They set up a podium in the gym at St. John Bosco on Wednesday morning for national signing day. Students sat in the bleachers. Parents sat in chairs on the gym floor. Nine signees sat behind a covered table with name cards letting everyone what school they would attend. Each signee was invited to say a "few words."
When defensive back Mykal Tolliver stepped to the podium wearing a lei around his neck (he's headed to Hawaii), he brought with him three pages from a spiral notebook for a speech that he had spent hours working on. For more than 15 minutes, he gave an emotional talk that put into perspective what signing day really means.
"I'm not usually good at talking," he said.
Then he talked and talked and talked.
"My dream was to be standing here in front of you guys ever since I was small," he said. "This is what I wanted to do _ get a scholarship to play football. I wanted to be somebody to look up to for young kids. I worked so hard. This is a surreal feeling.
"I had so much help. So many people believed in me when I didn't believe in myself. So many doubted me and it motivated me every single day to who I am. I got back up after falling so many times."
He talked about how his father bought him his first jersey, quarterback Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I probably wouldn't be here without my dad," he said. "I've been a daddy's boy since I was little. He knows it. When my parents got divorced, I think that's why he took me."
That's when Tolliver's voice started to crack. He paused, bit his lip, looked down. Then people started clapping. Like most teenagers, his resilience kicked in.
"A shorter speech would have been cool," he joked.
He closed with a promise.
"I told my coaches at Hawaii, once I step onto the field, I'm going to be somebody. I'm going to push myself. This is not the last time you're all going to hear from me. I promise you that."
In year where players are making fun videos announcing via paintball fights and skydiving, this was a moment to savor. A teenager spoke from the heart with no one telling him what to say or for how long to take saying it.
As Tolliver left the podium to applause, Coach Jason Negro said, "Mykal hasn't spoken that much in 10 years."
Well, he certainly saved the best for last.
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