DUNLAP — Almost everyone in life has what can be referred to as a turning point.
One of those moments, when depending upon the decision you make or just how events work out, affects the direction your life takes.
Harvie Herrington had one of those moments when he was a sophomore college football player and it pointed the future NFL player in the right direction.
Herrington was at Concord High School Friday morning sharing his message about his life-changing moment with the student body.
The future NFL player had his defining moment one day on the way out to the practice football field.
“One of my teammates told me coach wanted to see me in his office,” Herrington said. “I went to his office and sat down across from him at his desk. Coach just kept looking at me and not saying anything. I kept asking him what was wrong. He never answered. Finally I noticed a tear running down his cheek.
“One of the assistant coaches was a police officer and he was in his uniform. He reached for his cuffs and said, ‘Harvie, I have to arrest you. There is a warrant out for you on a murder charge.’
“Coach talked the officer into letting me go home on the promise I would turn myself in the next day. So the next day, I went with a lawyer, my mother, my grandmother and my sister to the police station.”
Herrington knew this was a critical point in his life.
“I knew if I went behind that wall my life would never be the same,” he said.
What happened next you can call an act of God. You can call it fate or you can call it the way things work out in life.
“I told the office my name. He looked at the records and said, ‘We can’t arrest you, you are already here,’” Herrington shared with the students. “My bother, Jerry Herrington, was a gang member and had taken a life as a gang initiation. He used my name since I had never been in trouble.
“Two years later, I sat in a courtroom and listened as the judge sent my bother to prison for 65 years. He told him, ‘You will either die in jail or be too old to harm anyone when you get out. He looked at me and said, ‘Get your ass out of here.’”
That all transpired on a Tuesday, but Herrington was on the football field the following Saturday.
Playing football was my dream,” he said. “It was so powerful that it kept me going when I was down mentally. Coach told me to stay home, but I told him it was important for me to be at the game. If I didn’t play football, I would not be where I am today.”
Herrington, after an eight-year pro football career and in addition to being a businessman, travels the country sharing his story with the younger generations.
Sophomore Thomas Burkert, who plays tennis, basketball and baseball at Concord, said, “He is a brave and caring man to want to share his story to help others.
“One thing he taught me is nothing in life is given to you. You have to work for what you get. It is important to set goals and to work on achieving those goals.”
Classmate Daniela Estrada said, “He got me to believe I can do things, even if my parents tell me I can’t. I am not my parents. I am my own person and want to have a better life than they do. My future is my own.”
Herrington attended NFL training camps for the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears as well as the Barcelona Dragons in NFL Europe. He played in the Arena Football League I and II for the Iowa Barnstormers, the New Jersey Red Devils, the Milwaukee Mustangs and the Quad City Steamwheelers.
Herrington was born in Mississippi. He moved to a tough Chicago neighborhood at the age of 7.
“I grew up in Chicago in an area where there was a lot of gang activity. I had friends that were in gangs. Just being around them taught me never to hang around with the wrong people,” he said.
Herrington shared with the sophomore class that one out of every four black males will be in jail by age 30.
Herrington asked the Concord sophomores if they knew what they wanted to do when they got out of high school. A number of hands were raised in response to his question. Two students wanted to be veterinarians, one a police officer, one a lawyer and one a diesel mechanic. The response that drew the biggest response from Herrington was a youngster that wanted to be a Fortnite player.
Herrington laughed before saying, “I’m not laughing at you. Do you know what some of those gamers make?
“If you already know what you want to do with your life you are ahead of the game. You are on your way to having a career instead of a job,” he said. “Job stands for Just Over Broke. People that have jobs are working for a paycheck. People that have careers are doing something they love.”
Herrington spent the time with the students doing what he loves.
“Speaking to groups like you is my career. My purpose is not as much to share my story as it is to show you how a dream can become a career,” he said. “Ten years from now if I come back here and run into you at a fast food restaurant and you ask me, ‘Do you want fries with that?’ You have made a mistake. If you are 25 or 30 years old and working at a job like that you have made a mistake. It’s your fault. You have no one to blame but the person you look at in the mirror every day.”
Herrington came from a broken home and today has little contact with either one of his parents.
“They were high school sweethearts. They married at 20 and had me at 21. Mom cheated on dad and he was so upset he left and never came back,” Herrington said. “The first chain in my life was growing up without a father. Everyone needs a dad in their life. Boys need someone to smack them on the back and keep them going straight. Girls need a dad to show them how a real man treats a woman.
“My mother didn’t really care about me and started leaving me at places. I woke up some mornings in the home of someone I didn’t even know. One time mom took off for a year, leaving me with her sister.
“Trust me growing up without parents in your life leaves a hole in your soul that never goes away.”
The pain may not go away, but Herrington told the students they have the choice of staying in that type of environment or getting away from it.
“I was the first person in my bloodline to have an eighth-grade diploma, a high school diploma or a college degree,” he said. “When I was a high school senior my mom gave me a pair of steel-toed work boots, because she assumed I was going to end up working in the steel mills like most of the men in my family.
“Not having parents in your life might be the cards you are dealt for now, but once you are old enough you can change the deck.”
Greg Keim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 326. Follow Greg on Twitter @gkeim_TGN