Build relationships, overcome fear, persist

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Jake Harwick, whose goal is to become a professional fisherman, won a dance competition during Contartesi’s presentation and was given a copy of his best-selling book, In Spite of the Odds. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

His parents divorced when he was in the fifth grade, and he failed school that year. He was dyslexic and had attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity. Things didn’t look good for young Richie Contartesi – until he wrote down the academic requirements for college football players. With a tangible goal, things started to happen a little differently for the young man.

Contartesi gave a motivational presentation at Clayton Ridge High School on Monday, March 27, at 1:30 p.m. He’s now a professional motivational speaker and the number one best selling author of In Spite of the Odds, an inspirational story about a teen athlete who started as a walk-on and eventually earned a full Division I college football scholarship to the University of Mississippi. 

Growing up in Green Acres, Fla., in a household whose annual income was $13,000, Contartesi lived to play football. “Have the dirtiest uniform, keep your mouth shut and always listen to the coach. Those are the three things I lived by in football and now in business,” he told Clayton Ridge students.  

Contartesi outlined a realistic plan for accomplishing lifelong goals, and illustrated that plan to students. He asked students to raise their hands if they had big dream. Many hands went up, but most when down when he asked who had written their goal down and looked at it before school that morning. “Only three percent of people do this and these are the people that get what they want. If you write down your goals you’ll automatically put yourself in the position to be in the top three percent,” he told the students. 

After Contartesi wrote down his goal, things started looking up. “My mom found a school where I could make up fifth and sixth grade in the same year. I went to school with a passion and excitement, learned to study, learned to pay attention, learned to build relationships with teachers. I learned the game of school,” he said. 

The first step in his road map to success is just that – building relationships. At age 12, Contartesi broke his arm playing little league football. During rehab he met Kyle, a trainer who watched him get to training early, work hard, and leave late. Kyle re-entered Contartesi’s life during his senior year of high school as a football coach. “He saw my work ethic, my leadership skills, and how I handled adversity; he saw me doing anything I could to help the team,” Contartesi said. “He saw my character.”

After being cut from the team while redshirting at Jacksonville University, Contartesi discovered that Kyle was interning at the University of Mississippi, ‘Ole Miss.’ “Because of the relationship I built with Kyle starting when I was 12 years old, I had the courage to call and ask him, ‘Can I get in?’ Three weeks after school started he was able to get me in academically and to nail me down one tryout, one opportunity to play football at Ole Miss. So I have to ask you guys, what relationships are you building right now with your coaches, teachers, counselors, neighbors, people in your community? These are the relationships that are going to dictate your future,” the speaker pointed out. 

Contartesi talked with students about the second step in the plan: Recognizing fear and overcoming it by simply acting anyway. “Before that tryout I was scared out of my mind and my hands were so sweaty that I went to open the door and the door slipped right out of my hand. I watched now-starters in the NFL walk by talking and laughing, and I thought, are they laughing at me because I look stupid? What will my friends and parents think if I don’t make the team?” said Contartesi. “Regardless of the way I felt, I stood up with my head high and did the tryout.”

The third part of the formula for success, as outlined by Contartesi, is persistence. Though he eventually made the team at Ole Miss, he didn’t dress for games for three years. He waited on the bus for hours while those who played celebrated. His hopes started to diminish and his vision became cloudy. He decided to quit the team. 

“That night at home, I had a conversation with my dad. He didn’t tell me not to quit, but what he said is, ‘Don’t let somebody’s opinion of you dictate your future.’” With that advice, Contartesi went all in for his last year of college football. “I was the only person that summer in the weight room doing something to get better and stronger every day; in the film room doing something to get smarter every day; on the field every day working on my craft even though I wanted to throw in the towel and quit every day.” At the end of that summer, Contartesi earned a spot on the offense for Ole Miss. 

“I started in all 12 games, ran out of the tunnel in front of 60,000 screaming fans, had catches, and was on honor roll,” said the former struggling student. After graduation he played arena football, then wrote the book that became a number one best seller. “I now speak with young adults to help them find their passion and purpose and achieve their goals,” said Contartesi. “The person that you become in pursuit of the major goal you have – that’s what it’s all about. It’s the person you become in pursuit of your goal that matters the most.”

The event was sponsored by Guttenberg Municipal Hospital Family Resource Center, Family Helping Hand, Clayton Ridge Schools, Clayton Ridge Athletic Boosters and Grid Iron Club, 5C Coalition and Life Connection.

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