Former "Invincible" NFL player shares life lessons with Gulfport athletes

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - By Trang Pham-Bui – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) – "I was somebody that was just like you, just like you, somebody with a dream. And I don't know if anybody here has ever had a dream of being in the NFL or doing something really extraordinary. Well, it happened to me," Vince Papale told a group of athletes at Gulfport High School.

Papale's life is an example that dreams do come true. On Tuesday, he gave athletes at Gulfport High a pep talk about overcoming the odds to reach their goals.

"Are you going to be the one to take risks and challenges? Bring it on and make it happen," Papale told the crowd.

Papale talked about growing up poor and living with a mother who suffered from mental illness.

"It was horrible. My mom and dad fighting were all the time, always fighting," said Papale.

Sports was his relief. Papale played only one year of high school football and didn't play in college. He loved the game though, and was a Philadelphia Eagles season ticket holder.  In 1976, the Eagles held open try-outs and the 30-year-old Papale decided to give it a shot.

"It's never been done before. You can't do it Vince. You're 30 years old," Vince said, describing all the comments he received from people at the time.

Despite the incredible odds, Papale made the team and spent four years living his dream. He went from cheering in the stands to playing alongside his idols. His story captured the attention of Hollywood and inspired the 2006 Disney movie "Invincible."

"Today we have a game over at Biloxi and I feel like I can be invincible in the game and go out there for a win," said Gulfport High Sophomore Keandra Poole.

"I have to say this is probably one of the best birthday presents I've had in a while, getting to meet Vince Papale," said Gulfport High Junior Jamie Edwards. "He's just like me. He was a good special teams player.  He plays hard and he never gives up and that's what I want to do."

"Every one of you in this room has overcome some sort of a challenge to do something extraordinary," said Papale. "And when you do that, you have what's called an invincible moment, and I had that."

Papale also talked about his battle with colon cancer nine years ago.  He credits having the right attitude and a strong support system for helping him through those very difficult times.

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