This December, former Yuba College 49er football player Billy Sparks will graduate from Fort Valley State in Georgia with a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice and experiences that will carry him on his mission to inspire youth to persevere even in the face of adversity.
Sparks came to Yuba College in 2011 to play football and pursue his education from Warner Robbins, Georgia. The uphill battle Sparks faced along the way could have caused him -and did cause many players he played with at Yuba, who came from Georgia, Florida, and Texas-to give up and leave their education and goals incomplete during and after their time at Yuba.
When a player comes from out of state they pay a higher tuition which means that much more is at stake for the student to succeed. Sparks knew that he had to make it for his family, his city, and the young people who might come after him.
During his time at Yuba College Sparks met with many challenges. When he first came to Yuba, Sparks was in an apartment with twelve other players who were also struggling to keep up with their classes and athletic schedule. Failing to maintain the apartment and keep up with the electric bills when they lost financial aid and had to appeal, they were kicked out.
“By far, the one that was most difficult was being homeless for four months,” Sparks says. During that time Sparks and two other friends often slept in a park on cold nights unless someone would take them in and allow them to sleep on a couch or a floor. Often he struggled to get enough food to sustain him, let alone provide him the energy for his athletic endeavors.
It was well known among the players and other students that it was only necessary to tell Sparks that there was food to be had and he would show up.
When asked what kept him going, Sparks said, “What kept me going was my past. People always called me slow/ dumb, even at Yuba, so that was my motivation; Then, I always said when I make it out I want to let others know they can to. So, it was bigger than just me.”
Coach Ted Hoal, who had good things to say about all his players from this time period, said, “Billy stood out. Billy was a nice kid and outgoing.” Hoal also indicated that Billy had a drive that seemed to keep him pushing hard to succeed.
Sparks attributes Counselor Valerie Harris in part for his tenacity and ability to push through. Sparks says, “She told me you gotta fake it ’til you make it. I had to show professors that I cared by turning in work and talking to them.”
Sparks indicated that along the way many professors had his back. Professors Marc Flacks, Sujan Burgeson, and Fernando Canto-Lugo offered endless encouragement in his academic endeavors and growth.
When Sparks graduated from Yuba College he went on to Fort Valley State in Georgia. While there he was offered the opportunity to play on the European Football League with the Zagreb Patriots in Croatia. Sparks set off on his journey this past spring and watching his adventure via social media videos and pictures was captivating.
This August Sparks returned home to finish up at Fort Valley State and graduate. He says of his journey, “I learned that we have to be happy with what we have. I met kids there and one girl, she wants to be a veterinarian and she has more challenges to face than I do. I realized I can’t take things for granted.”
Sparks volunteers with youth in Georgia and is leading a movement called “How God Changed Me,” as well reaching out to youth by speaking He hopes to write a book about his journey to inspire young people, or anyone really, to, as he says, “Take initiative and follow your goals – regardless.”