Ty Nsekhe sits on a cart in a corner and scans the cavernous practice facility at One Bills Drive.
For two hours, the indoor football field has remained largely undisturbed, as has his conversation, but Nsekhe continues to monitor the perimeter of the room, his gaze straying from door to door. Some lead to outside practice fields, others to the parking lot, the locker room, the weight room, the trainers’ room, the meeting rooms.
All the doors make him nervous.
Nsekhe lowers his voice to a whisper and recounts his anxiety when strangers first recognized him in public, the NFL offensive lineman uncertain how much they knew.
“It caught me off guard,” Nsekhe says, “because I’m guarded, and I have trust issues, and ‘that situation’ kind of scarred me because I look at everything. Like, I’m aware of everything.”
An uneasy chuckle escapes.
It’s a tidy euphemism, “that situation.”
“You’ve always got to stay on guard, right?” Nsekhe says. “So when people came up to me and knew my name, it freaked me out at first. I was like, ‘Hold on, you know too much about me.’ Right? So I was nervous as hell. So I cut my beard because I didn’t want nobody to notice and recognize me.”
Nsekhe stands 6 feet, 8 inches and weighs 330 pounds. He’s an imposing and immediate presence in most every room he enters, an oak tree among ferns. And since being released from prison in 2008, his celebrity has only grown as his career progressed from playing in obscure arenas to sold-out stadiums.
Nsekhe’s story of pro football perseverance has been chronicled for years. He’s regaled interviewers with his inspiring decadelong climb from the Corpus Christi Sharks of the AF2, the Arena Football League’s defunct developmental arm, to joining the Buffalo Bills, signing with 11 franchises in 11 years.
He used to earn $100 a game, about $85 after taxes, and an extra $50 if his team won.
In March, he signed a two-year, $10 million contract with the Bills.
“He obviously has an unconventional method with which he got to the league,” Bills offensive line coach Bobby Johnson said. “He has a hunger to start. So that always adds a little fire to the room as well, which I love.”
In time, a man who freaked out when he was first recognized in public grew more comfortable with sharing information about himself.
Nsekhe, who turns 34 in October, has talked about always believing he had the talent to play in the NFL, about the friends and family who wouldn’t allow him to quit, about “overcoming adversity.”
Another tidy euphemism.
“I think you've got one of the great all-time stories in terms of walking a long road to get to where you are,” host Jim Rome told Nsekhe in early May during a segment on CBS Sports Radio. “And as proof of that, you've got jerseys from 10 teams that you've played for along the way hanging in your office.”
That’s the Disney script.
Throughout his interviews, Nsekhe allowed an inaccuracy to stand, never correcting the record and rarely hinting at the true depths from which he has risen.
Undrafted out of Texas State in 2009?
“For the most part, I’ve controlled what I’ve put out there to the media … ” Nsekhe said. “I don’t really talk about my past much.”
But the public records exist.
Wasn’t he nervous that someone would ask about the felony burglary?
The computer crime?
His months behind bars?
“Not really,” Nsekhe said. “Because you couldn’t really find it. The only way you would be able to find it is you Google my real first name.”
He’s sharing his real story, raw and unvarnished, publicly for the first time, opening a door that’s remained shut for more than a decade. It’s less about a football player than a man who clawed from the abyss, a man who once hardly recognized himself.
Attauyo Nkere Nsekhe (pronounced en-SECK-he) played one season at Texas State, in 2003, before he and several teammates robbed a fraternity house during spring semester.
“We took a bunch of electronics and a bunch of school books and stuff like that,” Nsekhe said. “We loaded up (a teammate’s) car and they found his car at the bottom of the parking lot, and he pretty much told the whole story.”
That was just one person’s word against the others, but Nsekhe said a PlayStation he pawned tied him to the heist.
Nsekhe was 18 years old. It was an isolated incident, he said, explaining the larger context.
Texas State coach Manny Matsakis had been fired in January 2004 for a host of alleged NCAA violations, including requiring the team to practice beyond the 20-hour limit each week. Nsekhe said he attended classes each morning, raced to the team facility by about 12:30 p.m. and remained there until 10:30 or 11 p.m. He didn’t have time to eat.
