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Gas station burritos and one stoplight: Seahawks rookie rises from tiny hometown – Seattle Seahawks Blog

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L.J. Collier, the Seattle Seahawks‘ first-round draft pick, comes from a West Texas town that’s so small he could guide a tour over the phone.

Start at Allsup’s, the convenience store just off the intersection of Highway 222 and Route 277. Collier gave it a shout-out on draft night, calling it a good place to get a burrito, as if he was giving advice to prospective visitors.

Five blocks to the north is a Dairy Queen, the only eatery you’ll find open on a fall Friday night when almost half of the residents are packed inside the 600-seat Scruggs Field for high school football.

To get there, you’ll drive through the only stoplight, if you could call it one.

“Not even,” Collier said. “It’s just a light that flickers.”

Five blocks west of the DQ is Munday High, where Collier graduated in 2014 among a senior class of 25 students.

Retrace your steps from there and head back south on South Birch Avenue. You’ll see the giant water tower on your left bearing the town’s name on one side and the high school’s nickname, the Moguls, on the other. It might be the tallest structure in sight.

Kitty-corner from Allsup’s is City Hall, where the secretary can give you the exact population of Munday off the top of her head: 1,388.

And now one of Munday’s own is off to the NFL.

“He’s representing his town,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider said after selecting Collier, a defensive end, 29th overall. “It’s a big deal to him. He pretty much knows everybody in the town. Friday night lights, think of that, you know? It’s a pretty cool deal.”

Made in Munday

Pull up Munday in Google Maps and you’ll have to zoom way out before a recognizable city — like Abilene or Fort Worth — provides geographical context.

It’s about 190 miles northwest of Dallas and roughly 150 miles in the same direction from Fort Worth, where Collier attended college at TCU. There’s one public golf course that’s located just outside city limits. The nearest movie theaters are more than hour away in either Abilene or Wichita Falls.

“What you do on the weekends is you just drive around in your truck and you drive around on dirt roads and hang out in somebody’s field,” TCU offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie, who grew up in West Texas and recruited Collier, said in a phone interview with ESPN.com. “That’s pretty much what you do for fun.”

Collier excelled on the field when he got to TCU, finishing with 11.5 tackles for loss and six sacks during his senior season. But one major adjustment he had to make once he got to Fort Worth was timing his car trips to avoid traffic, something there isn’t much of in Munday.

“It was a great place to grow up at for a kid, because in the city, you can’t really ride around on your bike a lot or do things like that,” Collier said. “I did a lot of that with my friends growing up. We’d just hunt rabbits and birds — me and my cousin did with my BB gun and stuff like that. I wasn’t really much of a hunter, but as a kid we usually shot stuff around the house and things like that. We’d jump on the trampoline a lot. We played a lot of football.

“Couldn’t really get into much, but it was a lot of fun. … I didn’t really know anything else.”

In Munday, pretty much everyone knows each other — or at least knows of each other. There are few strangers, if any. Cumbie believes that helped shape Collier’s outgoing nature.

“It’s just because he doesn’t know any different,” Cumbie said. “Everywhere he’s ever been, he’s had a big personality. I think he doesn’t have as many inhibitions probably as some kids who come from bigger towns where maybe some of that was suppressed at a certain age.”

Collier’s dad, Lawrence Sr., was born and raised in Munday. He still works in the oil fields and lives in nearby Stamford. L.J.’s late mother, Ruby, was from 6 miles away in Goree. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when L.J. was a senior in high school and died during her son’s second year at TCU.

“That’s where a small town like that … people can take a vested interest in you and they pick you up and take you to school and they’re just around you all the time,” Cumbie said.

For Collier, that person was Christel Shahan. She taught him math and science at Munday High and eventually became a part of his family.

“Basically, I told her L.J. needed to get his test scores up to be able to qualify, and so she took it upon herself to tutor him and meet with him every day extra from an academic standpoint,” Cumbie said.

