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A proud coach: Wash­ing­ton head foot­ball coach Ron Co­hen (left) poses with Shar­rif Floyd, the new­est mem­ber of the Min­nesota Vik­ings, fol­low­ing Thursday night’s first round. PHOTO PROVIDED BY RON CO­HEN

Shar­rif Floyd, a 2010 gradu­ate of George Wash­ing­ton High School, was se­lec­ted as the 23rd over­all pick by the Min­nesota Vik­ings in last week’s NFL Draft. Floyd’s trus­ted in­ner circle was along for the ride.

NEW YORK — It’s just past 4 p.m. on the first day of the NFL Draft, and in­side Room 410 of Midtown Man­hat­tan’s In­ter­Con­tin­ent­al Barclay Hotel, Shar­rif Floyd is re­ceiv­ing the roy­al treat­ment.

In a dizzy­ing flurry, he is vis­ited by a barber, tail­or and jew­el­er, who have the com­bined task of mak­ing the 20-year-old Floyd look — and feel — ready for prime time. Hip-hop mu­sic bumps from a nearby speak­er, all but drown­ing out the honk­ing horns of the Park Av­en­ue rush-hour drivers four stor­ies be­low.

The win­dows of­fer a stun­ning view for a kid who, at 16, had moved out of his North Phil­adelphia home to get away from the drugs that danced like demons around his moth­er, as well as the phys­ic­al and men­tal ab­use that came from the man Floyd thought was his fath­er. 

Now, nearly five years later, the 2010 gradu­ate of George Wash­ing­ton High School is mak­ing his fi­nal pre­par­a­tions for the first round of this even­ing’s NFL Draft at Ra­dio City Mu­sic Hall, where Floyd is a hope­ful Top-3 pick.

This night, the biggest of Floyd’s Odys­seus-like as­cent through the high school and col­lege foot­ball ranks, is ex­pec­ted to of­fer a sat­is­fy­ing high point to a story that has the feel of a “Blind Side” spinoff, re­gard­less of where the lar­ger-than-life de­fens­ive tackle ends up be­ing se­lec­ted.

More than a dozen of Floyd’s closest sup­port­ers, the ones who helped save him from the dark­ness en­vel­op­ing him as a teen, have come from Phil­adelphia to see him off to the NFL. His ad­opt­ive fath­er, Kev­in Lahn, nervously taps away on his iPhone, mak­ing sure ar­range­ments for a pre-draft din­ner at Smith & Wollensky are still in or­der. Ron Co­hen, Wash­ing­ton’s long­time head coach, stands nearby, beam­ing like a proud grand­dad. Oth­ers float­ing around the suite are Mike Ed­wards, Floyd’s middle school coach, and Tauheed Smith, his  moun­tain of a cous­in who was a line­man at Frank­ford and sports a “Loy­alty” tat­too on his arm, a per­fect meta­phor for the duo’s re­la­tion­ship.

Minutes later, Lu­cille Ry­ans, Floyd’s great-grand­moth­er whom he’s called “my rock,” enters the room in a green dress that’s as en­chant­ing as it is classy. Without hes­it­a­tion, a shirt­less Floyd, still in the midst of ward­robe modi­fic­a­tions, emerges from his bed­room to share a long, touch­ing em­brace with the wo­man he refers to as “Ma.”

This jour­ney has been any­thing but con­ven­tion­al for Floyd, and how he got here is not nearly as im­port­ant as the people who have helped him climb to the highest rung of foot­ball’s lad­der. 

What mat­ters most is that they all ar­rived to­geth­er.


“I’ve got a story for you,” said Smith, Floyd’s some­how more tower­ing cous­in as he rides aboard a bus that Lahn ren­ted to re­unite Floyd and his in­ner circle in New York. 

Born just two months apart, Floyd and Smith were al­ways more like broth­ers than cous­ins, and have been in­sep­ar­able for years. They played on the same eighth grade foot­ball and bas­ket­ball teams at Hard­ing Middle School, win­ning a cham­pi­on­ship in the lat­ter sport. 

Smith was by Floyd’s side through the darkest times, and now, he was go­ing to be on hand for the hap­pi­est night of his cous­in’s life.

“Back in 2007, in Shar­rif’s base­ment, we were lay­ing around, just talk­ing,” Smith con­tin­ued. “The one thing we al­ways said was, ‘If one or both of us ever gets to the NFL, we will al­ways be there for each oth­er and we’ll nev­er change who we are.’ Now it’s 2013, he’s go­ing to be draf­ted in a few hours, and he’s tex­ting me say­ing, ‘I told you I was go­ing to keep my prom­ise.’ It’s just a dream come true … lit­er­ally.”

