This is the story of Lavasier Tuinei, former Oregon Duck, and Rose Bowl MVP. I chose “LT,” as he’s commonly known by friends and family, because his journey has been far from a bed of roses (pun intended), yet he’s remained focused on his goal and committed to his dream. As a kid growing up in Indiana, the son of an NFL player you’d think he would have been born with a football in his hand, but in fact basketball was his passion. His parents divorced when LT was very young, and his mother wasn’t at all interested in her son playing football, encouraging his love for basketball instead. But when he was eight years old he went to live with his father, and held a football for the first time.
Sarah: When did you discover your love of football?
LT: (I can hear the excitement and nostalgia in his voice). The first time I touched that football. I didn’t want to put it down, I took it everywhere with me. I wanted to be just like my dad, who was playing for the Chicago Bears at the time. I asked him to teach me how to play and he gave me a choice. He said “go to sleep tonight and set your alarm for 5:00 AM, if you still want to learn how to play in the morning, come wake me up and I’ll train you.” The next morning I woke him up at 5:00 AM and we trained for two hours before school every morning he was home through high school.
But his dad had an idea; move LT to southern California to attend the same junior collage that he’d attended and see if his son could get a chance to finally play ball. Things began to fall into place and for the first time in a long time LT was back on the field doing what he loved to do most, having fun, and turning in some impressive numbers. It wasn’t long before Oregon took notice and offered him a scholarship after just one season of junior college. But, “bad luck” seemed to tail LT and again his dream was put on hold as he worked out issues with his transfer and eligibility. It looked like his chance to play for Oregon was dead in the water.
Sarah: What did that defeat feel like?
LT: I felt like I was done. I couldn’t see a way out, the doors had all closed. I was just broken. Devastated. Here I’d worked so hard, gotten this close and was stopped by something out of my control, something the administration had done incorrectly. It didn’t seam fair.
Sarah: What kept you from giving up?
LT: Staying and playing another year for the junior college was not at all what I wanted to do, but what choice did I have? I guess I could have quit, but that was never really an option. When you have a dream that is part of your DNA it just becomes who you are. It removes the option to quit. Also my dad always believed in me, I wanted to make him proud. Show him I could do it and that all our hard work was worth it.
A month later LT got the unbelievable news that Oregon had fought for him and he was cleared to join the team. That spring training was a rough one. He’d never competed on that level, played with athletes of that caliber. He felt overwhelmed and under-prepared. “I sucked.” He tells me. “I was this skinny kid from a little school with no credibility. I was dropping every pass. It was a mess. At the end of practice I went up to the coach and asked him if I could red-shirt my first year, I just felt there was no way I’d be ready to compete at that level by fall.”
But that summer, after classes he could be found at the practice facility studying plays. Every spare minute he had, he spent going over all the plays, learning the system, trying to catch up. And when fall training camp came around he didn’t drop a single pass. By the third game of his first season with Oregon he had not only made the team, he was named the starting receiver.
|Rose Bowl MVP Lavasier Tuinei|
Sarah: You are named the MVP of the Rose Bowl, you have a great senior year at Oregon, did you expect to be drafted?
LT: I didn’t know honestly if I would get drafted. It’s a statistics game at the end of the day and I wasn’t sure I had the numbers the NFL was looking for. But when I didn’t it was another major disappointment. But I still believed in my dream. I knew I’d get a chance to play in the league. I knew that a team would see my heart, my athletic ability and take a chance on me. And then I got a call from Seattle.
Sarah: What has the last two years been like as an un-drafted free-agent?
LT: It’s been a struggle. A mix of highs and lows. In the past two years I’ve been signed and released by the Seahawks, Bengles, Cowboys and Patriots. It seems like every time I get my chance I have an injury that prevents me from being 100%. My body has worked against me, and I’ve pushed it beyond what it should have to endure and, played when it wasn’t healthy and I’ve paid the price.
Sarah: What was the lowest point for you over the last two years?
LT: The car ride home with my dad after I was injured and cut form the Bangles. He was so mad at me for getting injured and released. He said my career was over and that I’d never play football again. He told me I should quit. That broke me. Coming from someone you love so much and admire and credit for your success, that was devastating.
|The hustle in action|
Sarah: Where does your motivation come from?
LT: I have something to prove, to myself and to my dad. I know and believe I can make this dream happen, now I just need to prove it. And to my peers, at a certain point when your chasing your dream and you see other people succeed, you can start to get down on yourself for not being where you want to be. It can be humbling, but I’ve realized that not everyone is going to get my vision for my life and I’m okay with that. I’m doing it because it’s who I am, it’s what makes me happy and it’s what I love. Sometimes you just need to tune out what other people think of your dream and just use it as fuel and motivation.
