Ex-Homeless Baylor Football Player Finding Himself After Losing NCAA Eligibility

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterApril 8, 2015

Image via Silas Nacita

Editor's note: According to former Baylor running back Silas Nacita, a school compliance official met with him on February 24 and informed the formerly homeless walk-on that he would no longer be a part of the Baylor football program, pending a full investigation, because he accepted improper benefits, including housing. On March 25, following the completion of the investigation, Nacita informed Bleacher Report that he has been ruled officially and permanently ineligible. On April 5, Baylor confirmed Nacita's ineligibility to Bleacher Report.

For more than four minutes he spoke, uninterrupted by doubt or punctuation. He spoke of God and football and failure and how it all webbed together. 

He shared his unwavering love for the sport that had just been taken from him and what he would do to get it back.

"I worked so hard for 12 years for this game, and I have lost it," former Baylor running back Silas Nacita said. "Whatever it is [I need to do to play again], it would be worth it."

Nacita has slept in ditches and hotel lobbies in pursuit of his dream to play big-time college football, per Sports Illustrated's Ken Rodriguez. He's hitchhiked in multiple states, jumping in the backs of pickups, front seats and backseats to get to where he needed to be. 

His journey has been anything but ordinary, although his faith has remained. It has been tested, twisted and bent, but he's come off the other side unbroken.

There's a weight to all of this, one no 21-year-old should ever have to bear alone. It's a weight that he's been carrying for quite some time through various stops in his life, and it's more than just football eligibility. It's about failure, love, perseverance and the power of the human spirit. 

A Dream Denied

On February 24, however, Nacita's love was taken away. His dream was put on hold. Just hours before Baylor's first meeting of the offseason, a school official called Nacita into his office. As the player simply listened, the official spoke of improper benefits Nacita had received: a place to live, food and financial support.

"He told me I was suspended from the team for breaking NCAA rules," Nacita said. "I didn't really understand."

Nacita didn't deny the allegations. He didn't ask for further clarification. He didn't protest or respond with anger at the messenger or the program that gave him a chance to live out his dream. He took the earth-shattering news in silence. It wasn't necessarily the day his NCAA eligibility died; there was still a final decision to be made, one that would eventually come. 

Silas Nacita @silas_nacita

The bottom line is that I broke the rules. I should've never accepted the help and I am deeply sorry for my actions http://t.co/Ekw0e4uSbQ

But this is where he started to read the writing on the wall. 

"Is that all?" was the only thing he could muster before floating weightlessly out the door and toward his locker—a place of comfort and peace. He sat there in his thoughts until teammates inquired what was wrong.

The development hit the Baylor team and the coaches hard. Nacita wasn't a starter, but given his history and everything he went through to arrive at Waco, he was a locker room favorite and fixture. He was the glue.

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

The news was especially difficult for head coach Art Briles, whom Nacita had only recently gifted a photo of them standing together with "Thanks for always believing" penned on the image. It was a tribute to Briles, who regularly left "always believe" as his own calling card. 

Despite Nacita's reluctance to break the news, he eventually did. He called his pastor, and the two spoke, not of solutions but of restoring faith in the journey ahead.

"It's been really tough. But through it all, I know God is good," Nacita said. "He blessed me with the opportunities that I've had, and he's always taken care of me. I've been through some pretty tough things in my life, but through it all, God is not surprised. He knows what's going to happen. I have trust in him and know he has a plan for me."

Even with his faith strong and his spirit intact, Nacita struggled.

He missed a midterm, bombed another test and asked for extensions in other classes. Even with understanding professors, Nacita wasn't able to find stable footing. The situation controlled him rather than the other way around.

As he spoke of this dark time—the fact that other walks of life were impacted—you could hear his voice give out some. His regret for letting his athletic situation impact his studies was palpable.

Nacita also shut down physically, at least briefly. He didn't touch a single weight or even think about his body for the first week after he heard the news. With football out of the equation, there was no point. Having been estranged from his family and homeless, football was the constant.

Only now, it wasn't.

The Road to Recovery 

Silas Nacita is not easily defeated; he has already gotten up off the mat. More specifically, he joined a gym.

Without access to the athletes' facilities, this was his only option. After getting used to the posh football weight room and other amenities, asking average Joes for a spot might have seen like a drastic transition—and at first it was. But given his options not long ago, Nacita eventually embraced his new digs.

"There was a year I had to go to a park and train with rocks, so this is nothing new for me," he said. "I'm just hoping that I am training for something and not just keeping in shape."

As Nacita's body went to work, his mind still lagged behind. His spirit was nowhere close to where he needed it to be.

