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Sad Mother's Day for Jets rookie Griffin


Originally published: May 12, 2012 6:19 PM

Updated: May 12, 2012 7:57 PM

By KIMBERLEY A. MARTIN  kimberley.martin@newsday.com


Photo credit: Newsday/Kimberley A. Martin | Robert T. Griffin II, a rookie offensive lineman with the Jets, has a tattoo of his late mom on his left arm.

With one hand, Robert Griffin swept away a few dark-brown dreadlocks hanging in front of his red-rimmed eyes, then spun around slowly on his stool.

The Jets rookie stretched his long arm inside his locker and delicately picked up a white plastic bracelet with two iridescent magnets.

Griffin then held up the keepsake with unbearable pain in his eyes.

"I wear this band everywhere I go," he said of the elastic power-balance bracelet. "I just don't wear it in practice because I don't want it to break.''

He paused, then said softly: "If it breaks, my heart's going to break. I gave it to her. And when she left me, I took it off of her."

Sundayis the first of many Mother's Days that Robert Griffin will spend without his. And the pain of losing her is as fresh now as it was five months ago.

With a heavy heart, the Baylor right guard played in the Bears' 67-56 Alamo Bowl win over Washington on Dec. 29 -- eight days after his mother passed away.

The next morning, he attended her funeral.

Brenda Jean Moore-Griffin was just 48 years old when she died of liver cancer.

His world crushed, Griffin -- not to be confused with Robert Griffin III, his Heisman Trophy-winning Baylor teammate -- turned to the one person who could help ease his pain: teammate Terrance Ganaway.

Ganaway's story is strikingly, and sadly, similar to Griffin's. A year before he enrolled at Baylor, he lost his mother to kidney cancer. Charlor Mae Ganaway died at home on July 1, 2008, at the age of 48.

"It sprung up on us and boom," Ganaway said, snapping his fingers. "It was all over."

As luck, fate or a higher power would have it, the Jets selected both Ganaway and Griffin 202nd and 203rd overall, respectively, in this year's NFL draft. Their bond is more than just a friendship forged through Griffin blocks on big Ganaway runs. The pair emerged as more than just teammates after successful seasons at Baylor -- and their bond already has helped their transitions to the NFL.

"I love him to death," said Griffin, whose sleeveless steel-gray T-shirt revealed one of his many tattoos: a pair of hands clasped over a cross with "Brenda" written in cursive underneath on his left arm. "I'm so glad that God put him in this situation with me."

Griffin, 22, turned off his phone when he learned of his mother's passing. For the entire day he refused to talk to anyone. But when he emerged from his fog, Ganaway was the first person he called.

"I didn't go to my head coach, I didn't go to friends," the 6-6, 335-pound Griffin said. "I went to Terrance."

Ganaway, of course, spoke from the heart and from experience. After his freshman season at the University of Houston in 2007, he quit football to be near his family in DeKalb, Texas. He enrolled at Texarkana College and worked at a law firm to help support his family. He returned to football in 2009, choosing to join a Baylor team led by Art Briles, his old head coach at Houston.

Mature beyond his 23 years, the running back -- who rushed for 200 yards and five touchdowns in the Alamo Bowl -- comforted Griffin as best he could.

"The easiest thing in life is to give up when something gets hard," said Ganaway, who got married less than a month ago. "I just told him to keep fighting. Your mom raised a great son and she's going to teach you a lot of things after she's gone, more than you'll ever know. My mom is still teaching me and I know his mom is still with him. I told him I would be a brother to him and just encourage him along the way."

Briles allowed Griffin to stay with his family for a few days in Euless, Texas, while Baylor traveled to San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl -- a gesture for which the guard still can't express enough thanks. But in that moment, "you don't even think about football," Briles said.

He would know. Briles was Griffin's age when his parents and aunt died in a car crash on their way to see him play at the University of Houston in 1976.

"It's an inner pain that never leaves," the coach said, "but what you have to do is create positives out of it. Remember the smiles, remember the hugs, remember that she's always with you spiritually."

The morning after the Alamo Bowl, Griffin attended his mother's funeral. By then, the emotional high of the Bears' first victory in a bowl game since 1992 had given way to the sinking reality that his mother -- who worked three jobs to provide for him and his older sister, Varmelia Moore -- was gone.

Both Griffin and his sister felt compelled to pay tribute to her during her service at Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.

