A few posts ago and I talked about my “nephew” Brandon Betancourt, running back and #21 for the New Mexico State Aggies football team. There’s so much more to his story. Let me explain.
Brandon moved into the dorms right before summer football camp started prior to his freshman year in July of 2011. Brandon, Jeremiah and I were excited to see his new place and meet his roommate, so we stopped by to check things out. That is when we met his roommate, Tra Colwell. That night we took Brandon and Tra to dinner. By the end of the meal, our family had gained a member. The next Sunday we invited the Brandon and Tra over to our house for dinner. The following Sunday, Brandon and Tra brought a couple new teammates with them, for a total of four. The next Sunday, they brought over two more, and soon another two showed up, for a total of eight. This last Thanksgiving, I fed twelve hungry college football players! It took three days and my neighbor’s oven, but the boys ate an entirely homemade dinner.
Before I start telling you all about the boys let me remind you what summer of 2011 was like for me and my family. We had lost Briton 90 days before that first meal with Brandon and Tra, and our weekends as well as our house were, well, empty. My house that had once been filled with laughter and life was quiet and dark. But once the Aggie boys started coming over for Sunday dinner, our house was abundantly full with life, food, happiness and joy. Sunday dinners were suddenly something we could all look forward to. I would start pulling together a menu on Saturday, and by Sunday evening, my son would be waiting in the driveway for their arrival. It was something positive that we could all dive into. We started planning our family vacations around the NMSU football schedule. We ended up going to Louisiana, California and Hawaii to watch the team play. It was such a tough year for our family, but the NMSU football team which ending up having a 4-9 season helped up get through it.
Let me tell you about “The Boyz”…
Tra Colwell was tall and skinny and had just moved here from Houston when we met him.
His demeanor was calm, mature and gentle. As soon as we dropped him and Brandon off after that first dinner out, both my husband and I gushed what a nice young man he was and how glad we were that #21 was going to be around him. Over the last three years our relationship with Tra has grown so much. We’ve had a front row view for his successes and failures on the football field. We’ve gained trust his trust and he’s gained ours. There a very few things I would not do for this kid. He’s a gem inside and out.
This year he will play defensive back for the Aggies in his senior season (pass the Kleenex)! There has been and always will be a special place in my heart for Tra. He likes seafood, caramel apple cheesecake and smiling. He knows when it’s time to be serious and when it’s time to have fun. When I squint my eyes and look far into the future I can see his success. He will do something positive with his life and is bound for greatness. I hope I get to see it.
My “Little” Valerian
Ok, ok, ok… He’s not little, not at all. His heart is soft, kind, loyal and dedicated.
Valerian is one of the original five who started coming over regularly. Let me brag about him for just a moment. He’s been the starting center for the Aggies since his freshman year. His GPA is a 3.8 cumulative. His family is from Nigeria and he’s one of five children. Most importantly, he’s got a heart of pure GOLD. And I believe he will get the opportunity to play in the NFL.
My first memory of him is being terrified of our dog. Yes, I have a hundred pound dog, Bubba, but as a freshman Valerian weighed 250. He’s currently 300. Why in the world is this kid so scared? I’m not sure how, but he eventually got over being scared of my not-so-ferocious watch dog. He now lies on the floor and rough houses with Bubba. He likes fried chicken and my famous cheesecake (that takes all day to make and has SEVEN bricks of cream cheese, thanks Martha).
At an Aggie game, after a pile up of big bodies, I noticed that when he got out from under it he grimaced in pain. I sent him a message asking if he was ok. He was, but I’ll never forget his response, “Thank you Lori for being concerned. I seriously love you.” I seriously love him too. After I broke the news of my diagnosis, it shook him to the core. I guess his text was literal. He seriously loves me.
Joe was also one of the original five. What’s been so very cool about our relationship with Joe is watching a boy become a man. The very first time I met him we were at a restaurant and he was trying to slide his number to the waitress, except it wasn’t funny. It was kind of annoying. But, it didn’t take long for us to fall in love with him too.
He brings a light-hearted quality to Sunday nights. He’s the jokester. He makes the conversation lively and colorful. He knows how to push someone’s buttons and watch them tick. One of my very favorite things about Joe is his appetite. There are very few people that can put back 6-10 yeast rolls at one sitting, but he is one of them. It’s impressive to watch! Joe’s body was built to be a wide receiver. He’s got long legs, broad shoulders and giant hands that were made to catch the ball. This fall will be his last season playing for the Aggies and I have a dream and hope that it will be HIS year. He’s been patient and humble and I cross my fingers that all of his hard work has paid off.
Let me set up the video below. It was Jeremiah’s 7th birthday and although he had a party with kids (his age), I also made him a cake for Sunday night dinner. Right before this crazy rendition of Happy Birthday, Joseph asked ‘Miah if he wanted to sit on his lap. As soon as ‘Miah crawled up there Joseph made the comment, “This is fun, I could be Santa.” Without skipped a beat ‘Miah came back with, “You can’t be Santa, Santa is white.” Well, alright.
