Days after arriving at Kent State as a true freshman in 2009, running back Dri Archer received a message from assistant coach Jerry McManus that has served as inspiration for his improbable All-America career.
"When I first got to campus, I was really homesick, and I thought a lot about leaving. But, Coach McManus sat me down and convinced me to stick with it," said Archer, a native of Laurel, Fla. "Coach told me that it was only a matter of time until I broke almost every school record in the books. He has truly had my back since day one."
"Dri was probably the most homesick player that I've ever coached," said McManus, who began his career in 1978 and now serves as an assistant at Louisiana-Monroe. "If he would've gone home, Dri probably would've joined the military and never played a down of college football. Instead, he made the decision to stick it out, and that persistence has paid off big-time."
Through Archer's freshman and sophomore seasons, the 5-foot-8, 175-pound speedster accounted for more than 1,400 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns as the Golden Flashes' backup ball carrier and returner.
"A lot of coaches told me that I couldn't play D1 ball because of my size," said Archer, whose only FBS scholarship offer came from Kent State. "It was definitely a tough adjustment, but Kent State believed in me when no one else did, and that meant a lot."
With two seasons of experience under his belt, Archer appeared poised to assume the role of starting running back in 2011, until an unexpected academic issue delayed his forward progress.
"Dri retook a class and, for whatever reason, it didn't count towards the credits that he needed," McManus said. "He ended up being forced to sit out the entire season, and that experience really made him grow up a lot."
After a year of being relegated to a scout-team role, Archer returned to action in 2012 and led KSU to an 11-3 record, a BCS ranking and the team's first bowl appearance in 40 years. Along the way, Archer accumulated more than 2,500 yards and 23 touchdowns -- including 1,429 yards rushing and 561 receiving -- and became the first Walter Camp All-American in school history.
"Having to sit out a year made me so hungry for success, and I focused all of that energy into last season," said Archer, who returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in 2012. "We shocked a lot of people with what we were able to accomplish, and that meant a lot to Kent State."
After spearheading one of the most successful seasons in school history, Archer's explosiveness garnered the attention of NFL scouts, who ranked him as high as a third-round draft pick. But, instead of bolting for the NFL, Archer decided to return to Kent State for his senior season.
"I thought very seriously about leaving, but we lost the MAC Championship and our bowl game," said Archer, who has played for three different head coaches during his college career. "I didn't want to look in the faces of the guys in the locker room and end it on a loss.
"After every touchdown, my guys always pick me up in the air. Every single time I feel like I'm 100,000 feet high and on top of the world. I came back because of that feeling right there. Those moments with my teammates honestly make all of the ups and downs worth it."
Archer returned to the gridiron this year only to suffer an ankle injury on the season's first offensive series.
"This year hasn't played out how we expected," Archer admitted. "But, I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. If I could do it all over again, I'd do everything the exact same."
With only one game remaining in what has been a roller coaster college career, Archer has begun to look forward to what lies ahead.
"My goals right now are to finish the season on a high note, train hard and break Chris Johnson's 40-yard dash record at the NFL Combine," Archer proclaimed.
As for Archer's mentor, his belief in the budding star remains steadfast.
"If he sets his mind on breaking the record, I think it's realistic," said McManus, who coached Chris Johnson at East Carolina. "People are going to say he's crazy, but Dri has been dealing with doubt and proving people wrong his entire life. He knows that 40 time will help determine his NFL future.
"Throughout his journey, Dri has been on top of the mountain and in some very low valleys. I don't know exactly what the future holds for him, but I do know that Dri is incredibly driven. He'll be successful in whatever he does, on or off of the field. As for everything else, only time will tell."