Chad Toocheck was featured on the NFL Network’s Undrafted. The show focuses on collegiate football players looking for an opportunity to play at the next level. The road is long, the road is hard, yet every athlete has one goal in mind; play in the NFL.
Toocheck’s story is one of struggle, redemption and ultimately, success. After battling through years of addiction, the NFL is no longer his priority. His focus is now on helping others who have gone down a similar path.
The GM’s Perspective: Your story about battling with drugs and alcohol is very well known as you were profiled on the NFL Network’s Undrafted. What was biggest change that made you decide to get off that destructive path and focus on your life/health and getting back into athletics?
Chad Toocheck: My mom and my sponsor, Scott. He wasn’t mentioned in the show I don’t believe. Scott played a huge role and was a big part of why I got sober. Once we had a little time together everything seemed to fall into place. I was really angry when I first got sober. But I decided to start going to the gym and start working out.
After about a year sober, I called Scott and said what do I do now? I’m 20 years old and I feel I have more to offer to the world than just being sober. I’m sincerely appreciative of where I’m at right now, but I’m too young to just be doing what my peers are doing. My peers in the 12-step program are usually 40 to 50 years old at the time and I’m hanging out with people who are already in the middle of their careers. They told me I could do whatever I want. And I wanted to play football.
GMs: Was your mother and your sponsor the biggest influence into your life change? Or was there a single moment that made you take a step back and say I want things to change?
CT: 100 percent of my journey was single handedly because of my mother. She gave me an ultimatum; she was going to call the cops or I was going to the hospital. I wouldn’t be sober today if it wasn’t for that woman. I’ve done my work in the matter, but as far as the initial steps, it was her. I put her through hell and she stuck right by my side. It was her and once I found my sponsor, he kind of took over from there.
GMs: Unfortunately, you weren’t drafted. How was the entire process, despite not getting that call?
CT: I had a lot of time to reflect on this lately and it’s been weird and fun. I didn’t have fun doing it if that makes any sense. I enjoyed the process of everything that was going on, but I had moments of getting caught up in the whole thing. I was magnifying everything that was occurring around me. Football to me is fun. I honestly never thought I had a remote chance of playing professionally. And now I’m sitting in front of 32 teams in the NFL with a camera crew following me around. It was very stressful. I did my best and tried to keep a level head the best as I could. The experience was cool and something I’ll never forget. If I could go back and do it again I would probably just remind myself to have fun with it and not take myself so seriously.
GMs: Most recently, you signed a contract with the Arena Football League’s Cleveland Gladiators. Because of an injury you were released, but you have proven you are good enough to play. What is your current status with them?
CT: Current status is day-to-day. I continue to work my butt off and see what God wants me to do. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to him. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to my mom. She’s gone now, so maybe she’s got a little more pull. I’m trying to figure out where I’m supposed to go. The injuries in the Arena League come and go. It’s crazy. You’re playing indoor football! If they bring me back that’s cool. If they don’t it’s no big deal.
One of the things I’ve learned along this whole journey is that football is a vessel to get me where I’m going. What really drives me is helping other people. It would mean more to me to have somebody see their dream come true than to see my dream come true. The dream has changed. It’s no longer dreaming about making millions of dollars in the NFL. That would be great, but if I can go in an impact the lives of 5, 10, 15 or 100 people who can change their life for the positive like Scott and my mom did for me, I’m winning.
GMs: That’s a fantastic attitude. You’ve been through a lot and you’re at the point where you’re playing athletics at a level that not many get to do. You’re realistic about your future and what’s ahead of you. Not many get to the stage where you’re willing to sacrifice your time for the good of others.
CT: I appreciate that. I hear people saying I’m a role model and its crazy for me to hear that, especially when I was aimlessly wandering through life. The number one thing I continue to tell these kids is when you decide you’re going to do something; you need to see it through. If you hit a wall great, now run through it. God is going to put another one there. He’s going to push you and continue to push you.
The thing that terrifies me is if I give up right before I get my shot. That scares the crap out of me. When I got hurt last year on Undrafted, I was so disappointed and caught up in everything that I didn’t know what I was going to do. They told me to keep working because you never know when you might get that phone call.
GMs: I’ve read that you are a business owner and one of your priorities with the Gladiator’s was to get involved in community outreach programs? Can you elaborate?
CT: I’m actually involved in a couple different companies. My buddy is running a sportswear company and it’s just getting launched now; Got That Sportswear. I’m helping him here and there, but my buddy and I are also running a nutrition company. It’s been great. It’s something I’ve already been involved in previously. It pays the bills. I love working with my friends, but the community thing is what’s most important to me.
It’s difficult to get something started when I’m still focused on football and could get a call any day. For now I do a lot of volunteer work and people know I want to help in the community. I’m very vocal about what I want in my life; I want to help people and I want to help kids more so than anything. I still volunteer at the high school I went. Those kids are striving to be better. Football taught me a lot of lessons. Once I get in front of these kids who might be starting to head down the wrong path, that’s where it all begins.
GMs: Late last year you were diagnosed with testicular cancer in November. How do you keep on staying so focused and motivated on becoming the best Chad Toocheck you can be amidst all these obstacles?
CT: Getting sober was such a hard thing for me to do and taught me something that I tell everybody; you don’t know how strong you are until you don’t have a choice but to be that strong. I’ve translated that into every aspect of my life. The whole time I was going through chemotherapy I only missed four days at the gym. Most of those days were hitting the treadmill and walking for five or ten minutes and then taking a nap on the bench next to it. It’s the point of knowing I’m going to go there and do it.
There’s no choice in the matter. A bad day is part of life. As long as I show up, the results will take care of themselves. One thing the NFL Network didn’t touch on, which was a huge motivating part of my story, is when I first went out to play football in California. They told me on a Friday that if I didn’t show up on the Monday I didn’t have a shot. I was in Ohio, so I packed my bags on Saturday, flew out on Sunday, and was homeless for almost two weeks while trying out for the football team. I stayed at a homeless shelter a couple nights a week and that was five miles away. I would carry all my stuff back and forth everyday. I’m firm believer that if you want something in life go out and get it. Nothing is given. From having to bare my soul on a rock bottom level when I got sober and thinking I was going to die, there was no doubt in my mind that I was at the end of my rope. Somehow I made it through that. Nothing facilitates change more than pain.
GMs: What are your words or thoughts to others who are struggling with similar circumstances?
CT: I believe in you. I didn’t have a lot of that along the way. My mom was the only person that really believed in me the whole time. That was such an awesome thing to hear that she had faith in me when I didn’t have faith in myself. I believe in everyone that’s going out there and fighting through whatever it is they’re fighting through. You do have the strength to get through it and you can get through it. If you dig just a little bit deeper you can make that happen.
For those people who are telling you you can’t do it, you need those people. I don’t talk about my dad a lot, but I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for him. He was the voice in my head telling me I couldn’t do this and couldn’t do that. Every time I want to skip a rep at the gym or think I should forget about it and go get drunk, I have that voice in my head telling me I can’t let him be right.
GMs: I can’t thank you enough for your time. I’ve spoken with Chris Herren a number of times and he’s battled demons similar to yours. Another similarity is how you want to help people, coaching to the proper things, and living right. Your words are going to help people. If this helps one person who’s reading it, it’s all worth it.
CT: Thank you. Without you our words don’t get heard and they’re all for nothing. You keep doing you and don’t ever stop doing you. You don’t even know it but you’re affecting people’s lives in a positive way. We need more people like you.