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Louis Bien | May 6, 2014

Trey Wolfe is ready

A long and complicated journey to NFL Draft obscurity

If you see Trey Wolfe's name at all during the NFL Draft, it will pass in a blink — one name among many crawling along a chyron on the draft's last day. Berman, Gruden, Kiper and Co. will almost certainly miss it. Like everyone else paying attention to the draft, they'll be tired.

Wolfe won't fall because he wasn't any good as a college player. He was, leaving school as the active NCAA leader across all divisions averaging 0.7 interceptions per game. The catch is that Wolfe's career ended at DII Fort Valley State, his third collegiate stop in seven years marked by various struggles and setbacks on and off the field.

For the NFL Draft's purposes, we know what that makes Wolfe -- something like the dictionary definition of a seventh-round flier. But Wolfe is more than the sum of some stats and a scouting report. His story is longer, and stranger, than that.

I.

Trey Wolfe

"I feel like it was a setup," Wolfe says. "There was a laptop and a wallet -- it was about 2 or 3 in the morning -- and there was money hanging out of it."

Wolfe had stumbled out of his dorm room to get a Gatorade. The laptop was on a table next to the vending machine, and the wallet was on top of the laptop. Wolfe didn't think of the owner. He just took the money and stuffed it into the waistband of his shorts, bought his drink and walked away. He looked back through the plate glass in the door that separated the machines from the hallway and saw a girl come back for her things. She didn't see him.

"That's when I knew it was wrong," he says now. "But I just made friends with a split-second decision."

The camera didn't miss him. Three weeks later authorities met Wolfe at the front door of his dorm and arrested him in full view of his teammates.

"Wolfe, what's going on?"

Wolfe put his head down and walked without a word.

Wolfe had come 2,300 miles away from his hometown of Marietta, Ga., to play cornerback at Reedley College. He was home less than one year later -- April of 2008 -- after having drained his resources in California. After making bail out of Fresno County, he was barred from going within 600 yards of the dorms, and so he hopped couches. His track coaches told him to take time off. His football coaches suspended him for the spring. Wolfe was staying with quarterback Darius Reynolds for a while, until coaches caught on and shut it down. Finally, Wolfe bowed out and went home in the middle of the spring semester.

Another mistake compounded the problem: Wolfe should have been more clear with his professors about what was going on. After three weeks at home spent gathering himself, he saved up enough money to fly back to Reedley in late April, but received no sympathy when he explained his situation upon his return. He did not receive an extension on any of the work he'd missed, and so he would not pass his classes. His 2.8 GPA fell to a 1.3.


So Wolfe retreated into Atlanta's amorphous north suburbs, a sprawlscape where towns bleed into one another across indistinguishable borders. Marietta was Wolfe's safe place -- clean and friendly, a town of 60,000 people or so. It's known as the home of the Big Chicken, a 56-foot poultry-themed edifice that houses a KFC and serves a navigational beacon -- take the turn X stoplights past the Big Chicken, and you'll get exactly where you need to be.

Wolfe was a three-sport star in high school -- baseball, basketball and football -- and a three-year starter at cornerback, wide receiver and punt returner. He was good enough to pick up FBS offers as a cornerback and was committed to Central Florida at one point. The Georgia Bulldogs had some interest in him, too. Wolfe was six feet tall and could run, fast. Still can.

Wolfe's biggest source of support was his mother, with whom he lived after she divorced his father. She taught at Wolfe's rival high school in Marietta, but did not hesitate to show off her son's accomplishments in front of her students.

"She would post all of my articles in her room," says Wolfe. "I would come by sometimes in the morning, and I had plenty of fans at the school that my mom would tell me about. She loves doing that, because I was at a different school and I was doing well there."

Wolfe was the oldest male in the house -- he has an older sister and a younger brother -- so he felt obligated to step up, taking out garbage, doing dishes, anything to give his mother some relief.