“My mom didn’t have extra money to give me to go get some food,” Nsekhe said. “I didn’t have any money and all the dining halls are closed.
“It was wrong, but in my mind, I had to do what I had to do. I’m not trying to justify it. I would never steal now. But I can understand where people come from, when they have no means to get what they’re trying to get, and why they do what they do.”
Nsekhe ducked the police for about two months until officers arrived at the practice facility and talked to the new head coach, David Bailiff.
“He was like, ‘If you just keep it honest and tell the truth, we’re going to take care of you,’ ” Nsekhe said.
Bailiff, now the head coach at Division II Texas A&M-Commerce, did not respond to an interview request.
“I’m figuring I’ll get a slap on the wrist,” Nsekhe said. “Me being a young kid, I’m like, ‘OK, I’m just trying to get out of trouble, move on and play football.’ … I trusted what he said and wrote a whole statement about what I did and everything. That’s where the 10 years came in. They threw the book at me.”
Nsekhe was charged with burglary of a habitation, a second-degree felony. He faced 10 years in prison.
The school directed him to an attorney and in September 2004, he accepted a plea deal: 10 years of probation, 150 hours of community service and an order to pay $339.95 in restitution.
By that point, Texas State had dropped him from a full to partial scholarship, and Nsekhe left to enroll at Division II Tarleton State, where he reconnected with his childhood friend and high school teammate, Chris Poux. Poux had initially committed to Texas State, like Nsekhe, but said he struggled with grades and the death of his father and chose to stay closer to home. He said games at Bowie High School in Arlington drew more than double the crowd at Tarleton.
“I felt like we were back in peewee football,” Poux said. “But I can say it’ll make you very humble.”
The experience didn’t have the same effect on Nsekhe. He skipped 6 a.m. workouts and 8 a.m. classes.
“I’ve never been a morning person,” Nsekhe said. “I wasn’t in the mindset to go do that. And that created a rift between me and the coach at Tarleton. They were like, ‘You’ve got to go to class.’ Punishment for me was I was rotating in every other series. I did that for probably five games and decided it wasn’t for me.”
Nsekhe said he enrolled in 2006 at Northwestern Oklahoma State, an NAIA school, after then-Dallas Cowboys receiver Patrick Crayton reached out to him.
“That’s the school he went to,” Nsekhe said. “He said, ‘You come here, there’s an opportunity you can go to the league. Just play here, do what you’ve been doing.’ … So I’m like, it’s possible.”
Nsekhe had interstate probation approved and arrived in Alva, Okla.
“It was nothing like what they told me over the phone,” Nsekhe said.
He was only there for a semester and never played in a game.
Nsekhe said a fight erupted during an intramural basketball game when he was slapped by an opponent and attacked by a group of six white fraternity brothers, one of whom later told him to “go back to where you came from.”
“I walked out of that with just a slap mark on my face. That’s about it,” he said. “The rest of them, eyes black – I had to do what I had to do.”
Student affairs gave him a citation for fighting. A second meant expulsion.
“Later on that semester, security wouldn’t let me take a sandwich out of the lunch hall,” Nsekhe said. “Mind you, I’m on scholarship. These meals are paid for already through my scholarship. It’s just a sandwich. I’m taking it to my room. They talk about I’m stealing, gave me a second demerit and kicked me out of school.
“I was third string there anyway. They didn’t want me there. That kind of killed my vibe for playing football. That’s what pushed me into doing other things to get income.”
Nsekhe returned home to Arlington after leaving Northwestern Oklahoma State and spent his nights roaming the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
Job opportunities were limited for a man with no college degree and felony probation in his criminal history, but it wasn’t too difficult to find work as a bouncer. Not too many guys are his size, and sensing a need, Nsekhe’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked in.
He began to recruit and farm out security guards.
“Knowing teammates from the area, people who needed to work, I got my friends working at these clubs and I would take a little bit of their money,” Nsekhe said. “That’s how I created that whole business.
