They say our lives can change in an instant; that it is not our failures that define us, but the way we pick ourselves up when we fall that reveals our true character. When adversity comes knocking with every intention of derailing the plans we once had, it is both a chance to persevere and to dream bigger. This is not a story of tragedy, but one of redemption.
“You couldn’t tell me I wasn’t making it to the NFL. I had the skill, I had the talent.”
Winston Eubanks, a North Philly native, spent the majority of his football career at Shippensburg University where he was named the 2017 PSAC Eastern Division Freshman of the Year. The wide receiver was a standout from the time he first stepped onto the football field. He quickly earned his place in the top ranks in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
His sights (and stats) were set on the NFL, but the COVID-19 pandemic had other plans. Shippensburg canceled what would’ve been Eubanks’ senior season which pushed him to pursue other options. He needed to keep training if he wanted to make it to the NFL draft, and he couldn’t afford to take an entire season off.
Eubanks entered the transfer portal and began to explore options including Syracuse University, Virginia Tech, University of Pittsburgh and Penn State.
“Penn State was actually one of my reach schools. I really didn’t think that it was gonna happen,” Eubanks said.
Eubanks eventually committed to Penn State as a graduate transfer. The plan was back on track, and he was eager to work with Coach Franklin and the rest of the Nittany lions. As Eubanks described it, the Penn State football program is an “NFL factory,” and it was his chance to finally chase the dream he’d had since he was 9 years old; full steam ahead.
Flashback to Eubanks’ childhood years, and you’d see that football wasn’t always the dream he was chasing. Whether it was acting or rapping at family parties, Eubanks — or, D-Rock, as he was called during his early rapping days — was drawn to entertainment. He actually didn’t seriously pursue the sport until high school after being deterred from it previously.
“I didn’t like getting hit, to be honest,” Eubanks said. “I got tackled one time and was like, oh no, this isn’t for me.”
But he gave football another try and was hooked. His dreams shifted from Hollywood to AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, where he hoped to play one day.
Unfortunately — or maybe fortunately — life rarely goes according to plan. One day while practicing with the Nittany Lions, Eubanks was hit — hard. He says he felt woozy for a bit, but got up and didn’t feel symptoms for days after the impact.
“But then I woke up one morning, my head was throbbing; I couldn’t get out of bed,” Eubanks said. “At first I thought it was just gonna last like a week and a half and then go away, but it lingered a lot longer than that, and I was still having severe symptoms.”
After consulting with a team doctor, Eubanks was diagnosed with a severe concussion; the third of his career. He was left with a choice.
“It was a tough decision for me to make, but I had to look at this as a forty-year decision and not a two-year decision because at the end of the day, if I continued playing this sport … it could turn out bad for me when I’m fifty years old versus if I stop now and count my blessings,” Eubanks said.
Headlines were slated with the news of his decision — Penn State wide receiver medically retires from football. Winston Eubanks medically retires. Concussions force Penn State’s Winston Eubanks to quit football — to name a few.
Luckily, he took his education seriously and worked to keep his grades up while pursuing a degree in kinesiology. But he was at a turning point in his life and needed to find a new dream; a new purpose.
Eubanks refused to accept that his life was over just because his football career was. He refused to be reduced to just a football player. He chose to believe that he, like each of us, had a greater purpose; he just needed to find it.
“I had to peel back a lot of layers of myself,” Eubanks said. “I always knew that I was more than a football player, but that wasn’t really tested until recently. So I had to peel back and ask myself, you know, who am I without football; without weight lifting?”
Through months of reflection, he came to the realization that what he really loved about football was that it made people cheer, it made them clap and it was entertainment: That’s when it all clicked.
Eubanks had always been drawn to music, and even though he didn’t feel confident in his 9-year-old self as a rapper at the time, he did always have a knack for writing. He remembered dreading having to write dozens of essays for his high school English teacher, Ms. Fields, but that he always scored very high.
For some, rap is like poetry in motion. When he first arrived at Penn State, Eubanks had a roommate with a recording studio in his room. He hadn’t rapped much since his childhood (at least not very seriously), but his roommate asked him if he rapped as one of his beats played in the studio. Eubanks declined at first, feeling the same shyness he’d felt as a child come rushing back.
But after listening some more, he pulled out the notes on his phone and began to write until he had something. He walked over to the microphone which he described as “the longest walk of my life”, and he placed the headphones over his ears.
“My hands are sweating, I’m so nervous. But I start rapping, and it was just like magic. It felt like I belonged here,” Eubanks said.
He’s always looked to Kanye, Drake and Meek Mill for motivation and inspiration throughout his life and found a level of relatability with Kanye in particular. Eubanks is drawn to the stories they tell and the success they’ve been able to obtain by sharing them.
D-Rock is back … well, now he’s known as Static 215. But he’s fully chasing his new dream of being a rapper/ entertainer. He has three singles available for streaming on Spotify or through his website. But what’s the next step? To move to LA in search of more opportunities to cultivate his dream and get closer to discovering his purpose.
“If I was 13, I would’ve said I’d be a successful actor. And then when I was 17, I would’ve said that I’d be in the NFL. And now I’m saying that I’d be a successful actor again,” Eubanks said. “You know, life has its crazy twists and turns, but I think I’m headed in the right direction.”
His journey has come with challenges and successes, setbacks and opportunities. But most of all, it was the adversity that he’s worked through that Eubanks credits to his success in both finding himself and his purpose where he never expected he would.
Ambitious. Defiant. Sensitive. These are three words that Eubanks uses to describe himself. But the way he hopes to be remembered is “as someone who never gave up; someone who faced a lot of adversity and figured out a way to make it through.”
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what lesson he learned that had the greatest impact on his journey, but one thing that he lives by and hopes others will live by too is this simple phrase: dream bigger.