"She has a lot of her own issues going on," says Wolfe. "Ninety percent of it is financial. She's moving from job to job, place to place. It was just hard, I never really wanted to tell her about anything negative, even to this day. I put a filter over it."

There was no dodging disappointment when Wolfe learned during his senior year that he had spent the last four years on the track for a technical diploma, the equivalent of a GED. He had tested poorly on a freshman year aptitude exam, and never took the necessary steps to get on the college prep path. Wolfe dropped out of high school to get his GED early. He couldn't convince schools of his eligibility, however. UCF was the last school to tell Wolfe it could not accept his Letter of Intent.

Wolfe went west because he had been told they threw the ball a lot out there. A year later, he was back where he'd started, wondering how he was going to play football.


"The 2009 season was everything I imagined. It was perfect."

"The 2009 season was everything I imagined. It was perfect."

Wolfe had eight interceptions in eight starts during his final Juco season. By the end, he claimed more than 50 D-I offers from the likes of Michigan State, UCLA and Arkansas. Suddenly, Wolfe was big-time again. Before enrolling again at Reedley for summer school, he spent 2008 working in Marietta.

Wolfe admits he's not an "academic guy," but he had already absorbed two reminders that his work in the classroom was part of his success on the field. Advisors told him that to be eligible, he would have to get a 3.0 during the summer semester. Trey worked, "put in everything I had," and bumped himself up to a 2.2 cumulative GPA.

Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson gave Wolfe his biggest shot of confidence at the time. Talking to Wolfe in a football office at Reedley, Robinson told him everything a young player would want to hear. He told Wolfe he wanted him to start for the Razorbacks.

"There was a guy I was coming to replace," Wolfe says. "He was a two-year starter. [Robinson] told me, 'That guy, he don't have anything on you. You're bigger than him, you're faster than him. I've watched both of you move. You're gonna have his spot, you're going to be starting in the SEC.'

"As soon as he left the office, I went to the computer lab at my school and typed in 'Willy Robinson.' Looked up his background, I was just really impressed. He coached nothing but NFL."

Robinson promised a ticket to the next level, and had the resume to validate it.

"He told me I was a 'one-and-done' guy. At the time I didn't know what that meant -- I thought it was an academic thing," Wolfe says. "When he described it to me, he told me that one-and-done meant I would play one season at Arkansas and probably go anywhere from the the third or fourth round as a junior. And if I came back for my senior year, I would be a first-round guy.

"I signed my Letter of Intent immediately. With him, it made me feel, finally, that someone recognizes it as well."

"I just couldn't stop crying because I was all set to go."

Wolfe's final three schools were Arkansas, Michigan State and East Carolina, although Robinson's words and a trip to Fayetteville made the decision easy. Wolfe had done everything to make sure he would be playing SEC ball starting summer 2010.

Reedley hadn't.

Wolfe was told he needed just one English credit to be eligible for Division I football. The summer semester was halfway through when Wolfe found out he actually needed two. It was too late to change course.

"That was probably one of the times I cried the hardest, uncontrollably. I just couldn't stop crying because I was all set to go. I didn't cope with it very well."

Wolfe did not finish out his semester. He flew back to Marietta.

II.

The practice field at a Division II football program is a peculiar place. There are the former local prep standouts that have parlayed their relatively meager talents into financial aid, and then there are players like Wolfe -- cast-offs from a higher athletic caste that, for one reason or another, couldn't hold a scholarship. Wolfe felt he had been "close," and though he regained his footing at Midwestern State in Texas, his frustration compounded with each new teammate who told the same story.

"Being at a Division II school, you hear that a lot. It's, 'Well, I was gonna go here, and I was getting recruited by Florida,'" Wolfe says. "Then they would have, like, three tackles, and I'm like, 'There's no way you were going to Florida with your numbers looking like that.'"

The team knew all about Wolfe. Coaches called him "Mr. Razorback" in team meetings. Wolfe felt he should have been somewhere else.

