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Meet the North Texas teacher behind the viral post from an NFL rookie who promised he’d someday go pro

“I’m just lucky enough to have had him,” said Derek Gammon, now a principal in Mansfield ISD.

MANSFIELD, Texas — Ennis Rakestraw, Jr. was on the phone with his future, and it was a moment he willed to happen in his past.

When the call came in from the Detroit Lions telling him he was being taken in the NFL draft, one man stood cheering and clapping – and wiping a few tears – thinking back on the exact moment Rakestraw wrote his destiny into existence.

“It was the last day of school in 4th grade. I don’t know how he did it,” recalls Derek Gammon, now the principal of Anna May Daulton Elementary in Mansfield ISD.

Back in 2012, Gammon taught fourth grade math in Duncanville.

Rakestraw was his student.

“Somehow, he snuck back into the school. I went to my class, looked at my desk, and the letter was on top of my desk.”

“You are the best teacher ever,” the letter read. “You always had and have my back and you give me confidence.”

That’s the line that mattered most to Gammon.

But here’s a line that made him laugh:  “I hope you’re alive because if I make it to a proffeinal (sic) player, I will talk about you.”

Credit: Derek Gammon
The letter Ennis Rakestraw, Jr. wrote to his fourth grade teacher

Ennis was a small-bodied and big-hearted kid.

They had bonded over football – Gammon is a native of North Texas, played for Duncanville High School, and is a diehard Dallas Cowboys fan.

He knew Rakestraw had big dreams and was smart and fast, but the teacher wouldn’t necessarily have picked Rakestraw to be the student to go on to play pro ball.

“He lived in the apartments right behind where I taught. There were times I’d see him out there and I’d jump the fence and throw the football with him even then after he left me,” Gammon said.

“I’d still text him when he was playing high school football for Duncanville, and text him in college for Mizzou," he said. "We’ve always just stayed in touch.”

Rakestraw was undersized, many scouts said.

“You couldn’t tell him he couldn’t do something," Gammon said. "You tell Ennis he couldn’t do something and he’s going to prove you wrong. And he’s proved a lot of people wrong to get where he is."

On night two of the NFL draft, Gammon joined family and friends at a party waiting for the call to come in.

When it did, Gammon pulled out the letter Rakestraw had left on his desk a dozen years before.

They hugged and took a photo together holding the framed note.

Rakestraw posted it on social media, and the internet fell in love.

“4th grade I made this commitment and if I make a promise I’ll keep it no matter how difficult it is,” Rakestraw wrote.

The post has been liked and shared thousands of times.

Gammon, a self-described introvert, even created an account on “X” just so he could see it and respond to it.

A few days later, Rakestraw sent him a text and told him to Google his name.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Gammon said.

There are dozens of articles and thousands of social media posts.

“Ennis didn’t write that letter because I taught him a lot of math that year,” Gammon said. “He wrote it because we were close, and we had a good bond and football is one of the things we bonded over.”

“Kids remember how we made them feel, playing with them at recess, how we took interest in them, how we’d go to their games, their recitals,” he said. “It’s a piece that goes unrecognized sometimes in education that teachers will do anything for our kids.”

Credit: Derek Gammon
Gammon and Rakestraw embraced after he was drafted by the Detroit Lions.

Gammon is not the kind to enjoy attention, but he said Rakestraw deserves every bit of it.

“He put a dream out there as a 10-year-old and made it happen,” Gammon said. “I’m just lucky enough to have had him. There’s teachers out there who’ve done the same I’ve done and more. And I wish all them could receive the same attention.”

Gammon said when the Cowboys play the Lions, he's determined to go.

He'll wear a Cowboys cap and a Lions jersey with Rakestraw's name on it.

"I’ve gotta represent him, gotta support him. He’s worked too hard for that," Gammon said. 

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