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27th Jan 2015

Keeping the Hunger: 5 sports stars who made it late

If you haven't got there yet, keep trying...


Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Truth be told, we don’t have much reason for quoting Samuel Beckett here at JOE towers.

As far as we know, his interest in MMA was minimal and although we’re sure he would have adored Love/Hate, it was well before his time.

But that famous Beckett musing seems to fit these wonderful athletes.

These are the guys who weren’t instant successes; the men that perhaps weren’t as naturally gifted as some of their competitors, but stuck it out, worked hard and made it that little bit later than what’s normal in their sports.

There were many names to choose from, but we could only choose a few. So here are our favourites…

Jay DeMerit

When Jay DeMerit finished college, it looked as though his professional soccer dream was done and dusted. He hadn’t got drafted by any MLS sides and try as he might, there wasn’t any high-level clubs willing to give him a shot.

DeMerit, not being the type of guy who quit easily, packed his bags and travelled to England in hope of catching a club’s attention over there.

When he arrived, he only had the loose change that was in his back-pack. But all was not lost, Jay secured a professional contract… £40 a week in the ninth tier of English football for Southall.

Luckily for DeMerit, Southall went bust the following year. He then joined seventh tier side Northwood, who played Championship team Watford in a pre-season friendly.

DeMerit played so well, he earned a trial and the rest is history. He went on to make almost 200 appearances for Watford, including a stint in the Premier League and earned 25 caps for the USA national team.

Bernard Hopkins

If we tried to pitch Bernard Hopkin’s career as a Hollywood script, we’d be told to stop wasting time because the story is so far-fetched.

In 1982, after racking up nine felonies, an 18-year-old Hopkins was sent to Graterford Prison for 18 years. While there he gained a love for boxing.

More precisely, he gained a love for not getting murdered and boxing kept him away from trouble.

He got out after five years and decided he wanted a professional career. Life ain’t that easy though: he lost his first bout and then had a 16 month layoff where he worked to reach the level he needed to be at.

He’s now been fighting for 28 years and has won virtually every world title in his weight class. Now, that’s a turnaround.

Vince Papale

Speaking of Hollywood, Papale was the inspiration behind the 2006 Disney movie Invincible.

Tradition dictates that American football players have a very clear path to the NFL. Rarely does that path include no college football and a career as a high-school teacher.

Papale, evidently not one for tradition, took this lesser known path by joining Philadelphia Eagles at the tender age of 30. He thus became the oldest rookie in the history of the NFL to play without the benefit of college football experience (other than kickers).

He played for the Eagles for two years and had Mark Wahlberg play him in the movie Invincible. Not bad for a guy who went to a college that didn’t even have a football team.

Larry Nelson

Rory McIlroy turned pro before he was 20. At that age, Larry Nelson was serving in the Vietnam war and had never played golf.

He finished his service at 21, and as perhaps the greatest achievement procrastination has ever produced, Nelson taught himself how to play golf while waiting for his wife to finish work.

Amazingly, seven years later he was on the PGA tour.

The late starter went on to win 10 PGA championships, of which three were majors. That’s an unbelievable record for any golfer, particularly one that started so late.

Ian Wright

Everyone knows the cheeky chappy who lit up Highbury with his superb finishing skills and won over 30 caps for England. What most people don’t know is that Wright was on the scrap heap until he was almost 22.

Up until that point Wright was playing for amateur clubs and struggling with poverty. Things got so bad, he went to jail for not paying fines.

Fortunately for Wright, and Arsenal fans everywhere, then Crystal Palace manager Steve Coppell saw potential and gave him his first professional contract just months before his 22nd birthday. Wright went onto become one of the best English strikers of a generation.

These five kept the right type of hunger… the hunger to succeed. The other type of hunger can turn you into a monster.

Don’t let hunger stop you – Snickers can satisfy the Gremlin inside you.