Shahan would keep in contact with Collier once he left for Fort Worth, regularly talking on the phone or texting.

“I knew what the college part of it was going to be like because I had been to college, but his family, he was the first one to ever go to college,” Shahan told ESPN.com. “So I just kept in touch with him on, ‘How’s it going? Are you going to class? How’s your classes going? How’s football?’ That kind of stuff.

“When his mom got sick, I just kinda started checking in on him a little more and I got to checking in on his mom and dad and just kinda helping out, cooking supper or visiting, or going over and checking on her, just to be someone that kinda could keep L.J. in the loop because he was concerned, obviously, about his mom. We got closer at the end. And then, obviously, after she passed away, then there was kind of a void there. He just needed someone. His dad was going through the loss of his wife, his sisters were going through the loss of their mother. He didn’t want to burden them, so I was just there for him.”

Collier visited Shahan at the high school whenever he came back to Munday. She regularly made the three-hour drive to Fort Worth to watch Collier play and laughs while recalling how their party would usually be the last to leave TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium because he had so many people to talk to.

“He knows everyone,” she said.

Shahan was with Collier and his family in Frisco, Texas, when he got the call from the Seahawks on draft night. After all, she was instrumental in that accomplishment as well as another: Collier graduating with a degree in interdisciplinary studies.

“I think that a lot of his motivation and his drive and some of the passion that he plays with out on the field comes from the motivation of wanting to please [his mom],” Cumbie said. “I think one of the last things that she told him was he needed to get his degree and make sure that he graduated, and he did that.”

‘They were ecstatic’

Colton Summers, an attendant at Allsup’s, can confirm that the deep-fried burritos Collier spoke of during his introduction are the real deal. They go for $1.99 before tax or two for $3 with the current special, he said after excusing himself to assist a customer.

“I love them, actually,” Collier said. “They’re really good. I took one of my friends from college home one time and he ate like nine of the things.”

Across the street at City Hall, Munday secretary Bianca Harrimon can’t recall a single famous person that the town has produced.

“I don’t really think we have anyone, honestly,” she said with a laugh.

But now they have Collier.

“When he got drafted, everybody was coming into the store talking about him,” Summers said. “… They were more than proud; they were ecstatic. … I think it was the day of. As soon as everybody found out, they were going crazy.”

Said Collier: “It’s a great feeling, man. It’s good to have the support of my hometown and things like that. I’m very proud they’re supporting me and I’m just going to try my hardest to keep continuing to make them proud.”

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Pats’ Gordon removed from injury list, can play

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon has been removed from the non-football injury list, paving the way for him to be part of the team’s game plan for the Sept. 8 opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Gordon, who was conditionally reinstated by the NFL on Aug. 16, practiced in full pads for the first time Sunday.

He is also eligible to play in the Patriots’ preseason finale against the visiting New York Giants on Thursday.

The pieces have come together for the Patriots’ receiving corps in the past week. In addition to Gordon’s return, Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman (thumb) was activated from the non-football injury list Monday and veteran Demaryius Thomas was activated from the physically unable to perform list (Achilles) Tuesday.

That trio joins first-round draft choice N’Keal Harry, five-year veteran Phillip Dorsett and undrafted Jakobi Meyers (NC State) atop the depth chart. Harry has been sidelined since sustaining an injury in the preseason opener Aug. 8.

The day after Gordon was reinstated, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said they would “evaluate the entire situation and do what we feel is best for Josh and the team.”

With Gordon back at practice, the Patriots released receiver Maurice Harris on Sunday, a source told ESPN’s Field Yates. Harris was one of the standout performers in spring practice and generated some early momentum in training camp, but he sustained an undisclosed injury on Aug. 14 during a practice with the Tennessee Titans and hadn’t practiced since.

In addition, the Patriots have signed linebacker Scooby Wright and running back Robert Martin, while placing core special teamer Brandon King on injured reserve and waiving DE/OLB Keionta Davis.

