Written by Connor Hogg for CUWFalcons.com as part of the Sports Media minor
There are many reasons why someone may hold the date September 10th close to their heart. It may be a family member's birthday, an anniversary with a spouse, or marks the final, and most treasured memories of a loved one before the tragic events of the following day in 2001. However, for Concordia Wisconsin football player Jeremiah Poppy, September 10th of 2011 is something he could only describe as life-changing.
At 28 years old, despite an appearance of success, financially fortunate Poppy found himself unhappy, drinking too much and lusting for something more than just a collection of materialistic items.
"People on the outside think and say, 'you're so successful' because you make money and you have material things, but you don't understand the emptiness that's in your heart and in your soul," Poppy stated. "From the outside, everyone thinks I'm successful, 'you're this, you're that' but I'm empty inside."
After yet another night of drinking with friends, an altercation broke out and a frustrated Poppy, a half-mile away from his home, made the irrational mistake of getting behind the wheel and sped off. It wasn't long before he lost control and hit a tree head-on. Luckily Poppy came out of the crash physically unscathed. However, the crash would have a much greater impact on him, as it marked the beginning of a new life for Poppy, who credits the crash as the awakening he needed to change his life for the better.
"In my head right there it was like, 'I hate what I am doing, I'm working seven days a week, I'm making a ton of money, but I'm the most miserable I've been my life.' It was the same time I started drinking a lot, partying a lot just because I was miserable." Poppy said.
After six months of being sober, Poppy who is now 32 and from Colorado, had plans to visit his birth state of Wisconsin for his cousin's graduation. He then decided he would use the trip as a fresh start. He left his job in the oil industry, packed up the car and left with $200 in his pocket to live with his aunt in Germantown, Wisconsin, all in pursuit if his true passion: strength and conditioning. While still handling a mortgage and car payments, Poppy went a month between paychecks, while he was training people in the gym he built in the garage of his aunt and turned down job offers back home that paid between $10,000 to $15,000 a month.
The catch? Returning to the oil industry he loathed.
Determined for a happier life training and working with athletes, Poppy's experience with unhappiness helped him brush aside the lucrative paychecks.
"All the material things in life don't matter, if you don't have contentment everywhere else in your life," Poppy expressed.
After three years of bartending at a local pub and training people on the side, Poppy decided to go all-in on becoming a strength coach. Needing a degree to take the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist exam, he decided to go back to school was the best option. Shortly after deciding to go back to school for exercise physiology, on the long drive back home for Christmas, Poppy decided he wanted to return to the sport he loved and sincerely missed: football. Having played football throughout high school, he had the chance to play collegiately but turned down offers to NCAA Division II schools to enter the workforce with his father.
"I kind of got talked out of it because of a lot of minor injuries that people got in my head about. I was only 18 years old and I didn't know I was going to regret it," Poppy said looking back on his teenage years. "It's the one thing I woke up every day and was thinking 'I miss that, I miss that' and it was about football. It was my first love."
Determined to strap on the pads again, Poppy started reaching out to schools. Soon after he set up a campus visit with Concordia Wisconsin, although, he was only going to visit if he was given an opportunity to meet with a coach. He got just that, as Poppy got to sit down with associate head coach Jeff Walker, and was given exactly what he was looking for: a chance to join a team. Making the most of his situation, he made the team, playing with teammates who he had over a decade of age on. From the outside looking in, most would wonder how a player who hadn't laced up his cleats in 10-plus years could even compete against 18-22-year-olds who were in the prime of their career. For Poppy, it was the second chance he was looking for and one last go-around at playing the sport he desperately missed.
The thrill of being back on the gridiron wouldn't last long, as he wasn't able to get in a game his freshman year because of an ugly stinger (nerve injury in the neck) that kept him out all season. Poppy recovered from the injury only to have an even bigger scare in offseason training with a torn Achilles. A torn achilles, which can be a fatal diagnosis in the football world, had Poppy out for just half a year while rehabbing from surgery. After attempting an unfathomable return six months post-operation, he and head coach Greg Etter decided it was best for him to rest up and prepare for next season, resulting in his second missed season in a row. Missing seasons like Poppy has due to major, uncontrollable injuries can not only have a devastating impact on an athlete's body but also their psyche as well. A 'woe-is-me' attitude can seep into the minds of athletes resulting in neglect of physical rehab and team spirit, both of which Poppy was prepared to battle head on.
Knowing his role as a defensive back was now gone, Poppy used his time to study film, help with game plans, and help guide his younger teammates with knowledge from numerous life lessons that have led him to this point.
"It's all about accepting your role," Poppy said. "I love being around the younger guys. Having a wealth of experiences from a lot of different avenues and being able to help younger guys with what they are going through and just bring perspective. I try to help out as much as possible."
For teammates like Poppy, who have a positive outlook, hard work ethic, and team first attitude, you only wish for on-field success. However, five practices into spring ball last year, Poppy tore his ACL, resulting in not only another surgery and another missed season but a lost opportunity at his dream internship as the strength and conditioning intern with his favorite football team at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado. Still, Poppy was determined to play a game for the Falcons. Originally planning to graduate in three years, he has extended his stay at Concordia Wisconsin for a fourth year, just to make sure the injuries don't get the best of him.
Unfortunately, the 2018 season wasn't kind to the passionate student-athlete again as injuries sidelined him for yet another season.
"I was going to graduate this year, but I've lost three years from injuries so I am coming back next year, I'm getting a season, one way or another," Poppy said. "You take one day, sulk in the moment then put your hard hat on and go back to work. Control what you can control. Take it one day at a time."
Through so much adversity, it can be easy to lose focus on school, and love for your sport. So, despite the injuries that have caused him to lose not just football games, but a much-deserved internship after two weeks on the job, how does Jeremiah Poppy still find himself the happiest he has even been? The answer is simple.
"Passion," Poppy said. "It's everything. If you keep chasing your passion, life will be much better in quality. It's not about the money, when you wake up excited for every single day, you attack that day. When you dread going to work, it zaps the life out of you."