Dear 17-year-old Tarik,
Stop screaming at Mom for a second and walk out of the room.
I know you feel like you’re getting good enough at football to maybe earn a free ride to college, and that by moving the family to a new town, Mom would be putting that at risk.
“It’s not fair! This sucks!!!! How could you do this to me?!?!?!”
I hear you, man. I get it.
But do me a favor….
Bring it down a notch. Take a deep breath or two.
Head back to your room and give me a few minutes of your time. Because I have something I need to share with you right now.
It’s about your future, and what comes next.
I know it’s been rough to this point — with Mom trying to raise three boys all by herself, and the jumping back and forth between six different elementary schools in North Carolina before you even turned 10. And now this new move? It’s like: Things couldn’t possibly get any worse!
Well, that’s actually what I want to talk to you about, Tarik. You’re going to need to really hunker down from this point on. Because the next 10 years are about to be even more challenging than the previous ones. And it won’t even be close.
I mean, sure, the football side of things … that will be pretty great.
But everything else.…
It's going to be a lot. And you know what? I wouldn’t fault you if you want to stop reading this letter right here. Not one bit. - Tarik Cohen
Look, nothing I can write in this letter could possibly prepare you for everything that is about to happen. I don’t even know where to start, to be honest with you. There’s just so much. Looking back on it all, it almost doesn’t seem real.
There will be a big bag of crack cocaine.
There’ll be a gun … right there in your hand, ready to shoot, to help you get revenge.
There will be death. In the family. Unimaginable loss.
And that’s only for starters.
It's going to be a lot. And you know what? I wouldn’t fault you if you want to stop reading this letter right here. Not one bit.
But at the same time, I know how you like to be prepared for everything, and how you don’t like being surprised. So I mainly just wanted to write this so you can be better prepared for three specific phone calls that are going to change your life forever.
Ninety seconds total of phone time. If that.
That’s all it will take to turn your entire life upside down. One call each from the three most important people in your life: Your mom, your little brother, Dante, and your twin brother, Tyrell.
Starting in a few weeks, everything is going to change.
After you’re done with all the yelling, you’re gonna need to decide: Move away with the family, or stay with your team here in Bunn and play football.
Moving would mess up all the contacts you’ve made, the people you’ve impressed. There’d be new coaches and teammates. It’d feel like starting all over again. And you don’t want that. So you’re going to let them go. You’ll get your way, Tarik. Mom will let you stay back and live with Aunt Milltrene.
You’ll win the battle.
But the bigger war? Well, let’s talk about that. Because now your family, the only people you’ve ever been close to … they’ll be gone, living in a new town, an hour away. You’ll basically be on your own for your senior year. You’ll be living separate lives.
You’ll drift. And so will they.
Pretty soon, you’re going to start noticing Dante and Tyrell making some bad choices, hanging out with guys who are smoking weed and stealing stuff on the regular.
Actually, let me rephrase that: You’ll know it’s happening. You’ll get word. But you won’t fully notice it.
You’ll be too focused on football, what’s happening on the field. And there, things couldn’t be better. You’ll be making defenses look silly. Breaking ankles. You’ll have that scholarship offer in hand.
Your plan will work, Tarik. You’ll be good. Everything will be rosy. On the football side.
You’ll try tough love. You’ll try the opposite. You’ll try … everything. - Tarik Cohen
But I can tell you that, a decade later, you’re going to look back and realize that this exact moment is when things really started going south. Mom will be working all the time, just like always.
And doing that while raising three boys alone … it’s going to start wearing her down. She’s not going to be able to keep everything together and know what everyone’s up to and chase teenage boys around every hour of every day. She’s going to start throwing up her hands to it all.
In some ways, she’ll just go numb to everything. She’ll stand down.
Then, when you go off to college, everything will snowball fast. While you’re doing your thing at North Carolina A&T, Tyrell and Dante are both going to drop out of school.
It’s going to eat at you when you’re older. The guilt. The knowledge that if you’d been around, you never would’ve let them drop out.
Once they do, though, run-ins with the law are going to become common — fighting, stealing Jordans, weed. You’ll try to send home what little money you have, hoping it will stop them from stealing, but it won’t.
You’ll try tough love. You’ll try the opposite. You’ll try … everything.
When you reach your wits’ end, and can’t think of anything else to do, you’re going to sit them down and … I don’t want to say beg them, but, like … you’re basically going to plead with them.
“Just give me a little more time. Lay low. Don’t get in any big trouble for a bit more, and I’ll make everything right for all of us once I get to the league. I got y’all. I promise. I’ll buy you all the Jordans you want. Just give me a few years.”
The thing is: You won’t have a few years.
The day before your signing bonus hits, you won’t have a cent to your name.- Tarik Cohen
Still, you’ll do your best to keep up your side of the bargain.
You’re going to end up going in the fourth round to the Chicago Bears — the same team that drafted another running back from an HBCU back in the ’70s named Walter Payton. It doesn’t get much better than that!
It’ll be a dream come true.