I’d never been part of anything remotely close to this before.
As I walked into that stadium, I saw thousands upon thousands of people.
It was a surreal experience, especially considering I had never even heard of this event before I got asked to compete in it.
When my coach at SMU, Coach Grant, was chosen to lead USA Tennis at the 2023 World University Games in Chengdu, China, I was blessed to be one of the guys he asked to compete.
Having just returned from the event, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
This was my first time being out of the country, so getting to explore a different side of the world and various cultures was nothing short of astonishing.
Entering my junior year at SMU this year, I’ve never taken for granted the privileges that come with being a Division I student-athlete, but I come from a humbling background.
I’ve never looked at myself the way spectators in China did at the World University Games.
It was unbelievable.
They were on the verge of tears when they saw us because they treated us like we were actual Olympians.
I don’t know if I’ll ever have an experience like that again, but I do know that I never would’ve had the chance if it wasn’t for Coach Grant and SMU.
I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason. Like anyone else, I’ve had to face a series of challenges in life, but I’m grateful for every roadblock along the way because it led me to the place I was meant to be all along.
Right here in Dallas, Texas, at SMU.
The beginning of my collegiate career was a bit chaotic.
Being from San Antonio, my family wanted me to stay in-state and attend SMU, but I chose Tennessee. I actually arrived on campus the summer before my freshman year to start taking classes and train so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed in the fall.
I’m grateful I had a head start and got there early because I quickly discovered that UT wasn’t the best fit for me.
The timing was insane, but after a whirlwind of events, I transferred to SMU the week before school started.
Coach Grant spent the whole week working with me to ensure I was admitted, got into my dorm room, had my classrooms situated, etc. And the thing is, he didn’t have to do that.
He easily could have said that it was too late in the process and he’d reach out after the semester, but he had faith in what I could bring to his program.
He’s believed in me since day one, and I’ll never be able to fully repay him for looking out for me since I arrived on campus at the eleventh hour.
I’m not going to lie, my freshman year was a little rocky. Since I arrived at SMU so late, I had a bit of a hard time adjusting.
Frankly, I felt lonely and quite homesick.
I was raised by my grandparents, so there were many times I’d call them and tell them that I can’t do this anymore, and just want to come home.
Gladly, they encouraged me to just give it a bit more time.
And so I did.
Fortunately, I was able to hit my stride once the spring season arrived. Between the dual matches, traveling with the team, and building camaraderie with the guys on the road, I fell in love with college tennis.
That love only expanded this past season of my sophomore year.
I was able to clinch the conference championship for our team, and that’s probably the best feeling I’ve ever had on court.
We hadn’t won a 4-3 match at all in the regular season. We lost so many tough ones that year.
But at the ACC Championships, we finally broke the spell and beat Memphis 4-3 in the semifinals, and ended up overcoming Tulane in a 4-3 victory as well.
No doubt, it’s a moment I’ll never ever forget.
The team atmosphere is one of the many reasons college tennis means so much to me. There’s something to be said about being out there competing for your teammates and representing your university at the highest level.
That’s why when I had the chance to compete at the World Games, the thought of it almost left me speechless. Every athlete dreams of representing his or her country on the biggest stage, so to have the opportunity to do that is something I take great pride in.
Having my teammates Callaway Clark and Liam Krall join me in Chengdu was amazing, but I also loved meeting fellow athletes from different countries all over the world.
One of my favorite moments was when I had the privilege of playing on the stadium court, facing off against a player from Chinese Taipei. The crowd obviously cheered for him, which made me kind of feel like the villain out there a bit.
Playing in an environment like that wasn’t something I’ve ever really experienced, so it was a blast to be a part of.
Playing at the World University Games not only made me a better player, it made me a more developed person with an improved understanding and perspective of the world outside of my own.
So, I genuinely mean it when I say that I couldn’t be more grateful to Coach Grant and SMU for putting me in this position.
I’ll never forget this experience.
Life moves at such a fast pace – especially as a college athlete – that I don’t often take the time to pause and reflect on my journey.
When I think about helping clinch a conference championship for my team, or competing against athletes from all over the world at the World University Games, these moments likely don’t happen if I attend a different school.
These are moments I’ll remember for the rest of my life, and even though there were some lows along the way, I firmly believe that you can’t have highs without the lows.
It’s the challenges we face that end up leading us to greater rewards. I don’t know what’s in store for me in the next few years at SMU, but I know if they’re anything like my first two seasons, I have plenty of lifetime memories and experiences to look forward to.
There are few things better than knowing you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be in life.
It may have taken me the last minute to figure out where that was for me, but I have an endless amount of gratitude that it ended up being SMU.
Coach Grant and this university took a chance on me when they didn’t have to, and I’ll do everything I can to continue to make the most out of the opportunities I’ve been awarded at a place I’m proud to forever call home.
I am just so grateful for all that God, my family, my friends, and my coaches have done for me along the way.