“Then I started working at this strip club and started seeing really good money. Like it was really fast and really good.”
He’d rotate among working the door and inside, controlling the crowd, protecting the dancers, pulling in a little something extra when the place was packed. Between tips and his paycheck, Nsekhe guessed he earned about $1,500 to $2,000 a week.
But that wasn’t enough.
“I came across the computer devices,” Nsekhe said. “There was a way to turn on the gas pumps, basically. I could pump gas for free.”
Nsekhe learned he could charge others half-price to fill up their tanks at 7-Eleven stations. He doesn’t want to detail the extent of his crimes.
He's not proud of this period in his life.
“At the time, my mind frame was, ‘I’m untouchable,’ ” Nsekhe said. “I was big. I was making a lot of money. And I had a short temper, so I used to get into a lot of fights.”
He didn’t have to put up with much. And he said he could turn to “certain friends” if a situation escalated.
“It really got a little dangerous,” Nsekhe said. “In hindsight, I was being really reckless and dumb.”
Nsekhe knew he didn’t have to steal gas.
He was no longer that young, hungry college kid making a singular, foolish decision. He was a man, making good money at the club and through his security business. And he knew he was on felony probation, one misstep from a 10-year sentence.
“At the time, I was in love with money,” Nsekhe said, “and I was trying to get as much as I could. I just knew money can afford me nice things … and I was just living in the moment. When you’re young, you don’t really think about the future. I was just thinking, ‘I can make this much money doing all this, right now?’ I was trying to maximize my time and my dollars.
“And on top of that, I don’t know anybody who knew what we were doing. That’s the main thing that came across my mind. This is a perfect way – I didn’t think I was going to get caught. You never think you’re going to be caught. When you’re doing a crime, I don’t think you go into it thinking, ‘Oh, man, I can get caught doing this.’ You think, ‘This is the perfect plan.’ ”
The police set up a sting.
“I remember that day like it was yesterday,” Nsekhe said.
It was just before Thanksgiving, and Nsekhe said he saw a police car at the gas station. He had seen one before and nothing happened, fueling his sense of invincibility, but this time felt different.
“Something told me don’t do it anymore, get out of here,” Nsekhe said. “I did it anyway, nervous as hell. Next thing you know, about six police cars pulled up on me.
“I didn’t even get a chance to pump the gas.”
A couple of weeks before he was busted, Nsekhe attended a tryout for the Arena Football League’s Dallas Desperados, hearing he could pocket up to $1,000 per game.
“I figured I could play some football, maybe get a shot, and at least make some money doing this,” Nsekhe said. “And they liked what they saw, but I didn’t have any film.”
Try Arena 2, he was told. He collected a few coaches’ cards.
Those came in handy after Nsekhe pled guilty to a Class A misdemeanor, admitting to a lone computer security breach of less than $1,500 and walking out of the Tarrant County Corrections Center in Fort Worth about two months after his arrest. He’d been facing seven charges.
“I knew they didn’t have anything on me,” Nsekhe said. “They didn’t have any evidence. All they had was that (misdemeanor) and I knew I was going to get time served.”
His probation violation was a greater concern.
“I was worried about when I get out,” Nsekhe said, “what’s going to happen with those 10 years?”
He was released just in time to finagle a few months of freedom.
“My probation officer was in Stephenville and on maternity leave,” Nsekhe said. “I was checking in every three months. Sign a piece of paper, put it in her box and leave. That was my check-in. Thank God I didn’t have to check in every month, or she would have violated me on the spot.”
Nsekhe’s lawyer told him he needed to start working, to do something so it looks as though he’s a productive member of society. Perhaps outside of the “security” field.
Nsekhe called the Corpus Christi Sharks.
“I honestly thought he blew me off, because what’s new?” said Michael Trigg, then the Sharks’ director of football operations and head coach. “Every player thinks they should be playing for the Buffalo Bills, and you’re trying to get them to play in the minor leagues, and I didn’t hear from him. So when he called and said he was available, I was excited about it.”
Trigg didn’t know about the gasoline scam, or that Nsekhe had just been released from jail.
