It was five minutes before 5 p.m. The training cones were set up, the weights were in place, and TJ Pitts stood next to the entrance of the studio, arms crossed, whistle in mouth, waiting.
Two young men came running through the door throwing their bags down, slipping
on their shoes as quickly as possible. At 5 p.m. on the dot, without saying a single word, Pitts blew his whistle and the boys began sprinting back and forth across the room.
Pitts is a 26-year-old personal trainer at a local gym in Gainesville, Ga. He trains high school athletes from all over Hall County who have requested to work with him during their off-season. Pitts helps young athletes build speed, agility and strength in order to better themselves for the upcoming year.
When asked how the physically fit, dedicated mentor decided on sports personal training, he slowly lowered his head into his hands and quietly mumbled, “This was never
the dream. I could have never planned this.”
Nearly a decade ago, Pitts was ranked 36th best running back in the country. A Milledgeville, Ga. native, Pitts moved to Gainesville in 2002 during his sophomore year of high school. He soon decided to join the football team and quickly became a household name in the small rural town.
“The football coach really pushed me to join the team,” Pitts recalled. “He knew I played in
my hometown and was eager for me to become part of the team. I was shy, so it took a little encouragement, but I love football I had to play”
It didn’t take long before Pitts became the star of the local community. He continued to break school records every week and helped lead the team to their first ever playoff game in school history. Within two years, he had worked his way to being one of the top ranked running backs in America and was being scouted by colleges from across the nation.
“It seemed surreal,” Pitts explained. “One day I’m sitting alone in the back of all my
classes and the next day everyone wants to sit beside me.”
In 2005, Pitts signed to play football at the University of Memphis and quickly made a name for him self at the college level. All of the pieces were falling into place and his dream of becoming a profession football player in the National Football League felt closer than ever to becoming reality.
“I worked so hard to become the best of the best,” Pitts said. “I had a clear goal in sight and I
knew what it took to reach that goal.”
Over the next two years Pitts continued to strive for perfection, until that dreaded day in 2007.
“We [University of Memphis football team] had made it into the New Orleans Bowl,” Pitts recalled.
“I was nervous and anxious. I knew this game had the potential to change my life because NFL scouts always attend bowl games and I had to impress,” Pitts said. “Needless to say, the game definitely changed my life… but in ways that I could have never imagined.” Pitts lowered his head into his hands once again, the pain on his face clearly visible.
During his first carry of the night, Pitts suffered a gruesome leg injury that forced him to
leave the game. He had broken the lower portion of his left leg, dislocated his ankle and torn multiple ligaments in his ankle and foot. But the bad news didn’t stop there. Pitts had to undergo four surgeries to reconstruct his ankle and was forced to sit out the entire 2008 season.
“The worst part wasn’t the physical pain I experienced, it was the fact that I knew my
opportunity was slipping through my fingers,” Pitts said.
By the 2009 season, his senior year in college, Pitts was ready to take the field again. He
had been in rehabilitation, strengthening his ankle for more than a year, and was excited to compete and prepare for the upcoming NFL draft.
“The first few games were rough. I knew I wasn’t 100 percent but I knew I had to play to be
seen,” Pitts said. “By the middle of the season my ankle just couldn’t take anymore.”
Pitts finished the season with a career low rushing record and his chances of being drafted by an NFL team were virtually impossible.
By 2010, the NFL draft had come and gone, and Pitts had graduated from college. Everything he had been working toward vanished right before his eyes, and he had nothing to fall back on.
“I was lost. All I knew was football and when that was gone I didn’t know what to do with myself,” Pitts explained. “I moved back home to Georgia for 11 months until I got the
Pitts’ faced immediately lit up for a brief moment as he explained, “The Colorado Ice indoor
football team contacted me and offered me a position on their spring roster. I knew it wasn’t the NFL, but a lot of players transition from the IFL [Indoor Football League] to the NFL,” Pitts continued. He was given another chance to prove his talent and chase his dreams. But again, tragedy struck.
Five games into the season Pitts was tackled against the wall in the indoor arena and injured
his foot. “I was diagnosed with a Lisfranc fracture and had to have surgery again,” Pitts said. “I just couldn’t stay healthy. I knew that was the final straw.” Pitts returned home to Georgia and accepted the fact that his dreams of becoming a professional football player were a part of the past.
For the next two years Pitts continued to train hard and stay in shape.
“It had been a part of my life for so long, I couldn’t just not train,” Pitts said. That’s when he soon realized that if he couldn’t live out his dreams of playing football, he would do everything in his power to help others who have the same dreams.
“You can’t hold a grudge. Just because I didn’t make it, doesn’t mean I can’t be a part in helping someone else make it.”