the conference. I still haven’t officially heard a reply back from anyone, but I’m currently hoping for the best.
In the meantime, I’m keeping at it. Trying to get in contact with coaches, getting advise from people, getting my name out, sharing my story and progress, and working hard to reach that goal. I’m not stopping, I know that I’ll get there someway, somehow with determination. This is all on top of staying on top of my school work so sometimes it can be stressful, but I know it’s going to be worth it in the end.
I’m going to be showing up at the Spring Game to cheer on my good friend Alex Mitropolous who actually did make the team. I could never be more proud of him for making it and I want to be there to wish my extension of congratulations and hope that he will be very successful and they made the right choice in getting him.
I’m going to be around for the spring and summer working on my Economics degree, working out, and still training. As it begins to be unlikely to train in the day because of my schedules, I sometimes try to train at night, late at night around 1a.m. for some simple jogging drills and running. That’s all I can do at this point but give it my best shot and keep getting better and play the waiting game.
Q: Did the Jordan Kovacs walk-on story inspire you at all? Is he the type of person you want to model yourself after?
A: He definitely was. I got to meet him personally a few days ago and he was a great guy to be around. He was very encouraging and told me a little bit of his story. I actually indirectly knew him through him being roommates that I knew from High School, so I was surprised when the first thing that he said was “You from Tim [Bergsma]’s school right?”. But yeah I definitely see him as a guy to model myself after. He’s an all around welcoming and positive guy and I consider myself a fan of his and one of my favorite people on the team right now.