"To hear him say 'I played that game for my mom and for my family,' it was really touching," said their maternal aunt, Annie Neblett, who added that Griffin shares his mother's gentle and giving nature. "He just let everybody know how hard his mom really worked for him."

Both Griffin and Ganaway lamented that their mothers cannot witness their NFL journeys in person. But their mothers' legacies live on in them, they said, through their actions on and off the field.

"The best qualities you see in me is what my mom was: strong, caring and selfless," said Ganaway, who is one of 11 children and the nephew of former NFL linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. "[she was] just a go-getter. There was nothing that she couldn't achieve."

The pride Briles has for Griffin and Ganaway is evident in his words. He praised their athletic accomplishments and their mental fortitude, adding that Griffin and Ganaway "found reasons to excel rather than excuses to fail." And the coach has no doubt that being together on the Jets will help them both professionally.

"They're going to feed off each other, and that's a tremendous boost and benefit for both of them," Briles said. " . . . Both of these guys have a story, and they're both making their own way in the world with the right focus in mind."

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I live an hour from Waco and had no idea about this story or the bond that Griffin and Ganaway seem to have. Certainly have a newfound hope that these two make the squad together. Ganaway has a much better shot at sticking around long term, but you have to think that these guys being drafted back to back would only strengthen their bond and instill in them the drive and determination that will be required for them to succeed in the NFL.

Best of luck to them both and I hope they enjoy today as much as possible. I am sure their mothers would be extremely proud of the wonderful young men they brought into this crazy world.

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For Jets RB Terrance Ganaway, it's all about making his late mother proud

Published: Sunday, May 13, 2012, 6:00 AM By Jenny Vrentas/The Star-Ledger


Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIREInspired by his late mother, Charlor Mae, Terrance Ganaway hopes to become an impact player and supplement Shonn Greene in the Jets backfield.

A running back’s season is measured in yards, like the 1,547 Terrance Ganaway ran for at Baylor last year. But four years ago, the key distance for him was 33 miles, the length of the commute between Texarkana College and his hometown of DeKalb, Texas.

Texarkana is a community college with no football team, but that didn’t matter to Ganaway at the time. When he enrolled there in the fall of 2008, he had just lost the source of strength in his life, and he retreated home.

But Charlor Mae Ganaway, who died after a battle with kidney cancer at the age of 48, was also the reason her second-youngest son found his way to Baylor — back to football, and back on a path that led to him becoming a sixth-round draft pick of the Jets last month.

“It was nothing we said,” Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery recalled in a recent phone interview. “Terrance found some peace, and he really wanted to make his mom proud.”

Ganaway has always been driven by his mother, even in ways as simple as her undeniable presence at every one of his high school football games, cheering “Ganaway!” so loud her voice could be heard around the stadium.

When doctors found Ganaway had an enlarged heart early in high school, his mother encouraged him not to quit on his football dreams.

That’s why he knows his mother would have been so proud two weeks ago, when Ganaway got the call from coach Rex Ryan, surrounded by at least 50 friends and family members at a cookout at older brother Alonzo’s house in DeKalb. Somehow, Ganaway lasted until pick No. 202, and he’s hoping to reward the Jets with the humble and hungry attitude he credits to his mom.

“The best qualities in her, I think I have in myself,” Ganaway said. “Whatever I exemplify in my life is what she instilled in me. You see hard work, she was a hardworking woman. She was disciplined, she fought for her family, she fought for what she wanted. It’s the things that I do now. It’s almost second nature; almost a gene, actually, in my cells, in my DNA code.”


After nearly walking away from the game, Ganaway now has the chance to compete for time in a young Jets backfield, supplementing starter Shonn Greene as another big back. The 6-foot-1, 240-pounder excelled at Baylor as a downhill runner with a burst, big enough to run over defenders and fast enough to break away.

Ganaway set Baylor records with his single-season rushing total and 21 rushing touchdowns last season. On a team with Robert Griffin III, Ganaway was the star of the Alamo Bowl, running for 200 yards and a remarkable five touchdowns.

Jets running backs coach Anthony Lynn worked him out before the draft, and he deemed Ganaway’s interview one of the top three in Lynn’s 12 years as an assistant coach. His ability to pick up concepts, and teach them back, stood out.

Ganaway, a consistent dean’s list honoree, called protections from the backfield to the line at Baylor, rare for a running back and a key to his keen awareness and field vision.

Transitioning to the NFL, of course, is another matter. But Ganaway has an ally: longtime NFL linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, his uncle.

