Oct. 10, 2010::
It was a day just like any other day.
Three weeks into the college football season, several weeks into the fall semester.
Us football players, we refer to it as "the grind."
It was just another morning of waking up next to Ella Kingsbury, crawling out of bed to fix some pancakes and sausage before skittering off to my beaten down Ford truck to get to classes.
After classes, practice. After practice, the weight room, and then back to the apartment to spend the rest of the afternoon with Ella.
Not that I am complaining, life was good. In fact, maybe I didn't know at the time just how good I had it.
Ella, my high school sweetheart, my other half. As beautiful - and as cunning - as a fox. Her black hair shimmered with radiant destiny, her very smile could bring peace even in the most disturbing of times.
I will see her later, I thought, as I cleaned up the few dishes used to fix breakfast and grabbed the key to the truck.
Ella followed me to Penn State University. She was consistently the most intelligent person in the room, in any room. She could have went to any college campus on the planet, but she knew I didn't want to move too far from my father, so she followed me here. She's studying child psychology...she wants to make a difference in people's life.
Me? I was a little more simple. I was a part time student in finance, but full-time in football and amateur wrestling was my second job.
When you're young and in love, it is easy to get complacent. It is easy to miss the forest through the trees. It is easy to look at your life at one particular moment and make the assumption that things will never change.
I backed the truck up and make my way to the end of the alleyway behind my apartment, just like any other day. I make a right turn at the First Church of Christ on the corner, noticing the little black letters on the sign by the entrance.
"Today has never happened before!"
I let out a little chuckle as I drive by. My first thought was that it was just a little ridiculous. I guess it was just one of those motivational things, but it just seemed so obvious and so pointless to put on a sign outside of a church.
It seemed like this day happened plenty of times before. This three mile drive to campus, backing out of the parking lot and driving down the alley past the church, the morning breakfast, the sense of urgency for an upcoming practice session...it has all happened more times then I care to remember.
Maybe it was a challenge to people to change the path of their lives. Maybe, it was life changing the path of our challenges.
A few minutes later, I pull up to campus, eager to get into my first class. Midterms were to be coming up soon, and those NFL scouts love to see good grades from us school kids. I knew that Ella would be coming to campus herself soon, by noon, she will be only a few rooms down as our schedules intersect. It was always good to have that strong emotional support, that girl was my world, my moral compass, my soul.
At that moment, I thought I had it all figured out. I thought I had my whole life laid out in front of me. It turns out....the only constant in life is change. It turns out, the only sure thing in life is unpredictability.
It turned out....that day had never happened before in my life.
I promised her forever, and I never went back on my word...but I could have never guessed that forever would be such a fleeting moment.
As I sat in class, in my mind, I was trying to process each word that was coming out of Professor MacKenzie's mouth. I have constantly told myself to be more attentive, but at this point I would have rather been doing literally anything else.
As MacKenzie's incessant chattering bored through my brain like a maggot chewing through fresh trash, integers and parameters and all kinds of mathematician mumbo-jumbo, I found my mind starting to wander.
I looked up at the clock, I looked around the class room. Everyone seemed so fascinated. Everyone seemed so alert, their eyes and ears on the math magician teaching us everything we will need to know in our adult lives.
Dear God, I thought, please pick me up and take me out of this place. Put me in a film room session with the boys, let me study some upcoming opponents. Put a bale of hay in my arms and tell me to trek across a field, I don't care. Put me back in bed next to my darling Ella.
I looked up at the clock again. It was ten minutes past noon and I realized that Ella was in class too, and was undoubtedly going through her own mind-numbing lecture. But she always liked her studies, so my guess is that she was enjoying it.
Today has never happened before... if I close my eyes and fall asleep right here in class, I thought, maybe it will never happen again.
Instead, it is this day that plays out in my head every waking moment of my existence. For years, I tried to convince myself that it was all a bad dream, but each time I am faced with the stark reality.
I vividly remember MacKenzie grabbing a piece of white chalk, scribbling a mess of numbers onto the black board in front of him.
Then I heard a boom...a blast. My first thought was that it came from the chalk crying out under the professor's unrelenting grip. Another boom and the sound of shattered glass. It must be the frat house kids and their fireworks again.
The professor paused in silence. The rest of the students start standing in a panic.
I was froze to my chair trying to sort it all out in my mind.
Those...that sound...that is the discharge of a shotgun.
Over and over again.
People went running. I heard screams and cries, everything turned to a slow and glacial haze. Out of instinct, I took cover in a maintenance closet and armed myself with a mop.
There is an active shooter in this building, it finally processed in my mind. You see it on the news and you read about it online, the horrors, the agony, the tragedy. You never think it's going to happen to you.
You never even ponder the possible thought of how to react.
That day...was not like any other day. That day had never happened before, and in that moment I was terrified to the point of paralyzation.
There I was, Quentin Scarboro, Penn State offensive lineman, future NFL top pick, the baddest man on the whole damn planet...and I was standing in a broom closet clutching a worn out mop.