At the start of the year, he played like it. Despite arriving in Wichita Falls just before the beginning of the season, Wolfe immediately assumed a starting role. He had an interception in the first game. The second game, too. In the third, he ran back a punt 65 yards. The next Monday, Wolfe seemed himself again.

He was warming up when his ankle turned the wrong way. His Achilles tendon ruptured.

"That was the end of my season, on a Monday, without pads on."

"That was the end of my season, on a Monday, without pads on."

The only thing that Wolfe could ever rely on -- his body, and by extension, football -- had failed him.

"That solidified all the anger, and every last down feeling I could have all hit me at once."

Previous setbacks had sent Wolfe back to Marietta, but there was no solace in the idea of going home this time. He didn't find solace in anything. Wolfe entered what he calls "a true depression." He had big crutches and a big boot on his leg. Getting around became a hassle, and so Wolfe brooded in his off-campus apartment. He didn't go to classes, and he didn't go to rehab.

"I couldn't believe everything was happening the way it was happening."

Coaches and teammates would come by to coax him out -- try to get him to study hall, or at least a party. Anything to get his mind off football. Wolfe -- usually ebullient, friendly, smiling -- stayed where he was.

"I just had nothing to say to anybody," Wolfe says. "My attitude was, 'I'm not even supposed to be here.'"

Wolfe was invited to attend every game of the season, but came to just one. The Mustangs were 7-3 going into the regular season finale, and Wolfe wore his jersey on the sideline for the team's 28-8 win over Northeastern State to cap an undefeated season at home. He went through the motions of support, "and I went back to my room and cried after."


Wolfe failed his fall classes, was ruled academically ineligible and kicked off the team. He had several chances to get back into the good graces of head coach Bill Haskill, each ending the same way. Another missed study hall was the last.

"I became a negative example," Wolfe says. "He would give me chance after chance. He would say, 'I don't care if you're the best athlete on the team, if you're not going to be a team player, you're not going to be with the program, you won't be with the team.'"

Wolfe would have been out of options, but for the grace of his teammates. Shortly after coaches booted Wolfe, they polled the players: Should Trey Wolfe be allowed back? Despite how cold he had been, they were forgiving.

Two weeks later, Wolfe discovered he was academically ineligible. The gesture was moot, but the psychological effect was massive. Though his career was in jeopardy, Wolfe became a reformed teammate. His injury kept him off the field in 2011, but Wolfe got back in the weight room and became social again. Supporting his teammates no longer felt like an obligation.

"I saw one of our corners -- to use the terminology, he got 'Moss'd,' which means the wide receiver goes over the corner's head and snatches it from him," Wolfe explains. "I know at the time me being bitter and injured, I would have said 'Aw man, you suck.' Instead of that happening, I went over there and told him to shake it off, keep his head up, get it back the next play.

"My defensive back coach talked to him, then grabbed me by one arm and gave me a big hug, and said, 'That's the leadership we need to see out of you. Even though you can't compete, that shows character.'"

As a reward, Wolfe's coaches told him he could rejoin the team in the summer of 2012, provided he took care of academics and did as he was told. Both sides knew that he wanted to be in an NFL training camp already. They told him he was on thin ice. Curfew was 10 p.m., every night.

Wolfe accepted it all, and committed to play for the Mustangs in 2012, although that didn't stop programs from contacting him. Before he found out he was going to be reinstated, he put together YouTube reels of his best plays and sent links to prospective programs.

A defensive coordinator named Durwood Roquemore from Fort Valley State saw the clips. Being a former defensive back himself, Roquemore recognized a top-flight corner -- he saw a player who was fast, physical, and had  good hips. Ball skills stood out the most. Wolfe had the consistent ability to high-point a football. He rarely dropped anything that hit his hands.

The first conversations between Wolfe and Roquemore centered on football. It was clear that the two had a lot in common. Roquemore was also a Division II athlete. He played at Texas A&M - Kingsville in a lockdown cornerback tandem with NFL Hall of Famer Darrell Green, and was drafted in the sixth-round by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1982, playing three seasons in the NFL. He went on to become a Hall of Famer in the Arena Football League, compiling 50 interceptions across nine seasons.

