On Saturday, popular Arkansas fullback Kiero Small graduated from the university after earning a degree in sociology, becoming the first in his family to graduate from college. His story is inspiring, uplifting and reflective of all that can be great about college athletics.
At one point during his journey from Baltimore to Arkansas, Small was at a junior college in California and lived on $50 a month for food–he would “buy a 15-pound bag of rice, ramen noodles and frozen chicken each month. Once the ramen and chicken ran out at the end of the month I would eat just rice three times a day seasoning it differently each time to change the taste.”
His story is one of redemption, which may not have been possible without the presence of his strong and grounding father. Arkansas asked Small to write his thoughts about graduating and some excerpts can be found below:
I stand here today a man that can be knocked down and, while getting back up and casually brushing myself off, ask ‘Is that all you got?’
The road I have taken was one that could have probably been avoided if I took school more seriously in high school. As a big fish in a little pond I thought I could just play good football and school would take care of itself. Needless to say it didn’t take care of itself and, since I didn’t take care of it, I barely graduated high school. As a high school grad I didn’t know what my next move would be.
Out of options and wanting badly to continue playing ball, I had to go military school in Wayne, Pennsylvania. While at military school I was buried in chain of command and was taking orders. I also didn’t have the season I wanted to on the field and missed my SAT score by 10 points. After the season I knew this wasn’t for me and I dropped out. So that I wouldn’t be embarrassed telling people I didn’t make it I just told people I didn’t want to play football.
I returned home to Baltimore lost again as I was when I left high school. After about a month of being home my dad sat me down and talked to me saying either I go to school or I work and pay bills, because a real man doesn’t lie around for free.
I knew I had to go back to school and since nobody I knew could afford it I knew a football scholarship was my only option.
When I made this choice I went to the Baltimore City Public Library and printed out contact information for every junior college in California. I called every school, and I got denied, turned down and, in some cases, even hung up on. I eventually got a call back from Matt Collins at Hartnell College in Salinas, California. He also knew my cousin from a previous school. I decided this was my last shot. I saved $800 and, after buying my $500 plane ticket, I touched down with my father in California with $300 and three duffle bags of clothes.
My father left the next morning, but I was not lacking company. I lived in a two-bedroom apartment with six other guys. With seven guys in a two-bedroom shack this wasn’t the beautiful ocean drive you see in the movies. While in Cali I would alternate months between asking my cousin Barry Mackall and my father for $300. My rent was $250 so I had $50 to eat with each month. $50 anywhere isn’t much but in California it’s even less. I would buy a 15-pound bag of rice, ramen noodles and frozen chicken each month. Once the ramen and chicken ran out at the end of the month I would eat just rice three times a day seasoning it differently each time to change the taste. Knowing money was hard to come by I knew if I didn’t figure something out I may not be able to afford to stay.
To take the burden of paying my rent off of my father and cousin I moved into one of my teammates, Charles Russell, parents’ house with him and his family. They were great and kind people and I followed the rules and helped around the house. Another family that made me feel like I had a home away from home was Mark Ramos and his family. Without these families I wouldn’t be here today. I eventually moved back into another two-bedroom apartment with seven more guys and the struggle was back on.
My first year of JuCo I made all-conference as an inside linebacker, but what I was most proud of was my 3.7 GPA. Having gone through what I did before I knew that all-conference meant nothing if I didn’t have a good GPA. One thing that did discourage me after the season was no schools offered me a scholarship. Some schools talked to me but it was never anything serious. A coach from a Division II college even told me I wasn’t good enough to play there.
I went home to Baltimore not knowing what was going to happen. My coach sent my film to the University of Arkansas. They liked my tape but not as a linebacker. They wanted me to play fullback. I hadn’t played offense full-time in four years. I was nervous but I went with the flow. If they would have asked me to play kicker I would have been ok with it. I knew that this was my shot and I needed a scholarship. The coaches came to my house and, seeing the look on my family and friends faces, I promised myself that if they offered me I would come here and put everything I had into graduating and playing at the next level. I was brought on an official visit and I was offered a scholarship on the last day of the visit. Of course I said yes. After being offered I was put on a plane back to California to finish my last semester of JuCo. While on the plane before taking off from Arkansas I cried tears of joy and knew that I was given a shot. I had to make it work from here.
Read the rest of Small’s piece here.