Tayo Fabuluje's story is long, so let's make the exposition quick:
1) When Tayo Fabuluje was five, his father was deported to Nigeria, and the two haven't seen each other since.
2) Before his breakout sophomore season at TCU in 2012, Fabuluje's mother was prosecuted for felony theft and is currently doing time in jail.
3) During the 2012 season, Fabuluje's sister stayed with him at his college apartment and almost no one knew -- not his guardians, not his best friend, not TCU head coach Gary Patterson.
4) The 2012 Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year was out of football in 2013, working three jobs to make enough money to support himself and his sister while watching his weight balloon to nearly 400 pounds.
5) For much of his life, Fabuluje has been trying desperately to get back to normal:
"I felt several times that I wouldn't be able to get through what I was getting through, or even have a chance to make it and be qualified to go to the NFL," Fabuluje says. "Sometimes you just lose sight of what you're dreaming of.
"Good thing I had good people around me that kept me motivated, kept wise words in my ears, and it got me through."
Fabuluje survived with help from the Apo family. Ross Apo was a teammate at the Oakridge School in Arlington, Texas. The two were like brothers, especially after Fabuluje moved in with the family in 2009 while his mother was unable to care for him.
The decision wasn't easy. Though Fabuluje was close with the Apos, he still felt some initial uneasiness about moving in with another family.
"It was awkward at first, living in someone else's house," Fabuluje says. "But they made me feel comfortable real fast, and eventually I started feeling like it was my own home.
"Tom [Ross' father], I look at him like a father figure. I definitely could confide in him everything. Mark was our big brother who kept me and Ross in check [laughs]. Whenever we thought we were becoming strong, he put us back in our place, like, 'I'm still big bro.'
"All three of those guys, I feel like they're just members of my family."
The Apos' tight-knit, Mormon home was Fabuluje's life support. It provided simple needs like food and transportation. Ross Apo and another player at Oakridge, linebacker Teu Kautai, were perhaps Fabuluje's closest friends. He met them in elementary school, and before college the trio was rarely apart. If they weren't at school or practice, there was a good chance they were at Cici's pizza buffet.
So naturally Fabuluje followed Apo and Kautaui to BYU. Though Fabuluje wasn't Mormon like Apo and Kautaui, he felt comfortable in Provo during his visits. He bought into coach Bronco Mendenhall's Four F's philosophy -- Family, Friends, Football and Faith. Upon committing, Fabuluje could not have received a much warmer reception.
"When I committed to coach [Bronco] Mendenhall in his office today, he told me it was one of the most interesting meetings he had ever had with a [recruit]," Fabuluje said. "Then he went out and rang a bell. I think he was pretty excited."
But the 2010 season wasn't over before Mendenhall announced that Fabuluje would be transferring. Though BYU seemed like the right fit out of Oakridge, "Faith" was more difficult to reconcile than Fabuluje anticipated.
"I wasn't fully accepted by everyone because I wasn't Mormon," Fabuluje says. "Before I got there they made it clear that if I didn't want to become Mormon, that wasn't a problem. You can choose your own religious faith as long as you follow the Mormon rules and the honor code. So I have no problem with following the honor code and all that type of stuff, it was just, I don't know, I just didn't feel like -- as a non-Mormon I didn't feel like I was the right fit.
"I just didn't feel like I was accepted wholly, I guess. Wholly: 'W-H.'"
Fabuluje was still tight with the Apos. Informing them that he wanted to leave BYU required another awkward conversation, but just as before the family was warm.
"Ross was like, 'I hate we're not going to be playing together any more,'" Fabuluje says. "'But I know that you thought up your decision, I know what kind of person you are, I know you wouldn't do something just to do it. I'm confident if you're confident. I'm still going to watch you play, but just do what you gotta do.'"
Fabuluje's move back to Texas was transformative. He went to BYU a 260-pound defensive end, and less than a year later he was practicing as a 317-pound offensive tackle in spring ball for TCU. It was good weight. Patterson gave the stock coaching caveat for players who appear impressive but have yet to see the field, a bit of praise by faint damnation: "I've seen a lot of guys who look good but not play worth a dang."
Patterson immediately knew how he wanted to deploy Fabuluje.
"Coach Patterson is known for knowing what is best for a player, and he felt offensive line was best for me, and it's worked out." Fabuluje told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram at the time. "There's definitely room for improvement, but I'm happy with how we progressed all year."
Fabuluje started 12 games -- 10 at left tackle -- for the Horned Frogs in 2012. He was named All-Big 12 honorable mention and the conference's Offensive Newcomer of the Year after completing just his sophomore season of eligibility. Fabuluje could have been TCU's anchor for three seasons. Instead, his career went off-rail.
During Fabuluje's breakout season, he was eating on half a college stipend. His older sister moved from California to live with him after their mother went to jail. She was trying to get into school and was caught suddenly without financial support. She moved in with Fabuluje while she looked for a job.
Almost no one knew. Fabuluje's roommate, wide receiver Skye Dawson, had to know, but his surrogate family, the Apos, had no idea, nor did Patterson.
"We tried hard to keep that out, because my sister was like 'I don't want you to have any distractions, I want you to be focused on everything you're doing,'" Fabuluje says. "At the same time, I wanted to keep her business under confidentiality.
"Nobody knew, and it was just something that we kept under the radar. If you see us throughout the day you would never know. We were always upbeat, happy."
Though Fabuluje considered the Apos like family, and vice versa, there were issues he felt would be better dealt with among his biological kin. That meant missing time from the team to work and survive.
"I felt like -- I'm one of those people when I have a problem, I want to do everything I can do to try to solve it," Fabuluje says. "I hate having to ask for anything, or try to take handouts or anything like that. When I did ask for help and all that type of stuff, it was because, it was just my back was against the wall, and it was a last resort I had to do.