But he knew about the burglary at Texas State and that Nsekhe had butted heads with the coaches at Tarleton.
He also knew the talent he saw at that workout in Dallas.
“Guys that can play can play, and you can see it, and they show it in their testing and their skills,” Trigg said. “I felt like he was a high-line player that got into some trouble, that had probably a high payoff, particularly for the limited league that we were in at the time, and that if we could get him going then he might be able to compete.
“Never would have thought that it would have taken him to the Rams, the Saints, the Redskins.”
Nsekhe began playing for the Sharks in 2008. But, of course, the system caught up with him.
Nsekhe missed a court hearing and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
“I was stuck,” Nsekhe said. “I’m looking at doing time. So I go tell my coach. I tell him everything going on.”
The Sharks had significant resources, as one of four AF2 franchises owned by Doug MacGregor, a computer engineer who rose to prominence at Dell. The team arranged a lawyer for Nsekhe.
In short order, Nsekhe was driving the three hours from Corpus Christi to Hays County with a plan to turn himself in and get released on his own recognizance, so he could fight his case from the outside instead of a jail cell. But he didn’t make it.
Nsekhe was behind the wheel of his 1992 Chevy Caprice, custom-painted royal blue and buffed to a high gloss, with big chrome rims and tinted windows.
“The perfect thing for the police to pull me over every other day,” Nsekhe said.
Police lights flashed in the rearview mirror. A state trooper was on his tail.
“They pulled me over because of my car,” Nsekhe said, “basically because of my tint. It was crazy, because I had all my stuff. I told him that, too. ‘My coach is behind me, we’re heading to go turn myself in so I can get myself out. That’s the plan.’
“He’s like, ‘You’ve got a bench warrant. We can’t let you go.’ ”
Nsekhe was handcuffed and booked in the Guadalupe County Adult Detention Center, then transferred to Hays County Jail in San Marcos, the same town where he once attended Texas State. After a couple of months in county lockup, he was shipped to Holliday Unit, a state prison in Huntsville that houses more than 2,000 inmates.
Nsekhe said his arms and legs were shackled and chained to other men during the predawn bus ride, which stretched for more than three hours.
He’d been sentenced to serve three years.
“That was the low of lows,” Nsekhe said. “I went from being a highly recruited, highly touted football player in my town, in my state, to catching the ‘Bluebird’ to prison. I was like, ‘Damn. Where’d I go wrong?’
“I’m always a thinker. When I sit down and have time to myself, I think, and I started thinking about the missteps I took, and I started reevaluating my life.”
How did he sink from Division I starter to Division II rotation piece to NAIA deep reserve, from campus burglar to career criminal, from probation to prison?
“That whole reality setting in, where you’ve got the correctional officer sitting up at the front with a shotgun and one behind me with a shotgun and I’m just riding to the penitentiary, I wanted to break down,” Nsekhe said. “But I’m not built like that.
“I was like, ‘I’ve got to get through this. I’m not going to let them break me. I’m going to use this as a learning tool. I’m going to get through this, and I’m going to make it, and I’m going to make something of myself.’ ”
The bus arrived at Holliday Unit at daybreak, and Nsekhe, shackled and chained to other inmates, was led into a cage, where he sat on a metal bench with no back for what felt like forever.
By midday, the intake process began.
“You strip down, you’ve got to stand arm length to arm length, bend over, open your cheeks, cough, turn around, open your mouth, all that,” Nsekhe said. “They examine everybody. Then they cut your hair. They cut you bald. They give you lye soap, a towel. They’ve got this big old shower, like a wall with shower heads. Turn the shower on. Take a shower with lye soap for lice and all that, parasites.”
Then they provided new uniforms, switching the inmates from their county colors to whites. They gave them baking soda for toothpaste, a little toothbrush, a tiny bit of soap and a mat to sleep on.
“It’s thin and twin size,” Nsekhe said. “Not fitting me. I just make it work. And a pillow with it.”
Then it’s back to the bench for another long stretch.
Nsekhe, bald, broken and clutching his little mat, stared for hours at the big, bold letters on the wall.
