Thayer Munford Jr. reached his breaking point after a Week 4 matchup against the Denver Broncos.
The pressures of football were starting to wear him down mentally. The rookie had just endured a grueling Training Camp, going up against the likes of Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones every day in practice. While he acknowledges it made him a better player over time, consistently being tested by the two great players was a humbling experience.
He worked his way into the offensive line rotation, but it wasn't an easy transition for the Ohio State Buckeye. Coming off his first NFL start in Week 3 against the Tennessee Titans, he allowed a sack to Rashad Weaver in the 24-22 defeat, putting pressure and blame on himself.
Additionally, his mother, who Munford had always turned to in times of need, was diagnosed with kidney disease. Increasing anxiousness took over his mind as the pressures to provide for his family became just as overwhelming as adjusting to life in the pros.
"I was just out of my mind, " he said. "I was not confident in myself, I wasn't mentally there for everybody. I was just out on my own, all to myself. Everyone was asking me, 'What's going on?' and I would just tell them, 'I'm good, I'm good.' But I was not in a good place. I was messing up on certain protections, I was messing up on certain run plays. I was just mentally not all there."
The Raiders' first victory of the season against the Broncos didn't soothe Munford's mind. He found himself inside of a mental hell, with 13 games remaining in the season. One thing became clear to him: he needed help.
Football had always been an outlet for the 6-foot-6, 320-pounder. He describes himself as an introvert, but on the football field he's able to transform into a brash, bruising player, imposing his will on others. He was a highly touted four-star recruit hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio. Early in his football career, he was going out with the mission of "trying to hurt somebody the best I could, because I had all this built up energy I didn't know how to control."
He credits his parents for helping him navigate his pent-up aggression on the field. However, as he left for college and ultimately the NFL, it became an extremely difficult task to control. He realized his support circle had to go beyond his parents.
"Jermaine Eluemunor, Kolton Miller and Andre James – they really helped me out forget about football," Munford said. "I didn't bring much up to them, but made me forget about football. I also talked about some of my family stuff with Dylan Parham. We're draft classmates and going through some of the same stuff. He would just tell me, 'It would be all good, it's our rookie year and we don't know how to handle stuff quite yet. Let's just take it one day at a time.'
"[Assistant offensive line coach] Cam Clemmons and Jean Fajardo, our team psychologist – they helped me out so much mentally. For a couple of weeks after that Broncos game, I was not in a good place at all. So they scheduled for us to have meetings every day after practice to see where I was, and if it wasn't good we'd talk about it. And outside of football I'd talk to my fiancé and she definitely helped me out a lot with certain things. DeAngelo Shears and Montelle Sanders [in player engagement], they also knew what was going on with me mentally.
"Having that support system around me trying to help me out mentally [to] get through the year and those long, hard days was nice."
Going into his second season in the Silver and Black, the tackle is much more at ease within his life. He's found ways to positively channel his energy into other avenues including video games, music and quiet days to himself to help de-stress. He's also become more intentional with his family and friends in his inner circle, relaying his needs to them. His main priority is football, so he can continue to take care of the people closest to him. But he's also learned it's OK to tell people "no" for the betterment of his own mental psyche.
While his mental health started to take a toll early his rookie season, it's truly something he said he's always dealt with – and something that will always need to be addressed. The month of May serves as Mental Health Awareness Month to help fight the stigma and provide support around mental illness, as 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience a mental health condition each year, per the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
For any young professional athletes or young people in general dealing with the same mental strains as Munford, he'd like to provide a small piece of advice.
"Live in the present. Don't look back, don't look forward. Just stay in the present. If anything happens in life, don't think about it too much. Because as soon as you think about it too much, you'll mess up later on. And that's where I had to come to a realization with myself: live in the present, don't worry about the future, don't worry about the past.
"The past is the past, the future is going to be the future. Focus on what you've got to do right now."
View the best photos from the first week of the Las Vegas Raiders' OTAs at Intermountain Health Performance Center.