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Our Story.

You go on dates to the movies, nice dinners, and concerts. Maybe use an app for some fun or even to meet that special someone. Finding out your likes and dislikes in a match. Guys figuring out the right pick up line so rejection isn't an option. Sometimes you date for weeks and sometimes for months. Hoping that the time spent is worth the effort in hopes to make those next big steps. I had a couple of those experiences. Dating for a couple weeks or months....

When I was 14 years old.

I went through the old middle school and high school "liking", "talking", and "finding 'love'" days. The talking phase was consistent and most of the time fizzled out. Looking back at how immature I was, how we all were, is kind of funny in a way. You start dating someone, thinking that what you feel is as intense as what adults talk about. But in reality we didn't know shit. They called it the 'lovey-dovey" stage.

"Oh just date her for a few more months, that'll change.."

Majority of the flings I had, it never really did change though. Why? Because two and three weeks in a relationship isn't much time for anything to change. Not sure relationship is even the right term for that. We "talked".

Some things changed in January of 2009, though. I was at a basketball game hanging with a group of friends like usual. Actually along with a fling of the moment as well. (Ended up lasting two weeks or so.) One of my teammates was talking to some of his friends and I wandered over just as he started to introduce me. Honestly, I can't remember who the group of friends were, I just remember a single introduction.

Her name was Chelsea Hilton.

We talked for a bit, laughed, and kind of hit it off. Not in a flirty, trying to date her kind of way. Although, (in high school boy slang) I had always thought she was top 2 hottest girls in the school and she wasn't #2. A lot of guys did. I was just happy to be having a solid conversation with her. Later that week, I added her on Facebook and messaged her. But ended up getting her number from the guy that introduced us. I'll always remember the texts and conversations were filled with a lot of exclamation points. I guess meaning the both of us were very excited to talk to each other. Or I liked to think so. I used to be that dude that typed in ABC instead of T9 for a span of time and used 0's as my O's in words. I like to think that I really did have some game to keep a girl talking to me through those stages.

We became friends pretty quickly, but I started feeling a different way quickly. I always remember the long blonde hair and the heavy ass blue backpack she walked through the halls with. It was easy to spot her out in between classes. And I, for some reason, worried about her inevitable back problems in the future from the way her backpack sagged. Made her look cool, though. We would talk on Facebook daily. This was when Facebook had BOOMED. I had a lame curfew for my phone at night, so sometimes I would use my sister's iPod to Facebook message, lol. It sounds so lame writing that out, but it was just the way we did it. Through the next few months texting became a daily routine, talking at school, little smiles walking by in the halls and saying hey to each other during lunch. Simple, little high school things like that established a solid friendship.

But I remember the day that I knew that this may not just be a friendship anymore. Or I would hope.

I was at Harris Teeter with my family on a Sunday afternoon getting back from visiting family in Virginia. We had been texting the whole day and I had asked her what she was doing that night before school the next day. Really just to keep the convo going. She replied saying that she was waiting for her ex to come over so that "they could talk about things." I was shook. Jealousy hit hard and I knew this little friend feeling elevated to a new level. I pried and asked why they had wanted to talk and if she thought they would get back together. I absolutely prayed that night that he would say some dumb shit and make her mad and end things for good. Even though she stated she wasn't looking to get back together, I couldn't tell if that was just something she told me to brush off the topic. That night I knew I liked her a little bit more than I was giving off.

The following days I found out that my prayers worked and that nothing changed between them. I thought, I need to start figuring out how I am going to let her know that this friendship needed to take a new step.

One night, while sitting in my room, I was scheming. Coming up with the right text to send her to let her know my feelings had been increasing a bit for her. And yes, a text filled with 0's. I still SMH at that. I finally thought I had the right words put together to send. I pressed the green send button on my Chocolate 2, and sat on the edge of my bed. Back then we didn't have iMessage to see if she had read it or was even typing back. Just a simple SMS message and you wait. It felt like an hour, when it was probably no more than 5 minutes. It was one of the most anticipated text backs of my life.

