It was nearly three decades ago, but I can still remember my dad taking me out to the front porch as a young kid.

We would go out at night and look at the stars scattered across the sky.

"You're going to be one of those one day," he would tell me, and I believed him. At that age you believe everything your parents say, and I'm glad I did. I am so thankful to have my dad in my life, because he taught me to dream big.

But just because sometimes dreams come true, that doesn't mean the road is easy.

My spiritual journey and athletic career took two different paths in my early life. Building my relationship with God was easy. My parents laid the foundation for my faith from an early age, and I had two great examples to look up to. My athletic career, however, was a different story.

I wasn't the one in my family blessed with natural athleticism and talent. That would be my brother, who is four years older than me. I was the runt, but I looked up to my brother, wanting to be just like him. I knew I was going to have to work hard if I was going to make it as an athlete, but back then even my best effort wasn't enough to get the interest of colleges.

I've now started 160 straight NFL games - every game since September 21, 2008 - but back in high school I couldn't get a Division 1 college offer. Nobody wanted me.

 
 

(Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)

Now if you had told me as a kid that I wouldn't get to play D1 football, that would have been just fine with me. Back then I didn't want to be a football player. If you grew up in my city - Flint, Michigan - in the '90s, you wanted to shoot hoops. I was 12 years old when Flint natives Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson led Michigan State to the National Championship in basketball, and that inspired me to be a basketball star.

It wasn't until high school that I switched to football, and once I did make the transition, I realized that it was just as difficult to get noticed there. With no D1 offers, I had the option of quitting or taking a shot at the D2 level. That's when my dad came up with another metaphor for me: coffee cream. The cream always rises to the top, he would say, and if you're good enough they will find you.

For NFL teams, that meant trying to find me at a little school known as Grand Valley State.

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Thomas Hager