Zeke Pike | From Athlete to Addict

04/28/2017 07:03 PM

Son of a 13-year NFL veteran who played in four Super Bowls, an Army All-American, at the Elite 11 with the likes of Jameis Winston, “the next Cam Newton”.

It seemed like Zeke Pike was meant to be a football player, but things aren’t always what they seem.

“What these people were saying about me and just what a waste of talent and this and that and part of it fueled me and part of it kind of, you know, took me to some darker places in my life,” former star quarterback Zeke Pike recalled, while sitting in the conference room of his dad’s gym.

Some remember the Dixie Heights quarterback who could do it all. His family remembers things differently.

“As bad as things got, and there have been some really tough, bad, times. I never stopped loving Zeke and I never stopped believing that he was meant for something really big,” Mark Pike, Zeke’s father, recalled.

“Um, I blew it. I blew it. Like, you know, now… I blew it,” Zeke added with a long exhale.

Everyone has a destiny.

“It was going to end really bad. He was going to be dead,” Mark added.

His younger brother, Malachi remembers, too.

“At times, you know, he would go off in his struggles and then he would come back a little bit and be my brother, you know? And at times I would be like ‘oh wow, i think it’s finally gone’ then it would take off again and go downhill. Kind of, at one point I don’t think I talked to my brother for maybe eight months.”

For Zeke Pike, it seemed clear that his destiny would be football.

“And I remember just kind of, loving it from the very beginning,” he said.

The 6’6” five-star recruit seemed to have it all- size, ability and skill- and a list of offers from his choice of college football powerhouse.

Destiny. That would be Zeke’s.

“But when I started to get recruited everybody started to put these expectations on me. I probably put more expectations on myself,” he remembered.

Expectations. They were high.

“I was never an overachiever in the weight room. I was never somebody who had to really work like extra hard. It just kind of came naturally to me,” Zeke recalled. “The game kind of came natural and I was able to balance it, but at the same time it was kind of getting out of control in high school and I would tell myself ‘I’ve got to quit, I’m going to school, I don’t want to get in trouble, I’ve got to quit,’ and I just couldn’t do it on my own.”

On the field, Zeke could do it on his own. His senior year at Dixie Heights he threw for 13 touchdowns and rushed for another 16. The game just came to him.

“He was just one of those guys that you wanted to watch and he was just a really good player. You know, everyone went around Northern Kentucky to watch him play,” recalled A.J. Mayer, a quarterback Zeke now trains.

Off the field, Zeke was playing a different game- a dangerous one.

“Like, failure wasn’t an option but I was slowly failing,” said Zeke.

Zeke began his battle with drug and alcohol addiction at age 13.

But everyone has destiny, Zeke’s was football.

Zeke committed to Auburn and early-enrolled in 2012, poised to replace Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton coming out of spring ball.

“I put myself in a position to start. As a freshman at Auburn and that’s kind of when the incident happened down there and I got a public intoxication charge in the off season and it was just kind of a mutual agreement to like move on,” Zeke explained.

The former All-American now a world away from Dixie Heights. Reality blitzed him harder than any linebacker ever had.

“I get out of jail the next morning and I get back to my dorm room and I turn on ESPN and there it is. You know, so it just kind of blew up really quick and that was kind of the first time in my life where my issues were exposed,” he remembered.

A few months later, a phone call from Charlie Strong at the University of Louisville. The Catch? They already had a stud quarterback, future pro Teddy Bridgewater. Zeke could come to Louisville, but he would not be under center.

“Like great, I don’t have to play quarterback anymore. Like I can kind of let go some of these pressures to be the face of the program and you know, all eyes are on me. I can kind of just fall back again. Be a part of the team,” Zeke told Spectrum News.

He settled in at Louisville, sitting out the 2012 season and seeing action as a tight end in 2013. He began dating a Cardinals cheerleader, Dani Cogswell. Things seemed good on the surface, but Zeke was still battling his addiction.

“The culture was kind of different at Louisville and I was able to manage it a little better and I was able to kind of put myself in a position to not fail drug tests,” Zeke explained. “To do what I had to do to get by and it probably wasn’t the best thing, you know, because it wasn’t the accountability I needed, but it was kind of the culture there at the time.”

Dani struggled with her own addiction too. One night the couple had a close call, but once again, destiny intervened.

“I was in the car one night. We were driving and coming around a turn and I don’t know, I’m in like a blackout and I wake up and next thing you know there’s a telephone pole in the middle of our car and there wasn’t a scratch on either one of us,” Zeke recounted.

Zeke was eventually suspended from the UofL football team stemming from another alcohol-related charge. He stayed on campus to be near Dani.

“So I’m sitting all by myself like, just miserable. Miserable because here I am- I’m not supposed- I’m supposed to be out on the field, you know, and that was kind of the like- I made the excuse that Xanax was that relief. Like if I take Xanax I won’t think about it. I won’t think about it and it will solve all my problems. But it got out of hand really quick for me. I was able to get checked in to a treatment center,” Zeke explained.

While receiving treatment in California, Dani struggled to manage her own addiction without Zeke. He came home to visit July of 2014 and made plans to see her.

