After a standout high-school career, Bess signed to play for Oregon State, but driving home a few friends just before graduation resulted in a stay in a juvenile detention facility because the goods he helped his friends transport were stolen.
“First and foremost, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t remember those times,” Bess said. “Being undrafted and having to prove myself a numerous amount of times, those heartaches, those tough times, those experiences in my cell molded me into the man I am today. At the time, being a young adolescent, I didn’t understand it, but being older now, I’m so thankful of those moments.”
During his stay in custody, Bess organized rec-yard football games. He sent a tape of himself in action to then-University of Hawaii head coach June Jones, who liked what he saw well enough to give Bess an opportunity to make the team. Bess eventually blossomed into a receiver who left school a year early, but went undrafted because of a question of his 5-foot-10, 190-pound frame and 4.6-second time in the 40-yard dash.
He later signed a rookie free-agent contract with the Miami Dolphins, for whom he caught 321 passes for 3,447 yards and 12 touchdowns over the next five years.
“Looking back, being undrafted and thrown in the fire my rookie year and having the opportunity to play, I’m just very, very appreciative,” Bess said. “We all know how hard and how frustrating this game can be, and we know that without opportunity, who knows where I’d be or where anyone else might be.
“From that standpoint, it was just a matter of never looking back and understanding and knowing that I can play and be productive in the league.”
Because of his path into the NFL, Bess has focused his off-the-field efforts on helping others avoid the pitfalls of the streets. Through his Bess Route Foundation, the veteran wide receiver mentors others to choose the positive options in life.
For his efforts, Bess was the Dolphins’ Walter Payton Man of the Year Award nominee in 2011.
“My whole thing is going back not only into the inner-city but abroad and teaching everybody that there is a best route,” Bess said. “That’s the motto for my foundation, ‘Choosing the best route in life,’ and that route is the positive way. We’re all going to have tough times. We’re all going to have experiences. We’re all going to have obstacles we have to overcome. We can always change our minds and our attitudes. It’s been the driver and the key to my success.”