For the second installment of “A Conversation With…” I interviewed former Baylor running back Silas Nacita. Silas made national headline news after he gained stardom on the university’s campus as a walk-on extraordinaire. His story continued when he was kicked off the Baylor football team after he accepted free housing from a friend, violating NCAA rules. Although he’s gone through many ups and downs in the past four years, his story isn’t over yet.
Tell me about your story
“I was born on Thanksgiving day in Bakersfield, California in my house because it was cheaper (laughs). When I was two years old, my dad left. He said he was leaving for three months and then he was gone for three years. During that time, my mom didn’t have a job because she was trying to raise us kids. We moved to multiple different places; lived with different family members while she scrambled to find work. Around ’98, my dad came back and he was really sporadic throughout my life. The longest he was there was six months. So my mom was on her own raising us four kids. She would drive my brother to one school, my other brother to another school, my sister somewhere, me somewhere, and then she would pick us up and take us to practices. I would be at school until five-o-clock and then she would pick me up and then I would go straight to wrestling practice and when I got home it would be eight thirty at night. So I would only see my mom for like thirty minutes at six in the morning and thirty minutes at night. And that’s the only times I would spend time with my mom for years. So my whole point is because she had to do everything for us without any help, we never got to establish a relationship. When I got to high school, things started to slow down a little because my siblings all graduated and left the house. That’s at the point when my mom wanted to have a relationship with me but the problem is that’s the age where every kid starts to pull away from their parents and do life on their own. So we clashed for a long time and it got worse and worse. My senior year I ended up moving out and I lived with my friend Kevin in his duplex. I didn’t have a room, I kept my things in a closet and slept on the couch but I never let anybody know what I was going through so on the outside I was a superstar in town but on the inside I was kind of a mess.”
Time at Cornell
“I knew I wanted to get out of there and the first college that came knocking was Cornell. In my mind I looked at three things: I would get to play football, it was a good school, and it was far away. I visited once and decided to go so that’s what I did. I never resolved anything with my mom, I just left. I hated it at Cornell, it was a lot worse than I expected. Football wasn’t on the level I was expecting, it was really cold, and very isolated. It was there that I first started to realize that life can’t be only about football, there has to be something more. That’s when I first started a relationship with God. That year was a big year for me in that sense but at the same time, I really desired to play football on a bigger level.”
“I had some friends who went to Baylor and they said I should apply so I did and got accepted, I started emailing coaches and went to visit during Spring break of 2013 and that was when I first met Coach Briles. From the first day he was very welcoming, he invited me out to practice and when I went out there he called me over and the first question he asked me was ‘how’s your family?’ I was kind of confused and told him my dad passed away (he died when I was 16) and I don’t have a good relationship with my mom. So not making the wisest decisions, I was like I’m just going to leave Cornell- it was really rash. I didn’t have the finances all figured out but I knew I had to get out of there so I would just figure it out when I got to Waco. I got to Baylor in the Fall of 2013 and from there I practiced all of Fall camp and did well, I lived at University Parks (owned by the school). Everything was going exactly as I wanted it and when school came, I couldn’t pay for school, I couldn’t get a loan and it didn’t work out. So I was off the team and I had to get out of my apartment. I went to MCC and met the President there and got connected really quick. They said I could enroll and figure out payment as the year went on. I took classes online, couch surfed, lived with my cousin, lived with my friend Vance, lived with Glasco Martin (former Baylor running back), and I worked out on my own. I would sneak in to the Student Life Center and worked out there and I also snuck in to a lot of dining halls to eat. After I went through that year I got to a point where I was really unsatisfied. I was really unsatisfied because I couldn’t play football so I thought I have to get out of this place. I didn’t want to go home because I didn’t want to answer all the questions.”
The Monumental Road Trip
“During Christmas break I packed a bag and had Glasco drop me off on a freeway and I started walking and hitchhiking. I met a bunch of people, learned a lot about myself and went on a soul search. But the biggest moment of that trip that I’ll never forget was I was walking in New Mexico somewhere on a road, thinking about my life, thinking about how tired I was from walking and where I was in life and I just thought I want to be at the end of the road. I just want to be at Baylor. I just want to play football and everything will be better. At that point, God just said that’s enough, it’s not about where you want to go, it’s not about what you want to achieve or have, it’s about finding the most joy possible exactly where you are regardless of if you have everything you ever wanted or if you have nothing you ever wanted. And the only way to do that is to find your joy in Christ. That was a game changer. My second semester of sophomore year I really started applying that. I began to think if I don’t get to play football again, I can be completely fulfilled exactly as I am. I took the opportunity to meet with Vance and pray, go on mission trips, and it was huge.”
A Friend for Life + Papa Joe
“I met Grant Campbell in high school, we played against each other. We talked my freshman year because he was thinking of coming to Cornell so I was telling him about it and that was it, we didn’t talk again. The next time I saw him was December 7, 2013, it was the Big 12 championship and he was telling me that he was getting recruited there and he might go. But he didn’t know that I wasn’t at Baylor year. I went home for Christmas break and he invited me to his signing party and so I went and that’s where we became good friends. I met his family, I didn’t tell them my story I just said me and Grant might be teammates next year. The next semester, Grant spending a lot of time with me figured out that I wasn’t going to Baylor yet and over the next couple of months we became really good friends. One day his grandpa called me and said I know what you’ve been doing, I know how hard you’ve been working and I want to help you get through college with a place to stay and what not. I wasn’t even an athlete at that point but I said okay, I’ve worked enough, I have enough scholarships that I should be good without a place to stay but he said you need a place to stay so I’ll get you a place to stay. He would give me money for food and rent and because of him, I had a place to stay and go to Baylor.”
The Best Season
“That brings me to fall 2014 where I played my first season at Baylor and it was so much fun I loved every second of it. Anything that I got to do was fun- I loved waking up at four in the morning to workout and there wasn’t a day that I stepped on to the field that I didn’t thank God for allowing me to be there. But again, it didn’t change who I was and everyone would ask how did it feel to score a touchdown after everything you’ve been through? And it was great but it wasn’t as great as people think because the greatest moment was me understanding that I could have so much joy in life no matter what through Christ. So I went through that football season and after the Cotton Bowl in January, I remember I had a balance in the second semester of $500 to pay for my bill but I didn’t have the money because I was supposed to get reimbursed by the Baylor football team for the plane ticket I bought. It go to the point where I told Papa Joe (Grant’s grandpa) about the overdue balance so he paid for it on his credit card and then I got called in to Compliance and they asked me who paid it, I told them, and they asked me if he gave me anything else, so I said yeah he’s been helping me from before I got to Baylor.”
“Over the next month they would call me in and get more information and on February 24, 2015, I got a text from my running back coach and he said ‘go see Shaq’. Shaq is the director of operations guy. So I go in and he says I have bad news- you violated NCAA rules and you’re off the team. The good news is you didn’t ruin anything for the team and lose the Big 12 championship. He said you don’t need to tell anyone this happened, just say you want to focus on your academics and not play football. Then I thought who on God’s green earth is going to believe that after everything I’ve gone through? Anyway, I wasn’t going to say anything because I had to process it. I ended up going to my locker and burst into tears. Johnny [Jefferson] and Corey [Coleman] came up to me and coaxed it out of me so I told them. Shawn [Oakman] found out too and he knew my story so he got pretty mad. Again, I wasn’t going to say anything because I didn’t know what to do or how to handle it. The very next day, I went to school and people came up to me to ask is it true? I was on a social media fast so I didn’t know what was going on but when I went on Twitter, I saw that Shawn went on a rant and so I was like well I have to say something. So I shared a message on Twitter that was shared a bunch of times. After that, the NCAA came out and said they didn’t declare me ineligible so people started looking at Baylor and I was like I don’t want to make Baylor look bad, I’m just telling everyone what happened. I went to meet with Baylor officials to let them know I was on their side and what can I do to help? And they already had a typed up message that I needed to send out basically saying that I was wrong, I broke the rules, and I accept all the punishment basically. I was like well that’s not really true but I didn’t know what to do. I had so much pressure on me so I decided to say it. The next day I released their message and that’s when everything kind of died down. It was a very hard week, but again, it didn’t change who I was. I knew I wanted to still play football and I remember sitting in a meeting with the AD, director of Compliance, all those guys, I recorded the conversation, where they told me that I can stay here and finish school as a student, I can go to an NAIA school and play immediately, or I can go to another NCAA institution and request a waiver of some sort.”
Lows and a New High
“I decided to go to an NAIA school and I went to SAGU, who offered me a scholarship, and then a month before school starts, they called me and said you basically didn’t get a waiver request from Baylor so you can’t play here unless you sit out a year. I decided it wasn’t worth it so I went back to Baylor, registered after literally everyone signed up for classes and earlier this year I was invited to the Dream Bowl- an all star game for D2, D3, and NAIA players in front of CFL and NFL scouts. A couple weeks before that they said you can’t play in the game because you’re not draft eligible since you didn’t use all your eligibility. I already had my ticket so I went anyway and by the time the game came, all the NFL scouts left so I could technically play. And so I ended up not practicing either day but when the scouts left, I played the game and scored the game winning touchdown in double overtime and was the MVP. It was there that I connected with some coaches from Germany and they offered me a spot on their team. Now I’m finishing the school year, graduating, and I’m off to Germany.”
When did you realize you wanted to pursue football on a higher level?
“From the moment I began playing I knew I loved it. I guess as soon as I became aware of college sports I knew I wanted to pursue football; when I was a kid I wanted to play in the NFL. As I got older I understood that if I wanted to play on a professional level, I would have to go to college.”
What is your favorite part about playing football?
“Not knowing what’s going to happen each play- you could potentially get obliterated by someone twice your size or you could make a break and score a touchdown. Anything could happen and you’re out there and you have the ability to take in a bunch of things going on at once, see all of it at one time and be able to react to it and respond to it. Whenever you do react to everything going on with the right move or the right step, it’s just a great feeling.”
How much do the coaches impact you and in what way?
“At this point in my life, I would say that I am my own coach. When you get to a certain point, coaches should really only be there to teach you their plan and coach you on the little details. But at this point in life, I should be my biggest coach as far as pushing myself to be as best as I can be, as disciplined as I can be. The only thing a coach should do for me is to help me see from an outside perspective the things I can’t see.”
What is your favorite memory of playing?
“My first practice back at Baylor my junior year. It was a 6 a.m. workout but just being back out there, surrounded by my teammates was the best feeling; the first time I stepped on the field.”
Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
“My hope is that I’ll be playing in the NFL, that’s my goal. But at this point, I know from experience that life doesn’t always go your way and it doesn’t really matter where I end up. God’s plan for me is much more important that my plan for myself.”
Do you have anything else you would like to add?
“The most important thing I would ever say to anybody is that we weren’t made to live our lives for ourselves. We were created for the God who created us so in order to find the most fulfillment out of life, we need to live it for him, not for us.”