Lee Rouson was angry. Angry enough to kill a man.
Thirty-three years of living had left him with a gut-full of anger because, as Rouson puts it, he didn't know who he was.
And so when a man got out of his car one day and started cursing Rouson during a traffic altercation, his anger started to beat its way from his heart. It pumped into his blood and filled the former Colorado Buffalo football player's muscles with a lethal rage.
"I saw myself killing him," Rouson says. "It was just like in a football game when I saw myself making a great play right before I would do it …I saw myself killing this guy."
But when he went to grab the man, Rouson noticed two pair of blue eyes staring up at him. The man had two young children in the front of his car.
"They were the most beautiful blue eyes I'd ever seen," Rouson says. "When I saw those blue eyes, I heard the voice of God in my spirit, in the language that only God speaks to anyone of us — inside of us. I heard the voice of God say, ‘Come on home, Lee. Stop trying to live this life your own way. You need to let this anger go.'
"In that moment, it was all gone."
That was 1995, three years removed from a professional football career spent mostly with the New York Giants. The transforming experience in the midst of a traffic snarl led to the life Rouson leads now. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and four children, and is a "visionary speaker," giving motivational talks to youths at schools throughout the country.
"This is my calling in life," Rouson, 41, says. "This is why I played football, for doors to open up so I would be able to come into schools and really just love these kids, just encourage them."
Rouson began his football career at Page High School in Greensboro, N.C. Rouson was recruited by colleges on both coasts and several college football powers in between. John Robinson, Jackie Sherrill and Monte Kiffin are a few of the big-name coaches who sat in his living room, trying to lure him to their schools.
But Chuck Fairbanks and Colorado made the biggest impression, and Rouson signed with the Buffs in 1980 and spent the next five years of his life in Boulder.
"I've always had a love affair with Boulder," he says. "I have so many people that I'm close to that are still there now. Boulder, Colorado, changed my life."
Before he came to Colorado, if you had asked Rouson who he was, he would have answered, "I'm a black man." His father was a bodyguard for Civil Rights leader Malcolm X, and Rouson grew up immersed in the social movement in the South in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
By the time he got to Boulder, however, that self-definition wasn't big enough for Rouson. His sights were set on a accomplishing big things in the Big Eight, and he hoped for a career in the NFL.
"I was finding my identity as a football player," he says.
When Rouson graduated from Colorado in 1984, he was the fourth leading all-time rusher in school history. More than 20 years later, his 2,296 rushing yards still ranks No. 9 on the school's all-time chart.
But playing for the Buffs in the early-1980s was not always a glorious endeavor. In Rouson's five years as a Buffalo — two under Fairbanks and three under Bill McCartney — Colorado won just 11 games and never finished higher than sixth in the Big Eight. Rouson wondered if he'd be able to fulfill his dream of playing in the NFL.
"I began to realize that things weren't working out the way I wanted to," he says. "But it was a positive thing, my experience at Colorado, because it helped me to realize that being a football player wasn't actually who I was."
Still, he earned an invitation to the Blue-Grey all-star game after his senior year and made enough of an impression on NFL scouts to hear his named called during the NFL Draft the following spring.
He spent six years with the Giants, but even playing on two New York Super Bowl teams wasn't enough to find a satisfactory answer to the question.
"I was really messed up," Rouson says. "I was angry, I was bitter. I had a lot of pain going on in my heart. I was angry at myself. In essence, I was dealing with that whole question, ‘Who are you?'"
He says he received the best answer that day in 1995.
"I'm a child of God. That's what I am," Rouson says, adding that his life is a work in process. "It's a day-by-day thing. I have to lay my life down every day."
Nowadays, he brings that story and others when he goes into schools and talks to young people. When he speaks to groups, he always asks the simple question: Who are you?
Read about JasLee Rouson.