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Mom shared Dareus' NFL dream; Caring for family on No. 1 pick's mind

In Marcell Dareus, the Buffalo Bills are getting more than a talented football player.

They are also getting a young man driven by the memory of someone very special.

Michelle Luckey was Dareus' mother, his beacon, the love of his life. She passed away last May of a congestive heart ailment at the age of 47. But it was how she lived that serves as an inspiration for Dareus.

After Dareus' father died when he was six, Luckey was left to raise six boys and one girl alone before getting remarried years later. She developed health problems and nearly died of congestive heart failure a few years ago. Her condition was so bad she was confined to a wheelchair during much of Dareus' adolescence.

But she dealt with her illness without complaint. Pearson Webb, Dareus' oldest brother, said she pushed herself so hard anyone who saw her wouldn't know how much pain she was in.

Luckey was only doing what she always taught her kids to do when faced with difficult times.

Fight.

"When I look back on my Mom, her whole drive was never give up," Dareus said Friday during his introductory news conference at the Bills' headquarters. "When she was on her deathbed, and she was on her deathbed a couple of times growing up, but one time I asked her, 'Mom, why are you still fighting?' I was in middle school and it was just a crazy question. She looked at me and said, 'I have seven kids. Would you want me to be gone now, or do you want me to keep fighting?' I said, 'Mom, keep fighting.' She said, 'Alright then. You go over there and sit down.' She rolled over and went to sleep.

"That's how my mom was. It wasn't so many words, it was just 'I have seven kids.' My father wasn't there, my big brother helped out when he could and he helped out all that he could. That's all it was, 'I can't give up.'"

Dareus is the second-youngest child. Watching how his mom maintained her dignity through constant suffering made any nicks and bruises Dareus sustained on the field seem trivial by comparison.

"When you can go to sleep in pain, you don't know what pain is," he said. "I had a hurt elbow, a hamstring and ankle, it's not going to keep from not playing. As long as she could go to sleep, wake up, put food on the table and be in pain 24 hours a day, the little things I go through is nothing."

Luckey's determined struggle rubbed off on Dareus, who has dealt with enough adversity that might have overwhelmed a lesser person.

His grandmother, who helped raise him, Ella Alexander, died when he was 13. His high school coach and mentor, Scott Livingston, was killed in a car crash just a few hours after Dareus signed with Alabama.

The past year might have been the most difficult. In addition to losing his mother, Dareus said goodbye to one of his closest friends, Mississippi State defensive end Nick Bell, who lost his battle with cancer in November. Then there was the two-game suspension imposed by the NCAA at the start of last season for accepting improper benefits.

But like his mother, Dareus wouldn't let the setbacks hold him back.

"This guy is probably one of the most resilient guys I know," said Webb, who accompanied his brother to Buffalo. "So many challenges came his way, even in this season alone. He lost his mom, his best friend and he has some issues at the beginning of the season. Just to be able to overcome all of that and stand on the stage today shows how resilient he is. And he's standing there with a smile and he's proud of himself, and he should be proud of himself."

One reason for Dareus' smile was the knowledge that he'll get the kind of contract that will allow him to take care of his family.

"We struggled for a long time," said Dareus, who moved from place to place around Birmingham, Ala., and spent his senior year in high school living with family friend and father figure Lester Reasor and his wife, Juanita.

"To get to a point now people invest a lot of money and time and I invested too much time, a lot of time, since the fifth grade to now to be in the position I'm in now," Dareus said. "It's paid off to the point where I can help my family. We struggled for so long. My mom passed, my dad passed and it's at the point where I can really help us out. I can get a house for our own. We don't have to get kicked out or move somewhere else or have a house taken from us. We'll have one for ourselves."

No doubt there will be plenty of reminders of his mother in the family's new home. Even though Luckey is gone, Dareus and Webb said they can still feel her presence.

She was dominant in Dareus' thoughts when the Bills drafted him Thursday night and was still on his mind Friday. This is the dream they both shared, and now it has come true.

"Once the Bills called me, I knew right then [I was drafted]," he said. "I said, 'OK, momma I made it. I made it.

"It's something nobody can take it from me and this is my moment. For my brothers and sisters, this is for us."

And of course, for mom.

"To me, this is an opportunity to redeem May for us," Webb said. "Last May was the worst May of all of our lives and we're going to use this May to celebrate and appreciate my mom's life and appreciate my brother's accomplishments. We're taking our May back."

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com