An Athlete's Journey to His Dream
Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Updated: Sunday, March 24, 2013 18:03
The words echoed through A.J. Buffini’s head.
A simple phone call from a football player he had never met before had lifted a burden off his shoulders and given Buffini the last push to setting himself on a new path.
He still remembers the look on his mom’s face, as she said, “OK, well it looks like you’re going to SMU.”
Buffini and his parents had compiled a list of things to compare between his choice universities, ranging from weather to classes to sports. After months of gathering information and working through the application and recruiting process, they found only one that matched all 32 of those things—SMU.
“It was a sign that God wanted me to go here,” said Buffini, looking back on his conversation with Stephen Nelson, now a friend and fellow teammate. It was the perfect match-up of his list.
The rest of the process would begin Buffini’s journey to becoming a preferred walk-on for SMU’s football team, which is a great challenge, one taken on only by those willing to work hard to achieve that honor. However, his story does not begin with a typical high school senior searching for the next step in his education and athletic career.
No, Buffini’s story throws in a couple twists and turns, ultimately beginning with a young boy, like so many others, who wanted nothing more than to play football in college, and despite the curves along the way worked hard, never giving up, to achieve that dream.
Buffini, a sophomore from San Diego, grew up playing sports. Whether playing baseball and basketball in the backyard or throwing the football around with neighbors, Buffini has always been a sports guy.
In eighth grade, Buffini played basketball for Christian Life Academy, a school made up of homeschooled students, but his heart was always for football.
“I always liked football, but my mom wouldn’t let me play. I would practice more football than basketball, going out in the backyard to play with the neighbors for hours,” said Buffini.
It was not until his junior year of high school that Buffini played football; his mom still worried about injuries, but was supportive of Buffini’s dreams.
That year, Christian Life Academy was recognized as the top 8-man team in San Diego. Instead of learning to play 11-man football, Buffini learned 8-man, another big change that would come with walking-on to SMU’s team.
His senior year, Buffini played quarterback, and the schedule was bumped up to pit Christian Life Academy against some stronger teams. The harder schedule did not seem to faze the team, and the season ended with a 7-2 record, placing the boys in position for the playoffs.
The boys’ hopes for playing in the California Interscholastic Federation or the CIF playoffs were crushed when other teams began to accuse Christian Life Academy for recruiting players due to their homeschool program. After CIF made rules against Christian Life Academy’s participation in the playoffs, Buffini thought his high school football career was over. It was not quite finished, yet.
With the end of football season, Buffini began looking at colleges, but when basketball season started his senior year, Buffini began dating his now ex-girlfriend.
“I started to go out with my ex-girlfriend and her dad made it plain to me that if I was to see his daughter, I needed to provide for her—thus college football was out of the question, and college too,” said Buffini.
The relationship with his girlfriend was serious; nonetheless, putting his dream of playing college football on hold, was not Buffini’s choice to go about providing for her. But respecting her father, Buffini instead began working to get his degree online.
After the last game of senior year basketball, Buffini went to work for his dad’s company, Buffini and Company, setting up materials, back stage and seating for his dad’s seminars, and selling his dad’s books, coaching company, and DVDs during the event.
In July of 2011, Buffini and his girlfriend broke things off, which, Buffini said was his only real motivation for going to work and not straight to college.
After working for another month or so, Buffini realized how badly he wanted to go out and start playing football again. He began by catching balls for now NFL player, Cam Newton, a deal set up through his high school football coach, Doug Hix, now SMU men’s basketball strength and conditioning coach, who also trained professional athletes.
“It felt so good to do something I was good at again,” said Buffini.
With the encouragement of some NFL athletes, who he trained with, Buffini felt motivated to keep trying to play football again.
The process of finding a school where he could play football began and SMU quickly became his No. 1 choice after his conversation with Nelson.