One year ago, on the night of the NFL Draft, my wife Samantha and I had just moved to Key West Florida. After it looked like I was going to get hired by the Redskins (that was their name when I interviewed with Team President Bruce Allen in October of 2019), unfortunately, he was dismissed on Black Monday and our favorite place became our destination.
We were walking along the street that evening, trying to find some sort of NFL Draft coverage on her phone. We began listening to these guys talk about the prospects and Samantha turned to me and said, “Why aren’t you doing this, you are way better than any of these guys.”
I knew in my soul I missed it. Every time I get near the NFL, I realize how much I miss it. It has been in my blood since I became a Redskins fanatic at eight years old growing up in Minnesota. At 17, my dream began to take even more shape when my parents gave me a book, Secrets of an NFL Scout, for my 17th birthday. That was it! I wanted to be an NFL scout! My path would lead me to intern with Tony Dungy when I was 21 and being hired to work in pro scouting with the New York Jets when I was 24. I went from having no real formal football background and working at a bank to working with the Jets. It was an amazing four years working on perhaps the greatest staff in NFL history. I worked on a staff that featured Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, Dick Haley and Mike Tannenbaum. There were seven assistant coaches who went on to become college or NFL head coaches. All the young guys I broke into the league with have gone on to become department directors in the league, and two have become GM’s (Brian Gaine and Trent Baalke). God had a different path….or at least a different way for me to get there.
I went through testicular cancer my first season with the Jets and was told I probably never would be able to have children by a world famous surgeon. A year later, Bailey Hope was born (named after Champ Bailey who was drafted that year). At fifteen months old, she was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma cancer. She went through six-rounds of chemotherapy, five surgeries and a bone marrow transplant before she passed away on Christmas Day in 2001. That was the season I became the first special teams scout in league history. I was also out there for 9-11 and lived thirty miles from Ground Zero. 2001 was also the year my life changed when I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior three months before my two-year-old daughter had lost her battle with cancer. Belichick and Pioli went to New England and my life went an unexpected direction.
I lost everything within three months. It started with Bailey passing away and then I lost my marriage and job with the Jets on the same weekend. At the same time, I had found everything in my new personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I was happy watching all the guys I worked with win those first three Super Bowls in New England, but it was also really painful for me. I felt like I was watching what I thought my life should have been from the window. I got away from football and turned the game off for two years. People who knew me could not hardly believe it. I was all about football, but not anymore. I had stepped out of the line of authority because of my passion to win and it cost me. I lacked the patience and discipline I needed. I felt like I needed to get my mind right. I needed to renew my thinking.
Slowly, God began to give my NFL dream back to me starting in 2006. I had a chance to maybe become the Assistant Director of Pro Scouting with the Arizona Cardinals and I came even closer when my path led me to stand face to face with Andy Reid at the NFL Combine. I published a book, Whatever it Takes, the true story of a fan making it into the NFL in 2013. It took me ten years to write and to get it published. It was also during the ten years of writing it, my then second wife and I were blessed with four more miracle children. However, in 2013, the youngest, Isaiah James, was diagnosed with three rare medical conditions. One of those conditions was a brain tumor. That same year, I had stepped out into God’s Ministry, full-time, trusting Him for everything – for all provision. I was not affiliated with any organization and I had no person as a boss. I literally trusted God to provide everything. I had no savings, no credit cards, and no backup plan. Looking back, it was the best, but the hardest year of my life. Supernaturally, I was led to 13 different churches in Arizona and I watched as God miraculously provided everything – out of the blue. I was blessed to be a part of several miracles, including praying over a woman I was baptized, who was healed from MS, which is said to be medically incurable. It was not me. All the Glory goes to Jesus Christ. At the same time, little Isaiah went through 350 seizures and two major brain surgeries. I remember kneeling next to his “bunkie bed,” the night before his major brain surgery to remove the tumor, begging God to spare his life. He was three years old at the time.
Isaiah is 11 years old now and he dreams of one day being a receiver in the NFL, despite having a shunt in his head. He had to have the shunt to drain excess spinal fluid from his brain. Right after Isaiah’s second brain surgery in 2014 is when the real blindside shot came.
I came home to a “Dear John letter.” My second marriage of 13 years was done. My four other babies were gone. She had been the first person I ever led to Christ. Looking back, I failed to love her with the type of love she wanted and more importantly, needed. I could hardly sleep or eat for a year. It felt like a nightmare, only I was awake. After a year of that living hell – the divorce papers came. My life was now really spiraling out of control. I had lost my family – and I could not begin to process what had happened or what was happening. I was extremely angry at God – with the type of anger and rage that literally scared people who knew me at the time. I walked away from preaching my testimony. The last thing I wanted to do was point more people towards a God who allowed my family to be taken from me. The children’s mother had relocated herself and the kids 1,700 miles away from me in Minnesota. I remember vividly kneeling, praying, and asking God to end my life.
It was then God sent an angel to me. She was five feet tall and her eyes were the shape of footballs. It was the most intense 20-minutes I ever spent with a woman in my life standing by the door of that church building. We stared into each other’s souls and I saw everything I had been looking for my entire life.
My babies were gone and they were never coming home, but Samantha believed in me and gave me everything she had to give. We were married and I became a parent to four more bonus children, her children and she began breathing love into my soul – a love I have never known. It was like she was breathing love into me the way a life-support machine breathes life into someone. I would not be here writing this today had it not been for God sending Samantha into my life. My scouting mentor, Lionel Vital, who is the College Scouting for the Dallas Cowboys, has told me more than once, had I not met Samantha, I probably would be under a bridge somewhere. I have been anything, but easy at times as my five-foot Samantha has taken the brunt of my rage I had towards God and towards my ex.