“She said ‘well, I’m going to set my alarm for 9:30’ she was like, ‘call me at 9:30’ and I’m like, ‘alright, that’s great.’ so I go to sleep and I wake up the next morning and I’ll never forget the time- it was 9:33,” Zeke said. “It rings and no answer and I call her and no answer and I call her probably like five or six more times and no answer and that was so unlike Dani…a few minutes later I get this call from a ‘502’ number and I’m thinking ‘OK, maybe something is wrong with her phone’ and I answer the phone and on the other end was Police Chief at the University of Louisville and they were like ‘is this Zeke Pike?’ and I said ‘yes sir’ and he said ‘you know Dani Cogswell?’ and I said ‘yes sir’ and he said ‘we found her dead this morning in her dorm room.”… all this grief and all these feelings I was feeling from the loss of Dani and I went right back to drugs after five months of sobriety.”

Living at home, mourning the loss of his girlfriend and still battling addiction, Zeke was ready to hang up the cleats.

“I was at the point where I was like ‘you know what? I’m done with football.’ Football has been nothing but just issues in my life. You know, been nothing but just brought me struggles and emotional troubles and so I was almost kind of just at the point where I was OK with not playing football anymore. Then the opportunity at Murray State presented itself.”

His third division-one school, his last opportunity.

“I didn’t have that drive. I didn’t have that passion. And I like fought to find it for awhile you know, because I was like ‘I’ve still got it athletically’ but you know, the you quit loving the game. When you quit loving playing the game- I’ll never quit loving the game- but when you quit loving playing the game, you know, and just all the early workouts in the morning and the late night film sessions- and there’s so much more than just playing on Saturdays that people don’t understand, but when you quit loving to do those things that, you know, are required to be a really good division-one football player, besides what you see on Saturday, you know, it’s probably just time for you to step away because if you don’t love everything that comes with it, you’re just not going to be a successful player.”

Zeke got a third DUI, ending his college football career. He never played a down for Murray State. His parents had cut him off and he began dealing drugs to support his own habit.

“Three months later, after pushing everyone away – you know, just trying to self-medicate; staying up days at a time, sleeping days at a time and I’m sitting on the back porch with a 9 millimeter handgun to my head.”

Destiny, again.

His phone rang, inevitably saving his life. Determined to end his struggle, Zeke was ready to throw one last Hail Mary.

“I had this idea that, I’m going to go down to the woods at Murray, I’m going to drive back in the woods and you know, I’ll do it there. I’ll get as high as I can get and I’ll end it once and for all and just quit being a burden to everyone’s life. I hopped in the truck and I take off to the back woods and before I could get there I was pulled over and I was arrested.”

Zeke faced four felony charges and up to 15 years in prison.

Destiny.

And gratitude.

“I’m grateful. I’m grateful that cop pulled me over that night because I’m glad I’m alive today,” he added.

Behind bars, Zeke faced a new issue. Who is the one-time star athlete without football?

“What am I going to do when I get out of here? You know, if I do have the opportunity to go before the judge and the judge agrees to probate my time and you know, give me an opportunity- that will be my last opportunity,” Zeke said. “There will be no other opportunities. So I sat there and I wrote a lot and I wrote sermons and I got back into my Bible and I kind of got on fire for the word of God and I tried to also be a light for the people I was in there with.”

Zeke’s identity was always football. Without it, he really found his purpose.

“That’s when Number 8 Ministry, the organization I started kind of came about,” Zeke explained. “It was like, there’s got to be some kind of support we offer to the young people in our middle schools and high schools in our communities because this problem that we’re facing- this epidemic that we’re facing, is just taking over and it’s destroying families it’s destroying people’s lives and you know, I never dreamed in a million years when I was 13 years old and I took my first hit of marijuana that I would ever end up with four felonies facing 15 years in prison. I never dreamed that when I was in high school playing beer pong and smoking a blunt that I would end up being a junkie and couldn’t survive without a drug.”

After eight months behind bars, Zeke now travels across the country with Number 8 Ministries sharing his story with students and student athletes.

“Every time I hear him speak I still get goosebumps,” said Malachi, now a high school football player himself. “You know and it’s crazy. I look into the stands and I see just people’s jaws drop and that’s just really cool to me to see that he’s actually impacting these kids.”

His father Mark, agrees.

“When we go to speak, it’s incredible how he can communicate with kids. I mean, you can hear a pin drop every time he speaks and the kids are captivated by not only his athletic past, but his story. His story is like, you couldn’t make it up.”

He also plans to open a sober living home in Northern Kentucky, Dani’s House.

“I truly believe that everybody’s destiny is different and you know, what I’ve had to go through and what i do today as far as traveling and speaking and helping young people- it’s far greater than anything football could have ever brought me.”

Zeke also does workouts with young quarterbacks and stays involved by coaching in northern Kentucky.

“It’s been great. I feel like I finally have my brother back,” Malachi said after catching passes from his brother one afternoon.

“Just being able to be a mentor to these young athletes you know, who even though I’ve had my struggles, they still look up to me,” Zeke said.

Destiny.

At 22, Zeke Pike is just discovering his.

Watch the full story here:

You can learn more about Number 8 Ministries here .

Lyndsey Gough

Lyndsey is a Video Journalist for Spectrum News. You can catch Lyndsey’s work on Sports Night, the only nightly show dedicated to covering everything from high school to college sports in Kentucky. She loves covering all sports but it’s the personal stories that really stand out to Lyndsey, like the story of a community coming together to remember high school track start Trinity Gay who was killed. Lyndsey came to Spectrum News from WBKO in Bowling Green where she was an Anchor, Reporter and Producer covering news and sports. She’s a lifelong Kentuckian and a graduate of UK. Sports Night airs at 6:30 and 10:30 weeknights on Spectrum News. If you have a story idea for Lyndsey email her at Lyndsey.gough@charter.com.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest Sports Night info delivered to your inbox.

TWEETS ABOUT SPECTRUM SPORTS