*Cue the balloons and confetti! Sound the bands, cut the cake!*

Her reply was exactly what I wanted. I guess you could say following that night we were officially: Talking.

My exact reaction.

The following weeks consisted of writing notes and giving them in between classes, meeting up before and after school, and talking on the phone. A little upgrade from Facebook messaging. She went to the beach one weekend with her family and we talked on the phone for so long, the sun came up the next morning. That is not an exaggeration either. I'll never forget telling my friends at lunch that she and I were talking. Not one single guy believed me. I had appreciated the support and was offended by their lack of confidence in my game. So naturally to prove them wrong I showed them some of our texts.

I had talked about prom to her, but she was already going with a friend and before we had even started talking, I had bought tickets with my previous fling. Kind of sucked. But we confirmed that even though we were going with a friend, we'd meet up and dance and all that. You would've thought we were each others' dates that night. After party at our friend's house and I joined. I chickened out on a kiss that night. The shy kid I was in high school blew it. I went home that night and decided it was time to make this thing official. That next Tuesday at school, I needed to make the move and ask the question. In between 1st and 2nd period, I manned up and kissed her. By the pillar in F hall. Yep, I remember when and where. It was awesome I won't lie. And later that afternoon right outside of her red mustang door, I asked her to be my girlfriend.

Remember the end scene of The Breakfast Club, where John Bender throws his fist up and the frame freezes? That's the gesture I made walking away from her car as she drove away. I got a text from her a few minutes later letting me know her and her friend Kelsey had seen it. I didn't care. I was now dating the most beautiful girl at the school.

High school was fun. Lorezno pizza nights with her parents on the weekend, noticing how serious she got in the front row of the student section at our football games, and just chilling on weekends watching cartoons trying to live out our childhood as long as possible. We grew close fast. It was wild, the lovey-dovey stage I mentioned earlier lasted a loooong time for us. It was all so natural. Easy. Might I add, I met her parents in a XXL white tee, track sweatpants, and an awful mohawk that her mom didn't even notice because of my height. I like to think of the first impression as a funny memory now. The next two proms we went together, of course, and went in style. We were best friends and it was obvious. I even feel bad now that we hung out on weekends as much as we did her first year at UNC Charlotte. First year in college and most of the time she was hanging with me. We were inseparable in that way, but I made sure she knew that I didn't expect her to come home every weekend. We liked spending a lot of time together. It was what is was.

She got waitlisted at South Carolina, while I was in the process of deciding what college I wanted to play football at. Which is why she went to UNCC first. She ultimately wanted USC. For me, it was between UNC and USC, and she was in full support of wherever I truly wanted to go. It just so happened that because of a specific question I asked both staffs, USC became the best option for me. It was a beautiful coincidence that made a lot of possible relationship stressors fly out of the room. No, she didn't follow me. We experienced the growth of one another throughout college. New friends, new experiences, new highs, and new lows. Maturing together helped our relationship grow stronger. I always give her praise for putting up with the BS of dating a student athlete. And no, I don't mean that in the way that it's perceived because I was really nobody at that school, lol. Just the natural things that come along with playing football at a big college. She was a beast with it and handled it extremely well. With some occasional Chelsea outbursts. They were necessary from time to time.

She pushed through all of the time constraints of my schedule with school work, practice, and workouts. While focusing on her own life and school, she balanced all of that with being the best supporter, girlfriend, and my home away from home. She has been all of that since the day we started dating.

Transitioning from college to a profession with so many stereotypes and perceptions that the NFL had, I knew it wouldn't be easy. Not only did I sign out of the draft, but I signed to a team that was completely across the country. Our first real distance and I guess you can say test. Long distance is a reason a lot of people end things before they even try. That wasn't a case for us. Too much effort, time, and growth had been put into this relationship to do otherwise. We had been through stuff before, we can push through this time now. Expecting to live together during the season, I was put on practice squad. Not what my goal was, but a huge accomplishment nonetheless. The only thing was that the job security for practice squad was a little shakier. The turnover week in and week out was insane. So we decided to stay where we were so she didn't have to quit her job, move out, and God forbid something happened and I got released. It was just one of the mature decisions we had to make. It was not an easy one to make. It wasn't one we wanted to make.