To un­der­stand Floyd the foot­ball play­er — and Floyd the man — it’s im­port­ant to listen to his loy­al, im­pen­et­rable sup­port net­work. They all tell tales of a soft-spoken, humble, fe­ro­ciously driv­en young man who has al­ways been ma­ture bey­ond his years. As the hype around Floyd’s foot­ball ca­reer has grown — Co­hen, who just fin­ished his 28th year as Wash­ing­ton’s head coach, called Floyd his “highest-re­cruited play­er ever” — he’s stayed the same, even when a schol­ar­ship to the pres­ti­gi­ous Uni­versity of Flor­ida made the fame and for­tune of the NFL a very real­ist­ic pos­sib­il­ity.

They were there to make sure he didn’t have to make this jour­ney alone, and in re­turn Floyd hasn’t for­got­ten them, not for one second.

Hours later, when Floyd stun­ningly slipped out of the ex­pec­ted top-three picks and fell all the way to the Min­nesota Vik­ings as the 23rd over­all se­lec­tion, his le­gion of sup­port­ers were sta­tioned close by, ready to dish out en­cour­age­ment.

“It’s not like any of this has jaded him,” Ed­wards said of Floyd. “To hear his name called any­where is a beau­ti­ful, spe­cial thing. He’s been ded­ic­ated and he’s put in the work. He hasn’t for­got­ten the people who have touched his hand to help him get to this point. He re­cog­nizes the help, and he keeps you close. He’s a spe­cial young man.”

While it cer­tainly will cost him a good amount of money in the short-term, Floyd’s se­lec­tion by Min­nesota at 23 in­stead of Jack­son­ville at 2 or Oak­land at 3 did noth­ing to di­min­ish the way his fam­ily and friends view him. Floyd is many things, but a dis­ap­point­ment to his loved ones will nev­er be one of them.

“He loves his fam­ily,” Smith said. “Every­body in his life has been there for him. He’s just very down-to-earth, real lov­ing and caring. You’ll nev­er see his bad side … un­less you hap­pen to be on the foot­ball field with him.”


When someone gets to such a lofty spot in a com­pet­it­ive sport the way Floyd has, it be­comes fas­cin­at­ing to ask the ques­tion, “When did you know?” Even when great­ness is so clearly evid­ent, the an­swers al­ways seem to vary.

Co­hen spoke of a play dur­ing Floyd’s fresh­man sea­son at Wash­ing­ton when he pres­sured an op­pos­ing quar­ter­back, who hur­riedly dumped off a pass to a nearby half­back. When Co­hen watched the game film later, he real­ized Floyd, who had rushed the QB out of the pock­et, was also the guy who chased the half­back and tackled him … 15 to 20 yards down­field. 

“In all my years, I’ve nev­er seen any­one do that,” Co­hen re­called. “That’s when I knew I had someone spe­cial.”

For Ed­wards, it was watch­ing Floyd dom­in­ate as a ju­ni­or in 2008, help­ing Wash­ing­ton beat La Salle and earn the City Title for the first time since 1979.

“We could kind of see that something spe­cial was hap­pen­ing,” Ed­wards said. “We just didn’t know how spe­cial.”  

At Wash­ing­ton, Floyd’s teams com­bined to go 38-12, in­clud­ing three con­sec­ut­ive Pub­lic League crowns from 2007-09. 

“He had to work real hard, and he did every single day,” Co­hen said. “He was fo­cused, and he al­ways listened. He didn’t al­ways ex­press him­self, but he was ab­sorb­ent, like a sponge. 

“He had to be­come a man at 16 years old. Everything neg­at­ive in his life, he helped turn that around on the foot­ball field. He’s a sur­viv­or.”


On Thursday, nobody wanted to talk much about the dark­er times in Floyd’s life, and it’s hard to blame them. For a young man who has over­come so much, those his­tor­ic­al re­mind­ers can be­come pain­ful. 

Floyd has al­ways channeled the troubled past in­to his per­sona on the grid­iron, and he has nev­er run away from any of it. Not from an ad­dict moth­er, an ab­us­ive pseudo-fath­er or a birth fath­er who was shot and killed be­fore Floyd was born. 

It’s shaped him in­to the man he’s be­come, and speaks to his in­tern­al forti­tude, which is much more power­ful than the bru­tish ex­tern­al strength he dis­plays on the field.

At 16 and feel­ing trapped by the tox­ic en­vir­on­ment around him, Floyd made the knee-jerk choice to leave home, call­ing it the “quick­est de­cision I’ve ever made.”