“It says 95% will be back,” Nsekhe said. “Basically ingraining in you, ‘You’ll be back here. … This is going to be your home.’ ”
From there, he had a mug shot taken for his offender ID card, then shots at the infirmary. He was led to “C” tank, a 54-man unit with bunks, about the size of the Bills’ locker room.
“It’s like a barn. All metal. No A/C. Hot as hell,” Nsekhe said. “It’s Texas. They give you one water break throughout the day, where you get ice. That’s the only time, other than meals.
“Toilets and showers in the open, because they’ve got to see you. So no curtains.”
Prisoners are grouped based on the time they’re serving. Nsekhe said he was confined with child predators and gangbangers. Murderers were elsewhere.
He laid motionless through that sweat-soaked first night, unable to sleep, and began to reflect.
“The first thing I was thinking about was how much money did I make with this gas thing?” Nsekhe said. “I was like, ‘Damn. Where is that money at? I didn’t have none of that to show.’ ”
He frittered it away on his car and partying, but steered clear of hard drugs.
“I had close family members that died from drugs. My aunt was on heroin and my uncle was a crackhead,” Nsekhe said.
He was raised as an only child by a single mother, Diane, who did her best to provide a happy home in their hardscrabble apartment complex in Arlington.
“She did a great job never showing me the struggle,” Nsekhe said. “The lights were never off. The bills were always paid. She always took care of me.”
He wasn’t a violent criminal.
“I’m not a killer,” Nsekhe said. “I’ve gotten in fights in my life. I’ve had a pistol on me before. I’ve never had to use it, thank God. Even when I was on probation. So I’ve always had that type of mentality, but I’ve never been that type of guy. I’ve never taken anybody’s life.
“The crimes that I did – I stole from a dorm room. … I always did stuff to try to make money. I never did anything to try to hurt people. If I got into a fight with somebody, it’s because they initiated with me. I’ve never been a bully. I wasn’t built like that. I don’t have that moral makeup.”
He laid there in prison, thinking about the path he chose, all that money he made and wasted.
“If I’d put that money away, when I got out, I could have been straight,” Nsekhe said. “I wouldn’t have had to start from scratch.
“Next time I get an opportunity to get a lot of money,” Nsekhe thought, “I’ve got to take care of that.”
He figured he’d do his three years, then maybe drive a truck.
“I was like, ‘Football is pretty much done,’ ” Nsekhe said. “I was 22. I’ll be 25. Football is probably over.”
After a couple of months at Holliday, Nsekhe was shipped to Newton County Correctional Center, a privately owned prison that closed in 2012, the sixth facility where he was incarcerated.
He’d collect-call Mike and Susan Trigg, the Sharks’ coach and his wife, and they would put money in his book to spend at the prison commissary.
This was a lot better than Holliday, but he remained a target of the correctional officers because he was the biggest guy in the unit and they could make an example out of him to dissuade other inmates from acting out.
Summer turned to fall, and Nsekhe received a phone call from his lawyer.
He was going to be released on Nov. 12 after serving seven months.
“He told me my date,” Nsekhe said.
He was told to keep it to himself.
“I didn’t tell anybody, so I don’t know how he knew,” Nsekhe said, “but another inmate tried to antagonize me. Dude didn’t like me from the beginning, one of the guys in the tank. We had a little issue. And he wanted to fight me. It’s jail. He had a long time, like 15 or 20 years to do, so he didn’t really care and he was trying to mess my time up. If I catch a case in there, that means I don’t get out.”
Nsekhe said he was sitting on his bottom bunk, putting his shoes on, when he was attacked.
“He comes and tries to hit me,” Nsekhe said. “So I just throw him over my shoulder. He’s a little cat. He went about three bunks over.”
A correctional officer hauled the other inmate off first, and Nsekhe described the incident to a second CO.
“I was like, ‘Look, I’m supposed to catch the chain to go home on Thursday. I’m leaving. You’ll never see me again, man. I’ve got things to do. This dude here’s got 15 years. He’s going to be here. I’m going home,’ ” Nsekhe said. “I was like, ‘Bruh, he jumped on me. I was defending myself. I’m not a bully. I’m not that type.’ ”
Nsekhe arrived at the infirmary. They had to check both inmates.
