User ID: Password:

September 15, 2010

PUTTING IN HIS TIME - Life has tested Steven Friday on the field and off, but he's finally become a starter in his final season at Tech

By: Jimmy Robertson

Steven Friday

If you take a glance at Steven Friday on the street or perhaps see him at a local restaurant, you won’t find any gray hair on display.

His hearing is just fine, thank you. And judging from the haste in which he pursues quarterbacks on the football field, he has no need for a cane or walker.

But to his teammates, Steven Friday is old. Talk to them, and you’d think Friday was drawing Social Security checks and flashing his AARP card for discounts.

Five days into August, Friday turned 24 years old, easily making him the senior citizen on the 2010 Tech football squad.

“It’s only a number,” Friday said, laughing. “I don’t consider myself that old. I feel like I’m only 18.”

Friday blew past that age six years ago, and despite his relative youth – after all, 24 barely classifies as an adult, much less as old – this young man has a lifetime’s worth of experiences crammed into those 24 years. We’re not talking the scrape on the knee from a bike wreck, or getting grounded by his mother for breaking curfew, or incurring the wrath of Lester Karlin for forgetting to return his game day warm-ups.

We’re talking real life stuff.

And he has the scars to prove it.

Steven Friday mostly sat the bench for three years, but now is a starter in his senior season.

January 7, 2005. It’s a date that means nothing to most, and yet, everything to Friday. The incident happened five years ago, but to him, it seems like five minutes ago.

It occurred on a chilly evening outside a friend’s home in Hampton, Virginia. Friday and a few friends were hanging around outside the front stoop, just relaxing. Life appeared to be good for Friday, a standout defensive end at nearby Phoebus High School who had received a football scholarship offer from Virginia Tech and planned on signing with the school that February.

Friday remembers the night. He remembers seeing the person walk down the sidewalk. He remembers seeing the gun. He remembers hearing the subsequent cracks.

“He probably emptied the whole clip,” Friday said. “It was crazy.”

In a scene unfortunately reminiscent of something out of Boyz in the Hood, a young man – whom Friday didn’t know – had a beef with Friday’s friend and decided to take action. Three of those shots found the legs of Friday’s friend.

One other found Friday.

“I didn’t know I’d been shot at first, to be honest,” Friday said. “I felt my chest and it felt like sweat. I looked down and realized it was blood. My friend was lying there hurt. I was trying to be the calm one. Someone called the ambulance and it came, and they took me in first.”

The bullet grazed Friday just underneath his left shoulder. The doctors and nurses stitched up the wound. A couple of inches to the left would have snuffed Friday’s life.

Instead, he spent 24 hours in the hospital and was released. His friend turned out to be fine, too.

They both had knocked on death’s door, but fortunately, no one answered.

The worst pain came from watching the reaction of his mother, who hustled quickly to the hospital after receiving the call that leaves every parent shuddering.

“I can only imagine,” Friday said. “I never want to put my mom through that again. Just getting that phone call, I know she was devastated. I made a promise never to put myself in that situation again either.”

“I was more grateful than anything,” Cynthia Friday said. “To see his eyes, to touch him, to hold him … once I did that, I was fine. I was blessed he was okay. I thank God that I still have him.”

Cynthia Friday shares a deep, close relationship with her only son, and the thought of losing him consumed her with fear. The bond was natural, as Steven and his older sister lived with Cynthia once she and Delmont Friday divorced when Steven was in middle school.

Steven and his father, a Navy veteran, get along well. His dad got him involved with football around the age of 10. He also got him involved in basketball and baseball.

But Steven is a self-proclaimed mama’s boy.

“I’m closer to my mom,” he said. “Me and my mom have been through so much together. She’s been there for me from the jump. She never stressed the football thing. She was more about getting an education and graduating from Tech. That’s probably why we can relate to each other better.”

She never wanted her son to head down any other path except for the one that led to a college education – and a future. She wanted her son to put up statistics, not become another statistic.

The scar reminds him that he nearly became that. It serves as a constant reminder of the preciousness of life. As expected, the incident altered his life.

He picked his friends more carefully. He stayed at home more often. He realigned his priorities more in line with what his mother wanted. He started thinking about his future more because he nearly didn’t get to have one.

Interestingly, the bullet that nearly snared his life also may have saved it.

“Being in high school, you’ve got people jumping on your bandwagon because they see you doing your thing on the football field,” Friday said. “I was young then. Everyone who smiled to my face, I thought they were truly my friend. It’s all a learning experience. Everyone who smiles to your face doesn’t have your best interests at heart.