Kemonte Bateman (as his momma named him) or KB (as he was introduced to us) was also one of the original five. He walked into my house with a hoodie and an orange mohawk. His smile, his genuine concern and my son’s infatuation with him is what sealed the deal and gave him a standing invitation to our house. He was a junior when he started come over for dinner, so our time with him was short but turned into what we hope will be a lifelong relationship.
All of the boys that come over play with and humor my son, but it’s different with KB. Maybe it’s because he really is just a kid trapped in a man’s body, but whatever “it” is, we love him and there will never be a replacement. Over the years I’ve formed a relationship with his sweet mommy. She’s shared recipes with me that I cook for my family now.
KB’s signature move is to eat a big meal and take a nap on my living room floor immediately following. I’m glad he’s comfortable enough to do that. Last year he was an undrafted free agent for the Denver Broncos. He was one of the very last guys cut after pre-season. It was such a bummer. Last season he played for the Edmonton Eskimos, a Canadian league.
After my diagnosis, he and his brother surprised me by ringing the doorbell at my house. His smile made my weak. One day soon I will make shrimp fettuccine alfredo and chocolate lava cake for him and all will be right in the world–at least my world.
I’m pretty sure the first day that Mr. Trashaun Nixon walked into our house he thought, “Who is this crazy woman and why is she insisting on feeding me? Oh great, there is a dog, a cat AND an annoying kid. What did I get myself into?” By far, he took the longest to warm up to us. I’m not sure he knew what to expect. It took him a while but he finally settled in, and I remember exactly when it happened. The boys were leaving one Sunday night and we were all giving each other hugs goodbye and as I opened my arms for the hug from him, I told him I loved him. I actually surprised myself that I said it. It just kinda slipped out. It was almost subconscious. He looked at me, chuckled and told me he loved me too.
From that day forward he’s called me Auntie Lori. It’s endearing for a 23 year old, large black man to call a 34 year old white woman auntie, but I soak it all up and love every second of it.
His time in New Mexico was way too short. After his very last game college game, he said, “This went by so fast.” He was so very right. It’s too fast. Although it broke my heart to see him leave, he was hopeful for an opportunity in the NFL and I’m proud to say that he got one. He signed as a free agent with the New Orleans Saints as an outside linebacker on the last day of the draft. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out with the Saints, but he’s still dedicated to making a career in football. I cross my fingers and my toes for his success.
There are many other young men that have and still will come over. Some of their names are Ray, Adam, Josh, Dada, DJ, Mark, King, Ryan and Shane. I couldn’t gush over all of them or this already long post would be even longer, but I do indeed love these boys too.
A lot of these boys are only here for one more semester, as they are seniors. It became clear at the spring game that their time in Las Cruces is limited. I might have to schedule my emotional meltdown for when they start to leave. I’m just NOT ready to say goodbye. Yes, we’ve spent money and time feeding these boys, but what they bring us is priceless (pause for me to wipe my tears).
I’ll never forget that the evening I got my diagnosis one of the very first things we talked about what “extra” things that we needed to stop doing. I was very clear that we would continue feeding the boys. It’s for one very simple reason: happiness. The smile on their full faces makes me happy, period.
My wonderful family and friends have helped lighten the heavy load by feeding the boys on Sunday night. I’ve told the boys “I’m outsourcing.” They are allowed to compliment my friends’ food, as long as they say mine is better. 😉
My favorite song is “Glitter in the Air” by Pink. In the lyrics, she writes “Have you ever let a stranger come inside?” Well I hadn’t until I met these boys, and I’m so glad I did. I recommend you doing it yourself. It makes you feel rich in ways that money will never give you. Particularly consider doing it for college athletes. Most of them come from very different cultures. They have no money, and for the first time in their lives they are away from family. Open up your family circle and squeeze a few more in. You won’t regret it. I promise.
So many people have asked me what they can do for me. I’ve finally come up with the answer. If you live in Las Cruces, please come out and check out a few Aggie football games. It took my beloved #21, Brandon Betancourt, getting a scholarship and bringing his friends around to my house on Sundays in order for me to start seeing these athletes as people. It’s so easy to sit back and bitch about a team with a losing record. What’s difficult is to realize that these boys are someone’s brother, son or nephew. Imagine for one second that they are yours and then think about how defensive you would be about your family. A team can only be as successful as a community is willing to invest. It’s not just money. It’s compassion. It’s support. It’s being a season ticket holder and being part of our hometown football team. I know Las Crucens have it in them. Just look at our support for high school athletics.
Okay. Consider me officially off my soap box. #AggieUp
PS – Look for more pics with me and “My Boyz” to come.