(Photo courtesy of Hawaii Athletics)

I’ve taken my fair share of hits over the years, but as we took the plane ride back from San Jose, I could tell that the pain I was feeling wasn’t normal. I tried to sleep it off, but the G-force from the flight only made things worse. Within a few hours of landing I was calling our trainer.

“My side is killing me,” I said as I looked at the swelling. It was then that I was told to head over to the Emergency Room.

And there in the ER the doctors told me what was going on...I was internally bleeding.

I sat out the next game against Wyoming, which we won 17-13, but when I came back the following week I wasn’t the same. I played well below my potential for each of the next four games, and we lost all of them. In one month we went from being 6-1 to 6-5, and I started to hear about it from people on social media.

Some people started to direct message me on Twitter, to remind me how bad I was playing. I could pretend it didn’t hurt, but it does. It hurts to see people react to your struggles like that. But the Bible talks about turning the other cheek, so I actually decided to message them back to say that I’ll try my best to turn it around the next game.

But my experience on social media has actually been overwhelmingly positive. I have my Twitter set up so that people can dm me, and the vast majority of the messages I receive are full of encouragement and support. I get messages all the time from kids who look up to me, or are looking for advice or help. And I respond to every single one.

I know how much it would have meant for me as a kid to see Matt Leinart write to me, and I hope that I’m leaving a similar impact with these kids. So if you’re a young athlete and you ever want to write me a message, my Twitter is here.

We won our next game to move to 7-5, and then in our regular season finale, after all the ups and downs throughout the year, I had my best game yet. I threw for 452 yards and 3 touchdowns with no picks, and more importantly, our team won 31-30 in overtime against San Diego State. That win gave us an 8-5 record and set us up to play in the Hawaii Bowl in front of our home fans.

 
 

It was supposed to be a perfect ending to the season, but our first three drives all resulted in 3 & outs. Three drives, nine plays, and three punts. And when our offense took the field for our fourth drive, coach Rolo told me to stay on the sideline.

It was really difficult to be benched, and even though I got back in the game a few drives later, it was still tough to end our season with a 31-14 loss. I have a few months to go before our season opener next year, and there’s no guarantee I’ll be out there with the starters when our team takes the field, but my identity goes beyond football. I don’t define myself by being the starting quarterback at UH. My identity is in being a child of God.

When my career at Hawaii is over, I don’t want people to remember how many touchdowns I threw here. I want people to remember the way I treated others, because as I found out a year ago, you never know how long you’ll have on this Earth.

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Thomas Hager