NFL prospect Sharrif Floyd looks back at hardscrabble Philly childhood

Inquirer Staff Writer

BRADENTON, Fla. - Sharrif Floyd had his Friday planned. There was a little window in the midst of preparation for the NFL scouting combine, enough for the George Washington High graduate to steal over to a white quartz beach at nearby Siesta Key.

"You can't argue on a beach," said Floyd, who is the best NFL prospect in years to have grown up in Philadelphia, in the city itself. "You can't do anything wrong on a beach."

It's not, let's get out there to party, Floyd said. He just likes to sit down and relax and look out at the water, stretching his eyes to the horizon.

"If I keep going far enough that way - across the water - someone's in the same position I'm in," Floyd said, someone with the same obstacles, "financially, growing up, or somebody's got it worse."

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  • There are other times when Floyd uses his own upbringing, when the darkness fuels his anger. He can use that, too, Floyd said. He takes it to the football field, intentionally. It worked at George Washington. It fueled him at the University of Florida. He'll take it to the NFL, he said. He believes he's learned how to harness any

    residual anger, channel it. He isn't imagining this. He explains exactly how he uses it.

    In a 50-minute interview, Floyd offered snippets of his life growing up, sometimes in North Philadelphia, also in the Frankford section of the city. He clearly has a circle of trust. In addition to his mother and great-grandmother, Florida's coaches are on the list. His high school guidance counselor and her family and others at George Washington will always be on the list.

    A man in Kennett Square whose dealings with Floyd ran afoul of NCAA rules? He's on the list, high on it. He's family now, literally.

    The NCAA is not on the list. There's an old teacher, not on the list. Floyd doesn't remember her name, only her actions. And there's a man who will never make the list.

    Maybe Floyd offered glimpses of all this because his work at IMG Academy, where he went to prepare for the combine, wasn't just physical. He had been thinking about interviews with teams next weekend at the combine in Indianapolis, about being poked and prodded, "spun and twirled," as he put it, physically and psychologically. He's ready to tell them about himself.

    For weeks, Floyd, the top NFL prospect in years to have grown up in Philadelphia, in the city itself, has focused not just on the draft, but specifically on the combine. The program at IMG isn't all about teaching football skills. They're teaching to the test, taking physical gifts and insuring they can be quantified.

    "He's very dynamic," said Loren Seagrave, a former coach of Olympic sprinters who is the IMG Academy's director of speed and movement. "When we're out working on technique and he's doing speed work, he's got a bounce that you see out of typical sprinters. But he weighs almost 300 pounds. He's a massive man."

    A high school all-American at George Washington, Floyd was a third-team all-American in 2012 for the Gators. Before the season, Floyd said, Florida coach Will Muschamp told him that if he was projected to be a first-round draft choice, "you're out of here." That meant a lot, Floyd said. The junior could put draft questions aside and focus on his season, which he believes he did.

    "I sat down after the season with my coaches - before I said anything, they said, 'Go, go into the draft this year; you had a hell of a year.' "

    At 6-foot-3 and about 300 pounds, Floyd played multiple positions on Florida's defensive line. He thinks defensive tackle in a 4-3 system suits him, although he wouldn't mind playing end in a 4-3 or 3-4. Wherever a team needs him, Floyd said, he can get it done.

    But he likes the idea of being a "disrupter" from defensive tackle.

    "The faster they can get off the ball and get in the backfield, you don't even have to make the play, but if you knock a guard off, knock off a pulling guard that's coming, you've freed up a linebacker," Floyd said. "If you're disruptive and need more than one guy to block you, it's going to be kind of hard for an offense. That's how we put it together this year at Florida. We made it stressful."

     

    Problems stay at home

    Growing up in North Philadelphia, Floyd was sensitive to the meanings behind words and actions. Sometimes, it wasn't hard. A teacher in either fifth or sixth grade called home one time, Floyd said, and said, "You know, that kid needs a shower." Floyd was shocked and hurt. He took showers.

    "I walk in class and she said, 'Please go sit in the back of the classroom.' " He was a big boy even then, but go sit in the back?

    "You want me to sit in the front if you want me to learn," Floyd said.

    His favorite early teacher was for first and second grade, same teacher for both grades. "Room 122" at Grover Cleveland Elementary, Floyd said. He'll never forget her, he said.

    "She didn't care about anything outside, she just wanted to teach, and she cared about it," Floyd said. "The reason I am how I think I am, besides my mom and my great-grandmother, and what I've been through, is going in her classroom for two years straight and seeing that she had a smile on her face every day, no matter what's going on at home, seeing that she cares, and wants to teach you, and if you've got a question, she's excited to answer it."

    He tried to use that philosophy - "problems at home stay at home" - he said, even after Sharrif moved out when he was 16.

    "I found out my father wasn't my father, so I moved out, because of the way I was treated growing up," Floyd said. "I was abused. I've pretty much been beaten with everything you can think of, at a young age. On punishment for nothing. I remember I got beat for not getting in the shower fast enough."

    For how long?

    "For 16 years," Floyd said. "Say six of those years, he was in and out of jail. Those six years were when I was doing really bad, because I was living with his mother, who also had other kids to support from her kids. So it was like, I'd say about 12 of us in one house, 13 including her, and everybody got to eat, no room for seconds. Slept on the couch or on the floor, wherever I made it comfortable."

    For his final years of high school, he sometimes lived in the Somerton home of his guidance counselor, Dawn Seger.

    Seger, with children of her own, made it clear real life isn't like the movies. Sharrif's story isn't The Blind Side.

    "As parents, we try to give them strategies and tools to help them," Seger said. "Sometimes it's hard for teenagers to hear that coming from a parent figure. Here was a kid who had a toolbox but didn't have many tools to use."

    Floyd showed his appreciation with small but memorable gestures. He once made a chicken salad sandwich and brought it to Seger at work. He gave his middle-school football helmet to Seger's son, who was in elementary school at the time and almost got in a fight when another kid tried to say Sharrif wasn't his brother.

     

    'Energy on the grass'

    But he moved out, into the basement of a friend's house.

    As this was going on, Floyd was turning into a pretty good football player.

    "See, the football field is mine," Floyd said. "I don't have to hide anything. I'm playing ball. So the feelings can come out. Not the good ones. Obviously, my bad ones. That's when I release my feelings.

    "When I'm on the grass, I put the person for those 16 years I've been living with on the opposing team's body."

    He knows that people might think of The Waterboy, when Adam Sandler played that kind of scene for laughs. "But it's actually really true," Floyd said.

    "Now I can play at the level that I want to play at and control it by mixing feelings together. I know my job. . . . Because through those 16 years, everything I've been through, now that I'm in the position I'm in, I can't go to his house and, you know, do anything wrong. Because that would be bad for me, and for what - what justice am I getting from that?

    "I've found a different way to channel that. So now I can walk out and see him and keep moving, and not even think about nothing. Because that's not where my energy is. My energy is on the grass."

    Floyd said all this without his blood pressure appearing to rise. He can take you back to his good days and his toughest days, as long as the trip includes a couple of hours at a place like Siesta Key.

    Once he gets to that beach, Floyd said, "whatever I was mad at, whatever I was upset at, is gone."

     


    Contact Mike Jensen at mjensen@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @jensenoffcampus.

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