“And he’s in there lying, talking about how he feared for his life and I’ve been a bully the whole time. All that,” Nsekhe said. “His whole face was red with scratches and stuff. I was like, ‘I barely touched this dude!’ So then I go in there. They look at me because I’m big. They’re like, ‘Mmm hmm. Big bully.’ I’m like, ‘I didn’t do anything. I promise y’all.’ ”
Then they looked at his hands.
“And I remembered I played basketball. And I’m a competitor,” Nsekhe said. “So I remember I missed a game-winning shot, and I punched the damn goal post because I lost. And my knuckles were swollen.
“They were like, ‘Why’s your knuckles swollen?’
“I was like, ‘I ain’t touched this dude!’
“They tried to use that against me,” Nsekhe said. “Good thing I’m able to articulate my words, instead of just being emotional and going crazy. I just was like, ‘Let me be logical with these people, because I can’t go emotional with them.’
“No. 1, if I was going to beat him up, would he just have a couple of scratches and abrasions against his face?” Nsekhe asked. “Don’t you think he’d have some kind of big bruise from my fist hitting him? Wouldn’t he have some kind of fracture or something?”
Then Nsekhe raised his fists.
“I was like, ‘I didn’t touch this man! He jumped on me. I threw him off me. That’s all that happened. I was defending myself. I didn’t fight this man. I’m trying to go home,’ ” Nsekhe said.
Years of his life hung in the balance.
They put Nsekhe in segregation – another tank in which he spent a full day waiting to find out whether he’d be charged with another crime.
“That 24 hours was the most stressful 24 hours of my life,” Nsekhe said. “That was worse than when I got the three years. I was like, ‘Damn. I can’t believe these last couple of days, I’m about to catch another case.’ "
He didn’t eat. He didn’t leave his bunk.
Twenty-four hours passed, and they didn’t serve him papers.
“But I was still nervous,” Nsekhe said. “They might be delaying the process. They might wait till I catch the chain to serve me: ‘By the way, take this.’ ”
Later that week, Nsekhe was transported back to Hays County, where he saw the judge and was released the next day.
“I was like, ‘Man, thank God,’ ” Nsekhe said.
His mom and aunt picked him up.
Later that day, Nsekhe stood in the bathroom in his mother’s apartment in Arlington, his first moment of privacy in months, and stared at the man in the mirror.
“When you’re locked up, we don’t have mirrors,” Nsekhe said. “The mirror is stainless steel. You can see a reflection, but you can’t really see what you look like.”
He had lost 40 pounds, withering to about 245.
He hadn’t shaved in months.
“My beard was all long and straggly. I didn’t get a haircut or anything,” Nsekhe said. “To see what I looked like in the mirror, and I hadn’t seen myself in like eight months, I was like, ‘Damn.’
“The stress on my face … I went to hell and back.”
Nsekhe said he had just $27 in his pocket. But he also had a job waiting for him.
Trigg, the Sharks’ coach, wanted him to come back, but the 2009 season didn’t begin for several months. Until then, he helped Nsekhe land work at the arena in Corpus Christi, switching the playing surface between ice hockey and basketball and back.
“Ty is an exceptional athlete and he’s got a good demeanor to himself and he was never afraid to work,” Trigg said. “We didn’t really know what we were going to get at first, because a lot of times the stigma is put out there that you have a criminal on your hands and you’re going to have to grab your back pocket every time you walk away and worry about what’s going on, but that was not the case with him.”
Each night, Nsekhe returned to a halfway house, and once the season began, he played on the offensive and defensive lines and caught passes as a tight end. He was a dominant, albeit raw talent on both sides of the ball.
The Sharks convinced Nsekhe’s parole officer to accompany the team on the road, paying for an extra seat and hotel room to allow him to travel.
But the franchise folded after the 2009 season, when the AF2 disbanded.
