Tyrel Dodson is no stranger to the struggle.
“Coming where I come from I’m kind of used to being uncomfortable. I’m kind of used to going through adversity,” Dodson said. “I’m at my best when the pressure comes.”
Adversity came for Dodson from the very beginning of his professional football career.
He declared for the NFL Draft after his junior season at Texas A&M, but was never selected by a team that April. The Bills signed him as an UDFA afterwards.
About a month later, Dodson was arrested in Arizona and charged with domestic violence, disorderly conduct, and property damage following an incident involving his girlfriend. An agreement was later come to that placed Dodson in a diversion program. Still, the NFL suspending Dodson for six games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
Once his suspension was over, the Bills waived Dodson and then signed him to the practice squad.
While he returned to the field, Dodson was still not himself.
Depression had overcome him, yet no one knew about.
“No one wants to hear your sob story when you come to work,” Dodson said. “I just balled everything up. That’s kind of what humans do. I know not to do that now. I would have been better off. I just balled everything up. I kind of put on the mask and came up here and went to work.”
Eventually Dodson dropped the mask for some and began turning things around.
“I get emotional always when I talk about it,” Dodson said. “I just have so many people that were my crutch. The Bills organization. My family and my friends back home. My agent was the best. Just everybody. Guys around the league, the ones that I’ve met. They ones that actually know me know the type of person I am. I’m just glad I had those crutches to fall back on and finally I’m up off those crutches and that boot and I’m ready to roll and I’m ready to show love to the people that showed love to me throughout that hard time in my life.”
The strongest crutch Dodson leaned on was his mother. Angela Sparkman is a single-mother of two who raised Tyrel and his brother in Franklin, Tennessee.
“Mom’s always going to be the guiding force until I’m no longer on this earth.”
Sparkman noticed her son had not been himself, so she started a conversation in late February that began Tyrel’s turn around.
The two developed a “game plan” that included finding Tyrel a mentor, Joe Katina, one of the five brothers that form the contemporary christian band “The Katinas.” Dodson hired a high school friend to be his personal chef.
“Just trying to have a healthy body and healthy mind was our main focus and I think we accomplished that as one.”
Dodson returned to Orchard Park for his second training camp a different person than he was at his first.
“I’m just more myself,” Dodson said. “My first year, just kind of feeling like I was walking on egg shells because of my circumstances. I feel like I can finally be myself and I can just let my personality show. I like to be a loving guy. I like to have fun. But at the end of the day I like to work. I hope that’s what people are starting to see in me and I just want to bring light to the dark in every situation.”
The new version of Dodson earned a spot on the Bills 53-man roster out of training camp, doing so using the mentality of his mother.
“I really get my drive and my ambition, kind of get my hard work from her,” Dodson said. “I try to play that way. I try to play with some mojo. I try to play with some swagger a little bit because that’s exactly how my mom is.”
That was on display for the first time in an NFL game this past Sunday, when Dodson started against the Dolphins in his debut.
The FaceTime call with mom afterwards was full of emotions.
“She was crying,” Dodson said. “She cried because she knows what me and her had to do this offseason… Our game plan worked and we’re just going to get better each offseason.”
The mask is no longer on Tyrel Dodson.
That ball of emotions has been released.
And what he thought was a sob story has turned into one that he hopes can help others who fall into the same hole he did not too long ago.
“Honestly, dealing with depression was the worst thing I’ve ever dealt with in my life,” Dodson said. “That was worse than being undrafted. To everyone that’s going through the struggle, just keep pushing and just keep going because it’s honestly beautiful in the struggle. I know that’s a saying, but it honestly is.”