They grew up more like cousins, living in nearby towns in East Texas. They slept over at each other’s houses and went to church together three times a week. Trotter’s dad owned a firewood business, and Ganaway and some of his brothers often helped out — chopping wood, stacking it and loading it onto trucks to be sold.

Trotter was in the midst of his 11-year NFL career when his nephew starred at DeKalb High School, a do-everything player who rushed for 2,815 yards his senior season. Trotter’s family members told him on the phone that Ganaway was something special, but it wasn’t until Trotter saw an online highlight video that he realized, “Man, this kid can run.”

Trotter believes Ganaway, 23, has the chance to be a “legit starting running back” in the league — and hopes his experience can take out some of the guesswork for his nephew. Ganaway planned to crash at Trotter’s South Jersey home this weekend on his drive from Texas to Florham Park, and Trotter was already cooking up a special-teams tutorial and tips on limiting blows to prolong his career.

It isn’t the first time Trotter has helped Ganaway at an important juncture in his life. Trotter, who was Charlor Ganaway’s half brother, saw how her death affected her eight children and her husband, Joe.

“She had been the motivation for that whole family, even for me,” Trotter said. “When they lost her, they lost everything. She was the rock that kept the family together, the rock that kept things going.”


Alonzo Ganaway said the children were never quite sure just how long their mom was stricken with cancer. She was the type to never let on that anything was bothering her. Before her diagnosis, she was living out a lifelong dream to drive 18-wheeler trucks.

But her health deteriorated when Terrance Ganaway was a freshman running back at the University of Houston. Charlor Ganaway was still determined to see her son play, even after surgery put her in a wheelchair. She and close to 50 family members made the 5½-hour drive to Houston for his first home game.

Charlor Ganaway died at home less than a year later, in July 2008. Terrance Ganaway was about to begin his sophomore year at Houston, but he headed home and enrolled at Texarkana College instead.

The period after she passed was his “darkest hour.” He lost his compass and needed to reorient his life. But he received encouragement from his father, his siblings, Trotter and his coaches at Houston, who later left for Baylor under head coach Art Briles.

“It hit him. He said, ‘Well, I’m just going to give up football.’ So he left that fall and came home to DeKalb,” his father, Joe Ganaway, said. “He got back in touch with Coach Briles, and he said, ‘Son, your mother wouldn’t want you to quit football.’ He did a good job staying humble. He stayed focused on what his mother would love for him to do.”

During his time back home, Terrance Ganaway reconnected with his Christian faith and ministered at the Oklahoma church where his father was a pastor for 21 years. When he was ready to return to college, he followed Briles and his staff to Baylor. Trotter, coincidentally, was about to make his comeback with the Philadelphia Eagles that same year, and he invited his nephew to New Jersey to train.

Terrance Ganaway’s return was not without bumps. His sophomore and junior season rushing totals — 200 and 295 yards, respectively — were almost equivalent to some of his weekly totals as a senior. But he won the starting job last spring, graduated early and started working on an MBA degree before he was drafted by the Jets.

When asked what his mom would say if she saw him now, Terrance Ganaway smiled and pointed over his shoulder. “Why don’t you ask her yourself?” he said softly.

As she always has, Charlor Ganaway drives her son, and that’s not about to change.

“She’s with me,” Terrance Ganaway said. “I know she’s proud of me, but I’ve just got to make sure I just keeping making her proud.”

Jenny Vrentas: jvrentas@starledger.com; twitter.com/JennyVrentas

© 2012 NJ.com. All rights reserved.

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Great articles. Losing a mom is not easy, but there is good that comes out of it. I can't believe its been 5 years since I saw mine. Everytime I start to feel sad for the loss of my Mom, I just look at my children, and get right back to be Dad.

I hope these guys make the team. It would certainly be good to have such mature young players on the squad...

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I live an hour from Waco and had no idea about this story or the bond that Griffin and Ganaway seem to have. Certainly have a newfound hope that these two make the squad together. Ganaway has a much better shot at sticking around long term, but you have to think that these guys being drafted back to back would only strengthen their bond and instill in them the drive and determination that will be required for them to succeed in the NFL. Best of luck to them both and I hope they enjoy today as much as possible. I am sure their mothers would be extremely proud of the wonderful young men they brought into this crazy world.

Great post and totally agree. It is hard to predict late round OLineman but I can see both of these guys sticking around for a long time.

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