Throughout my rookie season, I never forgot those goals I wrote in my journal and set for myself all the way back in training camp, the most important one being: "Be the best version of Tyrique Stevenson."
I feel like I achieved that. I became a better version of myself, elevated myself and took the good with the bad this year, knowing there would be a learning curve.
Another goal is winning Defensive Rookie of the Year. I wrote that down every day I came into the building. I would write it in the same notebook I took notes in about the game or film review just so I could constantly see that goal. Every day, I just tried to live up to that standard I was setting for myself.
As far as personal stats like interceptions, I hit some of my goals there. I had four picks this season, which tied for a team-high with Jaylon Johnson and Tremaine Edmunds. For me, it was less about the statistic and more about improving an area of my game.
I still remember letting two interceptions go right through my hands in the preseason. I kind of felt bad and beat myself up about it. I knew those takeaway opportunities would be rare during the season, so I constantly worked at it. During the season I would stay after practice and catch passes from Justin Fields. When I was at home, I made sure I always had a ball in my hand just to have that feeling of securing it.
I can't even put into words what it was like to see myself struggle with something I knew I was capable of, then toward the end of the year see all the hard work translate into progression. It showed me that by sticking to my craft, I got better.
I'm still in shock with my first interception during our game in Detroit. It was all instincts. The receiver kind of stopped running, but I kept going and the ball just appeared. I looked at it like "Oh my God, I got it."
My second pick came two weeks later in Cleveland and it was another instincts play, one that I still can't believe I caught. I didn't even realize I dove in the air for it. But after the game I was on the phone with my mom and my uncle joined in and said "Hey rookie. I didn't know you caught an interception parallel to the ground." I was like, "what?" I still watch that to this day and can't believe I did that. But seeing that made me realize I've come a long way.
The interceptions against Atlanta were more calculated decisions where I was able to bait the quarterback. That was the game that earned me NFC Defensive Player of the Week. I'm still trying to accept that I got that award.
I haven't had enough time to soak it in but my family is really happy. My mom is happy and I'm finding out this is a real big deal. It's not something little or normal for a rookie to get. I realized that when someone told me I'm the first Bears player to receive it in five years.
I feel so humbled to have it and excited to have a little recognition after so many people pointed out my flaws in the beginning of the season. My plan is to get the award framed and ship it to my mom so she can have it.
Throughout this entire experience of being a rookie in the NFL, I've dealt with doubts and negative opinions and thoughts from everyone, including myself. It's why I feel so grateful every day to be a Chicago Bear. I know I've been saying it since training camp, but every time I put on the Bears jersey and helmet and go out onto the field, I feel fulfilled. I still feel moments of shock that everything has happened the way it has.
While everyone has that "welcome to the NFL" moment, I think mine lasted the entire season. Every game at Soldier Field felt just as special as the one before. I would walk out of the tunnel and hear "Hey, Tyrique!" "Hey, rookie!" and I think "Wow, I'm still here."
Every time I looked up in the stands and the fans were looking back at me, I got excited. I don't think I'll accept that I just played my rookie season until next year starts.
Those moments stuck with me this whole season because I had a lot of belief in myself coming in after going through some challenging circumstances in life. I still always carried a small doubt in my head like "you know, I probably won't make it," but to see that I did make it and I quieted all the negative voices in my own head is still shocking. It's shocking to prove to myself that I'm better than that.
I do think the final game in Green Bay helped me quiet some of those thoughts, though. I remember that first game of the year against the Packers, I gave up some big plays.
To come back at the end of the season against the same team and make some big-time plays like the forced fumble to keep the team in the game was amazing for me and my confidence.
Personally, the most important play was the pass breakup I had against Romeo Doubs in the end zone, which led to the Packers coming up empty-handed on their first drive. In Week 1, I gave up that same type of catch to the same player. That really hurt. So to go back out, have another one-on-one shot against him and knock the ball out felt pretty good. It solidified my game and my confidence in myself to go out there and compete at the highest level.
It's difficult to put into words how much this season meant to me. From struggling as a rookie to silencing the negativity, this season was very humbling and very exciting. I'm just happy — happy to be in Chicago, happy to go through my trials and tribulations, happy to have the success that I did, and I'm happy to have gone through it all with the guys on this team, so shout out to this locker room for believing in me and pushing me. I went through a lot of good and a lot of bad, but I came out the best version of myself.
Back in training camp, I remember knowing I needed to experience Week 1 of my first NFL season — a rivalry game at home — to really feel like I made it to the league.