Nsekhe moved back into his mom’s apartment in Arlington, wondering whether he’d play football again.
“You want to win and you want to be competitive,” Trigg said, “and honestly, the nicest people aren’t going to help you win a street fight, so there’s a balance in there of having guys tough enough and mean enough to be successful, and the ones that are on the outside or the fringes of the law, you’ve got to take a careful look at.
“The pro scouts know talent, and they know guys that were graded as pros. The question is whether someone will take an interest in someone who fell off the grid.”
Nsekhe played for the Arena Football League’s Dallas Vigilantes, who replaced the Desperados in 2010. He was surprised when some teammates earned NFL workouts and training camp invitations. He thought he was a better player.
“If I just got an opportunity, the sky’s the limit,” Nsekhe said he thought. “I’ll just bide my time and dominate this level as much as I can, and if it didn’t work, it didn’t work.”
He spent most nights on the couch at Poux’s house, playing Monopoly until sunrise with his childhood friend.
“He was pretty good,” Poux said. “Just made terrible trades.”
Nsekhe balks at the assessment. The following season, he used his negotiation skills in the real world and agreed to a deal with the Philadelphia Soul.
“As I got more familiar with how arena ball worked, I got close with people in different organizations and I realized it’s all about relationships, as it is in any business,” Nsekhe said. “I became familiar with movers and shakers in the league. I realized the GMs who I needed to talk to and who actually brokered deals, and how you got paid under the table money, instead of making the little league money that they give you. So I started making more money.”
He returned to Texas after the season, and through a mutual friend, was hired as a bodyguard for a wealthy client who liked to party. The man was of Nigerian descent, like Nsekhe’s father, and the two hit it off. That led to other jobs, including within the music industry.
“We had started doing security at clubs and little bars and stuff,” Poux said. “And then, like everything we do, you’ve got to take it 110%, so he started doing security for celebrities and became like a professional bodyguard, literally. It went away from security to a totally different level. And he was doing really well with that.”
So well, in fact, he was willing to give up football.
Until the San Antonio Talons agreed to match his salary – about $3,500 a week, Nsekhe said, along with housing and a second job at a gym.
“I still always had the love for playing football in me,” Nsekhe said, “so I just wanted to give it one more shot.”
It was one of the best decisions of his life.
Later in 2012 and off probation – it was terminated early – he heard from the Indianapolis Colts.
They needed another training camp body.
“That was like a dream come true,” Nsekhe said. “It was a lot of hard work, a lot of nights when I was wondering, ‘Am I really doing this for the right reason? Is this really going to work out to my advantage?’
“And putting that helmet on made it all – it made me realize, it was all worth it.”
Nsekhe was cut after the preseason, when teams slash from 90- to 53-man rosters.
But he was claimed off waivers by the St. Louis Rams.
He was finally on an NFL regular-season roster, a 26-year-old rookie.
“He stopped pointing the finger at everybody else,” said Ed Pringle, Nsekhe’s close friend and former teammate at Texas State, “and got to the point where, ‘OK, let me point the finger at myself and see what I need to do as a person or on the field to be a better-skilled player at my position, or a better businessman.’ ”
Nsekhe dressed for two games and spent the rest of the season on the practice squad.
“From my background, from where I came from, league minimum is unimaginable money,” Nsekhe said. “So I didn’t take anything for granted. And I don’t take it for granted, still.”
Nsekhe received his first extended action as an NFL starter with the Redskins in 2016, when perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams was suspended four games for using performance-enhancing drugs.
“He was very raw when we got him,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden told The Washington Post in 2016, “and (offensive line) coach Bill Callahan has done a great job with him. ... He’s always working on his craft, whether it’s scout team, in the games he’s gotten opportunities. But he’s a physical specimen, and he’s always made up for his inefficiencies technique-wise with his size. But in the NFL, that’s not always easy to do. But now he’s got the technique.”
The man who once spent the holidays behind bars in a Texas jail started for the Redskins against the Cowboys in Dallas on Thanksgiving.
Washington paid Nsekhe $2.9 million last season.
