- Associated Press - Sunday, May 18, 2014

SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Words never have come easily to Javonte Magee.

The mammoth Baylor and former Sam Houston defensive lineman keeps a lifetime of turmoil bottled up, tucking his emotions inside as tightly as a drum.

His uncommon football talents made him one of the most celebrated Greater San Antonio high school football players in recent history, a four-star recruit who was one of the most widely recruited players in the nation when he came out of high school in 2012.

However, he hasn’t always been emotionally equipped to handle that acclaim or all of life’s challenges.

His navigation has been helped by his adoptive mother, Mary Griffin, who has raised Magee since she rescued him from a New Orleans crack house when he was only 3 weeks old.

On Mother’s Day Magee was in Waco studying for spring final exams, but his thoughts weren’t far from the woman he credits with convincing him to return to school after a mysterious disappearance last summer that jeopardized his football career.

His departure came during summer two-a-day practices after he was moved to defensive tackle from defensive end, where he had played most of his career.

“Some people were blaming it on my girl, or that I didn’t want to play defensive tackle or this and that,” he told the San Antonio Express-News (https://bit.ly/1gFniBk). “But they really didn’t know the real reason.

“I blame myself for making it worse because I didn’t communicate with anybody.”

Whatever concerns might have been bouncing through Magee’s head, Griffin knew he needed to go back to school to fulfill the immense promise of his burgeoning career.

“I knew in order for him to do what he needed to, he needed to stay back in Waco,” Griffin said. “I prayed about it and I’m glad he’s back there.”

Griffin, 63, remembers the first time she saw Magee, a malnourished infant who appeared doomed because of his surroundings. Rats were crawling nearby, a memory that still causes her to tear up more than 20 years later.

“If somebody didn’t step up, that little boy wasn’t going to make it,” Griffin said. “I’m glad I could be the one to help out because I love my baby.”

She still remembers his big eyes, his soft curly black hair and his swollen belly the first time she saw him. And she can still hear his “little whiny voice” that finally subsided when she took him home to eat for the first time.

Because of the circumstances of his birth, there always was concern about the little boy contracting hepatitis. Every time Magee was treated for a childhood illness, Griffin remembers bracing for the worst as a doctor checked his progress before giving him a clean bill of health.

Griffin’s support has been critical for him, particularly over the last several months. After finishing his freshman season in 2012, Magee abruptly left school for a few months to return to San Antonio to clear up what he termed “family problems” back home.

“There was just so much stuff happening around him with school and his football and everything,” Griffin said. “Javonte said he wanted to come home and rest. He thought we weren’t going to make it without him.

“But we were going to be fine. All of us had a bed to sleep in and we had a television to watch. There wasn’t anything for him to worry about.”

Magee blames his own lack of communication skills as the real reason why he left.

“It was just me stressing,” Magee said. “I didn’t know how to handle my stress levels. It all got built up inside me. I fault myself, it’s not my coaches. It was my fault.

“I didn’t want to tell them. I felt like they would call me soft or wouldn’t be a man if I told them what I was going through. So I just kept it to myself and headed home.”

His departure stunned those who had seen him work so hard to qualify academically for college. They couldn’t believe he would pass on the opportunity for a college education, and a possible career in the National Football League.

“He was doing well, passing his classes and projected to be a starter,” Sam Houston coach Gary Green said. “When I heard he had come back home, I was dumbfounded and totally in shock.”

When Magee returned to his old neighborhood, he avoided all contact with his support system at his old school and at Baylor.

He moved in with a friend and started working part-time at Federal Express, stacking heavy boxes in the warehouse, earning barely $100 per week after taxes.

Sore and tired after working one night, the realization of what he was giving up back at school finally hit him as he watched the Bears throttle Oklahoma in a nationally televised game last November.

The victory helped catapult his old teammates to the school’s first Big 12 football championship.

“Watching them that night, I was thinking it could have been me,” Magee said. “Why did I do this to myself? What was I doing here? I was just tearing myself down, mad at myself thinking I should have been a starter for that team. It was hard to watch.”

Growing up in New Orleans, Magee had to overcome hardships that made the prospect of attending college unfathomable, despite his obvious athletic talent.

He estimates he was involved in more than 50 fights before the sixth grade, battling for respect in the Lower Ninth Ward, perhaps the poorest area of the Crescent City. He was in and out of detention wards across the city as most other students his age were learning to conjugate verbs.

“If you looked at somebody wrong, they were going to fight you,” Griffin said about his old neighborhood. “It was like a war zone.”

His original family was torn apart by the violence of the area when Magee was in grammar school.

“My birth mom had a lot of kids and the one I was closest to was my brother DeTwon, who was a kid who lived out on the streets,” Magee said. “I looked up to him. But he liked jacking cars and taking stuff from people. Then, one day, some guys just rode up on him and killed him. That could have been me if I stayed there.”

Magee and his new family barely made it out after Hurricane Katrina, surviving three days on the roof of St. Mary’s of Angels Catholic Church.

They were picked up by U.S. Coast Guard helicopter pilots. Magee remembers holding a sign imploring somebody to rescue him. He was 11 years old.

