DeAngelo Tyson is just like any other high school senior – his situation is just a little bit different.
Tyson is considered one of the top football players in the country, and many believe he’s the top performer at his own position. It’s not just his size – he’s approaching 6-foot-3, 300 pounds – it’s his natural talent and ability to perfect the technique in which he performs his craft.
‘D’, as he’s known to friends and family, verbally committed to play football for the University of Georgia as a junior, one year after winning a state championship with the Blue Devils of Statesboro High. His final year at SHS has been full of photo shoots, media interviews, All-Star games, tutoring sessions and everything else that comes with that final year under the prep shelter.
Then, when it’s all over with at the end of the day, Tyson finds his way back home – to 3400 Cypress Lake Road – Joseph’s Home for Boys.
Bulloch County’s Child
Eight years ago, Tyson arrived in Statesboro as property of the state. Living at home no longer an option, the larger-than-most middle school student arrived at Joseph’s old location, a narrow building at the top of a hill on the north side of town.
“I was scared,” he says, hands folded, right knee oscillating back-and-forth. “I didn’t know anybody around here.”
That fear of the unknown helped him make the decision to leave almost immediately. Tyson moved in with an Aunt in South Carolina. Another year later and he was headed back for Statesboro.
“I knew I really didn’t have any where else to go except the boys’ home,” he recalls, hoping to change the subject as quickly as possible. “I just decided to come back.”
And he’s been back ever since.
“He’s basically our child – he’s Bulloch County’s child,” said Amy Futch, director of Joseph’s. “He’s grown up here.”
DeAngelo said he knows his mother lives in Savannah and his father in Augusta – but that’s the extent of the relationship.
“I don’t really talk to them,” said Tyson.
Since Tyson’s first days at the home, Joseph’s has moved to a new facility – a nostalgic, summer-camp type house set back behind the trees.
The boys have their own living room, game room with exercise equipment, dining room, study hall and kitchen. Out back, there’s a basketball court, fire pit and acres of woods in which the kids learn the perils of poison ivy and different species of snakes. Anywhere from 11 to 13 boys share separate rooms off of a long, college dorm style hallway.
“(The boys) look up to me, and we play around and have fun,” said ‘D’ about his brothers. “We’re like a big family – but we also get on each others nerves,” he said, flashing a rare grin.
When Tyson turned 14, Futch explains, as is the case with all boys that age, he chose to stay at Joseph’s, rather than explore other options.
“He was loved,” Futch continues. “He’s had support, and he’s grown up with the people who’ve loved him and who are not going to turn their back on him.”
Now 19, 12 years elder than the youngest boy in the house, he lives in an apartment on the second floor with his own bedroom and living room.
“He commands – in a quiet, soft-spoken way – he commands respect,” explains Futch. “(The boys) admire him. Most of these boys, when they see the type of opportunity he’s been given, it makes it more real to them that there are alternatives out there. A lot of them look up to ‘D’ because of what he’s done.”
There’s no favoritism, though, as Tyson is still expected to help with daily chores, keep his room clean and be home before curfew. He still struggles with the latter two.
A member of the anti-curfew society, Tyson holds firm his grounding a few weeks ago was unwarranted. Upstairs, Futch has to leave notes on poster-board size sheets of paper reminding him to tidy up.
“He has been a teenager – don’t get me wrong,” said Futch. “He’s done a lot of things to make us want to pull our hair out.”
As Tyson grew from prep football player to local celebrity – his face easily found on magazine covers, in newspaper article after newspaper article and on every college scouting Web site imaginable – the perils of modern athleticism began to take form.
The pressure to make the grades academically, ward off shady strangers offering to-good-to-be-true offers and emotionally reintroduce himself to family members who had caught wind of his recent success and possible future riches could have cracked the already fragile psyche of ‘D’.
Earlier this year, Tyson was invited to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in Texas. The honor required a press conference on the SHS campus in which Tyson was asked to make a speech accepting the invite. He broke down during the oration while his teachers and classmates silently stood by.
“I think he feels more pressure because if he doesn’t do well at the University of Georgia, then there’s a lot of kids that are going to say, ‘Oh, look, he didn’t do well, so I don’t have to,’” said Joseph’s Administrative Assistant Suzy Wagner.
Wagner, who keeps seven different photos of ‘D’ on her wall above her desk, is admittedly extra close to Tyson. She was there the day he arrived and will drive him to college on June 1.
“When I first got here I didn’t like Ms. Suzy,” Tyson remembers. “She used to do stuff for the other boys and I didn’t like that. We just grew closer. I call her my auntie, but she’s more like a mom.”
DeAngelo has done all that’s left to do now. He’s passed the tests, signed the documents and begun his preparations for college. Last week he spoke at a local middle school on the importance of academics and following ones dreams. He still feels the pressure of his expectations, but he’s starting to learn how to handle them.
“Everybody’s looking for me to be the best that I can be,” he explains. “It’s not hard, but it’s hard for me because I’m going to a place that I’ve seen, but I’ve only seen a little bit of it. It’s going to be hard for me to stay focused. Athens is a big place and there’s going to be temptations everywhere. I’m going to have to make good decisions.”
Tyson has just two weeks left with the people who have helped shape his life.
“It’s going to be a tough time, leaving the people I grew up around,” he says, swallowing before continuing. “I don’t want to go but I do want to go because I got people around here that care for me and have pushed me to do what I wanted to do.”
Futch and Wagner defer to a different subject when DeAngelo’s departure is mentioned.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” said Futch, holding back the emotion that will inevitably shed forth on that day ‘D’ waves goodbye from the car window. “If that tells you what it’s going to feel like for a house full of momma’s and daddy’s – it’s going to be hard.”
On Saturday, Tyson took that symbolic step in life by crossing the stage and accepting his high school diploma. Odds are there wasn’t a single soul present at Georgia Southern’s Hanner Fieldhouse that feels DeAngelo Tyson isn’t ready for the world.
The one question that does remain – is the world ready for DeAngelo Tyson?