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Cards rookie WR Butler (hand) out for season

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Arizona Cardinals rookie receiver Hakeem Butler was placed on injured reserve on Sunday and is done for the season.

The wideout from Iowa State fractured his hand during the team’s second preseason game.

Butler, selected as the first pick of the fourth round, was one of three wide receivers the Cardinals drafted this year to pair with rookie quarterback Kyler Murray.

“I think just when you have his height, size, speed, that’s an element that you want on your roster,” Kingsbury said of Butler last week. “Unfortunately, if he’s not available, it’s hard to find 6-5 guys, 6-6 guys who are running sub-4.5. But other guys have stepped up.”

The Cardinals also placed safety Josh Shaw on IR with a shoulder injury.

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Andrew Luck joins the list of shocking early retirements

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Andrew Luck shocked the sports world Saturday when he announced his retirement from the NFL.

Luck spent his entire six-year career with the Indianapolis Colts after they took him in the first round of the NFL draft in 2012. The four-time Pro Bowler was also recently named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year in 2018 after missing the 2017 season while sidelined with a shoulder injury.

But it had not been smooth sailing for the quarterback since, who said he was consistently struggling with rehabbing his shoulder. That struggle lead to what Luck called “the hardest decision of my life.”

“I’ve been stuck in this process,” Luck said after the Colts preseason game on Saturday. “I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live. It’s taken the joy out of this game … the only way forward for me is to remove myself from football. This is not an easy decision. It’s the hardest decision of my life. But it is the right decision for me.”

The stunning retirement of Luck, who turns 30 in September, got us thinking about other shocking early retirements.

Calvin Johnson

In 2016, at age 30, the wide receiver and six-time Pro Bowler announced he would be stepping away from the game.

Nicknamed “Megatron” and considered one of the greatest wide receivers of all time, Johnson spent his entire NFL career with the Detroit Lions, who drafted him second overall in 2007.

In his final season in the league, Johnson racked up 1,214 yards and nine touchdowns, but that wasn’t before he broke Jerry Rice’s single-season record in total yards in 2012, finishing with 1,964 yards. Johnson later opened up to ESPN about why he stepped away from the game, citing his history of concussions and injuries.

Magic Johnson

On Nov. 7, 1991, the L.A. Lakers point guard unexpectedly announced he had tested positive for HIV and was retiring from the NBA after 13 seasons.

Johnson, who is now 60 years old, retired as the NBA’s all-time leader in assists. He also won the NBA MVP three times, as well as Finals MVP and was named to the NBA All-Star team 11 times during his professional career.

He did come back to play in the 1992 NBA All-Star Game at the demand of the fans, and was part of the 1992 U.S. Men’s Basketball team — aka the “Dream Team” — that won the gold medal at the Summer Olympics.

But here was one more shocking moment Johnson had up his sleeve. After being named the Lakers president of basketball operations in 2017 and signing superstar LeBron James to a four-year contract in 2018, he abruptly resigned from the team in April 2019.

Tracy Austin

Unfortunately, Austin had no control over why she had to ultimately leave tennis. The former World No. 1 tennis player won three Grand Slam titles, including the U.S. Open in 1979 at the age of 16, making her the youngest female or male to win the title. She also won the U.S. Open again in 1981, as well as the mixed doubles at Wimbledon in 1980.

But lower back began to limit her in 1981, and she was later diagnosed with sciatica that caused her to miss months at a time in the years following.

In the midst of her comeback, at the age of 26, on Aug. 3, 1989 in New Jersey, Austin was hit by a van while making a turn at an intersection. The injuries from the accident, coupled with her chronic back issue, caused her to have to officially step away from the game of tennis in July 1994 after numerous comeback attempts. Despite the short career, she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1992 at the age of 29.

Gale Sayers

The halfback spent just seven years — 1965 to 1971 — in the NFL, but was actually limited to playing five seasons due to injuries to both knees, among other minor injuries. But those five seasons with the Chicago Bears were certainly ones to write home about.

