(Photo courtesy WVU athletics)

As much hype as there was when I came in, I was not the feature running back when I arrived in Morgantown. Our top two rushers were Steve Slaton and Pat White, so I knew that initially my carries would be limited. Then in a game against Maryland, I finally broke out. Steve and Pat set the bar really high, but on this particular night, whenever they gave me the ball, it was like our team didn't miss a beat. I only ran the ball seven times, but thanks to a few big runs I ended up with 136 yards that night. Things were starting to come together.

That was when a lot of WVU fans got their first real look at me, and when we upset Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, that was when I started to make a name for myself in the national media. The next year I more than doubled my yardage total from 627 to 1,289, and then as a junior I had the best year of my career. Thanks in part to a 220-yard game against Colorado, I finished the season with 1,465 yards and 13 touchdowns.

It looked like football was going to let me provide for Candace and Desiree after all.

 
 

(Photo courtesy of WVU Athletics)

I thought about entering the NFL draft after my junior year. Steve Slaton left WVU after his junior year, and looking back you could say that was a good financial decision for him. Just like me, he also had kids to take care of.

My situation looked to be a little different. My new coach, Bill Stewart (who had replaced Rich Rod before the bowl game of my freshman year) told me that I was looking like I would be a sixth round pick if I left. Deion also told me to stay in school. Contracts don't have guaranteed money in the NFL, so that signing bonus provides that financial security. And if there were going to be nearly 200 players taken before me in the 2009 draft, it seemed foolish to leave my education behind for that.

So I stayed.

Just like the move back to Florida with Deion's car, a decision made with good intentions had bad consequences. I got injured with turf toe my senior season, and just like that my speed was gone. During one stretch in my career at WVU, I had run for at least 100 yards in 17 of my previous 32 games. Once the injury took its toll, I just wasn't the same. I ran for 37 yards against LSU, then 29 against South Florida, then 27 against Pitt and 31 against Rutgers.

The pressure was even more intense at that point, because now I had two more kids to take care off. Candace and I welcomed our second child into the world my sophomore year, and then my senior year we had our third (my fourth).

 
 

If I was going to be sixth round pick after my junior season, I knew that it would be difficult to get drafted as a senior. I never did get drafted, and if that wasn't hard enough, another one of my friends was shot. I had felt this kind of loss before, but it never got routine for me. Losing my friend Alonzo was crushing, and yet it was the day I attended his funeral that I got a call from the Philadelphia Eagles.

It was just a really confusing time for me emotionally. I was happy and sad all at the same time, but when I got to their training camp my head just wasn't on football. I was trying to prove myself to experienced veterans like Michael Vick, but what I really needed was just someone to talk to.

And so I left. A few days into training camp, I walked away. It probably looked foolish on the outside, but I was the only one living my life with my circumstances, and on that day it was too much for me to handle.

I've been living with the ramifications of that decision ever since.

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Thomas Hager