My mom put me in ballet and gymnastics with two of my sisters when I was about 5, and I stayed in those until I was about 8. She was a cheerleader and ran track, so she made sure we participated in sports. She also put me in karate, which I did until about 9 or 10. I think I got my blue belt. All those were good for me -- karate and ballet for the focus and gymnastics for the flexibility. I'm still one of the few guys in the locker room who can drop down and do a split.
My dad had played football growing up, but he went to the Army. He kind of lived through my brother and me, so he put me in football at 7 or 8. I stopped all those other sports to focus on being a quarterback. Dad was grooming me to be a QB; he had me out in the yard with plays on my wrist, and I'd watch "Inside the NFL" all the time.
The middle school days
The most fun I ever had was back in Indiana, playing Fort Wayne metro football for the Chargers. We sucked. But it didn't matter if we won or lost -- we'd chew on our mouth guards all week, just looking forward to Saturday. You'd see us walking in as a group from the parking lot, our hip pads all hanging out. We knew we weren't getting to the playoffs, but that wasn't what mattered. They used to call me Cannon. I swear. But one day I took a hit and just couldn't throw like I used to.
In eighth grade we buried a time capsule—you know, one of those you go back and get after you get out of high school. I had written that I would be a star QB for Florida State and get drafted in the first round. Not exactly what happened -- I got drafted in the second round -- but kind of crazy looking back at that. Middle school was also when I started doing track and field and playing basketball. But I knew those weren't my sports. I just did them to stay in shape in the offseason.
The high school years
I played those three sports in high school, too. I guarded Zach Randolph my freshman year at Southside High [Fort Wayne, Ind.]. He used and abused me. Let's just say if he would've put on the pads, it would have been a different story. As far as track, I felt too exposed, almost naked, without my pads and helmet on.
When I played football, I could come out of my shell. I felt like I could be myself; it didn't matter what anyone said or thought about me. It was probably around my sophomore year when I realized I had this switch I could flip, that my light could shine brighter than everyone else's. But my coach liked to play upperclassmen even though a lot of the younger guys like me were better. That really frustrated me. So I didn't get my first official offer -- from Indiana -- until my junior year. Then Michigan State offered; once I got those first couple, everything started coming in. People wanted me to go to Michigan, but I didn't feel comfortable there. I loved IU and was gung-ho, so I committed. But my father sat me down and talked me out of it. He felt that Purdue was the better choice. He was right. That ended up being the best decision for me in the long run. After we lost to Muncie Southside in my final game, I went straight to the airport for my visit to Purdue. I remember thinking I'm never going to play with these guys again.