In the mere 68 games he appeared during his professional football career, he notched a total of 4,956 yards and 39 touchdowns. The four-time Pro Bowler was also the 1965 NFL Rookie of the Year and the 1969 NFL Comeback Player of the year, and led the league in rushing yards in 1966 and 1969. In 1972, Sayers retired at the age of 29 due to limitations from those injuries. Despite his short career, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.


And here are some more notable athletes who retired early from the last time we did this (shout-out Page 2!):

Jim Brown

After nine seasons with the Browns, the great fullback retired in 1965 at age 30. In his final season he rushed for 1,544 yards on 289 carries, scored 21 TDs, and was named MVP in leading the Browns to the NFL title game. He had led the NFL in rushing yards in eight of his nine seasons and left the game as its all-time leading rusher.

Brown announced his retirement in a mid-July news conference in London, near where “The Dirty Dozen” was being filmed. He still had one year to go on a contract that paid him $60,000 a season.

Barry Sanders

Sanders was only 31 and within 1,500 yards of breaking Walter Payton’s career rushing record when he hung up his cleats just before training camp began in 1999. “The reason I am retiring is very simple,” Sanders said in a statement. “My desire to exit the game is greater than my desire to remain in it.”

In 1998, Sanders, a Pro Bowl selection all 10 of his NFL seasons, had run for 1,491 yards on 343 carries. The Lions made the playoffs in five of his 10 years, but had won just one playoff game.

Sandy Koufax

Koufax retired at age 30, directly citing a fear of permanent injury to his arthritic left elbow. Koufax, then making $125,000 a season, had just won his second straight Cy Young Award after going 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA in 1966. Don Drysdale was surprised by the November announcement, and although nobody questioned that Koufax was indeed suffering severe arm problems, at least one, AL president Joe Cronin, wished he had soldiered on. “He’s too young to retire,” Cronin said. “I’m sure from what he did last season he could go on pitching for a good many more seasons.”

Isiah Thomas

In April 1994, Thomas, 32, ripped his Achilles tendon. Less than a month later, he announced his retirement, but said the injury was not a factor in leaving the court after 13 seasons in Detroit. “The Achilles injury wasn’t the problem,” Thomas said. “I’ll be walking next week. The thing that makes me good is the energy and intensity I can bring to the game every night. I don’t have that type of energy anymore. I don’t have that rah, rah rah anymore. There’s just no more energy left in my body.”

In his final season with the Pistons, Thomas played 59 games, and battled other injuries, including a broken rib and a hyperextended knee. Still, managed to average 14.8 points and 6.9 assists per game. The Pistons finished the 1993-94 campaign with a 20-62 record, one of the worst in the NBA.

Björn Borg

After winning five straight Wimbledon championships between 1976 and 1980, Borg, who’d prevailed over great rivals like John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, announced he was quitting the game on Jan. 22, 1983. Borg, who had turned pro at 16, was only 26.

“I know I could play another five years,” Borg told Neil Amdur of the New York Times. “So to make this step, I wanted to be 101% sure before I decided. To retire at 26, that’s very, very young. Just telling the simple truth that I don’t enjoy it, I’m not motivated and I need to try other things. To take that step is difficult for a lot of people.”

Rocky Marciano

After going 49-0 as a pro, Marciano, the world heavyweight champ, announced his retirement in April 1956 after a year of speculation. The Brockton Blockbuster was only 31.

“I didn’t get hurt physically while fighting,” Marciano said. “My physical condition has nothing to do with my retirement. … My lonesome family convinced me that I should quit while I’m still in good shape.”

Marciano vowed not to repeat the mistakes of past champs, like Joe Louis, who had attempted comebacks after announcing their retirements. But Archie Moore, the light-heavyweight champ and Marciano’s last victim, didn’t believe it would stick. “Marciano won’t quit, because he loves the jingle of the American dollar too much,” Moore said.

Moore, who himself first announced his retirement in 1941, 23 years before he finally took off his gloves for good, was wrong. Marciano didn’t come back.

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