Nobody on the Buffalo Bills, or maybe in the entire NFL, grew up in the environment Kevon Seymour did. He faced death 15 yards away and, somehow, also escaped the "Snake Pits" in Pasadena, Calif., as the Buffalo Bills cornerback explained in our Sunday story.
One positive force in Seymour's life was Drew Pearson, who coached the secondary at John Muir High School and then was an assistant at USC (not the Dallas WR Drew Pearson).
As Seymour started to excel on the football field, without a father in his life, Pearson became a mentor. He helped take Seymour on visits to colleges and lived in the Community Arms "Snake Pits" himself in his mid-20's. Showing Seymour a light at the end of the tunnel, Pearson helped steer Seymour to college.
Here are Pearson's thoughts on Seymour's upbringing in the rugged Snake Pits, growing up without a Dad and how much Seymour wants to get his family out of the Pits...
On his relationship with Kevon Seymour: “That's my dude. Blood couldn’t make us any thicker. Anything I have, he has. And if I don’t have it, I’ll go get it for him. He’s a young man with 100 percent effort and it’s rare to come across those types of kids. He had that at a very young age and I just wanted to support him and anybody else.”
“He was a phenom all through his Pop Warner days. I knew him; I just didn’t have a rapport with him. And then coming into high school, he came to John Muir (High School) which wad the same school I went to and the school I was coaching at. And then from there, we just clicked. I’ve had him since he was a baby and I saw crazy potential in him. After his freshman season, I brought him up to varsity. Going into his sophomore year, that sophomore summer, I put him in varsity league passing tournaments and he was shining. He could run with anybody.”
On Kevon growing up without a Dad: “I grew up without a dad around. So I knew what it’s like to grow up and not have that support system. And my Mom was a fantastic Mom. There’s just certain things you go through that you’d need a father figure for. How to conduct yourself as a man. Looking another man in the eyes. A firm handshake. When you speak, be assertive when you speak. Little things like that are where I tried to help him out. His Mom is a fantastic Mom. He has a twin, a baby sister and an older sister that she takes care of. Her responsibilities are endless, so there’s times where she couldn’t reach him. She was at work so I just felt it was necessary to go ahead and assert myself. I’m a firm believer that it takes a village to raise a child. And I’ve just been fortunate enough to be part of his village. Him trusting the information was one of the biggest things.”
On what he saw in Seymour at a young age to dive into his life: “Obviously what the world saw at the Combine, he was born with an ability to run with fluid hips and things like that. So I saw that when he was a freshman. Even though he played JV as a freshman he has the physical ability to keep up with the guys on varsity. His body size at that time just wasn’t ready for the impact of the hit. But I knew he could run and hold his own when we got him to any camps we could. But bigger than that was his confidence to go play with anybody."
On what made Kevon Seymour different: “It’s one thing to be physically able to do certain things. But it’s another to compete on a certain level down after down. You have to want that. He had a hunger in him that was rare. Talent aside, you have to have hunger and his hunger was bar none. I knew getting him to Washington, driving him up to Cal camps, throwing him into USC camps, I’d make him go on the field with the very best receivers. I knew once they get a glimpse of how he plays and his athleticism, they’re going to love him. And then bigger than the football field, we’re talking about a fantastic young man you want to represent your program. When the game’s done on Saturday or Sunday, you don’t have to worry about what he’s doing in the streets. This is a guy who loves the Lord. He’s an all-around great person. He’s an elite athlete and an elite personality.”
On the "Snake Pit:" “The pit, if you’ve seen the TV show ‘Gangland,’ it was all Gangland. Just to give you a taste of it, for Kevon defied the odds. The exposure that you get at such a young age — 10 times out of 10 you’re going down that same road. You’ve seen shootouts. You’ve seen fights. You’ve seen police raids. You’ve seen marshals coming into your own neighborhood. You wake up and you can’t go to certain areas at that time. You see rival fights with gangs. I remember being in the pit, they’re shooting, and I’m running out there to round up kids and get them in one apartment. We’re talking about little kids. Not junior high kids. I’m talking eight years old, seven years old, just playing on the playground. We’re scattering, getting everybody into one apartment. It didn’t matter whose apartment it was at that time. Just trying to keep them safe until all of that subsides. If you persevere through that, man, you can persevere through anything."