As God has been teaching me what love is and how to love through Samantha, she has also been subtly and consistently encouraging me to go for my dream again in the NFL. I have been reluctant, sometimes very reluctant. God literally gave me a dream one night in 2017. In the dream, I was the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns. The dream was as vivid as watching television. I woke up and the Holy Spirit told me, “Write a letter to the Browns owner and tell him you can put together a Hall of Fame staff within three weeks if given the opportunity and send him a copy of your book.”
Samantha and I sent all of that off FedEx and three weeks later, sure enough…an envelope came from the Cleveland Browns.
Team owner Jimmy Haslam responded on his personal stationery and hand-signed the letter. He asked me to send him my ideas. Over the next seven months, that turned into a 166-page revolutionary GM proposal that promised to turn the Browns into Super Bowl Champions that next season – and then turn the Browns into the greatest dynasty in the history of the NFL. It was an amazing journey. Samantha and I ended up flying from Phoenix to Cleveland – by faith and faith alone – and we rented a car and drove out to Berea and the Browns headquarters. I was proposing to make Samantha my co-GM, making her the first female GM in NFL history. While parked in front of the team facility with my heart in my throat. I took her hand and we prayed before walking together through the front doors of the Browns headquarters and asking to speak with Mr. Haslam, uninvited. We were turned away, but all together we put about $100,000 worth of time and money into pursuing the dream. It was an amazing experience.
In January of 2019, Samantha kept nudging me to send my book to the Redskins. I was reluctant, but after a while I did it. I had thought, “What’s the point?” She kept telling me I really should send it to them. So I did, reluctantly. I mean all throughout the ten years (2003-2013) of writing my book, I kept having this thought that the book would lead to a call from Redskins owner, Dan Snyder, but it never happened.
Nine months after Samantha encouraged me to send my book to them again, it happened. My phone began ringing. The phone screen said, “703-726-7000.” The voice on the other end said, “Hello, Daniel, Bruce Allen, President of the Washington Redskins, how are you today?” I jumped up and put it on the speakerphone so Samantha could hear. I could not believe it! He said “somehow” my book had come to his attention and he had read it cover to cover. He continued by saying he wanted to sit down with me and ask me ‘what I thought the team should do.’ I was on Cloud-Nine! It was happening! My lifelong dream of working for the Redskins was actually happening!
It was a magical weekend trip out east. I got to walk out to mid-field before kickoff. They even put me up in a luxury box to watch the game.
I sat down and met with Bruce Allen in his majestic hotel suite for an hour and a half. We had really hit it off. The night I got out there, I went out to an Alumni team dinner and he embraced me like we were long-lost brothers in the middle of the restaurant. It could not have gone any better. He kept saying over and over it ‘was just a matter of figuring out where to put me’ on the staff, maybe as the assistant special team’s coach, maybe a position in college scouting. As our meeting ended he assured me he would be in contact. Everything sounded like it was a go. He said he would call me when the season ended. Over the next three months, we used all the rest of our savings (around $12,000) to audition for the Redskins. Bruce did not ask me to do it, but I felt I needed to so I could prove myself. Each week, I worked tirelessly around the clock, 70-90 hours a week, preparing advance scouting reports (evaluations on all the other team’s players and breakdown of strategy) on all the Redskins upcoming opponents to show I still had the same fire, passion, energy, grind and love for evaluating as I did back when I broke into the league. I loved it. Watching ten hours of film in slow motion felt like ten minutes as I filled notebooks with chicken scratch notes from the film. I put everything into it – and all of myself.
The season ended and it was Black Monday, the day some teams fire their coaches and executives. I was hoping against hope the Redskins would not fire Bruce Allen. Samantha looked at her phone and exclaimed, “Oh my God!” The way she said it, I literally thought one of our family members had died. “Look at this,” she said. I barely was waking up as I read Dan Snyder’s words dismissing Bruce Allen through my tears. Bruce Allen had been fired. Samantha leaned over and held me as I cried uncontrollably.
A couple of months after last year’s draft, I came to the point I was ready to step back into the Ministry full-time and begin preaching again. It had been six long years of being really pissed off at God. I could feel it was time to move forward. I did this short five-minute Facebook video “telling the world” I was doing it. I was stepping back into it after coming to a much deeper understanding of God’s love, His Grace grace, and His redemption.
Doors began flying open. An offer came to write for Sports Illustrated Detroit Lions. Right after that, I was being interviewed by the broadcasting legend, Linda Cohn. I have been on ESPN radio twice and interviewed by Jason McIntyre from Fox Sports on his podcast. Even the Sporting News wrote an article about my evaluation of Zach Wilson. I have been on 105 podcasts around the world and now have a monthly platform of somewhere between one and five million people. One of the biggest blessings has been getting to know Damond Talbot of Draft Diamonds and how he has given me the opportunity to share my evaluations on his platform. It brings tears to my eyes when I stop and reflect on how everything has come together – and how everything has played out.
I joked with Samantha when we moved to Key West that we would end up meeting one of the owners down here that would lead to my second chance in the NFL. So far, the closest we have come is being out on the ocean, and literally (Jaguars owner) Shad Khan’s boat, Kismet, went right past us. Whatever the play God is designing, I am sure it involves a play-action, because it always does.
God has a plan for my life – and He has a plan for your life too.
There are enough mock drafts out there.
No matter what you are going through in your life right now, there is hope. No matter what you have been through in your life, there is hope.
This hope has a name – His name is Jesus.
And if you never have prayed to receive Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, please do so right now, please say these words out loud in accordance to Romans 10:9:
I declare with my mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and I believe in my heart God raised Him from the dead. Amen.
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