When I was little, I lived with my family on a farm. Everything seemed perfect. My family had a 2,000-acre farm in Michigan, but farming was going through a difficult period at that time and we were right in the middle of it. It seemed like almost overnight the bank came, foreclosed on our farm and, poof, it was gone.
I didn’t realize how poor we really were until I was about nine. That’s when I began noticing the differences between me, not dressed very well, and the kids who had nicer clothes. They were the ones who were making fun of me. That was really the first time I had adversity in my life.
Five years after losing the farm in Michigan, we were able to buy another farm on the Oregon-Idaho border. It was desolate and out in the middle of nowhere. It was a 40-acre farm, but there was no house on the property so we didn’t have a place to live. We did have a hay truck that we used to custom-haul hay as a family. We’d buck hay for 10 or 12 hours every day and then sleep under our hay truck out on our farm. Actually my sisters would sleep under the truck and Dad, Sid (my older brother), and I would sleep out in the field.
We finally got a place to live when we tore down an old train depot in Caldwell, Idaho. For our labor, we were able to keep the lumber from the depot. We used that wood to build a two-story A-frame with tin siding and open ends. We had shelter from the rain, but not from the wind. I remember waking up in the morning with frost on my nose and standing naked at a five-gallon watering trough while my mom gave me a little towel bath. I was ten years old and it was really humiliating.
Then I’d go to school and be the center of ridicule. Everybody would make fun of me because my clothes weren’t very clean and we lived out in a field. I didn’t realize how cruel the world was until that time in my life when I lived in that community. Our family was the butt of everybody’s jokes.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t discouraging, but from the time I was seven years old I had this dream of playing pro football. I knew that one day I was going to be on TV, be able to make money and bring back our family’s self-esteem, our pride, and the respect we deserved. So, actually, the worse I was treated, the more it drove me to succeed.
The gospel was also a great help during those times. When I was eight and was baptized, I was given a big, blue, hard-cover copy of the Book of Mormon. It took me a year to read it, and I loved all the great paintings in it. The pictures of Nephi, Abinadi, Mormon, and Moroni and their stories were what I grasped onto. They were my heroes.
I didn’t idolize athletes. The heroes in my life to this day are my father, my older brother, Sid, and those people in the Book of Mormon. It was tough because I really didn’t have any friends when my brother and dad were gone working. Finally, during my junior year in high school, a Mormon boy moved in from Utah and we became friends. Without many friends growing up, it was mainly the gospel that gave me strength.
I didn’t swear and wouldn’t go to the parties with the other kids in my school so I stood out—especially in a non-LDS community. I didn’t even associate with them, so the guys in the school turned it into a big game. They would hang pornography on the walls by my locker, sing dirty songs in front of me, and call me Little Moses. That was the name they gave me.
At football practice, I remember guys jumping on top of me and crushing me at the bottom. It was a dog pile and they’d do it every day. There I’d be trying to play football and instead end up fighting these guys in practice.
What I discovered through all of this was the harder it was for me, the closer I grew to the Lord and the stronger my testimony became. I’m thankful I was truly strengthened at a time when I could have wallowed in self-pity and gone in the other direction.
One of the most difficult times in my life was during my sophomore year in high school. My brother Sid was the greatest big brother. We were really close even though he was seven years older. I basically lived to be with my dad and older brother, and Sid served the big-brother role perfectly. I was just a tagalong, and he didn’t mind at all.
Sid had quit high school so he could work to help put food on our table and help Mom and Dad with the bills. To show you what kind of brother Sid was, he would work these long days on his construction job, then come home and work out with me. He would be wearing his big heavy boots from his job and still run patterns while I played quarterback and threw the ball to him. Here was my brother playing receiver for me after a long day at work when he probably would have rather gone in and relaxed. But that’s the kind of brother Sid was.
One weekend in November during my sophomore year, my family went to a small family reunion in Washington. Sid and I stayed behind to work around the farm. We spent the whole weekend together and had a really good time.
When my family returned, Sid left to take a friend to Sun Valley (Idaho). On his way back from dropping his friend off, he had a head-on collision and was killed. I’ll always remember sleeping on the floor of our trailer home when a knock came at the door at two in the morning and the most terrible feeling coming over me. An off-duty policeman had come to tell us Sid had been killed in an accident.
That was the hardest thing to have to go through. And it was tougher for my parents because they had already had their two-year-old daughter die because of a bronchial problem, and a baby boy die of crib death before I was even born.
