GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- On the eve of his next chapter, before he caught a ride to the airport in his high school guidance counselor's car for a flight that would help permanently carve his way out of a rough Philadelphia neighborhood, Sharrif Floyd had a story to tell.
So he and his grandmother, Lucille Ryans, sat down for a conversation neither one has since forgotten. Floyd, a defensive tackle who is now one of the best players in the 2013 NFL Draft class, told Ryans about his hidden past. About the abuse, both physical and mental. About the solitude and anguish of his youth, experienced both at home and during his early years in school.
"Oh, I remember that conversation," said Ryans, 76, who's been living in North Philadelphia since 1975. "I told him he could be better than all of that, to not let any of it stop him."
His grandmother reciprocated with stories of her own childhood, when her mother pulled her from school to pick cotton. Ryans showed him her thorn-scarred fingertips and her dirt-stained knees, two eternal reminders of a tough youth spent in the fields.
We all have scars, she told him. Some exist on our bodies. Some exist in our minds. But none of those scars stopped her. And none will stop him, either, she said.
"I idolized her right then and there," Floyd said last week during an extensive interview with NFL.com. "Even to this day, she's still grinding and working hard to make ends meet. And I think it's about time for her to relax a little bit and enjoy the rest of her days."
It is his life's mission to help her do exactly that -- a goal he can continue to realize Friday at his pro day when he performs for scouts and general managers on the football field at the University of Florida.
Inspired In Solitude
The basement was small, but at least he was alone. His solitude was the blessing and the curse that came with the days he spent down there, where Floyd could escape the man who, he said, made his childhood most difficult.
This is where Floyd lived: in a tough neighborhood, in a tough home, with a tough man who, Floyd would later find out, was not even his biological father. This is where he lived, unaware that his real father had been murdered when he was 3 years old.
Floyd liked being alone, even if it was often forced upon him. He could think and focus; he could cultivate his drive and plan his escape route from the North Philadelphia neighborhood that stained his eyes with shootings and drug deals and impoverished circumstances.
"It was just me, you know?" Floyd said. "And it was great. I mean, I had a lot of time to think to myself. No one really asked how I felt about anything or how I was doing about anything. But if I could change anything in my life, honestly, I wouldn't change a thing."
That's perhaps the best way to explain Floyd. It isn't natural to see the good in the bad or find the right in the wrong. It isn't normal to digest an incomprehensible past and find any positive in the situation.
Yet Floyd found it. He used it. And now, with general managers and scouts across the NFL drooling over his football potential, he is on the verge of making the most of it.
"People want to make excuses, saying some guys are just the products of their environment," University of Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "Sharrif Floyd defies that theory. There is no reason he should be the kid he is right now. His background is as tough as anyone I've been around."
Floyd was bullied as a boy before gaining confidence in himself through football. (Courtesy of Sharrif Floyd/NFL.com)
Not until he was 15 years old -- between his sophomore and junior years of high school -- did he learn the truth: The man who'd scared Floyd through years of harsh rules and harsher punishments was not actually his dad. His mother dealt with a drug addiction. And his real father was dead.
The man Floyd believed to be his father was in and out of jail while Floyd was living in that house. Floyd moved out upon learning the truth, but that man has since attempted to denounce Floyd in the wake of his football success. Those closest to the situation, those who helped Floyd out of it, say they all too often witnessed Floyd's troubling and disparaging past -- a past that somehow still molded a person driven to succeed.
"Through all of it, Sharrif never made excuses," said Andre Odom, a close friend and mentor who also dealt with the hardships that came with growing up in the North Philadelphia area. "He was just a really mature guy who went about his business."
For years during his youth, Floyd's size made him a target for ridicule from fellow classmates. He weighed 160 pounds when he was in the fifth grade. His pants were often missing buttons because they were worn out, and he had no way to replace them.
"I was already at an age where my pants didn't fit around my thighs and hips, so those buttons would break and my pants would constantly be falling down," Floyd said.
Sometimes, he'd skip classes just to avoid the bullying and scorn. Floyd switched schools once, but he eventually ended up back in the same place. He remembers a teacher once calling home to suggest Floyd shower more often.
But as he grew -- both in age and size -- athletics entered the picture. Floyd started playing basketball, which led to football, which led to a meeting in his coach's office during his freshman year of high school at George Washington.
"My high school coach (Ron Cohen) sat me down and said, 'Pick a number,' " Floyd said. "I asked him, 'What number has nobody done anything with?' He gave me four numbers, and I said, 'Alright, 73.' And that was the number I made mine."
Floyd's ascent was rapid. He began dominating opposing players with his size and power. Suddenly, his life felt different, as if it had more purpose. It was then, Floyd recalls, that he had a momentous revelation: Football might be the answer to his hardships. This might be his way out.
"Growing up, I had a lot of anger inside me and wanted to get rid of it," Floyd said. "But I feel as though everyone has anger in them. What do you do with it? Do you go out and rob a bank? Do you go out and just hit somebody for no reason? That's not what I wanted to do. So I took it to practice."
His love of the game was instant, a bond that, he says, is stronger than everything in his life (well, except for his love of his grandmother).
"I can't get enough of it, even the smell of the grass," Floyd said. "You hit somebody, and they'll slide in the grass. And you'll get up, and you've got mud on your face, and you're just pulling it off. And you want to do that again."
So Floyd did it again. And again. And again.
Read full story here: http://www.nfl.com/draft/story/0ap1000000152528/article/sharrif-floyd-tackles-his-difficult-past-with-eye-on-a-better-future
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Posted By: SouthSue |
3/26/13 3:04 PM
Even the biggest boys can suffer bullying in their life but it drives them to become great
Posted By: resolve |
3/27/13 11:54 AM
Very respectful young man who has come a long way in his life. I wish you good luck with your football career Sharrif