He used his newfound wealth to buy a house in Grand Prairie, Texas, and he and Poux opened “Temptations” in Arlington, their first of three restaurants and nightclubs in the Dallas area.
“We’re playing life like Monopoly,” Nsekhe said.
When the Bills signed him in March, he bought his mother a house.
As they posed for photos with the “sold” sign, she broke down in tears.
During training camp, Nsekhe established himself as a critical cog on offense, often lining up as the starting right tackle in place of second-round rookie Cody Ford, who slid over to guard.
Bills left tackle Dion Dawkins called Nsekhe a “big brother.”
“He’s been around a lot of great players like Trent Williams,” Dawkins said, “and he’s teaching what Trent taught him to me. It’s really cool.”
Johnson, the Bills offensive line coach, praised Nsekhe’s physical attributes and veteran leadership, and one day after practice, relished watching him play on the field with his son.
“Here’s a man, you know? A father,” Johnson said. “A guy who, he’s here working and he has a bigger purpose than just himself. And to me, that’s not a point lost.”
Tylan Christopher Nsekhe is 2 years old.
His middle name honors Poux, now the CEO of the Ty Nsekhe Foundation.
In 2016, Nsekhe donated tickets to Dallas police and their families to attend the Cowboys-Redskins game on Thanksgiving. He had watched his TV in horror as five officers were killed and nine others were wounded – a short drive from his home – following protests against the police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn.
He then went Christmas shopping for the daughter of Diamond Reynolds, Castile’s girlfriend.
Nsekhe said he wanted to support his community, but “didn’t want to pick a side.”
— Arlington Police, TX (@ArlingtonPD) May 31, 2019
On the morning after the Bills’ fourth preseason game, Nsekhe provided backpacks, school supplies and haircuts for nearly 1,200 children, he said, at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.
He said the money came entirely out of his pocket.
“I found joy in making people smile, making kids smile,” Nsekhe said. “Because I’ve been there. I’ve had no hope. And to be that little beacon of hope for that little moment, that’s a beautiful thing.”
He understands that his past, and the shame that’s haunted him, and the support of friends, family and coaches have fueled his endless determination, molding him into the hardworking and wealthy man he is today.
“His is definitely that one in a million story to get to where he is,” Trigg said. “And I’m actually proud of Ty, that he’s willing to talk about the journey and what it took to get there from the events that happened with him when he got in trouble in those two different places and what it was to be there. I’m proud of him to say, ‘Hey, I have to own up to this.’ But those are things that you don’t have to be ashamed of, particularly when you overcome them with some style and some grace, and he’s certainly done that.”
Nsekhe lounges on that cart in the corner of the Bills’ practice facility. He says he knows he’s “highly favored.”
“From where I came from to where I’m at now?” Nsekhe says. “Man, look, I got a house, paid for. My cars, paid for. My mom’s house, paid for. Like, I don’t have bills, man. For me to be able to say that, coming from where I came from, man, where I had $27 and didn’t know what I was going to do next?
“Do you understand the magnitude of that? Like, that’s crazy. That’s a beautiful thing. I’ve got money in the bank, I’ve got two businesses.”
A third nightclub on the way. And, of course, the season.
“And I’m just getting started with this,” Nsekhe says. “You know my aspirations. … I’m trying to be the best right tackle in the AFC, let alone the league.”
Nsekhe has climbed to heights where he knew he belonged, joining 11 franchises in 11 years since that cloudy November day when the handcuffs came off and he walked out of a Texas prison. This November, he’ll again return home to celebrate with friends and family, when for the first time in NFL history, the Bills play in Dallas on Thanksgiving.
On Sunday, Nsekhe replaced Ford at right tackle in the fourth quarter of the Bills’ 17-16 comeback victory in the regular-season opener against the New York Jets. The two rotated earlier in the game, but the veteran was on the field for both touchdown drives, the former professional bodyguard protecting franchise quarterback Josh Allen.
Seems like a natural progression.
“Protect the biggest asset,” Nsekhe says, laughing. “Yeah, why not? It’s like it’s been in my DNA, right?”
As if this were his destiny.