Roquemore's rise out of the D-II ranks appealed to Wolfe, as did his scheme. Roquemore's cornerbacks play press man coverage 95 percent of the time. He told Wolfe that if he can play in his system, NFL scouts will know that he can handle anything they ask him. And NFL scouts would be looking at Wolfe, Roquemore was sure of it.

Trey and his son Trey Jr.

Roquemore said that he was going home to Dallas, and that he would like to set up a workout. Wolfe ran drills for the coach on a Saturday morning. Then Roquemore told Wolfe the one thing he has always wanted to hear most:

"I said the tape didn't lie," Roquemore says. "I told him he was an NFL-type guy."

By that time, their conversations had wandered beyond the game itself -- beyond hips and ball skills -- into what the NFL meant. "I had never run across an athlete who was so hungry to get in like him," Roquemore says. Wolfe's passion, love, "crazy" hunger -- "It made him free."

The two bonded over shared tribulations.

"You know you got other issues coming at you, other types of females coming at you, you got drugs coming in your area -- you've got a lot of things that can take you off track," Roquemore says. "I told him, 'I can help you get to the next level, but you have to follow me and do what I need you to do. I've been there before, I know what it takes to get there.'"

But perhaps nothing touched Wolfe more than Roquemore's revelation that, along with being a former Big Man On Campus, he'd also helped take care of a daughter he had when he was 18 years old.

Soon after his meeting with Roquemore, near the start of the fall semester, Wolfe told his Midwestern State coaches that he would be going to Fort Valley State. He just had too many reasons to join Roquemore in Georgia, with his desire to be closer to his two-year-old son in Tallahassee at the top of the list.

III.

Wolfe's return to Georgia was the final piece of his evolution, from elite athlete, to a mature teammate, to, finally, someone who could face his problems. I-75 runs right past the Big Chicken straight down to Fort Valley. Wolfe got where he needed to be.

He and the mother of his first son, Trey, are cordial now. Wolfe cut the umbilical cord, and being back in Georgia meant he could make more regular visits to see his son. The heavy apathy that defined his depression had lifted, and Wolfe's NFL dreams were as alive as ever, bolstered by his son.

There was just one last confrontation with the man he was -- a phone call as he was stretching for his third start in an FVSU uniform.

"I seen this number text and call me about four or five times, so I finally answer it. It was 940, which is Wichita, which is where I was actually going to school," Wolfe says. "And she answered it and was like, 'Trey' -- I didn't even know who it was -- and she was like, 'It's Monique. You need to come take care of your child.'

"I was like, 'Uh, I don't have a kid out there, I have a son [in Tallahassee].' She goes, 'No, I have your son, he's right here, and he's bright and his color and complexion matches you. I know it's you, and you need to do something.'"


"The only problem with Trey and people like him is that he is a very handsome young man," Head coach Donald Pittman says. "Ladies like him, and he likes them."

Pittman speaks matter-of-factly about Wolfe and his defensive coordinator, Coach Roquemore. He calls both of them quiet, confident individuals. Both are sharp dressers, "maybe a suit, maybe slacks, maybe a nice hat." Both were experienced in trying, sometimes more successfully than others, to manage unique temptations.

"When I got the DNA test back, I realized I can't act like this no more."
Trey and his son Christian

Wolfe approached Roquemore at halftime of a game against Clark Atlanta University and told him about the phone call.

"I said, 'We'll take care of that after the game,'" Roquemore recalls, "'but we have to take care of business right now.'"

Wolfe listened. Neither Roquemore nor Pittman remember a moment when Wolfe's play slipped on the field. Wolfe remembers just one instance: A 30-yard pass relinquished on the second play of the game. Then he snapped back to the present, to his next step, and the next. Wolfe finished with six interceptions that season.

