A gladiator on the field - his story "blood and grass" from the hard streets of Philadelphia and is Gainesville bound this summer - Sharrif Floyd plays for the fans. During his sophomore year in high school, he watched a documentary on the making of a NFL star where he learned that success is found in winning over the crowd. He remembers the message, not the player's name. It's that gladiator's flair to play to the audience that drives the motor of the nation's top defensive tackle.
For Floyd, football's the source of stability and refuge his home hasn't produced.
A Gemini by the zodiac calendar, Floyd acknowledges harboring the attached "two-faced" trait of those born under that star. Bearing weight greater than the 310 pounds which his 6'3 frame carries, Floyd's other personality is restrained within the ever-changing walls he calls "home."
A word devoid of much meaning, Floyd's list of residences is comparable in length to the list of scholarship offers the nation's top defensive tackle has received; where Floyd has pillowed his head at night is reminiscent of connect-the-dots across the "city of Brotherly Love."
Two different grandmothers, an aunt, a teammate, a guidance counselor are among many who have provided him with safe harbor. Add in a man who Floyd, for 17 years, thought was his father, and you have a tumultuous upbringing.
A torn ACL sidelined him during his sophomore season, Floyd's quite, personal side has buckled just once, too.
When his brother told him the truth, that the man who raised him was not his father, Floyd packed his bags and left. The team's guidance counselor, Dawn Seeger received the first call from her student, in need of help. Floyd was in tears.
"When I'm in my house, I keep myself in a shell," Floyd said. "When I'm outside the house, I never show anybody that I have it bad. I always showed them 'nothing's wrong with my life.' I finally said it once, 'I've got a bad life'."
He had stayed with Seeger and her family for a couple nights during his ACL recovery. The man he now considers his step-father hadn't liked the idea then and fought it now. Legal measures provided Floyd protection and granted his maternal grandmother custody. An arrangement was made allowing Floyd to stay at Seeger's during the week.
Raised in Floyd's neighborhood, selling soft pretzels at the age of 12 on the street corner to make ends meet - Seeger has a staggering food bill with Floyd under her roof. Though no bloodlines or resemblance exist, the bond is undeniable. Dylan, Seeger's son, would have just one number on speed dial, that of his "big brother" Sharrif. He proudly shows the football star's press clippings to his friends at school.
Quiet at home with Seeger, the showman and crowd pleaser comes out as big as Floyd's infectious smile always shines.
Earlier in his junior year, Floyd received an invitation to the U.S. Army National Combine. Lacking the funds to make the trip to San Antonio, Floyd sought Seeger's counsel. Not five minutes after sending Floyd back to class would she call him back down to her office, promising that they would find a way. Baked goods were the answer. Sharrif wasn't sure the question at the time but as he says with a look down to his stomach, "I like brownies."
Sharrif Floyd at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl Miller Safrit, Scout.com
With the help of a group of special education students Floyd had befriended, brownies were pumped out twice-per-week.
"Nobody really paid them [the special needs students] any mind," Floyd said. "They wanted to feel like they belong. They just want to be appreciated."
With the help of the life skills class students, an estimated 130 boxes of brownie mix yielded nearly $800 in revenue.
One year later, Seeger is still nearly brought to tears upon reflection and it's not from the now-nausea-inducing smell of brownies.
"It wasn't until the combine where he performed so well that this has all transpired, like the domino effect," Seeger said of Floyd's national recruitment. "That's through his dedication and his heart and wanting something, not just for himself, but for his grandma."
A whirlwind recruiting journey ensued.
Possessing only an offer from Temple at the time of the combine, Floyd's mailbox flooded in the following weeks. He fell for Rutgers before the spring, initially wanting to commit. His coach, Ron Cohen, offered patience, suggesting the top programs wouldn't be far behind. A four-stop tour of the Carolinas in the spring preceded a trip to the Florida schools during the summer. Though Miami and Jim Leavitt's South Florida caught his eye, he fell for Florida.
The summer camp circuit cemented Floyd's standing as a five-star prospect. Foreshadowing his upcoming honor, Floyd received the Maxwell Award as the top player at Football University's camp in Philadelphia, one week after being named the MVP at TEST Sports Club's Premier Showcase. By summer's end, Floyd had hauled in four trophies in five appearances on the camp circuit.
Trips to USC, Ohio State and a second visit to North Carolina followed during the fall, with the Buckeyes eventually providing the lone competition for Floyd's signature.
Decision day, he said for months, would come live nationally on network television at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, building rumors and anticipation across the country. Travelling from Philadelphia to San Antonio, nearly 30 friends and family clad in "Team Floyd" shirts - perhaps the largest contingent supporting any one player - surrounded Floyd. He chose the University of Florida.
"He was dominant since his sophomore year," said Bret Cooper, a regional scout for All American Games, the founder of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. "Then you talk to him and your socks are knocked off by his class and integrity. After the bowl game this year, I was calling him 'Army Strong' because this kid is the embodiment of what is right in football."
Back at George Washington High School in Philadelphia, the ovens are firing again. Six players attended this past year's combine with the "Floyd Model" in full effect - the brownies helping to subsidize the trip. Currently, the sales effort is raising money to fund a party thanking the life skills students for their help.
With a few months until graduation, Floyd, with little of material value to his name, gives the one thing he can't be deprived - himself. Along with four teammates, Floyd makes weekly visits to a local middle school, mentoring students in need of direction.
His next couple weekends are booked. The Harlem Globetrotters come to town in two weeks and Floyd will be in attendance, flanked by his teammates and the middle school students he mentors.
First, though, Floyd will have Ndamukong Suh by his side at the Maxwell Awards. Perhaps it will be a passing of the torch as Floyd hopes to talk to Suh for a few moments and learn from one of the most dominant linemen in recent history. A journey, paved with brownie mix, takes him through Atlantic City for the Maxwell Awards and perhaps future greatness.
"Sharrif is a truly exemplary young man who has overcome many obstacles in his life to come to where he is at now, perhaps the nation's top defensive lineman," said Mark Wolpert, executive director of the Maxwell Football Club. "The fact that he played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl is a testament to the caliber of player he is, but knowing him off the field and his involvement in school and the community bears witness that he is truly a young man of character and integrity."
James Pallitto is a freelance writer based out of North Jersey.