On how the police's view of someone from the Pits: “And coming from the snake pits, a guy like Kevon who has nothing to do with that, it doesn’t mean anything when the police see you. You look like everything that represents that. Your skin tone is the same skin tone. Now, you’re leaving the Snake Pits — nothing to do with nothing—and you get pulled over to the curb with handcuffs on you just because the police think you have something. And then when they find out you’re not in a gang, then they let you go.”
On getting cuffed if you exited the Snake Pits: “Oh, absolutely. I’ve been put over a couple times and I try to explain to them, ‘I just graduated a month ago!’ I’ll never forget. I had just graduated in 2012 and I went and got my Masters degree. I’m trying to explain to them ‘Man, I just got a Masters degree. Why are you asking me if I’m on probation or parole?’ Those are the first two questions I get all the time when I’m put on. Just because I look like this? Man, we have to be better than that. That’s what we’ve become accustomed to.”
On football being Seymour's outlet: "Where we come from, it’s ball or you’re banging. Football was the way out for him. For other kids, it may be basketball or baseball. But football, and being committed to going to practice, you can’t be gang-banging if you’ve got practice at 2 o’clock and you’ve got film in the morning. Your time is too chopped up. Bigger than that, there are guys like myself that committed to these kids and scrap up some money to get them to this Washington camp. Get you out of here. This is your first time on a plane — go see that, man. A lot of kids don’t even get exposure to the other sides of the wall to see they like that and want to be like that. When you put a kid like Kevon on a college campus and they actually see college kids, they realize ‘Wow, not only is this great but I could be doing the same thing he’s doing!’ That’s the key. Once he starts to believe, then the monster’s going to come out of him. Now, he’s going to go get it, work hard and do what’s necessary, whatever it takes. I just knew that once I got him on college campuses and got him competing against top competition—and not only that but you’re the best out here — then you know you’re better than everybody else.”
On if it's Seymour's goal to get his family out: “Absolutely. That’s something we talked about. In adolescent years it’s always me, me, me, I, I, I. He’s never been that type of kid. When it feels like it’s challenging, you have to dig deeper because this is bigger than you right now. This is for your little sister. This is for your mom. I called him the night before the Combine — after he finished his interviewing, heights and weights and stuff—and then it was cornerbacks performance day. I said ‘you call your Mom, you take her outside and you tell her to do a 360 and you point at any hill and that’s where we’re going to place the house. Because it’s all about to come together for you.’ He’s always been thinking that it’s bigger than himself.”
“Getting his mom out of there — that’s absolutely right — that’s something he literally talks about. He literally put himself in a position to do that.”
On the craziest thing he saw in the Snake Pits: “The toughest thing for me is seeing the police raid a house and when they do a raid—it doesn’t matter who’s in the house. Moms, babies, everybody has to lay down on the floor. It’s tough because when you look like me or Kevon, you’re going to be treated in a certain manner when it happens. That’s very bothersome.
“We’re pretty much desensitized to it. You never say ‘Oh my God, they’re shooting!’ It’s something you become accustomed to.
“The raids, when the police puts their hands on you, I’ve seen guys get their face beat in by the police. It’s crazy. There’s nothing you can do because if you fight back, it can get extreme. There’s no limitations to what they can do to us. There’s so much they can do that’s justifiable, supposedly. ... If you’re in that house they’re raiding, you’re part of everything until they figure out who’s not. If you’re a certain age and look a certain way, you’re getting the treatment. You’re going to get slammed up. The best thing you can do is just jump on the floor if you don’t want to get slammed.”
On where Kevon Seymour will be five years from now: “Five years from now, Kevon could definitely be a household name. You’re talking about somebody who has the athleticism to run with anybody in the league and the heart to do so. You’re going against one of the best route runners in the NFL in Robert Woods and one of the best playmakers in Sammy Watkins—with that combination he should be ready for the T.Y. Hilton’s all the way to the Dez Bryants. I think he can find a home in Buffalo. I’d love to see the dream continue to unfold. He’ll be there five years from now and will continue to grow.”