(Photo courtesy of WVU athletics)

As good as my career was at North Fort Myers, I am not the best athlete to ever come out of my school. That would be Deion Sanders.

Deion is a 2-time All-American at Florida State, an 8-time Pro Bowler, a 2-time Super Bowl Champion, and an incredible person to top it all off. When he got word that I was trying to raise two kids while going to high school and playing football, he stepped in to help.

The principle got in touch with Deion and talked to him about me, and one day when I walked into a local barbershop here in Fort Myers, Deion was there to meet me. Then he offered to be my legal guardian.

Deion was playing with the Ravens at the time, and he offered to take me in and adopt me. He knew that I had a world of talent but I was on a dangerous path, and he wanted to step in and change things around. I agreed, but only initially.

I went to training camp with Deion in Baltimore, but by the time I went back to his house in Texas, I felt completely lost. I was away from Candace and my baby girl. Candace loved me unconditionally, as did my daughter, Desiree, but being away from my new little family was just too much, so I headed back to Florida...with Deion’s car.

I knew what it was like not knowing my biological father, and I didn't want Desiree to have the same problems as me. I told Deion’s wife I had practice in the morning, but I actually just took off and left.

Deion forgave me (we still have a good relationship to this day), but my reputation only got worse. I found myself on some "top 10 dumbest" list, and I stopped doing interviews with the media that season. To make things worse, I was also struggling academically on top of it. For all those scholarship offers I received, I began to lose almost as many.

I was struggling to just pass the ACT to get into college, and even with the sliding grading scale (where they would take my highest math score from one test and combine it with the highest English score from a different test) I was still on the verge of not passing.

As I prepared for my final shot at the ACT, I was preparing to play the next season at the junior college level.

I remember when I went on my recruiting visit to Alabama, Nick Saban told me I needed structure and discipline. He was right, but that was literally the first thing he said to me. He didn’t understand what I had to go through or overcome to get to that point. And as a prideful teenager, I wasn't open to his advice.

When I went on my visit to Morgantown, it was different. I opened up to Rich Rodriguez about everything. All the things I had been through, and how I was struggling. And Rich Rod, to his credit, welcomed me with open arms.

West Virginia is completely different from Fort Myers, but by the end of my freshman year in Morgantown I was definitely initiated into the culture. They had me sing "Country Roads" by John Denver, word for word, in front of the entire team. My teammates, especially the ones who grew up there, absolutely loved it.

I was officially a Mountaineer.

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Thomas Hager