"THE NEXT LEVEL: A GAME I HAD TO PLAY" is an unbelievable story based on the memoirs of the same name by former NFL player, Vernon Turner. The true story traces a plot that could not possibly be invented, because of the inordinate amounts of horrific tragedy, severe obstacles, and later, incredible inspiration. Vernon is born into poverty and learns at an early age the root of his mother's spiral into drug-addicted prostitution: his own conception, which came at the hands of a brutal gang rape. Although possessed of a small frame, he discovers the game of football as a means of escape from his cruel surroundings. Along the way, the premature deaths of his beloved mother and stepfather provide immense challenges in terms of keeping his family together. Through intense workouts, the nurturing influence of a series of coaches and Administrators, and inspirational brushes with legends Bo Jackson and Walter Payton, Vernon transcends his diminutive size by developing truly blazing speed. Notwithstanding an all-star high school career, he is not highly recruited and must go away to a small school, monitoring the affairs of his family from afar. History repeats itself in college, as an all-star career dotted by championships won does not lead to being drafted and the resulting financial security he is trying to earn to save his family. At the pro level, he falls short of making the Denver Broncos team his rookie year, but he does capture the attention of the Buffalo Bills, thus landing a spot on their practice squad; and, while deactivated for the majority of the season, he still earns an AFC Championship ring in 1990. Still, lasting success is elusive, as he bounces around for a few years, typecast by his size. He bottoms out in a Detroit stint in which the fleeting success he tastes is quickly snuffed out by a head coach who plays favorites with higher-pedigree athletes. Utterly discouraged by this turn of events, he finds himself being given an opportunity by a team desperate enough to trust talent regardless of its small package: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Upon being given a real opportunity for the first time, he breaks the club's 18-year drought of never having a punt or kickoff returned for a touchdown and finally has the kind of season that leads to a contract that can help save his family. Turner's defining moment comes in Tampa Bay, when he returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown -- the first regular-season punt return for a TD in Buccaneer history. The electrifying play was made even sweeter because it came against a team that released him a year before, the Detroit Lions. This memoir is a brutally honest and inspiring look back on the life of one of Staten Island's greatest football heroes... and greatest men!