When I first entered the NFL in 2013, I began as an undrafted punter, signed by the Bears and then cut by the Bears at the end of preseason. I found myself without a job for the first time out of college and honestly, I was pretty embarrassed for a while. I didn’t want to tell my story of how I got into the NFL, but now as I look back at the person and player it turned me into, I’m just so thankful. It’s one of those things where, in the moments when it’s really hard to trust and lean on God but you do it anyway, you get to look back later and think, “My goodness, how could I ever doubt after that?”
When I was first signed by the Bears I wasn’t punting very well, competing against a veteran who was punting well. But I showed these signs. I knew my talent was in there but I wasn’t sure how to get it out. When I was cut, kicker Robbie Gould and the special teams coach said, “Man, it’s there. You’re close and you have the ability to punt in this league for a long time.” I went home and was driving around and called my agent, Kelli, and said, “Kelli, thank you for everything but I’m going to hang them up. I was offered a medical sales job here in Oklahoma City, Bri and I are engaged, I can’t think you enough for all the hard work of giving me a shot. I wish I had done better but that’s the way it goes sometimes.” I had actually decided to quit football. I was done.
Two days went by. I had gotten all the books I needed to study for my new role and I went and spoke at a high school FCA meeting. When I got back in the car, the gentlemen who would soon marry me and my wife said to me, “Man, I just wish you could listen to yourself sometimes.” To which I said, “What are you talking about?” He replied, “I’m going to drive, I’m not going to talk to you, and I want you to think about what you just spoke on.”
I sat there and thought about what I said — when everything seems tough, how to have that fire and just go. God’s got our backs and we need to just be willing to press on. I turned to him and said, “I’m not done.” And he said, “I don’t think you are. Go at it one more time.”
I called the company that had hired me and told them I was sorry, but I was going to give the NFL one more go. I prayed about it, my parents prayed about it, Bri prayed about it, and we all came to the same conclusion — I needed to give it one more shot.
Bri and I were married going into the 2014 season when the Bears ended up signing me back. I worked for FCA, I worked out every day, I punted with the goal to elevate my game to that next level. When the 2014 season came around, I came in with another veteran punter named Drew Butler, and I was punting the ball really well. I was rolling; it was everything everyone was talking about. I was confident and having a blast with it. Then the draft comes, and they drafted Pat O’Donnell, the current punter for the Bears, and they cut Drew, but they kept me. But I knew they were going with Pat.
Robbie Gould was still in Chicago at that time and he said to me, “Tress, you just have to do your thing and play your game every single day. Make them question why they drafted somebody. Make it apparent so that other teams take notice. You just do your thing.”
I was punting the best I had punted in my life. The coaches called me into the office at the end of preseason and said, “Tress, we are going to release you but we wanted you to know that four teams have called asking about you.” I thought they were just petting the dog as they were putting it down. Now I’m cut again, my wife, who was in nursing school, and I, unemployed, are driving home and I’m just silent, thinking, “What am I going to do?”
About the time we hit St. Louis, driving home from Chicago to Oklahoma City, I got a call from the 703 area code. Someone from the Redskins says, “Hey Tress, we claimed you off the waiver wire which means you’re on our team now. Where are you?” I said, “We’re on our way home, going to Oklahoma City.” He asked when I would be home and then told me that in a few hours he would fly me out to my new team. I looked at Bri and said, “Bri, I’m with the Redskins now,” and she said, “Heck yeah! Let’s do this!”
We were so fired up! Never once did Bri make me worry; she was the one I could lean on during this entire time. After flight delays, missed rides and a short two-hour nap, I met my special teams coach, Ben Kotwica, who told me that their two punters haven’t been cutting it. He spoke with the coach from Chicago who spoke highly of my performance and my character. He said, “I’m going to be frank with you, you have 10 days. You punt better than the other guy, you get the job.” And I said, “Yes sir, let’s do it.” I went out there and did my first set, punted the ball really well, and I can’t believe I’m saying it now but I’m going into my fifth year with the Washington Redskins.
Looking back now, I see that I could have taken the easy way out and just do my thing, but I felt something in my heart and chose to lean on God. It was only after that time had passed that I look back and see how God got me through it and had this plan all along. But I know my relationship with Christ, and even if I had hung up my football cleats and gone to do medical sales, I know God would have an incredible plan for my life. But though that time was really tough, I had so many people praying for me and encouraging me to go for it. I think God was speaking to me through them and saying, “What you are about to go through is going to be brutal but you’re going to be better for it, and it’s going to shape how you are as a player.” This is something I can’t wait to share with my kids someday and others.
It’s only when that time has passed that you look back after trusting God and you are able to say, “My goodness, what an incredible plan that was.”
— Tress Way, Washington Redskins punter
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