Wolfe's first move was to determine if the child was his. He received pictures of the child and showed his own mother. She didn't have to look long before telling him, "Trey, that's your baby." A DNA test confirmed: Christian was Wolfe's son, with 99 percent certainty.

So Wolfe took the next step.

"When I got the DNA test back, I realized I can't act like this no more."

When Wolfe was an ineligible athlete at Midwestern State, he drank often, and hard.

"I didn't want [my sons] to view this in the light where my actions were right," Wolfe says. "It was reckless. I just want to be there for them. I just have to gather myself financially so I can be there for them. Georgia and Texas, back and forth -- financially, it's going to be tough.

"Instead of taking trips out to Dallas, or Lubbock, or Houston one weekend, I would take trips down to Florida to see my son because I was in Georgia and he's two hours away."

Roquemore has a feeling that the changes in Wolfe's perspective are permanent. He laughs and says that his daughter is 35 now.

"He can alway go back and look at how he dealt with it straight on after trying to shy away from it and not really deal with it. And he's going to be able to pass this on to someone else like I passed it on to him.

"It's going to come around full circle one day."


For now, Wolfe's fortunes are cresting. He was named a second-team Division II All-American in 2013 after recording eight interceptions among 14 passes defended. He played consecutive seasons for the first time since high school, and was named a captain by his teammates at 24 years old.

"I would joke around with them, like, 'When I was a young dinosaur -- when I was 19, 20,' Wolfe says. "Telling them seriously that there are things you can't do, things that can catch up to you."

Wolfe isn't the third-round prospect that Willy Robinson promised he would become at Arkansas, but there is plenty of reason to hope that he will be signed as a free agent, at the very least. Multiple NFL teams have kept in contact with Wolfe this offseason. There were 23 teams in attendance at Georgia State where he held his pro day. They saw some of the same things as Roquemore -- a "freak by nature."

"One of his biggest assets is that he really doesn't know how good he could be."

"One of his biggest assets is that he really doesn't know how good he could be," Roquemore says. "As a coach, I can see a little bit more because I can watch him on tape, I get to see a lot of things that he don't see."

Roquemore has never seen Wolfe get beat on a deep pass. He throws out names like Darrelle Revis, Darrell Green and Deion Sanders and concludes, "I think he can be one of those guys, I really do." He calls Wolfe the best cornerback he has ever had. But that's not what makes the coach most proud.

"It's a combination that makes me happy about him," Roquemore says. "He got the issues and situation right with his children. That was a thing that made me proud."

That goes for Wolfe, too.

"I know I'm 25 and I don't have time to joke around, I don't have time to play around," Wolfe says. "I think a lot of that comes to my responsibilities off the field as a father.

"I'm actually kind of a family guy now. I love spending time with my sons. I love just being around them and developing them, as far as mentally and physically, because I have two healthy sons."


The paradox of the NFL Draft and its all-consuming bloat is that it creates a platform for hundreds of stories like Wolfe's to be heard, then drowns it with noise and flash and information. There is space between the comatose days after the bowl season and the frenetic mid-April draft run-up during which to learn something about less-heralded characters, but these smaller lessons can be hard to hear over the deafening, warping wash of discordant opinions on Jadeveon Clowney, Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and the like.

But in the dying minutes of the seventh round, if you keep your ears open, you might hear something new. When the analysis has been exhausted alongside, a bit of wisdom may escape: The parable of the cornerback from Marietta, as told by his equivalent yogi.

"I always told him, 'It's not whether you start, it's whether you finish,'" Roquemore says. "It's not where you begin, it's where you end." Trey Wolfe, at last, is ready to get started.

Editors: David Roth and Ryan Van Bibber | Producer: Matt Watson | Photos courtesy of Trey Wolfe

About the Author

Bien

Louis is a writer, editor and layout "roomba" for SB Nation. He graduated from Wisconsin after growing up in Ann Arbor, Mich. Freshman year was weird. Speaks French non-terribly.

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