Story by Kevin Lytle Jr. / Edit by Kayla Troxclair
If a kid can run, jump, and has hopes of being at least 6 foot tall, that kid usually gravitates to the hardwood. If you grow up in the predominately black area of your city, then the odds of basketball being your sport, increases tremendously. When being an athlete is DNA embedded, Choices are as endless as the Atlantic Ocean and in the eyes of Former Nebraska Star, Niles Paul, the Washington Redskins will soon be fortunate that we, as people, have the ability to choice.
“My freshman year I started varsity basketball, and that’s where I was happy, I was satisfied with that. I thought playing football would interfere with basketball,” proclaimed Paul.
It’s funny the difference a football scrimmage in hooping shoes and being a grade older makes. Switching focus to football his sophomore year, Paul began on a path that would eventually lead him to a record setting career at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and to being drafted in the 2011 NFL Draft, allowing him to take his talents from the great plains of the Midwest to the bright lights, and heavy traffic of the District of Columbia. (Beat that South Beach)
Currently, “the powers that be” in the National Football League are addressing some things and taking their time with it, so while the lock-out continues, and Tim Tebow is flying his receivers to his hometown for private workout sessions, Midstarz sat down with Niles to determine exactly how he arrived, and where is goes from here.
While our plans never really turn out the way we envision them, foresight from those more experienced in the matters of life, never hurts. His uncle, former Nebraska and Pro Bowl, running-back, Ahman Green, convinced the point guard Niles Paul to become Wide-Receiver Niles Paul. “He came from the same situation I was in,” stated Niles as he reflected on his sports influences. “He took me under his wing when he noticed that I had some talent and could actually play at the college level. I knew that if he could do it, then I could do something with my life too.”
Spending most of his high school years in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, Niles was surrounded by plenty of peers that didn’t have the same influences he was graced with, thus didn’t think they could do the same things in their lives. He admits that it was hard to stay on track, but credits sports as his outlet – the anchor that kept him grounded throughout high school. When asked if a high school documentary, Lebron James style, would’ve been filmed about him, would it expose any interesting highlights? Niles humbly noted that, “Everyone has a story. I don’t see my life as any different; I don’t want anybody to feel sorry for me.” See, Paul lost his mother when he was little. And though he had older brothers ‘more’ talented than he was, it was Niles that would use that circumstance, and the promises and goals that were birthed from it to show his true strength.
Standing 6’1”, 220 lbs, this epitome of the pigskin tradition, whom would always have a second job option as the “Old Spice Man’s stunt double,” has taken some striking blows, both literally, and figuratively, yet kept running, through hit, after hit. See, as we know, success is not guaranteed, and it’s definitely not achieved without failure, trials, or tribulations. As humans, we can’t avoid them, but we can, creatively, proactively, and without fear or reservation, overcome them.
In the Midwest, and especially in Nebraska, young boys grow up with footballs as pacifiers, daydreaming of the opportunity to play for the Cornhuskers. And while Niles Paul got that chance, and obviously rode it to the next level of competition, it has not come without backlash and struggle. “I had some bad games and was really under a telescope there. The games where I didn’t perform to the best of my abilities, I kind of got the hammer a little worse than other people.”
From small legal infractions to carrying the weight of the “hometown boy” leading his team back to glory, Niles faced serious adversity during his college career. Nevertheless, he overcame those obstacles, things that not only pushed him to step his game up, but additionally gave him the body armor needed to handle, what will no doubt be his life’s biggest test– entering the NFL. According to Paul, “I really learned from that, I grew stronger mentally from it, so it made me an all-around better player.”
One of the all-time great flicks, “Gladiator” (2000), is a movie starring Russell Crowe as a soldier turned slave, turned fighter, then legend. Remember the line when Maximus, aka “The Spaniard,” had the crowd chanting his name, only for him to break out in a rant, screaming, “Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?” He knows the price of fame and that fame can be fleeting. Even though he is, at press time, still restricted to report to his new team and home in Washington D.C., Niles is still keeping things in perspective. Though a 5th round pick, Paul says, “I’m a competitor. I let every coach know, I’m not just going to be satisfied being on the practice squad, I’m going to compete for a starting spot.”
Comparing his game to Baltimore Ravens’ Receiver, Anquan Boldin, because his size and physicality, Niles is ready to give the people what they want. Aside from football, giving to the people means much more, than just pure entertainment to Niles.” I always wanted to do something that involved kids whether I was going to play football or not; starting a youth center, to help them grow, athletically, as well as academically.” Well, polishing his skills with the likes of up-coming teammate DeAngelo Hall, and Roy Helu Jr., whom he not only played with in Nebraska, but will make the splash with him for the Redskins, puts Paul in the position to do that and plenty more. And he’s definitely equipped; Cornhuskers Receiver’s Coach, Ron Brown, passed on to Niles what he considered to be his favorite verse: 2 Timothy 1:7- “…for God has not created a spirit of fear and timidity, but one of power, love, and self-discipline.”
The young man, whose dad first started him to running track at age 6, is now, 15 years later, in the lane less traveled, but is definitely there by choice. Self-described as both spontaneous and determined, Niles Paul knows where he’s headed, and through dedication and experience, is ready to show confused doubters that his spirit is one of power and discipline, and that he is very much in control.