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Thank you, Livingstone. Thank you.

How Livingstone College helped a former student find mentors — and his passion

As a football player at William G. Enloe High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, Hillman Evans IV only cared about showing off and showing out. He explains to The Undefeated’s Mark W. Wright that when he got to Livingstone College, he found mentors, direction and a new path.

Livingstone College, a private, historically black, four-year college in Salisbury, North Carolina, helped me become a better version of myself. It made me realize it’s not about where you come from, but about where you’re going. And, to think that Livingstone College came into my life almost by chance.

I had been a high school football star — I played on the D-line — who was more concerned about being popular and didn’t care much for attending class. It was all about football and making friends. Funny enough, those missteps made attending summer school every summer in high school — just to stay on track — a necessity, and allowed me to graduate on time. But being popular would come at a cost. Despite my success on the gridiron — my team was ranked one of the top schools in Wake County in 2009 — I had no college offers and no football scholarships.

With few options, I ended up enrolling at Guilford Tech Community College in Greensboro, and was able to play for Central Carolina Sports Academy. The football team traveled all over the country and my mother would come to every game, no matter the distance.

After a year at Guilford Tech Community College, I left Greensboro and enrolled at Livingstone to play football. The head coach at the time, Elvin J. James, met me when I went on a college visit. He remembered my face and told me if I ever wanted to be a part of the Livingstone family, he was more than willing to do whatever he could to get me there.

But Livingstone was hardly love at first sight for me. I wanted to transfer out immediately. The environment wasn’t what I thought college was supposed to be. It was a small campus that didn’t have much around it.

But Trent Saunders, who had been in my life since I was 9 years old — the main father figure since I had lost my dad when I was 4 months old — wouldn’t let me think about straying. At 6-foot-4 and 400 pounds, Trent was a former football player himself at Fayetteville State University, a historically black college in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He loved to work with children, which made him a popular figure in the community. He would take me all over and people would welcome him with the biggest smile. It was Trent who motivated me to play football — even when I didn’t want to. He knew Livingstone would set me on a path to success. I had to learn something I now say every day: Trust the process.

Having attended a historically black college or university (HBCU), Trent understood what mentors meant, and he played the role better than anybody I knew. I remember him telling me: “Don’t run from what you’re not used to, and embrace every opportunity.”

Whether it was my grades or football, I had embraced his messages.

Trent – and my mom – and other mentors I’d meet along the way, stayed by my side for every major decision I’d make. Professors, guidance counselors – they all took me under their wings. They did this, because they, too, knew the power of mentorship, particularly at HBCUs. It’s family.

Then in my last year, the third game of the season, Trent died.

He had called me the night before he died, but I wasn’t able to pick up, and decided to give him a call in the morning. Around 5 a.m. that next day, I received a call from his family telling me that Trent had died in his sleep. I called my mom and broke the news to her. That was one of my hardest days, but I ended up playing one of the best games I had ever played in my life. I played that game for Trent.

Even though Trent was gone, I knew I still had the best and strongest mentor in my mother, the woman who had only missed two football games my entire career. She kept me on the straight and narrow, and supported my choices.

At Livingstone, I got involved in various organizations, including Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., which helped me prioritize my life. Working at the school even helped me figure out what my true passion was. During the summers in college, instead of having to take summer school to catch up, I spent my time working out for the next season and worked as a peer mentor for students who wanted to attend college. Working with those students motivated me to go harder for my own success. I didn’t even know it then, but I, too, was developing into a mentor. People began to notice my drive and would tell me how I was a motivator for them.

After graduation, I decided that I didn’t want to play football anymore. In truth, I had lost my love for the game after I lost Trent.

I decided that I would attend graduate school. Never in a million years did I imagine that I, the guy who went to summer school every summer in high school, would be thinking about graduate school.

In the spring of 2015, I decided to attend Queens University of Charlotte, studying mass communication. I had such a positive impact from my years at Livingstone that the president of Livingstone College, Jimmy R. Jenkins, wrote a letter of recommendation on my behalf. I am now in my last year of graduate school, on track to graduate in 2017.

Because of the hard times — growing up without a father, going through growing pains in high school, losing one of the closest people in my life and just overcoming obstacles as they came, I am able to continue pressing forward in turning my dreams to reality.

Thank you, Livingstone. Thank you.

Hillman Evans IV is a mass communications major at Queens University of Charlotte. He is a budding motivational speaker whose inspirational messages can be seen on his Instagram (@InnergMotivations).