Now in January after wrapping up my rookie season, I still hold onto that feeling from Sept. 10. The atmosphere, the hype from the fans, the expectations — it was all so surreal. During pregame I sat back and just thought, 'Wow, okay, alright. I'm here. I'm in the NFL.'
And I was the first person to touch the ball. I returned the opening kickoff, then a couple plays later caught Justin's second throw of the season.
Starting from Week 1, those gamedays at Soldier Field felt like a movie every time. That's the best way I can describe it. The whole process is special — from going to the hotel Saturday night, waking up, calling the valet, having your car outside. When I drove to the game, I would see all of the tailgaters as I approached Soldier Field, then I would see the city to the left. Driving through the parking garage, being checked by security, having my own spot then getting photographed with my pregame fit and walking into the locker room. You see your jersey sitting at the top of your locker and think "this is another opportunity to be a Chicago Bear."
Then pregame is when things really hit you. You walk out to the field, see all the kids at the bottom of the stands yelling "Can I get your gloves? Can I get your headband? Can I get your autograph?" I was always like "I got you guys on the way back," then you jog over and everyone's yelling your name. You see the impact you have on people and recognize where you're at. It's like "man, you're doing it." The whole ordeal felt unreal. And it never got old.
A game that really stood out for me was the primetime Thursday night game against Carolina. It was my first night game in Chicago and we had the orange unis on which added a little different sauce to it.
I remember watching the Thursday night game between the Bears and the Commanders in 2022 and thinking "that seems like a pretty cool atmosphere to play in." Then a year later, I'm in that atmosphere.
There were some things dialed up for me in the game plan that I wanted to take advantage of. I loved the reverse play we had. It worked out the way I hoped and I took it for 16 yards. That play took me back to my peewee football days; it was pretty cool.
Then came the fourth-down play when we were trailing 10-3. I remember that being such a crucial point in the game which is why we went for it. The Panthers had the momentum and we were looking for a spark. We call those "gotta-have-it moments."
We called the play, I saw the coverage as I was coming off the ball and I thought there was a good possibility Tyson Bagent would go to me. I turned my head, he threw a good ball and I ended up getting 15 yards and the first down.
That was a huge moment for me. I felt like I really got my feet wet by making a big-time play on a big-time stage. It was fun. I got pretty hyped up and we got some points out of it at the end of the drive. I think that conversion kind of parachuted into helping us win that game.
Our game in Cleveland was also an incredible experience. Growing up and playing college football in Ohio, it was kind of like my homecoming. A lot of my buddies I grew up with were on the sideline to watch me and the team warm up. They were there on this journey from the beginning, so it was special.
Some of my former coaches that helped raise me as a football player and as a man were in the stands. I got to hug one of my eighth-grade coaches. I don't know how he got past security, but he yelled my name and I ran over to him and gave him a hug. I also saw one of my teachers from sixth grade who has been supporting me for a decade now. She and her kids have shown up to everything they can from high school to college to NFL games.
Just to see all the people that have made an impact in my life growing up, that had a hand in me reaching this point, was a moment I'll never forget.
What has stood out to me the most this season in terms of opportunities on the field is that I played in every game as a rookie. To me that means the organization trusts you to do your job each week. Not only did I play in every game, but I watched my reps increase from the beginning of the season.
Everyone in the building trusted me to be out there as a rookie to make plays, do my assignment, make blocks, be where I'm supposed to be and ultimately do what I'm supposed to do whenever they needed me to do it. Having those reps under my belt in my first year means everything as I end my rookie journey. You can't teach experience. And next season I won't have jitters — I'll have an expectation and the game will continue to slow down.
The life lessons I learned from my first NFL season will really stick with me throughout my career. Along with learning how to mentally stay the course through a long season, the most important lesson was to cherish the locker room. That's something Darnell Mooney really taught me. Through the roller coaster of any season, the best thing you can do is enjoy the ride with everyone around you.
I remember Mooney telling me "we are a part of 0.5% of the world who gets to do this. So cherish the the people that you get to do it with." It was so important to grasp that because coming into this, the locker room was one thing I was unsure of. I knew I could adjust to the football side of the NFL, but it was like "how am I going to fit into a whole new locker room?" There were older guys, new teammates, people from different walks of life, guys fighting for jobs, different personalities and attitudes. I didn't know how it was going to work. But it's been awesome.
I don't know how the media or outsiders viewed our locker room, but it was special. You could just feel it. You could see the relationships grow stronger and stronger as we got deeper into the season. You could tell it was different. It's really hit me now that this locker room will never look the same. There will be new faces here in a year. But I can confidently say I really cherished it, took advantage of it and squeezed every ounce of fun that I could out of it.