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DeAngelo Tyson's beacon of hope.


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*** New article on Tyson, followin closely other ones. I like Michelle's stuff. "

DeAngelo Tyson's beacon of hope

Headliner in UGA recruiting class finds refuge in boys home

By MICHELLE HISKEY

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 02/06/08

Statesboro -- Coaches across the country wanted defensive tackle DeAngelo Tyson, and today he'll sign with the University of Georgia. But behind this shining moment is a darker, personal search for recognition from his blood kin.

He tried to recruit back into his life family members who abandoned or abused him. When they let him down, he did the same to his football team.

At 18, Tyson is today getting what so many people value in football a college scholarship. So far, he hasn't secured what he thought he wanted most a blood-related family.

A bigger family, though, has claimed him and kept his football future alive.

Everything about Tyson is large, including Bambi eyes that absorb all and reveal little. He recalls his life in a whispery monotone mismatched to his 6-foot-2, 304-pound body.

He was 8 when he showed his bruised arm to a school counselor, who got him into foster care. Tyson blamed himself for the separation.

"I felt I had told on my mama," he said.

Soon he returned to her care, but, "I got my arm broken," he said.

Tyson recalled his dad calling him once on the phone, seeing him once, then nothing.

Tyson moved in with an aunt in Savannah for nine months, but she "thought it was better for me to go home."

Home, from the time he was 11, was Joseph's Home for Boys in Statesboro, about 200 miles southeast of Atlanta.

Tyson lived with as many as 14 other boys with stories of family rejection.

"We got boys whose homes were too crowded, like five or six kids in a one-room house, and DFACS would give them 30 to 90 days to relocate," administrative assistant Suzy Wagner said. "The majority of parents wouldn't do it."

The wild boys demanded attention. The quiet Tyson, in his own way, stood out.

"The first time I saw 'D,' " Wagner said, "his hands were so humongous, I thought, 'How big is this boy going to get?' "

His parents had left him DNA perfect for football: a naturally fast, strong physique that allowed him to dominate without hard work. By seventh grade, he was a head taller and 40 pounds bigger than most of his peers.

"He was a child who was built like a man," said Chris Lamb, an insurance executive who coached Tyson in middle school.

Tyson is so guarded that outsiders often see only muscle and mass, not what he is missing inside.

State rules were another obstacle to those who wanted to get close to him. Lamb and his wife, one of Tyson's teachers in middle school, underwent state screening before the boy could visit them at holidays.

They knew Tyson was afraid of getting injured playing high school football, that he doubted he was good enough. He saw himself more likely as a drummer in the school band.

The Lambs pressed him to use football as his ticket to college, "to be the man he never saw growing up," Lamb said.

But Tyson balks at making promises, because so few made to him have come true.

Several times, for instance, his mom planned to meet him. She never showed.

"I would think about seeing her, and I'd get happy," Tyson said. "Then she wouldn't see me, and I would just give up."

Before Tyson's freshman year in 2003, Statesboro High head coach Steve Pennington drove to the Boys Home to persuade him to play.

Tyson was noncommittal, and Pennington left with his fingers crossed.

"That may have been one of our best recruiting jobs, getting him," said Pennington, who started Tyson as a freshman. The Blue Devils won the 2005 AAAA state championship in Tyson's sophomore year.

But the headlines he made as a football player led to an identity crisis that almost cost him his future in the sport.

As a junior, he had reached out to his half-sisters on his father's side and started dating one of their friends. When he broke that off, his half-sisters "didn't want anything to do with my situation," Tyson said. "They made promises to me that never happened."

They returned, though, after Parade Magazine named him one of America's top players, and local TV featured him.

"They tried to come back in my life," he said, in a quiet voice, without bitterness. "Now I don't let them."

Those family members withdrew as recruiters descended. Feeling high about himself as a football player "I got the big head" after picking Georgia and worthless to his family, Tyson virtually dropped off the Statesboro team.

Pennington made Tyson clean out his locker, skip spring practice and told him he could return to the Blue Devils only if he got off the ego trip.

That led to Tyson's reality check about football, and another about his family quest.

He concluded he was wrong to inflate his worth in football and returned humble for his senior year.

"Most of the time, he was double- or triple-teamed, which took him out of the limelight," Pennington said of last season. "But 'D' accepted that role with grace."

Tyson also saw he was wrong thinking the thickest connection is always blood.

The Joseph's home, founded by a Catholic nun, was named for the father of Jesus, who dealt with an unexpected family thrust upon him, too.

It was here that an older boy taught Tyson football. The staff saw him through his first prom, a knee injury his junior year and so much more. Last month, he repeatedly showed up late to school, so the staff took away his cellphone.

"It's made me a better person," Tyson says now of the place that most formed him. "If I wasn't here, I'd probably be somewhere doing something bad."

Like prison?

"Or something worse."

Now Tyson calls most of the boys brothers. For two years, he has reigned as the eldest, commanding their attention.

"Typically a boy arrives with no sense of the future, no goals, no view of next month or next week or tomorrow," said the home's clinical director, Ken Johnson. "It's important for them to get a sense of a success path for them. 'D' is a beacon."

Anyone could see it in the awed look of a little boy at dinner recently. He had been struggling to cut his steak, donated by Wal-Mart. Tyson took over, the knife dwarfed in his mitt-like hand, cutting pieces of meat small enough for the boy to eat safely.

Forget Georgia, and football, and the idea of a regular family.

Here, Tyson always mattered.

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SacFalcFan (2/5/2008)

Several times, for instance, his mom planned to meet him. She never showed.

"I would think about seeing her, and I'd get happy," Tyson said. "Then she wouldn't see me, and I would just give up."

I remember seeing this happen to so many of those kids in those type of homes. Noone from their family would come to see them and they would act out due to the frustration and pain. Luckily for Tyson he had good people around him to help him cope.

I just hope Coach Richt does the same and keeps good people around him during his time at UGA.

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