SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Separated from his team and sitting squarely in the midst of serious allegations related to domestic violence, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster wondered if his professional football career had come to a close before it really got started.
On Saturday, Foster spoke publicly for the first time since Santa Clara County Judge Nona L. Klippen dismissed charges of domestic violence with an allegation that Foster inflicted great bodily injury and forcefully attempted to prevent a female victim from reporting a crime more than two months ago.
In a conversation that lasted about 10 minutes, Foster acknowledged how difficult his offseason was while he awaited a verdict on those domestic violence allegations as well as a charge for possession of an illegal weapon and a separate charge for possession of marijuana in Alabama.
"It was a big learning experience," Foster said. "I learned from every mistake, everything that's been said, all my flaws. I learned from a lot of things. I just grew from it."
Foster's biggest takeaway? The realization that every action and decision he makes could result in his losing the thing he loves most.
"It made me appreciate football a lot better," Foster said. "It was crazy knowing that football could be gone. Just being back on this field with my brothers and these coaches, it's a blessing.
"I learned every day I got to go harder at everything I do to better myself even more. It's do or die. Just don't mess up. Like trying to craft my football. I have to craft my life and go hard at it."
As Foster awaited resolution of his legal situation, he spent a chunk of the Niners' offseason program away from the team. That time away came after a Feb. 11 incident at his home in Los Gatos, California, in which his now ex-girlfriend, Elissa Ennis, accused him of hitting her up to 10 times, dragging her out of his house and throwing her to the ground.
Foster was arraigned on those charges in April, and he and the Niners mutually agreed that he would stay away from the team while his legal issues were resolved. At a pre-trial hearing on May 17, Ennis recanted her initial story, something she also attempted to do in the days after the initial incident.
Against the advice of her attorney, Ennis testified that she lied about Foster inflicting harm on her and said that she had suffered injuries in an altercation that stemmed from a road rage incident in San Francisco. Ennis said she "lied a lot" to authorities because Foster had broken up with her, and she was hoping to ruin his career and sue him as part of a money-making scheme.
On May 23, Klippen dismissed the charges against Foster, citing "insufficient cause" to believe that either charge "rose to the level" of probable cause, which is the burden of proof needed to move a case to a jury trial.
On Saturday, Foster declined to tell his version of events because he didn't want to "fuel it up no more." He did, however, acknowledge how difficult it was to not say anything when he received criticism before the charges against him were dismissed.
"It was hard," Foster said. "You can't say nothing at all."
Foster said he spent most of his days away from the team working out, calling it "peaceful" to the mind. He leaned on friends, family and teammates for support as he went through the process.
"I've been really, very impressed with Reuben in how he handled it, the process he went through while it was going on and after it got dropped, how he's handled himself since. I know he learned a lot through it. We talked about it a lot at the beginning, that some things seem so bad, but if you get through it, it can be a good thing in the long run. If you handle it right, it can enlighten you in some things and help you grow."49ers coach Kyle Shanahan
During his time away, Foster said he appreciated coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch for standing by him, as well as his teammates, including safeties Jaquiski Tartt and Adrian Colbert and cornerback Richard Sherman, for showing up at his arraignment to offer support. At the time, Sherman and Foster barely knew each other.
"They're my brothers," Foster said. "It means a lot. It meant the world. When you're down, it brought me up, [my] spirits. That's respect."
While the charges related to domestic violence were thrown out, Foster pleaded no contest to the weapons charge and completed a diversion course in exchange for having the marijuana charge dismissed.
Those issues resulted in a two-game suspension from the NFL for violation of the league's policies on substance abuse and personal conduct. Foster will miss the first two games of the regular season and more than $103,000 in game checks for those contests.
"It was painful," Foster said. "It's football, something I do, something I love. But it is what it is. Accept the consequences. You take it, and you move on. You learn from it, too, and you grow from it."
The Niners are three days into this year's training camp and had their first padded practice on Saturday. For now, Foster is working with the starting defense, though coach Kyle Shanahan said reps will be tweaked as the team draws closer to the start of the regular season and Foster's suspension.
On Wednesday, Shanahan credited Foster for how he handled his time away and all that came with the allegations against him.
"I think Reuben's done a great job just handling it," Shanahan said. "What they originally charged him with is as bad of a thing as you can imagine. It's a very embarrassing thing because of how bad it was. To have all that scrutiny on you and to have to go through that, I think, would be a challenge for any human being. That would mess a lot of people up.
"I've been really, very impressed with Reuben in how he handled it, the process he went through while it was going on and after it got dropped, how he's handled himself since. I know he learned a lot through it. We talked about it a lot at the beginning, that some things seem so bad, but if you get through it, it can be a good thing in the long run. If you handle it right, it can enlighten you in some things and help you grow. I really think it has for Reuben, and I think it's benefitted him in the long run, just understanding a little bit more how the world works."