(Photo courtesy of Old Dominion Athletics)

If you would have seen me in high school, I was probably the last guy you would have thought would be upsetting Virginia Tech.

The best way I can describe my football career is a roller coaster. I was just about 5'10 coming out of high school, and I couldn't find anybody to give me a chance at the D1 level. A lot of people couldn't understand why I wouldn't play D2, but I wanted to go D1. More importantly, I knew I could play at that level. I might have been shorter than most other people, but I felt like my play spoke for itself.

My only taker was Old Dominion, but that came with a caveat - it would be as a walk-on, with no scholarship guaranteed. When I got to ODU, I could see why everyone on the outside was doubting me. Everywhere I looked, people had a few inches and few dozen pounds on me.

I played well enough to make the team, but not well enough to earn playing time right away. I redshirted in 2015, which meant I would sit out the entire season to keep all four years of eligibility.

I was then awarded a scholarship in 2016, and as the 2017 season approached, I was actually named the starter. It appeared that things were going my way after all.

We won our first two games that season, but I threw two interceptions to go along with my two touchdowns, and just like that I was out of a starting job. Taking my spot was a true freshman, which meant that I had possibly started my last game of my career.

I didn't struggle with jealousy, but I did struggle with my mindset. I just felt defeated, like I set out to achieve something and I had failed. I had worked my tail off for years, trusting God to make it happen… but then I failed when my time came, or so I thought. After I got benched, it felt like I was grinding away to make ends meet, except instead of getting a paycheck I was just looking to keep my scholarship. It was like I had worked my whole life to become a D1 quarterback, but now that it was happening I wasn't even having fun.

Losing your starting role is difficult for anybody, but instead of pouting about it I decided to just help out the new starter in whatever way I could.  I continued to be the backup throughout the season, and we finished the year with a 5-7 record. That included a 38-0 shutout against Virginia Tech, which was probably why we were listed as 27.5 point underdogs going into last year's game.

I still remember what a crazy feeling it was just to be playing the Hokies...My brother attended Virginia Tech, and I had grown up going to Lane Stadium and watching their games as a kid. Virginia Tech has great fans, and since Norfolk isn't that far from Blacksburg, a lot of VT fans made the trip last year to watch the game.

Of course, that just added to the electric atmosphere. We knew it was going to be an intense crowd, we just hoped that there would be some ODU fans considering we were 0-3 at the time.

And even though the Hokies scored first, we responded right away. The game actually felt like a microcosm of my entire career - get knocked down, get right back up. They led 7-0 before we came right back and scored. They went up 14-7, only to see us come back and tie it up. The same thing happened when they took a 21-14 lead, and it happened again when they went up 28-21.

Four times they went ahead, and four times our team came back and responded. They just couldn't put us away. The game was still tied at 35 when our offense took over with just about 7:15 to play. We drove the ball to VT’s 29-yard-line when my receiver Jonathan Duhart made the biggest play of the game. As I watched him sprint down the left sideline with just one defender, I lofted it toward the end zone. I trusted him to come down with it, and sure enough he pulled it in for the 42-35 lead.

Now it was Virginia Tech’s turn to try and find a way to respond, but our defense was ready. They came up with a huge turnover on downs, and a few minutes later our running back Jeremy Cox was running into the end zone to seal the upset.

It was like everybody on our team chose the same night to have the best game of their lives.

On that night, it felt like all the hard works and adversities I had faced as a player were worth it. God reminded me that in everything; all the ups and downs I previously went through, He was still with me and waiting for this night to unfold. When I checked my phone, I had over 300 text messages and hundreds of notifications on my social media.

The craziest thing about that game was that it might not have even been the most exciting game we played last year.

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Thomas Hager