The first in a series of stories about Darren McFadden's family as the Arkansas star prepares for the NFL draft
AP Sports Writer
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -From the outside, it looks like an ordinary home. A small one-story building on a side street near the Arkansas State Fair Grounds.
It's a bright, sunny Saturday in this low-income community. The neighborhood is quiet.
Step inside the front door, and enter a different world.
This is the world of Darren McFadden - or more specifically, the world of Mini Muhammad. From a comfortable seat in her cramped living room, she tells the story of her superstar son - the biggest name in this year's NFL draft.
``We're all having fun. We're all happy for Darren. He done brought a little bit of excitement,'' Muhammad says. ``We normally have excitement, but he's brought some good excitement.''
Muhammad's life has had more than its share of bad excitement. She speaks openly of her past drug use - and the obstacles McFadden faced growing up surrounded by gang violence. In a couple weeks, though, McFadden will realize a football player's dream. The star running back out of Arkansas is expected to be one of the first players drafted.
Muhammad plans to be there in New York when that happens, but right now she's seated across from a fancy television set. That, her seat and a couple small couches are about all that can fit in the living room. On the wall behind her is a picture of McFadden in action, a couple defensive players chasing in futility.
``Darren is in Tampa,'' she says. ``He was just in Boston - I keep getting them mixed up. He was just in Boston Tuesday, and he was somewhere else Friday.''
In a couple weeks, McFadden will know where he'll start his pro career. Then he'll sign his first pro contract.
``Everybody probably thinks that we're like, 'Oh, we're going to buy this, we're going to buy this.' That has not even occurred to us,'' Muhammad says. ``We're concentrating on Darren. We want him to get out there and be the best in what he's doing out there. ... Really, it hasn't even dawned on us about Darren going to the draft. It won't dawn on me until I'm there at the thing.''
Mike Conley Sr., who represents McFadden, stands outside the house a short while later. Muhammad wants the agent around when she's talking about her son, but Conley is mostly an observer as the running back's talkative mother tells the family's story.
``Mini tells you like it is,'' Conley says. ``There's no scripts, no censoring.''
Conley is familiar with the changes families face as they prepare for the financial benefits of athletic stardom.
``They really don't have a conceptual idea of the money Darren can make, which is not a bad thing,'' Conley says. ``To be honest with you, none of us would, coming from most of our backgrounds.''
McFadden's family is used to the limelight. He's such a star in Arkansas that a horse at the local racetrack was named after him. Muhammad traveled to the Heisman Trophy ceremony the last two years - her son was the runner-up both times.
McFadden is the 10th of her 12 children, and her house is always open. She estimates 15-20 grandkids come through in a given week. One thing Muhammad will concede is that her house is about to become a lot bigger.
``It won't just be a home for mom. It will be a home for the whole family. I think that's going to be the biggest impact,'' Conley says. ``They're not feeling any stress that they have to be a certain way because Darren's making money. They're a close-knit family. They'll be a close-knit family with the money.''
McFadden's story could have turned out much differently. A couple brothers were involved with gangs, a scene Muhammad says has ``died down'' recently.
Muhammad freely acknowledges her own problems with crack and marijuana, saying she's been clean for about five years.
``I was tired - I was so tired of getting high. It looked like it was just there for me,'' she says. ``My children selling it, and I'd find their stashes. I just got my fill until it was like ... 'I'm so tired, Lord. I'm so tired.'''
One of McFadden's older brothers has been serving prison time on a drug-related offense.
``I'm not condoning it, but if you're going to do something and it's wrong, do it good,'' she says with a chuckle. ``They did. They took care of their sisters and brothers. That's how we were able to get a lot of stuff.''
No scripts.
That difficult life seems so far away when McFadden is racing down the sideline toward the end zone. How did he avoid the gangs and drugs that could have sidetracked him at an early age?
Leecie Henson taught McFadden in seventh grade and has been a mentor to him ever since. She credits McFadden's father, who isn't married to Muhammad but has played a major role in his son's life.
Henson, who now teaches in northwest Arkansas, says sports might have helped McFadden stay out of trouble.
``It seemed like he was always busy,'' she says.
McFadden hurt his toe in a fight outside a Little Rock club in 2006. Earlier this year, he was briefly handcuffed during another altercation at a bar, then released after he calmed down. No arrests were made at the scene.
``That's not Darren,'' Muhammad says.
In the grand scheme of things, neither incident was major, but the NFL is as concerned as ever about character. Muhammad is seldom judgmental of her children, but she says McFadden decided early that he wanted to avoid certain lifestyles.
``Looking at his brothers, I believe, and being around them. 'Uh-uh. I don't want to be like that,''' she says. ``He doesn't have to run with his brothers or people that were like that in those days when they were young. ... He don't need all that.''
Daryl McFadden, the running back's 18-year-old brother, is hobbling around on crutches because of a leg injury. He's an athlete too, built a little more for basketball than football.
``I'm going to try to go to the next level,'' he proclaims.
Darren McFadden went to the next level and beyond, and soon the family will learn his next stop. Oakland? The New York Jets? Muhammad doesn't follow football closely, so she's not about to speculate.
She does have a preference, though.
``I want to see him go to Dallas - ain't no sense in me lying,'' she says. ``I tell anybody that, because he's closer to home.''
Maybe after McFadden is drafted, the financial picture will sink in. Right now, though, McFadden and his family are taking things slowly.
``He has a line of credit at a bank in Fayetteville,'' Conley says. ``He has yet to use it.''
Muhammad understands her family's life is about to change, but she's content to downplay any anticipation.
``I would like to have me a Chrysler Aspen. I saw one of those the other day, and it was big and it seats eight,'' she says. ``I said, 'Oh, if we have to have a new car, I'll get that.'''
Finally, a moment of indulgence - but it's a brief one.
``I can't begin to express how I feel about everything that's going on in our life and everything that will go on in our life,'' she says. ``It's just a good, wonderful feeling, and I'm glad that I've got a beautiful relationship with my children.''

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