Jonathan Massaquoi spent Tuesday morning at a place that feels just as familiar to him as a football field — his former middle school in Lawrenceville, Ga.
The defensive end gave an inspirational speech to students at Richards Middle School that included his experience as a student and the tough road that eventually led him to become a Falcons player.
Massaquoi, who attended Troy University, stressed the importance of education and encouraged students to set their mind on accomplishing their goals while striving to be greater each day.
"I really hope that when you get home today, you take back something from this and be better tomorrow," he told the students. "Don't be average, don't be excellent, don't be great; be elite."
The students paid close attention to him and eagerly asked questions after his speech was over. They then lined up to get his autograph while Massaquoi casually asked each teenager that came up to him their favorite hobby or what class they were headed to.
After the students left, Massaquoi spent time with the school's staff, many of whom knew him when he was a student himself. He then walked through the halls and spent time at the school's gym like he did so many times 10 years ago, something he described as an "overwhelming feeling."
"Feeling comfortable is being back here," he said. "Being natural, keeping it real with these kids is really all I can do. That's what really keeps me comfortable."
Massaquoi hopes that being back to where he grew up can serve as motivation for the children who sit in the same place where his story first started.
"I want these kids to know that you don't have to be perfect to be successful," he said. "You will go through bumps, you will go through ups and downs. But through those trials and tribulations, just know that there's a light at the end of the tunnel."