At the time, it was hard for me to understand what she was going through. She moved home in preparation to move out to Cali, only to have that decision buried. While I was in Cali trying hard to give support where needed and understand her situation, in reality I was there living through my childhood dream and growing as a man. Something that she would like to be a part of. It's natural. But she was a trooper. Throughout that season, the realization of how strong and loyal the woman I had in my life was, sky rocketed. She never wavered through the times of uncertainty and where a lot of people would crumble. There were struggles for us, and every relationship has their own. But we powered through. It was through that season that ultimately solidified my decision that it was time to make her my fiancé. It was an unexpected test in our relationship and one that caused a few harsh drops on the rollercoaster, but none that derailed us. And that was it. That's what made me certain that it was us for life. She had been through so much and sacrificed so much in her own personal life for me, that I knew how much I owed her. How much love and support she deserved that she gave me when she was the one that was in pain.

Planning the date, searching for the ring, and keeping the ring a secret was all fun. It honestly burnt a hole in my pocket as they say it does. As soon as I purchased it, I wanted to go on with it. But the perfect moment was in the near future. At her grandparents' beach house, on her favorite dock in the area. I hid it behind pillows and sheets when we arrived, and when the day came, through the cold candle set up went as smoothly as I could've hoped for. We were engaged. I blacked out while asking and I can't really remember what I said besides actually asking. It was a mix of excitement, nervousness, and honestly coldness. All I knew was that she said yes. And that's all a man can ever ask for, right? The wedding night was just as everyone tells you: The best night of our lives.

Throughout the young days of high school, hearing:

"You won't last through college."

"Shouldn't you go explore?"

"How do you even do it?"

"Is college still fun being locked down?"

The occasional people trying to come in between the two of us, the ups and downs of college life and working to grow together instead of apart. The struggles of distance and dealing with an industry that neither of would've been able to expect. It was never always easy. The obstacles that appear in relationships are ones that you both must decide how and if you're going to conquer them. We conquered them all. We continue to conquer them all. If you told me at 15 years old that the girl I was texting on my Chocolate 2 with 0's in my words, would be the one I marry almost ten years later, I would've laughed. I always hoped that we would last and we told each other we would. But when you're young, you don't know what's ahead. Life is crazy. It really is an unexpected rollercoaster of twists and turns, and bumps and stops. But along the way we buckled back up, gave the conductor a nod, and prepared for the next ride.

When you find someone that is as loyal as Chelsea, you keep them. You cherish them and work as hard as you possibly can to match that intensity in the relationship. I have said since 2009: "I don't deserve her." But I guess she's believed that I do. Which is all I need. I really do try everyday to match her love, support, and loyalty. She's unlike any woman I have met or even heard about. She's a woman you have to brag about. A woman that you wake up next to daily that just gives you a natural smile and sigh of relief like: "I did it." I was fortunate I didn't have to keep gambling throughout the years. Before I was legally even able to enter a casino, I hit the biggest jackpot around. In a part of life that no amount of money can ever buy. We've grown up together and that's the best part about us. We know each other like the backs of our hands. We can predict an action, thought, or statement before it happens. The high school sweetheart part sounds good to a lot of people, but it is really what defines us. It reminds us of how much we pushed through. How much we've been through. Prepared us for anything in the future. Throughout every major event in our lives, we have been there for each other. Pretty special. And now moving forward, nothing will change.

Chelsea, as you read this, I want to thank you. For being the best friend, girlfriend, fiancé, wife, fan, listener, and solid rock a man could ask for. I will continue to try my hardest to show you how much you deserve in this life. You deserve it all. You've shown me what love should be. Behind every strong man is an even stronger woman. I am not the man I am today without you. Or even half of that. You will always be loved and appreciated. Our lovey-dovey stages ain't ever going away. You'll always be my high school sweetheart.

First pic we ever took.

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