Today was a first for me as a writer. I about lost it during an interview. Seriously. Had to cut it short.
Trai Sharp, the Uber-talented running back from James Madison, was staring back at me after I wrapped up an interview with Dukes defensive coordinator Bob Trott. I spun around and Trai was looking right at me. He had been asked to wait up during our FCS Title Game media session, as we at HERO Sports had requested a chance to talk to him for another story.
It hit me, how in the hell could I ask him questions about something as trivial as football after what he'd been through in 2017? Then again, how disrespectful was it to not ask?
I'm not going to lie, I have avoided asking JMU to talk to Trai this fall because even a motor mouth like myself doesn't know what to ask or say, even though I was in his shoes not five years ago and know exactly what it is like. Trai lost his dad, David, way too early. It wasn't supposed to happen to a dad who should have several decades left to live, we all get that. While many entities including ESPN Gameday have told Trai's story, of losing his dad literally while he was having the game of his life back in September, I don't know how many of us have actually had the gumption to ask Trai about it.
After learning early in 2017 that he had cancer, then later being told it was terminal, David Sharp passed away in the 4th quarter of JMU's September win over Norfolk State. “His dad passed away during the fourth quarter of our game,” a choked up JMU coach Mike Houston said after that win that nobody remembers the score of. “I'm really proud of Trai. He had a great day today … and he's having a tough day today.”
On Thursday, I asked this young man how he was doing, and you could tell by his answers that the gist of it was: 'As well as can be expected'. What got me was the composure he exhibited in handling talking about it. The underlying message was, 'Hey, you can strap a ton of bricks on my back, I can handle this', yet not in a 'defensive mechanism' kind of way. It was pure intestinal fortitude, that you deal with your personal tragedies head on. One could tell he's OK with being asked about it. I'm sure he could have opted out of media availability, but he didn't ask to be.
When you're learning to be a man, and Lord knows we're becoming a rarer species in this day and age, it is brutally tough to lose the dad who gave you subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle lessons in how to grow a backbone and realize you are not the center of the universe — somebody to ground you and mentor you and fix your trajectory when it needs tinkering. That's one of the most critical things about having — and being — a great dad. Sometimes you hate your dad, but years later you understand why he wasn't always trying to be your best friend — though at times he truly was your best friend. Many of us know exactly what that feels like.
If you learned anything about this active member and mentor in the community of Carrboro (N.C.), it was blatantly obvious he was that kind of dad. And these same gifts were undoubtedly passed down to the next generation from Trai's father and his wife of 33 years, Annette.
Loss is tough, having intestinal fortitude is tougher.
So yeah, it was tough to talk to Trai today. Not because of a very sad subject, but because you can't help but think how proud his parents must be that this guy is theirs'. Even at a young age, he has learned how to talk about his tragedy when asked, eyes front and centered.
It was eye-opening.