Today is the fall commencement ceremony at the University of Arkansas, and 34 Razorback student-athletes are celebrating earning their degree. That list includes fullback Kiero Small, one of the most popular Razorbacks on campus and in the community. Kiero, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, is the first college graduate in his family. He was asked to write his thoughts as he ends his time at Arkansas. Below is what he provided. Waking up this morning preparing to attend my college graduation from the University of Arkansas, I am ecstatic and also thankful that the road I took was rocky and muddy and not the common one because I don’t see myself today as a common man. I stand here today a man that can look a challenge in the face and say that’s no big deal. I stand here today a man that can be knocked down and, while getting back up and casually brushing myself off, ask ‘Is that all you got?’ The road I have taken was one that could have probably been avoided if I took school more seriously in high school. As a big fish in a little pond I thought I could just play good football and school would take care of itself. Needless to say it didn’t take care of itself and, since I didn’t take care of it, I barely graduated high school. As a high school grad I didn’t know what my next move would be. Out of options and wanting badly to continue playing ball, I had to go military school in Wayne, Pennsylvania. While at military school I was buried in chain of command and was taking orders. I also didn’t have the season I wanted to on the field and missed my SAT score by 10 points. After the season I knew this wasn’t for me and I dropped out. So that I wouldn’t be embarrassed telling people I didn’t make it I just told people I didn’t want to play football. I returned home to Baltimore lost again as I was when I left high school. After about a month of being home my dad sat me down and talked to me saying either I go to school or I work and pay bills, because a real man doesn’t lie around for free. Seeing myself as a real man I went to work with him. I moved from where I was from in northeast Baltimore to the west side of town with my father. I was an outsider and always had to be prepared for whatever came my way because I wasn’t from that neighborhood. I caught the bus to and from work. While working with my father I was a jack of all trades helping him run his business. I did this job managing, handling money and helping advertise, but after a year seeing others around me get caught up in trouble and not improving in life I knew I had to get a better life. I knew I had to go back to school and since nobody I knew could afford it I knew a football scholarship was my only option. When I made this choice I went to the Baltimore City Public Library and printed out contact information for every junior college in California. I called every school, and I got denied, turned down and, in some cases, even hung up on. I eventually got a call back from Matt Collins at Hartnell College in Salinas, California. He also knew my cousin from a previous school. I decided this was my last shot. I saved $800 and, after buying my $500 plane ticket, I touched down with my father in California with $300 and three duffle bags of clothes. My father left the next morning, but I was not lacking company. I lived in a two-bedroom apartment with six other guys. With seven guys in a two-bedroom shack this wasn’t the beautiful ocean drive you see in the movies. While in Cali I would alternate months between asking my cousin Barry Mackall and my father for $300. My rent was $250 so I had $50 to eat with each month. $50 anywhere isn’t much but in California it’s even less. I would buy a 15-pound bag of rice, ramen noodles and frozen chicken each month. Once the ramen and chicken ran out at the end of the month I would eat just rice three times a day seasoning it differently each time to change the taste. Knowing money was hard to come by I knew if I didn’t figure something out I may not be able to afford to stay. To take the burden of paying my rent off of my father and cousin I moved into one of my teammates, Charles Russell, parents’ house with him and his family. They were great and kind people and I followed the rules and helped around the house. Another family that made me feel like I had a home away from home was Mark Ramos and his family. Without these families I wouldn’t be here today. I eventually moved back into another two-bedroom apartment with seven more guys and the struggle was back on. I decided that no matter how much I struggled I was not going back to Baltimore as I did when I was in military school. I decided that when I went to Baltimore my parents would have someone to be proud of. My first year of JuCo I made all-conference as an inside linebacker, but what I was most proud of was my 3.7 GPA. Having gone through what I did before I knew that all-conference meant nothing if I didn’t have a good GPA. One thing that did discourage me after the season was no schools offered me a scholarship. Some schools talked to me but it was never anything serious. A coach from a Division II college even told me I wasn’t good enough to play there. Not allowing this to eat away at me, I went into my next season and performed even better than the year before while at the same time not allowing my GPA to fall. But again, as the year before, not one single offer. I went home to Baltimore not knowing what was going to happen. My coach sent my film to the University of Arkansas. They liked my tape but not as a linebacker. They wanted me to play fullback. I hadn’t played offense full-time in four years. I was nervous but I went with the flow. If they would have asked me to play kicker I would have been ok with it. I knew that this was my shot and I needed a scholarship. The coaches came to my house and, seeing the look on my family and friends faces, I promised myself that if they offered me I would come here and put everything I had into graduating and playing at the next level. I was brought on an official visit and I was offered a scholarship on the last day of the visit. Of course I said yes. After being offered I was put on a plane back to California to finish my last semester of JuCo. While on the plane before taking off from Arkansas I cried tears of joy and knew that I was given a shot. I had to make it work from here. Through everything I’ve encountered during my time at Arkansas, this has been great experience. The fans have embraced me and I love the state of Arkansas. I want to give a special thanks to all the academic advisors, training staff and support staff available to me here and especially to all the coaches who have help me move forward in this journey of life. Jeff Long is a very smart and fearless leader. He made a personal connection and helped us get through very difficult times before bringing in Coach Bielema. Coach B came in here as a stand-up guy. He’s honest and a great example for us. He truly emphasizes academics just as much as football and that will have a great impact as he grows this program. My time at Arkansas has been amazing, and I am thankful for everyone. As I said before, the road I took was not common. It was tough, hard and at some points intolerable. But I think those times helped mold me into the man I am today, which is an uncommon man. A man that can look anything in the face and say ‘This isn’t hard. What I have been through was hard; this is a piece of cake’. As I walk across this stage I will always remember a quote by Jay-Z "If you see me in a fight with a bear, pray for the bear." I believe this quote sums me up as a man because no matter what I will not lose. Failure is not an option.
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