“I’m not sure he even packed his clothes,” Co­hen said. “He just left.”

Floyd bounced around from house to house, crash­ing on the couches or base­ment floors of gen­er­ous friends and fam­ily mem­bers. He’d show up for school at Wash­ing­ton, fam­ished from hav­ing not eaten the night be­fore. Up un­til that point, Floyd was in real danger of be­com­ing yet an­oth­er at-risk youth swal­lowed up by the un­for­giv­ing Philly streets. 

But he found un­con­di­tion­al sup­port in Co­hen and the coach’s trus­ted con­fid­ants. An­dre Odom (who hails from the same area as Floyd and tri­umphed over drug-ad­dicted par­ents to earn jobs with Temple Uni­versity and the Chica­go Bears), Mike Wal­lace (a cur­rent Wash­ing­ton as­sist­ant and former Floyd team­mate) and Greg Gar­rett (Wash­ing­ton’s former strength coach), were all in­stru­ment­al in Floyd’s de­vel­op­ment, and all were present on the bus, smil­ing and laugh­ing as they re­coun­ted their fa­vor­ite Shar­rif stor­ies. So, too, was Gar­rett’s wife, Faith, who served as the Beacon Dir­ect­or for at-risk youths at Wash­ing­ton from 2001-10, help­ing Floyd in every way pos­sible, from clothes to lunch money to load­ing up on ex­tra sup­plies at BJ’s to pass onto him.

“We’re both Gem­ini’s, so we’ve al­ways been close,” she said. “He asks me ad­vice about his girl­friends, so I try to of­fer the ad­vice of a big sis­ter, but the nur­tur­ing of a mom.”

Not present, but cer­tainly not to be over­looked, was the an­gel­ic Dawn Reed-See­ger, a former Wash­ing­ton guid­ance coun­selor who tem­por­ar­ily took Floyd in when he had no home to call his own. And of course, there’s Steve Gor­don, who on a week­end Moth­er’s Day get­away to Wild­wood with his wife had a chance run-in with Tauheed Smith’s step­fath­er, Ali, who told Gor­don of the two tal­en­ted, but at-risk, cous­ins.

Gor­don, a former high school teach­er and foot­ball coach-turned fin­an­cial ad­viser from Mt. Holly, N.J., ended up in­tro­du­cing Floyd to the Lahns, a wealthy couple from Ken­nett Square, Chester County. With no chil­dren of their own, the Lahns had a de­sire to help young stu­dent-ath­letes get to col­lege. Gor­don and Kev­in Lahn, once room­mates at the Uni­versity of South Car­o­lina, worked to­geth­er with the Stu­dent Ath­lete Ment­or­ing (S.A.M.) Found­a­tion, a Delaware-based or­gan­iz­a­tion that provides ath­let­ic and aca­dem­ic sup­port to high school stu­dent-ath­letes. 

While Lahn made sure everything was in or­der over at the In­ter­Con­tin­ent­al, Gor­don joy­ously re­coun­ted Floyd stor­ies in his Mar­ri­ott hotel room across the street, mostly funny an­ec­dotes from their long re­cruit­ing trips on the road. What struck Gor­don, he said, was how Floyd al­ways ac­ted like a typ­ic­al kid his age — crack­ing jokes and be­ing in­ter­ested in sports and girls — des­pite not hav­ing the nor­mal up­bring­ing to match it.

“I didn’t know he’d be here today, but I knew back in his ju­ni­or year in high school that he’d be an NFL foot­ball play­er,” Gor­don said. “No ques­tion.”

Some­times, it takes a vil­lage to bring a suc­cess story to fruition; in this case, it was a vil­lage of loosely in­ter­con­nec­ted strangers who saw great­ness in this 6-foot-3, 300-pound gentle gi­ant.

“He’s al­ways had good people in his life, and I thank God for that every day,” the spir­itu­al Ry­ans said aboard the bus to the Big Apple, which star­ted with a group pray­er be­fore de­part­ing.

“I thank God I lived to see it, to see him grow up like this. All his life I’ve loved him, and I al­ways will; he has his own mind, and no mat­ter what any­one said or did to him, he kept that. That’s why he is the way he is today.”

What Floyd is is ap­pre­ci­at­ive. All it takes is one glance around his hotel suite to see that, as he bounces from per­son to per­son, dish­ing out hugs, hand­shakes and fist bumps to all of those on hand.

