Elijah Qualls didn’t have an easy upbringing. The defensive tackle prospect grew up in a rough California neighborhood. A lot of people ended up in jail – or worse.
Qualls, who starred at Washington and helped the Huskies to the College Football Playoff, didn’t want that to be his fate.
“I just looked at it as I’m going to do the opposite of what everybody else does,” Qualls said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “Who people become or what people end up doing is the result of the actions that they do. So being on the block, being a drug dealer, being a gang-banger, being broke isn’t something that I wanted to do. I don’t even know where, who I got it from, or if it was even from somebody. In my mind, I just said, ‘This isn’t what I want to do. This isn’t what I want to be. I can’t be average.’ Ever since I was young, my biggest fear was just being an average person. I don’t care (about) being a famous person or super popular, but I wanted to make an impact. I wanted to do something more than having a desk job and being in a cubicle for eight hours a day and just being locked up from the world and things like that.”
A cubicle is likely not in Qualls’ future. He discovered football at an early age, and the rest is history.
“I found football at five years old,” he said. “My step-father helped me with that, and I’ve been in love with it ever since. I ended up playing about 10 different sports when I got to high school, but football has always been it for me. I’m blessed enough to develop enough talent to be recruited by some colleges and (I kept) my head down, wanting bigger things in life than accepting that where I grew up was just it for me. People grew up there and never left. I wouldn’t accept that. I refused to let that be my end game.”
Interestingly, Qualls was recruited as a running back in high school before moving to defensive tackle. He felt running back was too easy and realized that defensive linemen tend to have longer careers and fewer injuries.
“It was a different challenge,” the 6-1, 313-pounder said. “I like challenging myself. It was just a cool switch and ended up being the best switch, honestly. I’m glad I did that.”
Even if Qualls hadn’t found football, though, he would have found a way out of his neighborhood.
“I don’t want to sound in a negative way, but I truly do believe I was put on the earth for great things – not just football,” he said. “I love kids. Kids are one of my favorite things to work with. They’re just peer-minded, all they want to do is have fun, they’re happy all the time, they’re entirely honest, and in all honesty, I’m so jealous of kids because I feel we should live more like them. We live so stressed out. We live so fast that we get upset over so much stuff and hold on to things.
“If you take a kid to a store and they want something and you tell them no, they’re probably going to cry for the next five minutes,” Qualls continued. “But in the next 10 minutes, they’re still going to be the happiest kid on the planet because he forgot about it already. He knows that there’s other stuff to be happy about. We like to hold on to things and let things affect us so heavily that it ends up ruining other aspects of our life that we could be enjoying. So I like being around kids. They’re fun. I like doing stuff like playing video games, going to music parks, water parks, arcades – stuff like that. I feel like later on in life, I can start working with kids and do things like that and help them develop their paths to whatever they want to be successful in and give them all the tools they need to be great and fulfill their potential.”