I grew up poor living with six brothers, three sisters—a group of foster kids, my father, and a wonderful mother. We had little money and few worldly1) goods, but plenty of love and attention. I was happy and energetic. I understood that no matter how poor a person was, he could still afford a dream.
My dream was athletics. By the time I was sixteen, I could crush2) a baseball, throw a ninety-mile-per-hour fastball3) and hit anything moving on the football field. I was also lucky: My high-school coach was Ollie Jarvis, who not only believed in me, but taught me how to believe in myself. One particular incident with Coach Jarvis changed my life forever.
It was the summer between my junior and senior4) years, and a friend recommended me for a summer job. This meant a chance for money in my pocket, certainly, money for a new bike and new clothes, and the start of savings for a house for my mother. The prospect of a summer job was enticing5), and I wanted to jump at6) the opportunity.
When I told Coach Jarvis, he was as mad as I expected him to be. "You have your whole life to work," he said," but your playing days are limited. You can't afford to waste them."
I stood before him with my head hanging, trying to think of the words that would explain to him why my dream of buying my mom a house and having money in my pocket was worth facing his disappointment in me.
"How much are you going to make at this job, son?" he demanded.
"Well," he asked, "is $3.25 an hour the price of a dream?"
That question, the plainness of it, laid bare for me the difference between wanting something right now and having a goal. I dedicated myself to sports that summer, and within the year I was drafted9) by the Pittsburgh Pirates and offered a $20,000 contract. But I turned it down, since I already had a football scholarship to the University of Arizona, which led me to an education, two consensus10) selections as All-American linebacker11) and being chosen seventh overall in the first round of the NFL12) draft. I signed with the Denver Broncos in 1984 for $1.7 million, and bought my mother the house of my dreams.