The game Aire Justin played his entire life was taken away when he tested positive for a banned substance and was suspended for the entire 2011 season by the NCAA. His appeal was denied.
"It was very hard for me to take," Justin said. "Growing up football was my life and that was what I dedicated myself too as well as school work. I grew up in a football family and it was devastating to hear the news that my senior season was taken away."
Justin told CF.C he tested positive for what he believed was a supplement that wasn't banned. The worst was that he used the product for just six days, no appreciable benefit could have been incurred. It nevertheless cost the redshirt senior monstrously.
"I thought it was a protein powder but obviously it wasn't," Justin said. "It was a bad decision and obviously I've had to live with that decision but I've just had to find the positives from the negatives and keep pushing forward."
Pushing forward has meant giving back to the Cougars. Justin could have just become another face in the crowd on Saturdays in the fall, but that's not him, he says. Justin has instead been at every practice this season, helping out in drills and sharing his accrued football advice and wisdom with the young players. The decision to lend his voice to a team he could no longer play for was a simple one.
"For one, my love of the game," Justin said. "My love of this Cougar organization and my friends that are still on the team that are like brothers to me. I wasn't going to walk away from them or this program where I put (in) so much work. I was going to give whatever help I could and provide any kind of knowledge that could help this team -- so they can be the best they can be."
One of the players Justin has mentored is redshirt sophomore starting CB Nolan Washington.
"He's been great for me," Washington said. "He's taught me a lot of things and given me pointers that I've been using out in practice and during games. We'd like to have him out there with us but he's still getting us better and that's all that matters."
Justin’s game-day preparations now take place without football pads, but getting his fellow Cougs ready for action each week holds its own special rewards.
"I got a lot of support," Justin said. "There were plenty of people outside the team including students who would come up to me and say how they appreciate me staying around to help out the team as much as I can. I appreciate everyone that has recognized me and what I'm trying to do for the Cougs.
"I would rather still be on the field. It's kind of hard having my knowledge for the game and calling out plays that I know the offense might run and not be able to be out there to stop them. But being a coach is good because I can be a figure that can gradually help a younger player step by step."
Justin is on pace to graduate with his Bachelors in English with an emphasis in rhetoric and professional writing. He will don a cap and gown on December 10 for the WSU winter commencement ceremony, but says his plans following graduation won't immediately be focused around his passion for writing, rather, they will be on his love for the pigskin.
Justin plans on moving to Arizona as soon as he graduates to continue his training for the WSU pro-day. Justin told CF.C his cousin Airabin Justin, who played five seasons in the CFL and had a brief stay with the Baltimor Ravens, is starting up his own personal training project, Showtyme Performance, where he will be working out to get his body in top football shape.
"Me and football is not over," Justin said. "I'm still chasing that dream and I'll be ready for the pro-day. I'll see where that takes me but even if the NFL is not my next step, I can always go play in Canada, the UFL, or even arena football."
In the end, Justin chose to stay with the Cougs, to help out his teammates in their bid for a bowl season in 2011. Similar to QB Marshall Lobbestael, who has praised and supported QB Jeff Tuel in his recovery, Justin reaffirms the team first mentality the Cougs pride themselves on. Justin may not be on the official football roster, but his hard work and determination undoubtedly has cemented his place within the Cougar family, a place where the Cougar Nation can welcome him with open arms.