Derrick, 46, from Houston, Texas, first completed the Refrigeration Technologies program at Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center in Houston in February 2023. He then decided to stay on for two months to complete the electrical classes and graduate instead with certification from the Electro-Mechanical Technologies program in April 2023.
Thanks for your time, Derrick. What did you do before coming to Tulsa Welding School in your 40s?
When I left M.B Smiley High School on the north side of Houston in 1995, I went to Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to play football. After graduating college in 1999, I got drafted to the NFL development league. I played in the development league for seven years before I had an accident. A guy hit me in the back of my neck with my helmet off. The hit crushed my neck from my C2 to my C7.
Basically, my football career was over from there. But having been kind of smart with my money while playing football, I’d invested some money in starting a small construction company called Elite Property Preservation in 2000. I always wanted to have something to lean back on just in case.
Sorry to hear that, Derrick. Where did the idea of HVAC school come from?
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After I got injured in 2006, I just went to work at my company doing remodels. Then a couple of years ago, someone asked me if I knew anything about HVAC. I told him no, but it got me to thinking about it. I know how to remodel and rebuild houses, so why not learn another trade? Last year some stuff happened in my life, and I decided to go to school. Let me tell you, it was one of the best decisions that I’ve made.
Why do you say that?
Because what happened was not only am I making money remodeling, refurbishing, and rebuilding housing, I’m now making money repairing air conditioners, doing preventative maintenance, and things of that nature. It’s actually generating revenue for me. My new HVAC company is Da Cool Guy.
Awesome. What did you enjoy most about your experience at Tulsa Welding School?
The overall best part of the experience was the staff. Because no matter what you need, no matter what obstacles you have in your way, the staff at Tulsa Welding School will actually try to help you go above and beyond that obstacle or mountain that you’re facing. They try and go through it with you.
That’s what I enjoyed most about the school. When I first went to Tulsa Welding School, I’d lost everything. I’m talking about clothes, car, house. I’d lost everything. But the moment I walked in the doors to Tulsa Welding School, they began to start helping me gain momentum, to get those things back. I have nothing but the utmost praise for those guys.
Did you want to name a couple? They obviously made an impression on you.
First and foremost, Ms. Bridget Smith in Career Services, she is phenomenal. She is a phenomenal woman. She has helped me with my business, with my email address even. I had a real bad email address for my business, and she put me straight. Just that change brought me customers. That’s the first, and the second is Mr. Oneil Fuller, the Director of HVAC Training. Mr. Fuller could talk to you in such a way where, if you said you don’t know something, he’ll say, “I know you know this,” and then he’ll ask you just one question that’ll bring you to a point where you realize you do know the answer.
How did you lose everything? What happened?
My mother passed away. It was a crushing blow. Of course, she had no insurance, she had nothing in place. No burial insurance, nothing. You have to pay for everything. So, that’s basically what happened. I had to pay for everything by myself and that depleted all the funds I’d made, my savings, from the construction company. What made matters worse was the guy we were leasing the house from, a lease with an option to buy, reneged on the contract. He took the house back. That was just the downfall of everything.
I’m sorry about losing your mother and going through that. What’s your next goal from here?
I say it’ll take five years to get my company really up and running. My next potential goal is to transition from being the employee to being the boss. What I mean is when you are being a boss, you’re bringing the work in, you’re getting the contracts, but you have employees who are trained and have the qualifications to do the work.
My goal is transition from employee to boss. I want to be the next John Moore Services; I want to be the next Air Services Unlimited. I want to be the next Church Services. I want to be that next multimillion dollar HVAC company. That’s my next goal.
What do you enjoy most about working in the HVAC field?
HVAC is very intriguing because 90% to 95% of all problems related to HVAC systems have nothing to do with refrigeration. 90% to 95% of the time, there is some type of electrical malfunction in that system. If you are one of those people that liked to put puzzles together when you were a kid, that’s what HVAC is all about. It’s just a great big puzzle and you’ve just got to find the one piece that is out of place. That’s what I find intriguing: troubleshooting, trying to solve the puzzle, solving the problem.
Did you make some connections at school, people you will stay in touch with?
Oh, yes, I made so many friends with so many students. Even with guys that were in class a month or two behind me. They gave me the nickname ‘Unc’. Everybody, when they saw me, “Hey, Unc, what’s up? How you doing?” Just because I’m that type of guy.
First off, I’m a Libra, and we never meet enemies, only friends. I met so many guys, made so many friends. I even had teachers that would say, “Hey, if you got a problem, call me. If you need to talk, just call me.” That’s what just made everything so much fun. I made so many friends, have so many teachers that are friends, stuff like that. They just made it awesome, man!
Do you have a family, Derrick, any kids?
I do. My fiancée Tamika and I have been together for two years. We’re going to get married in the US Virgin Islands in December. Kids, I have one deceased and I have four others who are in college. Actually, my oldest son has graduated now; he played for the Michigan Wolverines. This is his second year playing for the USFL. He plays for the Houston Gamblers.
Football is in your blood. What advice do you have for students to succeed at Tulsa Welding School?
The first thing is when opportunity knocks, answer the door. This school is an opportunity. Make the most of it. Plus the seven months are going to go so fast, it’ll feel like seven days.
This second thing might strike you as odd, but it’s the truth. The school gives you a learning tool to use; it’s called Meta Quest 2. It’s a Virtual Reality (VR) training simulation tool. It simulates the experience of Electrical and HVAC training to help us learn trouble-shooting techniques when we’re not at school. Meta Quest helped me so much. When I had difficulties with certain things, just using the VR to learn how to repair something or how to do something correctly was amazing.
The third thing that I’d say to students: Have patience. It’s going to come; it’s going to happen. You just have to have patience.
If you do all those things, you’ll be okay. I mean, you’ll learn so much at Tulsa Welding School, it’s unbelievable. And those counselors and teachers there are not there to go against or argue with you, they’re there to teach you, to help you in life situations. They will make sure you are pointed in the right direction.
If you’re a TWS graduate and would like to share your success and be an inspiration to others, please email [email protected] to be considered for a Graduate Connection interview. Please include details such as your graduation date (month/year), program, and campus name (Tulsa/Jacksonville/Houston).