That is the moment where it dawned on me. Ella was in the same building. She was in danger, everyone was in danger and it was that moment I realized it wasn't just about me anymore. It wasn't about football, or wrestling, or weight classes or Professor MacKenzie's calculus.
At this point it was simply a matter of survival. The rate of the shotgun blasts all but guaranteed that we weren't all going to make it out alive.
This was my fight or flight moment. This was my moment of introspection.
I cracked the door of the storage closet open, making my way into the hall with nothing but a mop handle protecting me from certain death if I crossed path with this shooter.
Maimed and broken bodies were lined in front of me. Grotesque screams accompanied the sickening aroma of gunpowder and blood.
Alarms were sounding, the whole scene a chaotic nightmare. I heard another shotgun blast and my eyes quickly jolted to the source of the sound. I witness a dark skinned body drop to the ground as it gets ripped to shreds by the shotgun shells.
That's my quarterback...that's my friend ...Greg Wilder never got to see another day. I glanced around the room, finally catching glimpse of a hooded man with cold dark eyes, shotgun in hand, rampaging down the hall.
Maybe he was just too caught up in the destruction, maybe he didn't see me but I did what I could...without a second thought I hoisted that mop up in the air, sending it through the sky like a javelin into the chest of the accomplice. He staggers backwards, dropping the shotgun.
Here's my chance, I thought.
I pounced. If there was ever a moment in my life I thank my coaches for a perfect-form tackle, this was it. I dive on top of the man, striking down on him with elbows and fists as he frantically reaches to pick the shotgun back up and finish what he started.
I can't let him, I won't let him. I was determined as all hell...this guy wouldn't kill again.
I wrestled the gun from his grasp and knew exactly what I had to do.
I had to end it. I had to save my life and save the lives of all the people around me. In that moment, it wasn't about doing what was right or what was noble, it was about survival.
This guy won't kill another person, I thought, even if I had to.
One more shotgun shell was discharged that day, through the skull of something truly evil.
With that, the shooting stopped. The police showed up, gathered their evidence, asked their questions and established the body count.
Thirty four students and faculty members of Penn State University lost their lives that day, and many more lost their minds or their innocence. Thirty four people were murdered in such a senseless fashion and I could tell you today each and every one of their names...none more important than Miss Ella Kingsbury.
I miss her with more passion as each day passes.
(An excerpt from "A Moment of Introspection" written by Quentin Scarboro)
Now nine years later, I sit fists clenched in front of a mirror. The person looking back at me...I am not sure who he is. I am not sure of what I have become.
The shooter's name was Trenton Michaels. I know that now because it was plastered all over the news. I know that now because of all the questions I have gotten over the past decade, from the press, from relatives, from sympathizers.
They never established a motive and everyone wanted to know more.
They wanted to know more about the man that took so many lives. America has this sick, fatal obsession with serial murderers. I didn't want to know "why he did it". I didn't want to know "what was going through his mind at the time." I didn't care, it seemed irrelevant to me.
It seemed like they turned to me for answers.
Though part of me, however selfish, wished that he would have chose another school in another state on another day, another life to walk into and flatline. Now, clearly, my life wasn't the only one clotheslined and hung out to dry by this madman. Countless others had their lives derailed. In fact, Ella's brother Ethan, once one of my greatest friends and confidants, ended up in a psyche ward after they claimed he had delusions of reality directly related to the incident.
None of it was my fault, and I would be the last one blamed, but on that fateful day, Trenton upset the apple cart. Call it final destination or the Butterfly Effect or whatever you want to call it, fate had its own idea of how things were going to go from that point.
I dropped out of college, giving up my dream of becoming a professional football player. It never really bothered me to flatten my opponents on their backs...but after the incident, it felt like their pain was my pain. Their agony was my agony, their anguish my anguish. I just couldn't do it anymore.
My teachers, coaches, family and teammates all repeated the same line like it was chemically implanted in their minds.
"I get it. It's a tough decision, but I understand. Nobody could even imagine going through the tragedy you did."
To be frank, nobody understood. Nobody "got it", not even myself. As an offensive lineman, I was born to protect. I couldn't protect Ella, I couldn't protect myself. I couldn't protect the countless other lives that were lost that day. For nine years I have relived that moment, my ultimate failure.
Despite it all, people thanked me. They told me that they look up to me, the lost man with a forgotten plan. I always thought it was asinine, it was crazy. I could help them, they said.
I could help protect them, they said.
I did what I could, I wrote a book. Titled "A Moment of Introspection," I described the harrowing details of my horrific experience. I did what I could to help people avoid a similar situation of their own, along with bringing hope and a voice to those that lost their lives that day.
I helped others get through personal tragedies of their own. It seemed to be my calling.
For years, I considered myself an activist, trying to derail a disturbing trend of senseless violence.
Yet...I sit here in front of this mirror, and I must admit it to myself. I feel empty. I feel hollow, without purpose or direction.