With spring break approaching, Nacita loved the idea of dropping everything and truly getting away. He thought about lying weightlessly on a beach and finding peace by letting loose in a different city and state. Given everything he had been through, it was a tantalizing proposition.

But instead of leaving Waco to lose himself, he left to find himself.

"Deep down, I knew that this wasn't going to help me," Nacita said. "I needed to go find some inner peace."

Instead of heading to Panama City, Nacita took an eight-hour bus drive to Edinburg, Texas, on a mission trip. This was not the spring break he envisioned, but it was the one he needed.

When they arrived, the students cleaned out an abandoned church. They went on outreaches. They held carnivals. They shared their love of Jesus. They danced, they played games, and they played football. 

The students at work on the mission trip.
The students at work on the mission trip.Image via Silas Nacita

As the days progressed, things improved. Throughout the week, Nacita found what he went searching for.

"It was really, really good for me," he said. "It was a reminder that life is not about me. This is the first time in my life where all the power, understanding and intelligence I have cannot change my situation. It's completely out of my hands. For weeks, I couldn't accept that. I found peace that week."

Silas playing football with children on spring break.
Silas playing football with children on spring break.Credit: Silas Nacita

Coming Full Circle

Nacita arrived back in Waco seven days later with a different perspective. He was rejuvenated. He went back to class, back to the gym and even back to the football stadium for Baylor's spring game. This time, however, he sat in the unfamiliar stands, a foreign football landmark.

"My circumstances have not allowed me to be out there with them on the field, which is unfortunate, but I am going to support them whatever way I can," Nacita said. "Even if that's being a spectator in the crowd."

To get to the stadium, Nacita took the same route that he did as player. As he walked into the building, he retraced the walkthroughs and practices that demanded the same path. The memories washed over him as he retraced his steps.

Just before entering the stadium, however, he changed course. Instead of heading to the locker room, he took the other fork in the road. He entered the stadium as a fan. It was then that Nacita saw the Baylor concession stands for the first time.

He took his seat, one close to the far more familiar turf.

Well, this is a new point of view. #SicEm pic.twitter.com/snoOp9jIch

— Silas Nacita (@Salsa_Nacho) March 21, 2015

He watched his team go through the same warm-ups and routines he now knew by heart. Like the steps he took to get here, he replayed them in his mind. He knew what they were going to do next. 

Defensive end Shawn Oakman saw Nacita in the stands and came over to say hello before the game. The two shared a hug, talked for a while and went their separate ways. Oakman readied for the game, while Nacita finally sat down.

The game began, and the entirety of the situation overcame him.

"It was tough," he said. "It was absolutely tough."

Throughout the evening, Nacita's presence became known. By the end of the evening, he might as well have been mayor of the bleachers. He shook hands, took photos and talked with various fans who were eager to meet a young man they had already heard so much about. Some even told Nacita they were praying for him, a gesture he deeply appreciated.

"It was really encouraging to see so many people I didn't know just telling me they support me and they hope to see me out there again," Nacita said. 

Very fortunate to have spoken with @Salsa_Nacho tonite.After all he has been through, his hope in Jesus stands strong pic.twitter.com/g2fRXGmx6B

— Devin Campbell (@DevinCampbell5) March 21, 2015

Eventually, Nacita left the building the same way he came in, the steps a bit more familiar this time around. His taste of Baylor football brought back memories—good memories—and it left him with the same craving he's had all along. As he left McLane Stadium, he felt both empty and alive.

Only a few days later, closure finally came. Nacita received an email from the university and was asked to meet regarding his eligibility. A final decision had been made.

On March 25, Nacita sat down in a room with Baylor officials and learned the news that he was anticipating all along: His NCAA ineligibility was final.

"I didn't shed a tear in the meeting. I wasn't angry. I shook their hands," he said. "It was a pleasant conversation. I didn't go into the meeting expecting good news. I went in expecting confirmation, and that's what I got. I had a little hope in the back of my heart, but when they told me, it was almost a relief. I could start thinking about my future."

Although playing for an NCAA program is no longer an option, the process of continuing his football career has already begun. It began only hours after the word became official, and in reality, the brainstorming began far earlier than that. Nacita has started researching NAIA schools in the area, and he is encouraged that he will be able to continue to play football somewhere.

It won't be in Waco or at a program that carries the same prestige, but that is of limited importance now. There is a dream still to chase, and nothing will stop him from chasing it. The window to play football in front of fans and for himself is still open, even if it's not like it once was.

"If I am going to go out, I want it to be on my terms," Nacita said. "I want to be satisfied with how it ended. I know it's cliche, but I want to leave it out all on the field. I don't want to just leave it in a meeting room somewhere. I love the game and want to play more than ever."

Adam Kramer is the College Football National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.