Des­pite be­ing form­ally ad­op­ted only two years ago, Floyd af­fec­tion­ately calls Lahn “Pop,” a man who he has come to love and trust un­con­di­tion­ally after some ini­tial trep­id­a­tion. In ad­di­tion to be­ing Floyd’s par­ents, Lahn and his wife, Tiffany, also as­sisted 20-year-old Hendrix Emu, a Ni­geri­an bas­ket­ball play­er who Kev­in Lahn helped get polit­ic­al asylum for in Amer­ica.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate that,” Ry­ans says of what the Lahns did for her great-grand­son. “I told him if that’s [the ad­op­tion] what would make him happy, then he should fol­low his heart.”


Hours later, in­side Ra­dio City Mu­sic Hall, Floyd was once again presen­ted with an­oth­er obstacle to over­come.

Pre­vi­ously a fore­gone con­clu­sion to be a Top-3 pick (at least ac­cord­ing to most draft ana­lysts), one of the biggest men in the room had to sweat it out as NFL Com­mis­sion­er Ro­ger Goodell shock­ingly called 22 names be­fore fi­nally get­ting to Floyd’s. Even more sur­pris­ing was the fact that two oth­er de­fens­ive tackles were chosen be­fore him.

While he waited seem­ingly forever for his turn on the stage, tele­vi­sion cam­er­as cap­tured an un­der­stand­ably ex­as­per­ated Floyd. But he com­posed him­self and, true to his style, took the high road when he fi­nally met the me­dia al­most three hours later than ex­perts thought he’d be picked.

Floyd, who’s worked tire­lessly for everything he’s ever got­ten, nev­er as­sumed that be­ing a top pick in the draft was his birth­right; for that reas­on, every­body else seemed more sur­prised by his fall than the man him­self. 

In­stead, he now has the op­por­tun­ity to be­come one of the draft’s biggest first-round steals. The fall from grace will prob­ably end up cost­ing him any­where from $10 mil­lion to $12 mil­lion. (Floyd’s four-year rook­ie con­tract will earn him around $8 mil­lion at No. 23 in­stead of the roughly $20 mil­lion he would have fetched in the Top-3.) But if he plays well for the Vik­ings — a play­off team with a re­lent­less de­fens­ive line a sea­son ago — he could make the money back ten­fold. 

“I’m ready to get star­ted,” Floyd told NFL Net­work’s De­ion Sanders from the stage. “Right now, there’s a chip on my shoulder. I feel like I have to still prove my­self. The Min­nesota Vik­ings did a great thing by tak­ing a chance on me. I’m not go­ing to let them down. At the end of the day, I made it. No mat­ter what pick or what round it was, I’m here.”

The reas­on for the slip re­mains a mys­tery. Some scouts say Floyd’s arms are too short to pen­et­rate NFL double teams at the line of scrim­mage, while oth­ers blame his fre­quent shuff­ling around the D-line that res­ul­ted in just five sacks in three sea­sons at Flor­ida. The spec­u­la­tion that seems to be most head-scratch­ing came from a source of NFL Net­work ana­lyst Mike Mayock, who hap­pens to be a huge Floyd fan; the source spec­u­lated Floyd’s drop­ping stock could be due to “char­ac­ter con­cerns,” which Mayock read aloud on the air.

Good luck selling that one to Floyd’s sup­port net­work.

“Just last week, my daugh­ter had her soph-hop dance, and guess who was there to see her off?” asked Faith Arm­strong-Gar­rett, the former Beacon Dir­ect­or at Wash­ing­ton as she dis­played an In­s­tagram photo on her cell phone of Floyd pos­ing that night. “My hus­band (Greg) and Shar­rif, they both gave her date ‘The Talk.’ He’s like my own son.”

“He’s the same kid I knew at Hard­ing Middle School,” Ed­wards said. “Very nice, very per­son­able, al­ways listens, al­ways smil­ing. We still fol­low up with each oth­er.”

Floyd has also men­tioned his de­sire to buy a house for Ry­ans, who wept when the boy she used to carry around as a baby had his name called about 11 p.m.

“He’s a humble young man who has nev­er had a bad thing to say about any­body in his life,” she said. 

When the whirl­wind night fi­nally ended, it was time to part ways. Floyd had a red-eye to catch to his new home in the Twin Cit­ies, while his well-wish­ers were bound for Phil­adelphia the next morn­ing. 

While an already-ex­cited Vik­ings or­gan­iz­a­tion boas­ted that there was a “New Shar­rif in Town,” those aboard the bus would tell you he’s the same old Floyd they’ve al­ways known, un­changed by suc­cess and forever thank­ful for those that got him here. ••

Sports Ed­it­or Ed Mor­rone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or em­or­

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