When it comes to competition, I am a Cadillac...a black stallion...an American thoroughbred. Whether it be on the football field or the wrestling mat, it has always felt more like home than sitting at the desk with a pen and paper.
It is not even a money thing. It isn't about the fame. In fact, I've sold more copies of my book than Beaver Stadium has seats. For it's credit, being a published author has its perks and is much easier on the body...but my mind and body feel like a cage. I know my potential. I feel like, for nine years, I've held myself back out of fear.
That fear stares at me now from the other side of this mirror.
For years, I saw visions of being myself being most valuable player, or rookie of the year, or whatever the case would be. I wanted to be dominating a combat sport, and that all changed when combat paid me an unwelcome visit.
Ironically enough, time changes. Today has never happened before. Because today...Quentin Scarboro is a "rookie."
Not an NFL rookie on his way to training camp....but a rookie "professional wrestler," with a brand new contract with Championship Wrestling Federation.
They want to know who I am. They want to know Quentin Scarboro. They want to know that they are getting their money's worth.
With one last glance in the mirror, I unclench my fist. I guess I'll have to show them.
I know I will not fail. For I know cannot fail her again.
This is my moment of introspection. To CWF, this is your introduction.
I am Big Q. I am the American Thoroughbred. No matter the situation, one thing is for sure...my opponents will be laid flat on their backs and my arm will be raised in victory.
You might not like me once they get to know me.
Not even the man in the mirror can stop me now...
Q: I can't believe that lousy pretty-boy Brady won another Superbowl. What a crock of shit.
I can see the smile on my face of my father, Lucas, he hates those New England bastards just as much as anyone. It was always nice to have my old man around, and in a lot of ways, he was my comfort
zone. This is what I knew, for better or worse, as the two of us spend the winter morning out in the wooded foothills of central Pennsylvania collecting firewood for his wood burner just like old times. It has a certain vintage feel to it, even today. He runs the chainsaw, I hoist and carry it back to the truck as it piles up...we have a good partnership.
Lucas: He is the greatest of all time! Has won more games than anyone else combined! A supermodel wife and millions in the bank! Why in the world couldn't you have gone pro just to knock that guy silly?
I shoot my dad a glare.
Lucas: At the very least, maybe you would have been drafted by the Pats and you'd have a couple rings on your finger by now."
I know he is joking, but I subconsciously look down at my jewelry-free hand which brings a sense of burden.
Q: Yeah, like you read the story of this fool Jeremy Hill, got like six carries on the year before going on injured reserve and he's out bragging that his team won the Super Bowl while he kept the bench warm. That's insanity.
Lucas: Oh, and you've never taken credit for someone else's work?
In his sarcastic demeanor, he looks at me like he expects a confession.
Q: No, never. Besides, football is old news. No league is drafting a 29-year-old, not after everything I've been through...not after my history.
Lucas: So, another book?
He chuckles as I launch a log up on to my shoulder and start walking it back to the truck.
Q: No... I'm working on a new career. Professional wrestling. I put my name out there, just finalized a contract with Championship Wrestling Federation.
Lucas: So you'll be filming Slim Jim commercials and all that extra stuff too? Big Q is finally hitting the big time!
Q: I'll get you a ticket, front row, old man. I'll even get you a plane ticket out to Oakland. February 12, Modern Warfare, dude.
Lucas: Sounds exciting, 'dude'. I'll bring the kegger and a few joints and we'll throw an after party.
Q: Yeah, they're going to have me be a part of a Paramount Grand Prix. I might not have the diamond ring, but if this goes well for me, I'll have the golden belt.
Lucas: Good enough for me, you know I have always been proud of you, Q. How ready do you think you are for this kind of moment?
Q: I'm booked in a tag team match, so all the pressure won't be on me. My partners, Scourge and Munson are giant behemoths, so that aspect of it won't be anything new for me. My opponents are a mixed bag of goods.
Lucas: How so?
Q: This guy, Max Becker, he's big dude that looks like a billboard for the local tattoo parlor, but it seems he's more worried about rapping than wrestling. Then there is this guy, K. Carlton Davison, that calls himself "The Next Generation God."
My father laughs.
Lucas: Well that's just a bit egocentric, I suppose.
Q: Rightly so. To round out the group, you have a righteous 220 pound little piss ant named Silas Artoria. Talks big, never delivers on his promises. To prop himself up he relies on a creepy vibe, calls himself the "Bloodletter." When I'm done with him, he will be known as the Mud Puddle. I've been watching these guys, the "veterans" of the Grand Prix, and I would say I am more than ready
Lucas: And what do these guys know about you?
Q: Well, pops, I'd say... they know I can write. They might not know that I am walking into this thing as a dominant athlete, so how can they really know what to expect before I step into that ring for the very first time? I'll just say this, if they think I am an easy out, they are about to have a moment of introspection coming for them as the referee makes that three count.
Lucas: Atta boy. Get in the truck, it's time for lunch.
They don't know what I am capable of.
How could they?
Not even I know the extent of my potential.