Sport's Illustrated's Chris O'Connell has penned an excellent piece on 29-year-old former Texas Longhorns and current Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles. In the story, O'Connell meets with Charles in his suburban Kansas City home to chronicle the back's latest attempt to overcome the odds.
After a quick conversation about Torchy's Tacos and the incredible queso served by the Austin-based chain, the talk turns serious.
Charles tore his right ACL in an Oct. 11 game against the Chicago Bears, and as he nears his 30th birthday, many doubt his ability to make it back to the NFL. But he's battled injuries since his time in Austin, and is armed with determination, Christian faith, and even a new vegan diet.
For better or worse, Charles' injury didn't hurt his team, as 24-year-old backups Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware stepped up and led the Chiefs to 10 straight wins.
Is it all over? Charles isn't worried. He's been to four pro bowls and overcame a torn left ACL four years ago. He's earned nearly $35 million in the NFL, enjoys his modest home, his wife Whitney (whom Charles met during his freshman year at UT) and his two young daughters.
But the Port Arthur native isn't anywhere near ready to give up on his playing career:
Standing on the precipice of either a cushy early retirement or months of rehab followed by the daily grind of punishing helmet-to-helmet hits and the risk of re-injury to his knee, Charles states that he intends to win a Super Bowl with the Chiefs and retire as one of the greatest running backs of all time. And that presupposes him beating out the youngsters to reclaim (and keep) his spot in a now-crowded backfield. In an era when NFL players are retiring early to preserve their future health, why not choose the easy way out?
"One more shot," he says, much more seriously now, his grin fading. "When I leave I want to be known as Jamaal Charles, phenomenal football player, inspiring to kids and adults. I'm going to take advantage of this one more shot."
He's already overcome a lot. The 5'11 Charles was thought undersized and not physical enough to star in the NFL when he left Texas. And here he is, 7,220 rushing yards and 42 touchdowns later.
O'Connell points out that Charles' personally exemplifies both a striking humility and the ego one expects from a professional athlete. Some of that may owe to Charles' background -- he was diagnosed with a learning disability at a young age and was teased for being placed in special education. That teasing ended when he emerged as a track and football star in middle school. As a high schooler it was already obvious he'd play on Sundays.
Charles played on Saturdays even as a true freshman, and was a major player in the 'Horns' 2005 national championship. However, he was frightened to speak to the media, and his quiet demeanor was sometimes mistaken for slowness. That's another doubt he overcame: Charles was named Academic All-Big 12 in 2006.
Now he's back again trying to recover from injury:
Charles was typecast as too small to carry the ball 250 times per season, and his NFL scouting profile listed his negatives as "not a particularly physical back" and a "willing, but limited pass blocker." Still, he ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at the Combine and rushed for more than 1,600 yards his junior season. As the draft began on the evening of April 26, 2008, Charles was sure he'd hear his name called early. Five times Roger Goodell said the name of an NFL team followed by the words, "running back from ... " and five times he made instant millionaires out of people not named Jamaal Charles. The last time it happened that day, part of a string of three running backs drafted in a row, the Titans passed up the chance to reunite Charles and Young in Nashville.
It wasn't until Kansas City's third round pick — 73rd overall — Charles finally heard his name. He cried as he heard eight running backs drafted ahead of him. Charles soon got his revenge on every team that passed on him.
Now those doubts are back. Charles draws inspiration from another former Longhorn, Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson, who just signed a $21 million deal at age 33.
The story mentions early on that Charles is still working on "immortality." That's not just on the football field, of course. He was baptized for the second time in January during a Christian conference in Colorado Springs, and with his time in the NFL dwindling regardless of how well he plays in 2016, Charles is now focused on all aspects of his legacy.
"I want my daughters to have a father they can look up to," he says toward the end of the piece. "I didn't see that when I was raising up, and I always wanted that."