(Photo courtesy of the Houston Texans)

By the time my second season arrived, I was used to high expectations. I had flown under the radar prior to the draft, but for my last two years in Morgantown people expected me to put up big numbers. The only difference was that back then, I had risen to the occasion.

At some point during my second year with the Texans, I suffered a pinched nerve in my neck. I had lost feeling in my right arm, and although I tried to battle through it, it became obvious that I wasn't myself. I fumbled three times in the first two games, and in my fourth game I fumbled yet again.

I finished the season with 437 yards and five fumbles, which was a far cry from my rookie season.

My NFL career quickly deteriorated after that year. I only got 19 carries my third year, then just 17 the next, and then just 7 carries my fifth in the league. By that point I hated football and what I did for a living.

No NFL team would take me, and when the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League called me, and I said no. I wanted nothing to do with football or the CFL.

Then you realize....it was just another first-world problem. My career, although short-lived, gave my family a roof over our heads. I never suffered a major injury while I played. And God gave me two more kids to share my success with.

 
 

(Pat and I came back to Morgantown as we were inducted into the WVU Hall of Fame together. It was only fitting to go in with him.)

My attitude toward the game began to soften, and in 2014 the Argonauts called back. This time I decided to say yes, just to see if I still had it. It was so hard for me to be away from my family for six months, but I earned one final paycheck and made peace with the game of football. I realized I could still play, and I didn't have to come back to my family with concussion problems or a broken down body to be done with the game.

I discovered a new passion in the culinary world, and went back to school to learn how to cook. I took all that love I had for football and transitioned it over to the kitchen, and within a few years I was working with Chris Shepherd, a legend in Houston's culinary industry.

My unique background in football and cooking allowed me to be a cook for a bunch of the Texans players. I even made meals for Arian Foster, who went on to have great success as my replacement in Houston. There was no animosity, no awkwardness, just a common love of food. And for Arian in particular, he loved to eat lamb. Arian ordered lamb exclusively – that’s all I made him. It was like that scene in Forrest Gump, when Bubba was talking about ways to cook shrimp, except instead of shrimp I was making lamb.

Later on I got to be the exclusive chef for Dwight Howard when he played for the Rockets, and cooking gave me purpose again to what I do. Of course, there is really no bigger purpose than serving God and being a husband and father. And if I've taught my kids anything, they will be ready for anything life brings them too.

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Thomas Hager2 Comments