They were then taken to the Astrodome in Houston, where they lived for about two weeks before accepting a relocation offer to Gardner, Kansas. They stayed there for a year, then came to San Antonio, where Griffin’s oldest child had settled after the hurricane.

They arrived in the Alamo City with little more than the clothing they were wearing. But the love that Griffin instilled in Magee and her family kept them together, despite all of the difficulties in their lives.

“That relationship between Javonte and Mrs. Griffin is very, very strong,” Baylor defensive line coach Chris Achuff said. “There’s a strong pull between them. She calls him every day and wants to know how he’s doing and where he is. They are very, very close.”

His love for the woman he calls “momma” might be the main reason why Magee didn’t give up last year.

“I kept praying that he would go back to school,” Griffin said. “I had these dreams with him covered with blood when he was back here. You never know what could have happened. Now, I sleep a lot better with him back in Waco.”

Magee perhaps was the most notable San Antonio defensive prospect in recent seasons, a standout defensive end for the Hurricanes and earning more than 50 scholarship offers from schools across the country.

“His ability is limitless,” Green said. “If he keeps progressing at college like he did for us, the sky is the limit for him. He is the most gifted prospect I’ve ever worked with.”

Even after Magee returned to San Antonio, Achuff never gave up on the idea of Magee returning to the Baylor program.

“There wasn’t a day that I didn’t think about him,” Achuff said “It was hard because I was extremely worried about what he was doing back home. Would he end up being a statistic, or would he be a guy who had the opportunity to come back and do what he’s capable of doing? I never gave up on Javonte.”

The Baylor coaches still hadn’t heard from Magee when the regular season ended.

On the first day he was allowed to speak to Magee - because he was not enrolled in the fall, contact by Baylor was restricted by NCAA recruiting rules - Achuff arrived at 7 a.m. to implore him to come back to Waco.

“I met Mrs. Griffin at the door and told her I wanted to see Javonte,” Achuff remembers. “He was still in bed when I went in, banging on the door wanting to talk to him.”

The previous day, Magee said he prayed that God would send him a sign to help him map his future.

He now considers Achuff like a guardian angel, arriving to point him back to Baylor.

“I talked to him about reality and life and it had nothing to do with football,” Achuff said. “I wasn’t down there to bring him back for football. I had to save him and get him to understand that what he needed, he couldn’t be there by being a seasonal worker lifting packages.”

It worked.

Magee returned with a determined attitude that has carried over in the classroom and on the practice field so far this semester. His strong work during the spring earned him a share of a starting position heading into the summer.

“He had an outstanding spring for us,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “He’s focused, energized and you can tell he’s very determined. And Devonte has a great ability to back up his determination and discipline.”

Briles said after spring practice that his defensive line is one of the best in the nation, with Magee’s development a critical part of that confidence.

“The future for him, you look up and you don’t see the sky because there is no limit for him,” Briles said. “We’re excited and pumped that he’s focused and determined to make himself a great contributor to our football team. I think he’ll be one of the best defensive linemen in America this year.”

Magee was ranked by Rivals.com as the nation’s No. 65 player in the 2012 recruiting class.

Green said Magee’s future depends on regaining the work ethic and discipline he had in high school.

“I’ve told him he’s about five or six years from being a millionaire,” Green said. “If he focuses as much at college as he did here for us (at Sam Houston), one day he’ll be sitting in the ESPN studios being interviewed.”

If he keeps developing, it’s not a stretch to envision that the 6-foot-5, 275-pounder one day might hear his name called at the NFL draft.

A professional career and the riches it could entail still are a big if.

Griffin is just glad her son is attacking his studies with determination again after almost losing his way.

“A career in the NFL would be great for him,” Griffin said. “But I’d be even more happy if he gets his degree and is able to get a good job and provide for his family coming out of school. That would be even better.”

Given the unpromising facts of his life in New Orleans, few could have imagined that Ma-gee would be where he is today.

His second chance at Baylor beckons and he wants to make the best of it, he said, mainly because of his mother.

“Coming back, it will give me a chance to get my degree and get a good job so I can help my momma, because she’s done so much for me,” Magee said. “If it wasn’t for her, I probably wouldn’t be here.”

Griffin’s favorite memory of her son was a time when he stood up in his church and told parishioners how much he loved her. A special teddy bear he gave her is never too far away from her oversized easy chair in her modest East Side apartment.

“I’m so proud of him,” she said. “I’m hoping and praying that everything works out for my boy.”

Achuff, his position coach with the Bears, marvels at how far Magee has come from his humble beginnings.

“He had a good foundation when I got here,” Achuff said. “It doesn’t just take one man, but an entire village to nurture a child. That’s been the case for him as a lot of people have helped get him to the point where he is today.

“I’ll be proud of him when he graduates. He had very little when he was growing up and has worked hard for everything he has. They all don’t make it. But hopefully, this story comes to a great end when he does.”


Information from: San Antonio Express-News, https://www.mysanantonio.com



Click to Read More

Click to Hide