For the past four years I have been providing rookie training for the NY Giants. Last year I met Jake Muasau who came to the team as a free agent from Georgia State University. He was the friendliest and most polite player of that rookie class.
Months later I learned his inspirational story. Jake was one of three children born in Tacoma, Washington. His father was a pastor and his mother struggled with schizoaffective disorder. Their lives began a downward spiral when his father gave up everything and moved the family to California to start a church with Jake's uncle. They lived in their uncle's garage and money stopped coming in. His father abused his mother and was locked up twice on charges of domestic violence.
Jake's family sporatically lived in a 1985 Astro van. They would pull the van into parks in an attempt to befriend people, hoping they would be taken into their homes. Jake remembers feeling embarrassed. Their clothes were packed in boxes piled in the back of the van and they slept on park benches. They cleaned up for school at fountains or in public bathrooms. Breakfast and lunch were provided by the school, and friends brought them food which Jake brought back to feed his mother and father.
Jake's family moved to Phoenix to stay with his aunt. His mother's mental illness worsened and she spent months in and out of rehab. Eventually the family moved into their own apartment which was located in a bad neighborhood. They got involved in shady activities and Jake's brother was incarcerated for selling drugs.
When Jake was ten, his father who was a heavy smoker, was diagnosed with throat cancer. He states that the defining moment in his life was when his father's larynx was removed and all of the power shifted to his mother. While still struggling with her mental illness she moved the family three hours south to a Days Inn in Sierra Vista. She blew through all of their money that week and they were back on the street, this time living in a Windstar van.
Jake's father was hospitalized. One night while staying in the park, the police asked Jake, his mother and brother to leave. They moved to the parking lot of the hospital. Since his father was on a feeding tube, Jake, his brother and mother shared his three meals. His father was transfered to Phoenix as his illness worsened. Days later the same policeman came up to the van in the park. This time he knew there was something wrong and he called child protective services. Jake and his brother were placed in a group home and his mom was taken to a home for battered women.
It was at that point that Jake's father passed away. At age 13, Jake was devastated. His father was dead, his mentally ill mother was in a home and one brother was in jail. Jake and his brother Louie knew the only place to go was up. They wanted a different legacy for themselves and they worked to build a better life by channeling their energy in a positive direction.
Jake began playing football in his freshmen year of high school. A teammate took Jake and his brother in to live with his family for two years. It was then that he learned a new definiton of family, it was the people who helped him in times of need - friends, probation officers, coaches. Jake excelled at football. He became a star defensive outside linebacker for Georgia State and was picked up by the New York Giants in the 2012 season. Unfortunatly he was cut after suffering a hamstring injury. The Giants called him back for the 2013 season. In late August he was cut again. He is a realist knowing that this is common in the NFL, "You never know when your last down and last play will be." He is still training, with aspirations that he will be picked up next season by another team.
Jake said he is not where he expected to be today, but he is okay. He is moving back to Atlanta to finish his degree while continuing his training. He feels that all of his challenges happened for a reason. He learned to overcome adversity with faith and hard work and he knows that the tough times do not last. His past does not dictate his future; he dreams of helping others. Eventally he wants to speak out on a much larger platform to teach people that they don't need to fall victim to gangs or poverty.