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Many college football players describe their team as a close-knit group or family and the locker room as a figurative home away from home.
But for some players—like defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson—the clichés of sports aren't as symbolic.
"In high school, where I lived never came up," Tyson said. "But if you were getting picked up from school and there was this big van picking you up all of the time, then you know that's not someone's real family."
Tyson, at 6-foot-2, 295-pounds, doesn't add the word extended next to family when he describes his place in the Georgia football program.
"A lot of things these kids take for granted, he's never had," Garner, Georgia's defensive line coach, said. "You know, having your own bedroom, having a big Christmas and Thanksgiving; things like that. I've got a lot of respect myself for him for the type of attitude and the type of outlook that he has on life given the circumstances that he's come from. I often wonder if it was reversed, would I be that good of a person? So I've got a lot of respect for him for what he's endured."
While Tyson spent short stints in various living arrangements, the most constant figure in his life became Houston.
The two went to elementary school together. Houston was a year ahead, and Tyson latched on early, almost like a kid brother.
"I knew he had it rough," Houston. "The older we got the more we would talk about it more and more. Once he gets close to you DeAngelo is a talker. But if he doesn't know you he's not going to talk to you. But the older we got the more we started talking."
The two became extremely close in middle school, as Houston helped guide Tyson through both serious hardships and normal everyday occurrences. Tyson rarely brought his living situation up. Instead, the two often talked about one day playing football together in college or the NFL.
They both say they never thought that "dream" would actually come to fruition.
"I always looked up to Justin. I still do," Tyson said. "He's a good role model, and I think everybody should look to Justin. He's a great guy, and if he continues doing what he's doing, he's put himself in a great position to be successful in life. He's always told me what's right and wrong. If I'm going through something he'll say, ‘I've already been through this,' and he'll talk me through it. He's just like a brother and mentor in that he teaches me what to do and what not to do."
Success on the football field followed the duo on the high school level.
Statesboro won the 2005 state title, as it became quite obvious both Houston and Tyson were going to be college players.
Houston was pursued first, gathering offers from every major school in the South. When Houston decided on Georgia, he essentially made Tyson's decision too.
"He pretty much told me, ‘Wherever you go, that's where I'm going,'" Houston said.
So Tyson followed to Athens.
Now, three years later, Houston is touted as one of the best rushing linebackers in the SEC, and Tyson figures to be starting at either nose tackle or defensive end.
They'll both be on the field together, just like in those dream scenarios the two rambled on about back in middle school.
"It's just like high school," Tyson said. "He was playing defensive end, and I was the guy in the middle. Now it's escalated to the college level. We're both going to be out there together competing to get to that quarterback."
Football has always been Tyson's escape. Yes, he's good at the game, but he enjoys the challenges football presents. Football mirrors Tyson's life experience, because nothing comes easy. There is always a struggle.
But in both, Tyson has overcome adversity.
Off-the-field struggles have never been an excuse. Tyson knew all along he wasn't living the way most kids did.
"People who knew and worked (at the home) gave me the best advice," he said. "They told me that I was going to be judged—people judge one another every day— but they told me that I knew what was going on and that I was going to overcome it. I think that's why I am the person I am today. I don't really take what people say too much to heart because, even though everyone is entitled to their own opinion, as long as I know what's going on and how I feel its OK."
In Garner's eyes, Tyson has grown immensely since the Bulldogs' coaches first spoke with him. Tyson has a quiet tendency about him. He's soft spoken and mostly doesn't initiate conversation except to those he's close to.
"I think he's definitely shown a lot of a maturity," Garner said. "The one thing about DeAngelo, he's so quiet. That may have something to do with how he grew up because just being an introvert and all that. He's a very intelligent guy. He's very levelheaded, and he has very good core values and good character. There is a lot of things about DeAngelo Tyson that you'll like."
Last year, 169 kids in the Stateboro area were living in a group home. Tyson is an exceptional success story to this point in his life, and he understands he's a role model for many kids back home.
But there are a few goals left to accomplish.
A bon-a-fide breakout season is his immediate target. But he is on track to graduate with a degree in housing. And the NFL looms as the highest achievement, once only a fairy-tale ending in the mind of an adolescent Tyson.
"I still struggle. I still have to do the right things," Tyson said. "I can't dwell on things that happened back then. I am a growing boy, and I am going to get older. I have to overlook the past to get to my future."
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