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From homeless to the NFL: The story of Rams' Mardy Gilyard


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St. Louis Rams rookie wideout-returner Mardy Gilyard keeps a snapshot in his wallet of the green 2002 Pontiac Grand Am that helped deliver him to the NFL.

Talk about a hurt locker. Gilyard lived in one, spending long, cold nights in the borrowed car, sometimes sleeping in the driver's seat during a six-and-a-half-month stretch in 2006. That humbling reality check helped transform an immature former University of Cincinnati defensive back without a roof over his head into a hardworking, potential home run-hitting NFL playmaker.

Gilyard had his scholarship revoked after his freshman season for academic reasons and worked four jobs to pay back the five-figure debt he owed the school. He could have dropped out and turned his back on his obligations. But Gilyard kicked hard and surfaced with a vengeance.

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When the Rams drafted him with the 99th overall pick last month, it capped quite the improbable comeback route by the 6-foot, 187-pound wide receiver who racked up 3,003 receiving yards and 25 touchdown catches, both Cincinnati career records.

"You can say I came to the Rams from the green Grand Am instead of the green room," Gilyard said with a prideful laugh.

"I was homeless, living in a car, working four jobs. Now I'm a Ram.

"I've gone from rags to riches."

Gilyard paid his dues, working a construction job, cooking and delivering pizzas and selling cutlery door to door before coach Brian Kelly took over the program at the end of the 2006 season and gave Gilyard another chance with the Bearcats, this time as a wide receiver.

"I was working hard to get my real job back, my football job," Gilyard said. "I had to get back to school.

"I paid back the $10,000 I owed.

"It just showed I'm a hard worker and that I could fight through adversity. That's all the game of football is: It's about fighting through adversity."

When Rams general manager Billy Devaney called on the morning of April 24 to inform Gilyard the Rams were poised to select him with the first overall pick of the draft's fourth round, well you better believe that Gilyard broke down.

"I was on my way to go crabbing, and I had stopped at McDonald's when my cell rang, and Billy Devaney told me, 'Hey, we're going to take you,' " Gilyard said from his Bunnell, Fla., home. "I cried a river.

"I'm blessed."

Blessed wasn't what he felt four years ago after he'd been kicked out of school and his apartment. He wanted to return home to Florida. Except that his mother and older brother, Otis, wouldn't let him.

"I had to find faith and myself," Gilyard said. "I had to grow up. I was a real knucklehead kid, arrogant, ****y, immature. I had to grow up."

Gilyard showed the resolve no NFL scouting combine or pro-day drill can measure.

"Most guys would have folded," Devaney said. "You flunk out of school, you say, 'Well, OK.' You go back to Florida."

Gilyard rerouted his life as dramatically as he changes direction on the field.

As a junior, he earned 2008 all-Big East honors with 81 receptions for 1,276 yards.

He finished as Cincinnati's all-time leader in receptions (204) while piling up nearly 6,000 all-purpose yards.

He brings a needed dynamic to a feeble Rams offense that averaged fewer than 11 points a game in 2009.

"He's got an edge," Devaney said. "He plays that way."

Gilyard ran a 4.51-second, 40-yard dash at his pro day. But his fluid quickness in and out of breaks impressed scouts nearly as much as his candor.

"There's no one perfect in this world," Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "But what Mardy has shown is he can go through a tough time, persevere.

"He showed a lot of resolve in what he did, failing out of college and then coming back and working those jobs. He obviously wanted it bad enough."

Gilyard returned punts and displayed what Spagnuolo termed "a smoothness" in his route running while catching passes from quarterback and fellow rookie Sam Bradford during last weekend's rookie minicamp.

Gilyard was given No. 81, former Rams star Torry Holt's number. And he certainly stands a fair chance of quickly making his mark among an inexperienced collection of wideouts.

"I'm going to do everything I can in my power to make the game exciting and bring back 'The Greatest Show on Turf' to St. Louis," Gilyard said.

NFLDraftScout.com senior analyst Rob Rang projected Gilyard as a third-rounder and considers him a steal, given St. Louis got him one round later.

"He and the Rams are a perfect fit," Rang said. "He can come in and play in the slot immediately and be a return man. He's a better route runner than you expect from a guy coming from a traditional spread offense."

And Rang also notes that Gilyard has shown an ability to cope with pressure.

"He has a history of playing his best when the lights are on," he said.

"And I don't know if there's a better story from the 2010 draft in terms of Mardy realizing he made some mistakes, fighting through adversity. And then doing it at the level he did, speaks to his toughness."

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