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Playing For Something

Redskins rookie RB Derrius Guice: ‘It’s tough, but I never stay down’

Falling down – and getting back up – is nothing new to Guice, whose season-ending injury will delay his dream of ballin’ out for family

What motivates athletes to play? Often it’s family. In a new series, Playing For Something, Washington Redskins rookie Derrius Guice, as told to The Undefeated’s Mark W. Wright, talks about his winding journey to the NFL, and his motivation to come back stronger and better than ever.

I can’t lie. There’s been better days, but it’s football, and in sports, injuries happen. No one’s invincible to just skip them. Everyone’s human, and my number came up. But it’s very unfortunate that my injury happened before the season even started, because I do everything for my family – and it’s very disappointing that they won’t be able to watch me this year. But it’s all in God’s hands and I’ll be back, stronger than ever.

It’s just one of those things; you just have to wait another year. But I play for my family and not myself, and I guess that’s what will make everything – even this situation – worthwhile.

It’s tough, but I never stay down. I’m still very high-spirited now. I’m still walking around and smiling. Like I told everybody, I’m at least as happy about going out on a 34-yard run play versus going out on a 2-yard play.

My injury wasn’t even contact-related. It’s just the way my foot planted, which caused my knee to shift before getting tackled.

But as hard as this situation is right now, I’m gonna be good always. I know why I’m here, and I know how I got here. I told my father that I was going to be the best running back to ever come out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and that I would play for LSU and make it to the NFL and make so much money that the whole family would never see South Baton Rouge again.

“When you come from poverty, sports is your light at the end of the tunnel, and I just don’t think a lot people realize that.”

I was 6 years old, and when I told him that, I meant it. Two days later, he was killed. That was the last thing I remember telling my dad, Derrick Guice, and it’s a promise that’s been with me ever since – and this injury setback is no different. I just had to hold it down for my dad, and I’ll do it again for my family. When I say something, I mean it. A word for a man is everything. I always honor my word, I never go back on my word.

The struggle of coming from the ‘hood, born and raised in Baton Rouge … everything I got, I earned. Doug Williams, who is from nearby Zachary, knows I never had any handouts. Doug knows who I am as a person, which is why he took a chance on me because he knew all the s— that was said about me wasn’t true.

The whole NFL combine process is tricky. A lot of people just forget about who a person really is and focus instead on who they want that person to be. And I feel like that’s what happened with me; people got misled with me because I don’t always tell them what they want to hear. I tell them what’s real. And they don’t like that.

You should want a person for who he really is. I thought that was the whole reason for the combine – outside of showcasing your physical skills: the interviews, and the process of getting to know an athlete before they [drafted] them and invested in them. But I guess that wasn’t true all along, because getting to know a person for real means they don’t want to take a real chance on them. Eventually, I learned that throughout the whole process.

Coming from where I’m from – to make it out of South Baton Rouge – is an accomplishment I’m proud of. Character issues? Know that I have never been arrested, never smoked, and don’t drink. I’ve stayed clean throughout the whole process – despite poverty and overcoming adversity. My older brother was in and out of prison and running with gangs. Me? Never been involved. To me, that says a lot. And, Doug Williams can back me up 100 percent on that. To me, that says a lot about my character. A ton.

I actually find it really disrespectful when people try to tell your story and get it wrong. I really have to applaud myself — going to a private high school, then ultimately to LSU, that’s something to applaud. It’s just a slap in the face when I hear that I have issues.

It’s not reported nearly enough how hard athletes have it – particularly collegiate athletes. People see the money, the friends and material things – but we got that s— hard. I’ve said this before, that it’s a blessing to finally get rewarded financially for all the hard work to get to this point, because we can’t get paid in college. That’s obvious, but a lot of people see [being an athlete] as a good thing, while a lot of people see it as a curse.

“But it’s important to have your priorities – and for me – what drives me is my family. I’m the first of my family to ever make it this big.”

Sports is what really makes a lot of people. Sports is some of the only things some of us have. When you come from poverty, sports is your light at the end of the tunnel, and I just don’t think a lot people realize that. They just say, ‘Oh, they got it made … they get everything they want,’ but, that s— takes a lot of f—ing hard work. A lot of passion, determination.

I don’t care what the average college student says, athletes do more than anybody else in college. We have to be a regular student and we have to be an athlete. I don’t think people realize that s—. We put a lot on our bodies and people don’t really understand that. They just always think, ‘Oh, you get everything you want,’ and honestly, that s— is aggravating.

But it’s important to have your priorities – and for me – what drives me is my family. I’m the first of my family to ever make it this big. I don’t even see it as pressure, because my whole family is riding with me. I have my whole family on my back, and that’s a responsibility I cherish.

Let me put this into perspective. I’m 21 years old, and just bought a car for my mom. Not too many 21-year-olds can say that – and most definitely not too many people from The Bottom. That’s not bragging, by any means. I just have to say it so I can hear myself say it.

It is not lost on me how far I’ve come – and I don’t know what I would tell my dad if he were here to see me. I haven’t seen him in 15 years, I wouldn’t know the first thing to say. That’s a hard one right there. But I don’t think I need to say anything – not to my dad or my mom. I’ve worked my whole life for this; they knew this part was coming. They saw a star in me since I was born.

But now? I’ve got some more work to do. Yes, it’s tough, but I never stay down. As hard as this situation is right now, I’m fine. I’m gonna be good always. That’s how my story has been.

Mark W. Wright is a Charlotte-based sports journalist and documentarian.