Sarah: What is your Hustle?
LT: It’s every day. Putting in the work needed to get my body back to 100%. I’m in Hawaii now working with a trainer, training 3-4 hours a day, six days a week getting ready for that call from a team. It’s also keeping my mind right, I rely on prayer a lot for that. And… I play domino’s! (he laughs). No matter how much you chase your dream it can never be all you do. Life is short you need to enjoy it, have fun, let your mind relax, save the next hustle for tomorrow.
Sarah: Do you believe you will achieve your ultimate dream?
LT: Of course! No doubt in my mind. I will make it happen.
I love LT’s story so much because he is a living example that no mater what comes your way, if you are committed to your dream and The Hustle it takes to get you there, and believe in it with your whole being… nothing can stop you. You will live it. He has already achieved so much. More than most men could even imagine, he’s lived those moments, been a member of several NFL teams. He is making it happen regardless of all the obstacles that stand in his way. And I love that not only does he believe in his dream, he realizes that it’s up to HIM to make it happen. He’s not waiting for some magic fairy to show up with a contract, he’s doing everything within his power, every day to get closer to his goal.
I also loved that LT doesn’t let other peoples negative energy sidetrack or destroy him. He turned that potentially toxic energy into positive motivation, making it just one more reason to be committed to achieving success. We all have “haters” in our life. People who don’t get us, and don’t understand why we would want to redesign our future and change our life. Let them hate, take that and turn it into fuel and additional motivation. People knock things they don’t understand or have the courage to do themselves, so just keep your eye on the prize, and know at some point when you’re super successful, they will come a knocking…. asking “how’d you do that, I want to try it now.” I can’t tell you how many times that has happened to me in the past few years.
Remember there is no such thing as “bad luck,” we make our own luck. We prepare and do our part and if it’s right for us it will come to us. If it’s not, the door will close for the time being, and when we are actually ready the right door will open out of thin air. So, be patient, and like LT; never give up. We are all going to face adversity on our journey to the life we are creating. It’s not going to always be easy, there will be many days when we want to give up, but just like LT said; when you’re committed to your dream, failure is not even an option.
So… are you committed to your dream? To changing your life? If you’re not, none of this will work. But if you are, guys like Derrick and LT and myself are examples that it can be done. It’s not rocket science, it’s not complicated. But it is life changing, and it will work for you too.
Lavasier Tuinei is an un-drafted, free agent in the NFL. Be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram to watch his dreams unfold.
UPDATE TO LT’S STORY: OCTOBER 11, 2014
After this story was published, LT did get a call, from the New York Jets. He flew to New York and worked out for a few days with the coaches, hoping to make the team. But no follow-up call came. So he went back to his #Hustle, coming home to Euguene to continue training, in hopes the next call would come. And in July it finally did. This time from the Canadain Football League (CFL), and the BC Lions. LT packed his bags and moved to Vancouver BC, thrilled to finally be a part of a team, and for weeks he practiced, worked and waited for his turn to play. But yet again, it never came. Instead he found himself in the all to familiar spot, of being cut from the roster.
But instead of heading back to Eugene to train like he had done in the past, Lavisier made a decision that would change everything. He stayed. He took a lease on a nearby apartment and decided to wait out the rest of the BC Lions season; even though he was no longer part of the team. He told the coaches he was staying in town, and would be there if they needed him, and then he went out and looked for a “real job” to pay his rent. When he got hired on at a temp agency he was grateful to be getting a paycheck, and went to work. For several weeks he worked his temp job, and trained himself, never giving up on his dream, or questing his faith that one day his opportunity would come.
Last week it did. The Lions had lost several players to injury and found themselves desperately needing a wide receiver, and who just so happened to be in town waiting for his shot? Yup. It’s not luck people. It’s what I like to call #ManifestThat, the moment when #TheHustle meets opportunity. LT was ready to go when he got that call, realizing this might be his last shot at his dream. So every day he practiced hard, determined to prove himself to the coaching staff, in hopes of getting a shot to actually play.
Yesterday, just days after being called back up to the team, and an hour before kickoff he was told to suit up, that he was starting. With just a few plays into the game, as a BC Lion, LT caught his first pass. And the ball kept coming his way, and each time he was ready. And then the moment he had worked and bleed for, believed in and pursued against all odds, came…. he scored his first ever pro-regular season touchdown. WATCH NOW
Congratulations LT for never giving up on your dream. For pushing past the point when most people would throw in the towel, and for doing it with quiet grace. You are the definition of #RelentlessPursuit and #HustleBelieveReceive in action. This is your moment to shine. You deserve it.
Lavasier’s inspiring true story will be featured in my book #HustleBelieveReceive available in 2015
Be sure to read the rest of this series: