As he enters the high school football postseason, running back George Porter can look back with pride at his career totals. He flirted with Fran D'Anjou's career rushing record, running for 3,575 yards.
Yet there was a fleeting moment when Porter contemplated quitting, finding an easier road to travel far from the rigors of being a student at an academically demanding school filled with affluence.
"Coming from a public school, I struggled my freshman year academically," the Baylor senior said. "Then my sophomore year humbled me. I wanted to quit. I was giving up on myself. Everybody goes through hard times, but it seemed like I had so much thrown at me."
That would surprise Baylor coach Phil Massey.
"He knew coming to Baylor was going to be a challenge," the coach said. "The thing I'll always be most proud of is that George stayed the course. It's been hard for him academically and when he needed a kick in the pants we've given it to him, but he has always gotten it done."
As a sophomore, Porter had listened to the easy-street hype that followed an outstanding freshman year. He was struggling academically and he had high ankle sprains on both legs, never a good thing for a running back.
Then he learned for real about life's lessons. Parenthood was just around the corner.
"He has gone through some personal issues that have been a challenge, and he could have taken the easy way out, but he opted not to do that," Massey said. "He's never made any excuses. I know when he walks across that stage to accept his diploma he's going to be proud, because it's taken a lot of sweat and probably a lot of tears as well."
Said Porter: "I guess it's like my parents have always told me. There's a better day coming."
Fatherhood, though unexpected, was a definitive life-changing event.
"The birth of my son, along with God's good grace, made me who I am today," Porter said. "Everybody goes through hard times, but I had so much stuff thrown at me and it seemed all at once. After his birth I wasn't going to let anything stop me."
Having a son at such an early age was a very personal subject Porter never intended to share with the media. Mentors had told him there were too many out there who would judge him.
"I caught so much hell about my personal life," he recalled. "I even had some personal issues with people at McCallie that knew, and that's one reason I love this school so much. Even with the things I've been through outside of school, they still supported me -- my coaches, our headmaster, my teammates, the whole Baylor family -- through thick and thin."
The support framework within family, school and team has aided Porter, whose responsibilities obviously reach far beyond those of the average teenager.
"Did my family want this for me at this age? No," he said. "I really didn't understand parents helping until I became a father. They're giving me the opportunity to make my future and my son's future better. They understand I can't work and play football and get an education. My mom helps out a lot, too, and while his mother and I aren't 'together' together, we're the best co-parents ever. She's getting an accounting degree right now. She is really a great mother.
"You make certain choices in life that lead to other things, and you have to deal with them. It's all about becoming a man. I made a mistake as a teenager, and it's not my son's fault. It's my fault."
The 18-month-old Porter Jr. -- P.J. to family and friends -- is just another incentive for George to run hard or to study that extra five minutes.
"My father has always been there for me, and I want to do the same for [P.J.]. I'd never want him to know that I had dropped out and took the easy way out," George said. "What I'm doing now is for him so I can provide for him and get the things he's going to need down the road."
He never considered just walking away and leaving his son's mother to bear responsibility.
"My parents taught me never to walk away from my responsibilities, and I don't understand guys that just walk out of their children's lives," he said. "My father told me like my grandfather told him, 'You can be a good father regardless.'
"That's my motto."
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 43-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...