And although there is pain for the loss of a loved one, I understood. I understood the plan of salvation and the eternal perspective. When I lost Sid, I asked why it had to happen. I also asked Heavenly Father, Why me? How could things get any harder in my life? Sid had always told me I would make it in the National Football League, and his death made me more determined to do that.
Within two years, I had grown to six-foot-three which made me attractive as a football player. I had always hoped to be a quarterback and was named the starter as a sophomore. This caused a lot of resentment among the juniors and seniors, and I ended up playing on a team with a bunch of guys who hated me. It made it very hard to succeed. I knew if I was going to play college football, I had to get out of that town.
After my junior year, I moved to St. Anthony (Idaho) to live with my sister and attend high school there. I knew I would be living in a Mormon community, where a lot of the kids at school were Mormon. I thought all my problems were finally behind me. It didn’t work out that way. Again I was the new kid on the block. I immediately tried out for the football team and was named the starting quarterback. That was great for me, but I beat out the guy who had started at that position the year before.
Nobody seemed happy about the new competition, and hardly anybody was friendly to me during the football season. When I finally broke into their circle and made friends, the season was over.
Since St. Anthony is close to Rexburg, home of Ricks College, I decided I would try to walk on Ricks’s football team. The coaches there wouldn’t give me a scholarship, so I practiced with them for a couple of weeks hoping to prove myself. When they still wouldn’t give me a scholarship, I had to quit. I just didn’t have enough money to pay tuition.
I now had a decision to make. Some guys I knew from St. Anthony told me about a good-paying job up in the woods cutting trees. Instead, I told them I was going to stay in Rexburg and get a job there so I could lift weights every night at the college. I told them I was going to play football the next year. They just laughed and thought I was crazy. After making the decision to stay, I never regretted not going with my friends.
During that year, I worked at a job throwing 50- and 100-pound grain sacks for nine hours a day. My pay was $3.60 an hour. After I got off work, I’d go down to the weight room and lift weights until ten at night. Everybody kept telling me I was crazy, and even my family questioned what I was doing. My family still supported me, but I think I was the only person in the world who thought I could make it—well, besides my girlfriend, Roxi, whom I later married.
That next year I earned a scholarship and played for Ricks. By this time I weighed 230 pounds and had switched from quarterback to defensive lineman. After Ricks, I had coaches from Ohio State, Alabama, Georgia Tech, Arizona, Kansas, Texas, Texas Tech, and BYU recruiting me. I chose BYU, and I’m glad I did.
After my senior season with the Cougars, I knew I was going to be drafted by an NFL team, and it turned out to be the Cincinnati Bengals. By the end of my second season I was starting in the Super Bowl. In my third year with the Bengals, I led the team in sacks. Everything seemed great. But for some reason, at the beginning of my fourth year, I was sitting on the bench.
It seemed the coaches wanted bigger guys playing the defensive line positions, leaving me to stand on the sidelines. I knew I wasn’t in Cincinnati’s long-range plans, and sure enough I was cut toward the end of fall camp. The 1991 season was about ready to begin and I was out of football. All the other NFL teams had their rosters finalized, so I had to wait and hope a team would pick me up.
This was another terrible period in my life. I knew I was still good enough to play, yet I wasn’t being given the chance. A few weeks into the season the Seattle Seahawks seemed interested in signing me to a contract. Instead, they took another guy, which was one of the hardest blows of my career.
I came back to my home in Utah not knowing what to do or what was going to happen. I wasn’t giving up, but I was really down. To take my mind off my situation, I went to play golf by myself. It was fall, in the middle of the week, and nobody was there playing. I was out on the back nine all by myself crying and thinking about what I was going to do. I stopped my cart and had a word of prayer.
When I finished, I went from tears and this distraught feeling to the most wonderful, calm feeling that told me everything was going to be okay. That Sunday, I got a phone call from the Washington Redskins. They told me they had some injured players and needed a replacement.
It was amazing. One day I was crying, and the next thing I knew I was playing for one of the best organizations in the NFL. I left behind the Cincinnati Bengals, who finished 3–13 in 1991, and went to the Redskins, who went on to win the Super Bowl. I finished my first Redskin season with 12 tackles, three quarterback hurries, and one and a half quarterback sacks. Plus I earned a Super Bowl ring. Things couldn’t have turned out better.
I’ve learned much in my life through all these experiences. The greatest lesson is that in order to know happiness, you have to know sorrow and pain. That’s why Nephi’s testimony means a lot to me. If you always put God first, work hard, and hold up your end, you’ll be led through those difficult times.
It’s sure worked for me.