Justin Senior: All pain, no gain; saying good-bye to professional football

Courtesy: Mississippi State Athletics

It’s time to bury Justin Senior the football player.

I started playing football as a way of hanging out with my friends growing up in Montreal. It was something fun we could do together — running around, catching balls, and hitting each other. Playing football was a blast.

It soon became apparent that I had a talent for the game. I was one of the biggest guys on the team, but I could run and jump like a lot of the smaller players.

One day I participated in a camp with some prep school scouts in attendance. They ended up offering me a scholarship to attend Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virgina for grade twelve, which I accepted.

Hargrave was like another world. I was suddenly surrounded by four and five-star recruits from all across America with many eventually making it to the NFL. We had scouts from every major NCAA program come to our practices. The spotlight was never off.

My experience that year made me a way better football player. I ended up receiving thirty scholarship offers with the two best coming from Mississippi State and the University of Central Florida.

I initially wanted to go to Central Florida because it was located in a bigger state. My coach said I was crazy and told me to go to Mississippi State because it was in the SEC. I didn’t know anything about college conferences at the time but I listened to him and committed to Mississippi State.

Playing for the Bulldogs was a great experience. We won more games than we lost and I got to play in a bowl game each year. I started at right tackle for three seasons and won the Kent Hull Trophy as a senior, awarded annually to the best offensive lineman in Mississippi.

Here’s the weird part — instead of getting better as I got older, I actually got worse.

I was born with almost no cartilage in my right knee. It’s a genetic thing that affects a lot of people in my family. It was always sore when I played football, but it didn’t become a serious problem until my junior season at Mississippi State.

It got to the point that I was in constant pain, which affected my performance. It shook my confidence and I could feel myself starting to fall out of love with the game.

By this point I had invested years of hard work into becoming a legitimate NFL prospect. I’d already been invited to the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine, which was a big deal for a Canadian like me.

Attending the combine was a wild experience. Everybody talks about the testing, but it’s essentially a week packed full of interviews. I talked to all 32 teams and at least one hundred doctors. You don’t get a lot of sleep, either, which makes the whole event feel like a blur.

My draft day story isn’t as glamorous as what you often see on television. There were no fancy hotel rooms, limousines or parties. I’d hurt my back while training the day before the draft. I couldn’t walk, so I spent a few days in bed.

I’ll never forget when John Schneider, Seattle’s general manager, called to say they’d drafted me in the sixth round. “Justin, are you ready to go!?” He was fired up, yelling with excitement.

“Hell yeah!” I responded loudly. Meanwhile, I was laying in bed unable to walk. It was pretty funny.

In a way, it was a sign of things to come for me and the NFL.

The doctors looked at my knee again when I got to training camp in Seattle. They said they didn’t feel safe putting me on the field until it improved, which meant I would have to go on injured reserve.

The doctors did a great job of helping my knee get better but it never felt close to one hundred percent. It was around this time that I started to realize the extent of the damage I’d done to my knee over the course of my college career. The pain was real.

The plan was to heal me up and have me play near the end of the regular season. Unfortunately, Seattle suffered more injuries in 2017 than almost every other team in the league. Veterans like Richard Sherman, Cliff Avril, and Kam Chancellor got hurt and had to be replaced with free agents off the street. It got expensive really quick.

Eventually the team was forced to make a business decision. They couldn’t afford to have me sitting out rehabbing a knee that might never be back to full strength. They released me in December with an injury settlement.

I was eligible to sign with any team but decided to wait until my knee felt ready to play again. I wanted to feel really confident heading into my next opportunity and not have to worry about whether or not my knee would hold up.

I signed with Kansas City a little over a year later in February 2019. My knee felt great initially but the same problems quickly started to arise. It became apparent that my knee only felt good when I wasn’t playing football. The Chiefs cut me in June.

My knee feels great right now after more than a year away from the game. It’s likely that I’ll require a knee replacement at some point in my future, but you can’t play football on an artificial knee.

Edmonton owns my CFL rights and they offered me a contract last season. I considered signing it but decided against it. It’s clear that my knee can’t hold up to the demands of professional football and the rigorous training that goes along with it. It’s not worth the pain or the risk of making my injury worse.

It’s for that reason that I am announcing my retirement from professional football.

My career did not go as planned but that’s not for a lack of effort. I did everything in my power to rehabilitate my knee through athletic therapy, training, and rest. It just didn’t work out, which isn’t the fault of me, my doctors or my agents, Melvin Bratton and Ray Haija, who always had my back. It’s just bad luck.

I still have a political science degree from Mississippi State and I’m one credit away from earning a degree in sociology as well. I made secure investments following my injury settlement from Seattle, including buying a house.

I’ve seen so many people go broke after making big money in the NFL. I knew I didn’t want that for myself and I’m grateful to be in a good position to pursue a second career. I’m proud of the decisions I’ve made and where life has taken me.

I will be going to trade school in the spring with the goal of becoming a general contractor. I would be starting in the fall, but classes were delayed due to COVID-19.

I’ve always loved houses. I was mostly raised in apartments but always wanted a family house. I used to love going to houses my friends lived in — there was just so much space and energy.

My parents recently renovated their house and I’ve helped them fix it up along with my own. Having a house that’s functional and pretty gives you life. It’s a great feeling.

I want to build people’s dream homes. That’s my dream.

I’m restarting from the bottom in a new industry but it’s exciting. It’s something that I’m passionate about and can’t wait to pursue.

It’s time to bury Justin Senior the football player and become Justin Senior the general contractor.

If you’re looking to build a house in Montreal, hit me up in a few years.

Twitter: @Justin_Senior58
Instagram: @justin_senior58

Justin Senior is a retired offensive lineman who was born in Montreal. He attended Mississippi State before becoming a sixth-round selection of the Seattle Seahawks in the 2017 NFL draft.