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Raheem Mostert Learned to Overcome Adversity Thanks to His Youth Football Coach

Welcome to Why We Play, a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game.

Raheem Mostert was signed and cut by six teams in two seasons before finally catching on with the San Francisco 49ers. 

Now, the running back is one of the 49ers key offensive players, and owns one of the best performances in NFL postseason history. His 220-yard, four-touchdown outing in the 2019 NFC Championship Game propelled the Niners to the Super Bowl and stands as the second-most rushing yards in a single game in playoff history.

Mostert says his resilience in the face of challenging circumstances started when he was a kid growing up in a rough part of New Smyrna Beach, Florida. 

Mostert said his family life was difficult. But he found his calling on the football field at a young age.

"Playing Pop Warner as a kid really helped me get to where I am today," Mostert said. "It molded me into the type of player I wanted to be and taught me so many life lessons that go on with the adversity that I faced."

Mostert's Pop Warner coach, Mike "Chop" Stokes, made life a lot easier for the youngster who always dreamed of playing football.

"Having a coach who was a father figure to me meant so much," Mostert said. "Coach Chop was a man I always looked up to; he was there for me right from the start, when I was playing defensive line, wearing No. 62.

“He was always there by my side no matter what from the time I was six, seven years old. For someone like me who couldn’t always stay at home, because of so many different things going on, it was one of this things where it was a blessing to get away and finally have some comfort in a sport like football."

Youth football molded Mostert’s life — and it may have saved it. Through football, Mostert gained the opportunity to fulfill his dreams, playing at the college level and eventually making it to the NFL.

“Every kid has dreams,’’ he said. “Mine was to play football. But even if that isn’t yours, maybe you want to be an artist, or a musician, you still need that guidance. Youth football provided me with that."

And Mostert credits Coach Chop's guidance with making that dream a reality. Mostert and Stokes remained close during Mostert's high school years at New Smyrna High, his college career at Purdue University, and throughout all of his stops in the NFL.

When Stokes passed away from cancer in June 2019, Mostert honored him at every home game. He wore a red jersey under his pads with the word "Chop" hand written under the 49ers logo. After that win in the NFC Championship Game, Mostert immediately sent word to Stokes’ widow, DeAnne — telling her that she and her son would be his guests at the Super Bowl. 

"I was fortunate," Mostert said. "I had great coaches when I was growing up. My coaches helped us become good players and taught us to be good people. They went above and beyond, not to benefit themselves, but to benefit the youth."

Mostert said his experiences with adversity — from his childhood, to bouncing around the NFL at the beginning of his career, to dealing with a Super Bowl defeat and injuries that derailed another promising campaign in 2020 — have given him perspective on how to overcome challenges. 

Now, Mostert tries to share those life lessons with youth groups in the Santa Clara area. He shares lessons of football and life that he learned from his coaches as a kid and advises on how to deal with setbacks

"I try to reach out," said Mostert. "It's not just the kids I have parents ask how they should help their kids overcoming adversity, too. I just want to see everyone succeed in whatever they do."

Photo: AP/Wilfredo Lee


  • Youth Football
  • NFL Players and Legends