“It [the shooting] was like an awakening point with me. I wasn’t all good at the time either. I was chilling with a bad crowd. I never got in trouble. I got caught up in trouble, just surrounding myself with bad people. That night was an awakening point. I realized life was real. You don’t get another life. I don’t regret it at all. It could have been worse.”

Friday hasn’t strayed that close to death since then. But that event didn’t mark the end of difficult times.

His entrance to Virginia Tech was delayed. He took the SAT a couple of times, but he attained his score after the NCAA’s deadline. So that meant staying at home in the fall and enrolling at Tech for the spring semester.

His mom, though, refused to allow him to sit around in Hampton. Instead, she agreed to let him go to Atlanta to be with his older sister. That got him away from home, and he also took an online class and got a job, delivering flowers for a local flower shop.

“He needed a break. He needed to see new surroundings,” Cynthia Friday said. “My daughter and I talked about it, and she said, ‘Why not let him come with me?’ She knew a trainer and they put him on a weight program. He wanted to go, too. They got to spend some time together. It was a pleasant experience.”

Friday balanced work, working out and a class. He then enrolled at Tech for the spring semester. That was in January of 2006.

Since then, his bio reads a little sparse. He participated in spring practice in 2006 but redshirted the following fall. Buried behind all-conference players at his position, Friday entered the 2010 season having played just 24 games in his career, 12 of those coming last year. He had 19 career tackles, or about as many as Cody Grimm seemingly made in a single game.

For three years, he sat, collecting dust on Tech’s sideline. Part of that was because he came in weighing slightly more than a student manager (197 pounds). Part of it was because guys like Chris Ellis, Jason Worilds, Orion Martin and Nekos Brown made plays.

Tech’s coaches tried moving him to a different position to get him on the field. They moved him to whip linebacker a couple of years ago – a move that seemingly lasted about as long as David Wilson’s current 40 time (4.29 seconds). Friday was about as lost as a Cavalier in Blacksburg.

“I came in thinking, ‘Yeah, I’m going to be ‘The Man’ because I was all this in high school,’” Friday said. “But come to find out, everyone at this level was good in high school. So it has taught me patience and to work hard.

“Everyone in front of me deserved to be in front of me. All those guys were pretty good, from Chris Ellis to Orion [Martin] to Jason Worilds and Nekos [Brown]. They are all great players. Everything happens for a reason.”

He got the occasional rep and made the occasional tackle. But for the most part, he stood on the sideline and watched as the clock ticked away on each individual game – and on his career.

He often lay awake at night wondering what to do. Of course, he often found himself calling the person whom he most loved and respected.

His mother.

“I told him to stay still. Sometimes, you’ve just got to stay still,” Cynthia Friday said. “Sometimes you have to sit and wait. He had put so much into Virginia Tech. This was his dream. I wanted him to follow through with it and get his degree. It would be a great accomplishment just to get the degree.”

“I remember nights thinking about it and calling my mom and asking her what I should do,” Friday said. “The first thing she said was that I needed to get a degree. She didn’t stress football. She was all about getting that degree and then worrying about football. She wanted me to give both of them my all, and if it was meant to work out, then it would work out. So I decided to stay.”

Steven Friday

Last May, Friday proudly put on his cap and gown and graduated with a degree in residential property management. That fulfilled one of his goals, but more importantly, took care of his mother’s desperate wish that he graduate and also ensured him of a future.

“It was the day I had prayed for,” Cynthia Friday said.

His is a heart-warming story, dodging a bullet that could have buried him and overcoming the stigma associated with getting his SAT score late. He’s now working on a second degree in psychology.

“I always had doubters, even in middle school,” he said. “Teachers would joke and say, ‘You ain’t going to be nothin’.’ But I like proving people wrong.”

All that remains is proving doubters wrong about his football abilities. He certainly took the steps to do that.

Once a gawky 197-pounder, he now weighs a strapping 250 pounds. He now bench presses 200 pounds more than his body weight. These days, he earns honors in the strength and conditioning program.

He always possessed the speed and quickness to be a terrific defensive end. Brown’s graduating and Worilds’ early departure to the NFL have left an opening for Friday.

Now, after four and a half years at Tech, he’s a starter, and the only things between him and a great season are opposing offensive tackles.

“Steven played an important role for us last year and he’s playing an even more important role for us this year,” defensive line coach Charley Wiles said. “I expect him to be a playmaker. We need that from him, and I know he can do that.”

“I’m excited,” Friday said about the 2010 season. “All that hard work, I’m still not where I want to be, but it’s paying off.”

It’s now time for this “old man” to look forward to his future.

That scar on his shoulder … it just reminds him that he’s fortunate to have one.