|Being sidelined helps Clemson's McElrathbey find time to become the dad his sibling needs|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 25 October 2007 13:46|
The awards and recognition flowed his way after he took custody of a younger brother in an attempt to give the 11-year-old a stable home life - something their drug-addicted mother had been unable to provide.
``The Oprah Winfrey Show'' came calling. ABC World News Tonight named him a ``Person of the Week.'' The NCAA gave the nod to a trust fund that could help pay the brothers' living expenses.
Through it all, Ray Ray McElrathbey was beset by emotions that didn't fit into the headlines. He was 19 going on 20 and the accolades made him feel confused, helpless and unworthy.
``I shouldn't have accepted some of them, like 'Father of the Year,' because I was not father of the year,'' McElrathbey said during a recent interview. ``When you accept those kind of awards, people expect you to be the kind of person the award exemplifies.
``I was still just a kid.''
It took more than a year and a season-ending injury, but much of McElrathbey's doubt has vanished.
It didn't leave without a fight.
After the spotlight faded, the brothers were left to weave their lives together in their cramped town house. Classes, practices, odd jobs - once sprinkled with breaks for movies and late nights hanging out with friends - all took time away from Fahmarr (pronounced FAY'mar) and reinforced the uncertainties that shadowed McElrathbey as he tried to be a father.
When he first met with teachers at R.C. Edwards Middle School, he couldn't answer their questions about his brother's likes and dislikes - he didn't know what they were.
``I was just as much in the dark about him as they were,'' McElrathbey said.
Fahmarr clung to his new guardian, depending on him for meals and entertainment. As McElrathbey's old life drifted away, the pressure to make decisions for both of them increased. And he didn't get any help from their father, who was addicted to gambling and out of the picture.
``We were getting on each other a lot,'' McElrathbey said of his relationship with Fahmarr.
Things were also confusing on the field, where he only played special teams. Then he was switched from secondary to running back near the end of the season, another complication that took time away from Fahmarr and things like doctor visits and school meetings.
More than once, McElrathbey thought, ``'How can I do this for him when I don't have my own life together?'''
McElrathbey got through it and then earned praise from coach Tommy Bowden for the offseason work he did in an effort to make an impact on the field this year.
That dream ended when McElrathbey tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Aug. 16. Season-ending surgery followed. When he arrived on crutches to speak to his teammates, some of them cried.
Normally upbeat, McElrathbey was sullen and withdrawn. ``I wasn't me at the beginning,'' he said.
But after talking with friends and advisers, he realized his injury was an opportunity to forge a deeper bond with Fahmarr, who will turn 13 on Oct. 30.
McElrathbey rehabs his knee about three hours a day and he recently earned some recognition for his broadcast work during a cable replay of Clemson's 70-14 victory over Central Michigan. Otherwise, the time that last year went to team meetings and grueling practices is mostly spent with Fahmarr.
After a recent report card showed Fahmarr with a ``D'' in geography, McElrathbey got extra books, maps and study guides for his brother.
``He does a lot for me,'' Fahmarr said.
And their parents have entered their lives again.
The brothers travel regularly to Atlanta to visit their mother, who celebrated one year drug free on Oct. 19. Recently, their father visited Clemson along with 17-year-old brother Cornelius, and the sons sought some difficult answers. ``We got a whole lot of stuff off our chest,'' McElrathbey said.
Fahmarr attends Clemson games with his older brother, throwing a football on the sidelines with the kids of Tiger coaches. He's read Clemson's starting lineup for ESPN telecasts. People from the stands call his name and wave.
One couple asks the McElrathbeys if they'll pose for a snapshot.
Like in any family, it's not all perfect.
Even though coaches, their family members and staffers are allowed to help with rides, McElrathbey couldn't get a lift to Fahmarr's school one recent weekday. The boy waited more than an hour before the two could meet. By then Fahmarr's plans to attend a church gathering with friends had fallen apart.
``What's the matter, man?'' McElrathbey asked. ``Can't you smile?''
No deal. Fahmarr sat with his arms tightly folded.
But as his brother continued to talk with him, Fahmarr's anger faded. Soon, they hugged and then were chatting about homework, schedules and how Fahmarr needs to work harder if he hopes to start at receiver for his school football team.
More and more, their once chaotic, disparate lives are gaining a semblance of normality.
``He's been like the old Ray Ray,'' said friend and Clemson safety Michael Hamlin. ``That's good to see.''
McElrathbey thinks he's improved spiritually and as a student and a father.
``I believe that's why all this happened,'' he said.