Deryck Toles: Anything’s Possible

by Amy Nedrow, volunteer journalist with the Penn State All-Sports Museum.

Deryck Toles

Deryck Toles

On February 6th, the All-Sports museum hosted Deryck Toles, former Penn State linebacker, as he highlighted his achievements through adversity, including the establishment of his non-profit organization, Inspiring Minds, in a presentation entitled “Anything’s Possible.”

During the hour-long presentation, what becomes clear is that Toles has a passion for helping youth overcome adversity and reach their own potential.  He is all too familiar with it in his own life.  From growing up the oldest of a single mother with addiction issues, to the debilitating pain of a rare enzyme disorder that would ultimately cut his NFL career short, Deryck Toles is no stranger to obstacles and how to overcome them.

By the ninth grade Toles was on his way to a life on the streets; angry, often feeling alone, not concerned about his future and on the verge of throwing it away.  But then he discovered football.  And it changed his path.  He knew with the utmost conviction he would someday play for the NFL and with that conviction came the knowledge that everything had to change and that everything mattered.

For Deryck Toles football was the catalyst for change, the thing that gave him focus, proof that the world was bigger than what he thought he knew.  Even when Deryck was diagnosed with the enzyme disorder that would limit his playing time with Penn State, the football program remained his support system. He feared he would be sent home, but the Penn State program made it clear that there was still a place for Toles with the team.  When his professional football career ended due to a serious and extended injury, he admits this was a very low point for him.  During this time, Toles explained, he began thinking about his life, his adversities and his achievements–and what it would take for youth as troubled as he was to find their own catalyst. It was out of this train of thought that Inspiring Minds was created.

What started as an idea for scholarships grew into a program that since 2006 has served more than 500 youth living in inner-city Warren, OH.  Inspiring Minds strives to “engage, inspire and empower under-represented youth through education and exposure to life-changing experiences.”  Toles pointed out that it’s more than education;  the program focuses on respect for self and others, community, health and the potential to do or be anything—aspects of what Toles felt he was taught at Penn State, particularly with the football program. The kids involved in Inspiring Minds travel to see that the world is bigger than the city blocks they know.  Toles reminisced about visiting Penn State for the first time and never having seen anything like it.  He, perhaps better than most, knows what the kids in the program need to succeed in their goals.  But most important Deryck makes it clear that he knows that they can succeed. As he stated, “I know if I can make it, I know you can too.”

Toles gave an unabashed recount of the hardships he faced and the choices he’s made (both good and bad) because as he told the audience he feels that he needed his life’s adversities to prepare for what he does now.  He shared his motto “failure is when you quit,” as something he imparts on the youth of his program and his own personal motivation.  Deryck’s dream is to see an Inspiring Minds program in every state.  Perhaps a lofty goal, but Deryck Toles did not present himself as someone who does not succeed.

At times poignant and often inspiring, Deryck Toles, presentation “Anything’s possible” was not to be missed.  Check for future guest speakers.

To view Toles presentation in it’s entirety, visit

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