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Addiction Costs Promising Athlete a Sports Career

“I’m the 26th best quarterback in the entire nation. And I’m the 3rd or 4th best quarterback in the state of Florida. That’s who I was. I was Alton the football player.” High school star Alton always loved football. About football he recalls, “It brought the best out of me. And I realized that football was my way to get a scholarship. There was already the dream of playing in the NFL and I was on that track.” Alton earned a full ride to the University of South Florida. He reported to summer practice with high expectations but the young freshman was redshirted and didn’t get to play. “I had never been, you know, the second string guy or the third string or, you know, the guy that’s not even going to play at all, like there’s no string for you. And so my ego was hurt. And I think it was a little bit of an identity crisis. I was starting to feel like a loser at that point in my life.”

Alton got heavily into the party scene and discovered alcohol soothed his bruised ego. He said, “All those thoughts, all those worries, all that stress just went away. And I just had this – this good feeling.” By the spring he added oxycodone to help him deal with years of football injuries. “And I just liked it. I liked what it did to me and how it made me feel. And I knew football was bringing a lot of pain into my life.” He’d had enough of football, “And then one day I just said I don’t want to play football anymore. I gave up my full ride.”

Back home Alton faked an injury to maintain a supply of pain meds. “So when I quit football, there was a big void that needed to be filled. And my drug use filled that void. I’d go to the clinic every 28 days. I’d get 360 pills a month. And I became a drug addict” Over the next three years he got progressively worse. Then he went to see a friend in Michigan, hoping the change would help. Alton recalls, “I just couldn’t do anything right. Didn’t have a direction, didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.” But the drugs had affected Alton’s thinking and one morning while wandering the streets, he stole a car. After briefly driving around aimlessly, Alton ended up at a cemetery. He remembers, “As soon as I take my first step into the cemetery, and break that threshold, I’m normal for the first time in about four days. And I’m looking around and I realize that, you know, I’m going to be dead like these people in front of me if I don’t change my ways. And so at that moment I got on my knees and I pray to God for the first time in my life.” Alton continues, “And I just told Him that, you know, I was tired of being tired. I wasn’t –I was giving this to Him. It was a huge relief. I had so much weight on my shoulders and where I was at. And just crying as I was giving that prayer. I mean, I felt like I was lighter. You know, I just released so much just junk.  It was just very freeing.”

He left the cemetery and was immediately arrested. While in jail Alton continued to pray to God: “You know, help me, be with me, guide me. Because where I’m at right now, I’m not in a good place.” Assigned to his case was Jane Patterson, a public defender and a Christian. Jane recalls her first encounter with Alton, “There was just something—I think childlike in this great big body of his. And he was just lost. He was on some meds. And his ability to kind of focus was lost. But he just looked lost. And he was gentle and he was humble and he was confused.”

Jane got the charges dropped to a misdemeanor and Alton was sent back to Florida. Jane said to Alton, “I don't know what it is about you Alton, I said, but I am just compelled to tell you if you need to talk to somebody, you need advice, you may call me. And from that day on, he started calling me once a day, a couple times a day, we would text back and forth.” Alton struggled in Florida to get his life on track. He said, “I had the Bible. And I would just open the book and I’d put my finger down and wherever it landed I would just read the script. I’d try and understand it myself and then I’d take a screen shot or I’d send it to Jane and we’d just have dialogue over it.”

Before long Alton returned to his drug use. Jane couldn’t shake the feeling that she needed to do more. Jane recalls, “I was waking up in the middle of the night and I was being poked on the shoulder saying if you don’t do something this kid’s either going to die, end up in a psych ward or prison. You know, you need to do something and I couldn’t sleep.” She talked to her husband and they decided to send Alton to a rehab facility they knew about in Argentina. About the treatment center Jane said, “They treated the mind, body, and soul. And they got to the hole in the soul; they fixed the need for whatever you’re filling that hole with that’s not good for you.”
Alton thrived at the center. “You know I learned right away football doesn’t define me. And that was probably the first idea I had to overcome, that I was more than football.” Jane saw the change in him, too. “He did not like the life he had. He did not want that life anymore. So he was working his tail off to be different.” Alton recalls, “I started realizing that I have talents, I have abilities, I have passions. And, you know, it empowered me to, you know, keep striving and just live a life free of drugs.” Through out his rehab Jane continued to pray and disciple Alton through emails and Skype.  He said, “Every day I’d read my daily devotional. And then I’d look through my Bible. I was committing to Him and whatever he wanted to do with me.”

After rehab Alton returned to Holland, Michigan where he attended Grand Valley University. He also got to play football again but this time it wasn’t what he lived for. Alton recalls, “For me it was a fresh start which is what I wanted. My identity was evolving into, obviously a student athlete, but I had this desire to share my story because I thought it was worth sharing and it could help people. I’m trying to prevent kids from making the same mistakes that I did. The feeling that I get from sharing my story is the greatest high and the greatest satisfaction that I’ve lived so far.” Looking back Alton can see God’s hand on his life guiding him and surrounding him with spiritual support. He concludes “If you’re in a bad situation currently right now or if you end up in one, ask for help. That’s one thing I didn’t do in the beginning. I didn’t ask for help and then that’s when, you know, God came into the picture and said I’m going to save – save this guy. You know it was just very freeing.”

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