Michael Strahan never realized he could make it as a football player – let alone as a television host. His parents Gene and Louise Strahan, on the other hand, had no doubts about their son’s potential.
“I never knew I could accomplish so much,” Strahan, 44, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “But my parents never act surprised. They look at me as if there’s no limit. That helped me feel like there’s no limit.”
He’s certainly proven that to be true. In addition to his new role as co-host of Good Morning America, he’s also got a job hosting a game show (The $100,000 Pyramid) and giving football commentary (NFL on Fox). He’s a best-selling author (of 2015’s Wake Up Happy) and a designer (of the clothing line MSX by Michael Strahan, for JCPenney).
Strahan got his first big shot at 17, when his father, a major in the Army, who was stationed in Mannheim, Germany, sent his son to live with his uncle in Houston and try for a college football scholarship. Strahan had only ever played in peewee football leagues, and hadn’t played any high school sports at all.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Strahan recalls. “But because my dad never said ‘if’ or ‘possibly,’ ” – he said, ‘This is gonna happen’ – I said okay.”
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Five months later, “I got one scholarship offer to Texas Southern University, and I took it because that was the mission I was sent on,” he says. After that, he landed on the New York Giants, won a Super Bowl and made it into the Hall of Fame.
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“When I first got the call [to host part-time] a few years ago, I was like, ‘I don’t know about that,’ ” Strahan recalls. “But I realized, am I not doing it because I’m afraid to try or because I can’t do it? It was because I was afraid to try. So then when I finally said, ‘Okay, I’ll give it a shot,’ I found that I loved it. I found that I could do it.”
His departure from Live, of course, was fraught with drama. Co-host Kelly Ripa was livid at not having been consulted about the decision in advance and did not go on air the day after the announcement. When she returned the following week, her every interaction with Strahan was painfully scrutinized; Strahan signed off early at the behest of the network so that Ripa could begin looking for a replacement.
Reflecting on the departure, Strahan is candid.
“I wasn’t surprised by her reaction at all, but I can’t control somebody else’s actions,” he says now of the fallout. “I was there four years, and it’s about more than just being in front of the camera.”
• For much more from Michael Strahan – including where he stands with former co-host Kelly Ripa, his unique family and amazing life story – pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
Now, after spending his slightly extended summer juggling his other work commitments and travel, he’s back on air and ready for a fresh start.
“It’s so interesting because I never thought I would be doing this,” he says of pivoting to handle the hard news of GMA. “And it’s not easy, trust me. It requires a lot of work, and I work my butt off. Even after 15 years in the NFL and nine years on TV, I still approach every day feeling that there’s something new to learn.”
And if he ever needs anyone to keep him humble, he has his four people at the ready: his kids, Tanita, 24, and Michael Jr., 21, with ex wife Wanda Hutchins, and twins Isabella and Sophia, 12, with second wife Jean Muggli.
“My kids couldn’t care less about what I do,” he says with a laugh. “And to me, it’s all about family now more than anything.”
And for Strahan, fame is not what he’s going for.
“My goal is not to be famous,” he says. “My goal is to enjoy doing what I do and do it well, and make my family, kids, parents proud. Let’s see where life goes after that.”