Growing up in Surrey, Jas Dhillon was faced with a choice — follow his dream of becoming a professional football player or join many of his friends who were slipping into gang life.
Dhillon, a 27-year-old offensive lineman, recalled a day when a friend's brother flashed him a stack of cash and let him know he could make his own small fortune if he joined the gang.
With sports and fitness goals in reach, Dhillon turned down the chance at the easy, but sleazy, cash in favour of putting in the work and doing what he actually hoped to do with his life.
He's currently entering his second season with the Lions and third in the CFL overall and was speaking to Whistler students about positive choices on April 26 as part of the Lions in the House program.
"It's been pretty positive. It's a good chance to connect with them because you're born and raised in a neighbourhood that's not too far from theirs," he said. "It's always good to connect with the kids in that sense, but I feel like my story is relatable when I start talking about personal experiences and some things I had to go through to get to where I am today. It's always good to give back to the community and that's why we're coming out and sharing our message."
Dhillon, along with teammates Jason Arakgi and Stephen Adekolu, spoke first at Whistler Secondary School (WSS) before heading to Myrtle Philip Community School to speak to some youngsters.
Dhillon hopes the kids walked away feeling positive, especially after he used a personal example of how easy it would have been for him to go down the wrong path.
"We touched on a lot of things today, but what we want most is for them to make choices that will lead them to greatness in whatever it is they want to do, whether it's sports or academics," he said. "I feel like opening up and talking to them about what happened is a great way of connecting to these kids."
Dhillon explained his goals were a major force for keeping him on the straight and narrow, with other dreams of becoming a police officer guiding him in the direction of positive role models.
"I wanted to become a cop, so I knew what I had to do to stay away from that kind of stuff," he said. "I tried to surround myself with those types of groups because I knew they had their heads on straight. I think, at a young age, it was crucial for me to understand the importance of reputation by association and how that can play a huge factor into what happens for the rest of your life."
Linebacker Arakgi, 30, is entering his ninth season with the Lions and has spoken as part of the circuit for eight years.
"I try to give them as much advice as I can on what I've learned throughout my career. It's something that I really enjoy doing," he said. "In nine years, if I reach one (kid), then it's worth it to me, but you try to get as many (as possible) to notice what you're saying."
His main messages to the youth were hammering home the points working hard — putting in extra practice if they truly wanted to be great at something — and though no one is going to excel at absolutely everything, everyone has some talent somewhere.
"My thing is the 'Don't be average' (message)," he said. "Too much today, kids are told what they can't do, not what they can do.
"I think they should feed positive about their future, excited about their future. Instead, most dread their future because they don't know what they want to do or they don't think they can do what they want to do."
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