"I see them as family, but I have to keep that between me and my sister."
Fabuluje quickly made up his mind to transfer back to BYU after spending the 2013 summer trying to figure out how to make ends meet. It was his last resort: Fabuluje needed the Apos' help. The family had moved to Utah after Ross went to BYU. Tom Apo told Fabuluje that the best thing for him was to be near the family. Fabuluje moved back to Provo, and let his sister stay in his apartment in Fort Worth. The decision came at the beginning of August, 30 days before the season opener against LSU.
"Me and my old offensive line coach, Eddie Williamson, we had a lot of conversations," Fabuluje says. "I was going into counseling, I was doing it all, trying to just to get through that time. When it came time where I finally sat down with Coach Patterson, it was pretty close to -- I mean, you're either going to do it or you're not, and I had to do it. It was a quick turnaround. I told him two days later and I was gone."
Patterson was stunned. Not mad, necessarily, though he dropped another hard-line coachism to the press -- "You've got to play with guys who want to be here, simple as that." He still had no idea what Fabuluje was going through when he made that statement.
"He was just more upset that he couldn't help me," Fabuluje says. "There was nothing he could do without breaking rules. So he was just more disappointed in that, that I couldn't be helped."
Fabuluje didn't give much thought to playing football for the Cougars. Plenty of people encouraged him to give it another try, but transfer rules would have meant sitting another year, and anyway he had to think about his family. He worked out a deal with the dean at BYU that barred team personnel from contacting Fabuluje so that he could focus on school. Fabuluje had no conversations with Mendenhall before going back to Provo.
"I was just strictly a student," Fabuluje says. "I was still hanging out with my old friends, but as far as putting back on the blue and white, that wasn't going to happen."
Though the Apos were able to provide meals and, thanks to Tom Apo's job with an airline, occasional free flights home, Fabuluje still needed money to cover tuition and help his sister pay rent at his old apartment. He worked as a greeter and security guard at Michael Kors and Champs Sports, and sold cell phones for Sprint.
That year was Fabuluje's rock bottom. He stopped considering the NFL as an option, and he did a poor job maintaining his imposing figure. Fabuluje weighed 390 pounds at one point. He wasn't in training and he certainly wasn't developing as a player.
"At that moment I was like, 'The NFL, man, that's just something unattainable at this moment," Fabuluje says. "If I can't get past this, I shouldn't even be thinking about the NFL."
It was only when his sister established some self-sufficiency that Fabuluje entertained the thought of playing again. He fretted over an awkward return to TCU, but his former teammates quickly accepted him back -- "It was like, 'Hey, everybody goes through things, and we're just happy to see you back.' They accepted me like brothers."
Patterson, too. If hard feelings ever existed, they quickly dissipated.
"The first conversation with Coach Patterson was just like, 'Let's just put it behind us and move forward,'" Fabuluje says. "'There's no point dwelling on the past. What happened, happened.' He really wanted me to graduate. 'You've come this far,' he said."
Fabuluje reclaimed his starting job in time for the 2014 season opener against Samford. He weighed 376 pounds at that point. By the Baylor game in October, Fabuluje's weight was down in the 350s. Regaining his physique was the most important thing -- "I knew once, when we first got back in our pads, that I would be fine."
Fabuluje undeniably succeeded. A three-point loss to Baylor and the whims of the College Football Playoff committee just barely kept TCU from a potential national title run. The Horned Frogs had the second-highest scoring offense in college football at 46.5 points per game, and racked up more than 2,600 yards on the ground. Fabuluje described the season as a product of his team's sacrifice, selflessness and brotherhood.
"And no one really saw it coming, because we had new coaches, new offense, new everything," Fabuluje says. "It's amazing what happens when everybody buys into something and truly believes that we can win. If you truly -- everybody truly believes and buys into something, it can't fail. That's the whole reason we had the success that we did, because everybody bought in, everybody was selfless, everybody was focused on the same cause.
"It was just a crazy, crazy, unforgettable season."
Perhaps the most amazing thing: Fabuluje ultimately came out ahead of the curve. After four tumultuous years, he finished his psychology degree in December.
Fabuluje's epilogue is in progress. It wouldn't be right to say that things have settled down in the months since TCU's Peach Bowl win over Ole Miss, but for the first time in a while Fabuluje can focus on himself. He is working out as much as he can, even now that the evaluation process has slowed down. After weighing in at 353 pounds at the NFL Combine, he was down to 332 at his pro day. His 5.55 in the 40-yard dash was a bit disappointing, but his 29-inch vertical leap was impressive given his mass.
Fabuluje may still be on the board when the seventh round ends, but that doesn't much matter to this story. With his 6'7 frame, he won't be waiting long if he does become an undrafted free agent. Fabuluje can't wait to play no matter the team, though he admits it would be "beyond a dream" if he's suiting up for the Dallas Cowboys.
The important thing is that Fabuluje is finally doing, full-time, what has felt most comfortable to him. Last February, he told the Star-Telegram that he was "born to play football," something he has only been able to do intermittently over the last four years. Now, football is the only thing on his shoulders, and he couldn't be much happier.
"I'm in the weight room any chance I get," Fabuluje says. "I'm always doing something, just staying active and keeping my mind focused on the right things. That's the best thing I can do. Just staying positive and trying to remain constant."
Fabuluje has had to make a lot of difficult decisions in his life. Those choices have put him in position to realize his dreams. Fabuluje might say it's the result of those around him -- some combination of family, friends, football and faith, perhaps -- but that would be taking agency away from himself. Fabuluje attracted good people through his actions. He conquered adversity by barreling forward with the best intentions.