Marcell Dareus now has more money than he'll ever need. The No. 3 overall draft pick out of Alabama will get dozens of huge checks from the Bills and go shopping. Like every new millionaire, he’ll buy some things he never thought he could afford. But like few others in this year’s draft or any draft, Dareus will be able to appreciate every single purchase, no matter how tiny.
Because Marcell Dareus, you see, has gone without in a way that is hard to imagine. There was a time when deodorant was a luxury, and shoes a privilege. He'll be the first to tell you that if it wasn't for the help of friends and strangers alike, he’d be nowhere near the NFL right now. Dareus is a monster in cleats, at 6'3", 319 pounds, known for a hit on Colt McCoy that made him fearsome to millions. But Dareus has a life story that feels fragile, even delicate. He arrives in Buffalo on the strength of his huge frame but also on the willpower he got from his dying mother, Michelle Luecky, who told him, "You gotta stay strong, no matter what’s going on. Stay strong and fight through. No matter what it is, you can fight through it."
Dareus' mom was right. But just barely.
Dareus' father, Jules, passed away when he was just 6 years old. So Luecky did whatever she could to raise her seven children. And she suffered from congestive heart failure -- a condition that caused her to be confined to a wheelchair for most of Marcell's childhood.
Even the necessities were hard to come by.
"Elementary school was really hard," Dareus says. "It was the worst time in my life. Most of the time I didn't have the things that I needed to keep clean -- things like deodorant, nice clothes or shoes. The kids picked on me, and my brothers, a lot for not having those things. We had it really bad in elementary and middle school."
Remarkably, Marcell has stayed in touch with many of the same kids that teased him then.
"They told me they we were wrong for that," Dareus says. "When you are kids, everyone is cruel. I was like, 'Why me?' But I guess it made me stronger."
So did football.
"When I was in the 5th grade, I picked up football" he says. "I could take out my frustrations out there. In the long run it has helped me, helped me to stay humble."
His big brother, Pearson Woods, thinks Marcell's football physique came in part from moving not only blocking sleds, but the family's deep freezer. He had to figure out a way to transport it to wherever the family lived.
"We didn't have the luxury of a moving crew," Woods says. "Our mom did the best she could. She did an excellent job of raising men, without having a father in the household."
Dareus doesn't sugarcoat about his childhood, his family life, or his grades. He struggled at school.
"Academics and my senior year were pretty tough," he says. "The grades did come a little bit hard. In the 9th and 10th grade, I slacked off. My teachers said, ‘You have to make straight A’s to qualify for any school.’ I am not the dumbest person in the room, but I'm often not the smartest. Teachers told me, ‘You have to work hard, nothing is going to be given to you.'"
They were not completely right in that. Marcell met a young high school coach in Birmingham, near where he grew up. His name was Scott Livingston.
"He helped us out a lot," Dareus says. "When we needed something to eat or when when we just wanted someone to spend time with, he was always there."
Livingston was a mentor for Dareus, there for him up until the day he chose to go to Alabama. Livingston was killed in a car crash that afternoon. Marcell spoke at his funeral.
"I couldn't believe he was gone," Dareus says, "just to see him lying in that coffin. I wouldn't have made it this far without him. He picked us up every morning for school, he would also call me at home and ask what I was doing. If I was watching TV, he would ask me why I wasn't studying. He would stay on the line until I got my books out. Or he would offer to take me away from the house, so I could get away from it all. I know he is there with me. When I am sitting there watching TV, then something comes in my head and I think I need to go get that book. I know that is him."
With Livingston gone and his mother growing sicker by the day, Dareus needed some help.
He got it from a man named Sarge Reasor.
Reasor is known in the Birmingham area for helping out at-risk youth. He took Dareus into his home his senior year of high school. Dareus calls him his godfather.
"I was coming to Alabama with nothing," Dareus says. "I had some clothes and a pair of shoes. I didn't have a TV or sheets for my bed. He helped me get all those things."
Because of Reasor and Livingston and so many others that have helped him along the way, Marcell dreams of starting an orphanage for boys one day.
"I want to help kids out," he says, "raising them up in the right way to handle their responsibilities."
Marcell came to Alabama in a quiet way, which was just fine for him. He had a relatively quiet freshman year. Then, as a sophomore, he was called to replace an injured player, and he never looked back. That season would culminate in an SEC Championship, and a national title.
Dareus, a player some Tide fans didn’t even know that well a year before, was named MVP of the 2010 National Championship game.
And the nation learned his name, largely for a game-changing sack he remembers vividly.
"It was speed sweep," he says. "I was just playing my assignment, playing the block. The offensive lineman tried to chop me and I just kept my eyes on Colt McCoy the whole time. Kareem Jackson came down, the wide receiver missed the block and when he saw Kareem, he didn’t see me on the backside. I had a clean lick. I didn’t know that I was going to knock Colt out of the game, but I knew I hit him pretty good."
That night, after the game, he called his brother and asked him to wait up, because he wanted to spend time with him and the family.
Woods remembers being a little surprised.
"He had just had the game of his life and me being his big brother, I expected him to want to go and spend time with his teammates," Woods says. "He immediately called me and said, 'Hey, I want to ride home with you and spend time with you before I fly out.'"
He was glad he put family first. Marcell's mother died that May.
Dareus says he was in Miami when he learned of his mother's death. He had decided to vacation there with Marvin Austin, a defensive end at North Carolina. They attended the birthday party of Vontae Davis, a cornerback for the Dolphins. There were agents at the party, and according to Dareus, he left when he found out about their presence. That's when he received the news that his mother had passed away. He says he rushed back to Birmingham to be with his family.
But the NCAA investigated not only that trip, but another visit to Miami, and determined Dareus received improper benefits in the form of expenses for lodging, airfare, meals and transportation.
Dareus spoke with Alabama head coach Nick Saban, and then with NCAA investigators, who called him "one of the most truthful student-athletes we have ever interviewed." He was suspended for two games – down from the original four -- and ordered that he repay travel expenses totaling $1,787.17 to the charity of his choice.
Then in November, after he was back on the field, Marcell got word that a close friend named Nick Bell was sick with a rare form of cancer typically found in young male adults.
Marcell saw Bell a few days before he died. They took a ride, talked and tried to be as normal as they could be. It was hard to find words.
Dareus dedicated the last games of his final season at Alabama to his friend. And even amid the pageantry of the NFL Draft – even as he visited Yankee Stadium and met Derek Jeter – he had his late friends and family on his mind.
"I can feel them now," he says. "I felt them when I got off the plane in New York. They are rejoicing in heaven. I made it."