As the final seconds ticked away at Florida State’s Doak Campbell Stadium last fall, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was in no mood to celebrate his Florida Gators’ upset of their bitter rival.
Not yet, at least. Floyd was too tired.
“At the end of the game everyone is celebrating, I’m on a knee,” he recalled. “I’m trying to gather some air to get up on my feet.
“I’m giving you everything, I’m giving you everything I got until the last second on that clock goes down to zero.”
Floyd has risen up draft boards for many reasons — a 4.87-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, the ability to play three downs and the versatility to play 4-3 tackle or 3-4 end.
But nothing might excite the men making multi-million dollar decisions more than the 6'3", 297-pounder’s passion for the game.
“He plays the game like it should be played, down in and down out,” Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell says. “For a defensive lineman to play as hard as he does for as many plays as he does is pretty impressive.”
Football is important to Floyd.
But it goes deeper than the competition, camaraderie and certain financial security as one of the NFL’s top picks at the 2013 NFL Draft on April 25.
That’s because every snap for Floyd is a step closer to a brighter future and away from his dark past.
“To play the game, you have to love it,” he says. “But my drive is remembering where I came from. That’s enough to drive anyone.”
Growing up in a rough North Philadelphia neighborhood, Floyd had a mother who battled drug addiction and a father who was murdered when Sharrif was 3. Floyd lived in a basement and suffered physical and mental abuse at the hands of a man he assumed for many years to be his father.
Meanwhile, Floyd was bullied in grade school because he was the biggest kid in class and wore tattered clothes.
But football and the love of his grandmother, Lucille Ryans, would save Floyd. Ryans, now 76, told Floyd to remain strong like she had done as a child working in the fields picking cotton.
“That was driving me,” Floyd says, “knowing what she’s been through and trying to get her out of her situation.”
By the end of his senior season at Philadelphia’s George Washington High School, Floyd was the nation’s top-rated defensive tackle. Three years later, he has a good chance to be a top-five draft pick, possibly even No. 1.
Floyd will use some of his seven-figure signing bonus to buy his grandmother a house in Atlanta, where she has family.
“At this point it still hasn’t hit me yet because it’s not in my hands,” he says. “I don’t want to get myself wound up to be that No. 1 pick, and I’m not. I’m not saying I’m not happy that I’m considered the No. 1 player in the draft.
“I’m actually really proud of myself for that.”
Floyd was a good player for two seasons at Florida who became a dominant one in 2012.
A first-team All-SEC performer, third-team All-American and anchor of the nation’s fifth-ranked defense, Floyd had 46 tackles, including 13 for a loss, three sacks and two blocked field goals. But his impact went beyond numbers: Floyd commanded double teams, collapsed the pocket and made everyone around him better.
“A lot of people look at football and just see sacks — they see statistics,” he says. “That’s not all football is. Football is way more advanced than that.”
Floyd does not have to convince NFL decision-makers. They’re sold. Yet, through the unforeseen highs and unimaginable lows, Floyd’s most impressive accomplishment might be that he has not changed.
“He’s the same Sharrif he was when he was here,” former Gators defensive tackle Omar Hunter says. “I love it.”
Says Floyd, “It’s kind of something I stress a lot: Don’t change. I like the person I am. I want to remain the same person and just be me.”
—By Edgar Thompson