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Ravens defensive end DeAngelo Tyson still learning the meaning of family

After years in a group home, second-year player growing more comfortable around teammates

By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

10:55 PM EST, November 30, 2013

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There was activity everywhere, not that DeAngelo Tyson paid much attention to any of it.

The time between the morning walk-through and the afternoon practice at the Ravens' facility is the NFL's version of rush hour. Players move rapidly around the building with different destinations in mind, some heading to the cafeteria, some to the training room and others using the time to fulfill media requests.

Tyson, the Ravens' second-year defensive end, stood in the middle of it all last week, leaning against a wall outside the locker room and willingly talking about things that he once would barely address even with the few people that he trusted.

A couple of his teammates made playful comments on their way past him. Elvis Dumervil stopped and listened in for a moment. Yet, Tyson, who said so little as a rookie that teammates would pause when he did talk, was undeterred.

"When you talk about it, it lifts a burden off your chest," Tyson said. "There have been plenty of times that people would try to get a story and talk about my childhood in the boys' home and I just wasn't comfortable with it at that point. I felt like I would get judged. But I'm more comfortable than I've ever been to tell my story."

Kim Lamb likes to say that Tyson is "Statesboro's child," a product of the Georgia city where the young boy who became her third and oldest son grew up. Abandoned by his birth parents, Tyson, 24, spent the majority of his young life at Joseph's Home for Boys, a long-term group home in Statesboro that provides a stable living environment for troubled or deserted kids.

He became the first child to go from that home straight to college, his football talent earning him a scholarship to the University of Georgia. The Ravens selected him in the seventh round of the 2012 draft, and he has two sacks this year as part of the team's defensive line rotation.

Along the way, Tyson has been strengthened by lessons on love, trust and forgiveness. He's come to terms with his birth parents not being in his life, embraced the Lambs as his new family and gotten married to his high school sweetheart. Tyson and his wife, Shabrae, have three kids.

"He didn't have the traditional upbringing with Mommy and Daddy there together and a happy home with a little white picket fence," said Kim Lamb, who was Tyson's seventh-grade teacher and ultimately welcomed him into her family with her husband Chris and their two sons, Taylor, 21, and Jake, 18. "But he has more than what many people have, and he has so many people that love him."

Finding safety and stability

Everywhere you look in the Ravens locker room, you'll find examples of perseverance, of players who overcame rough childhoods and broken families. Jameel McClain was homeless for a time as a kid. Courtney Upshaw moved from house-to-house, some without electricity or running water. Michael Oher's difficult upbringing was documented in the award-winning movie, "The Blind Side."

Tyson doesn't recall everything about his childhood, but he remembers how the turbulence began.

"I had an abusive relationship with my biological mother," he said. "She always made it seem like that I was the troubled child when I really wasn't. … Nobody wants to be scared of your mom. Your mom is supposed to be there to comfort you and protect you, but I felt like I wasn't treated the way a mother should treat their child."

Already suffering without a father figure in his life, Tyson isn't sure when his birth mother finally reached her breaking point and realized he had to go.

He was 11 when, upon his mother's request, the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services found him a new home. The Joseph's Home for Boys housed males ages six to 21 and provided a structured environment for kids badly in need of it.

When Tyson arrived at the home, he was the youngest of approximately 15 boys.

"DeAngelo was different than most kids that came," said Suzy Wagner, a house mother and administrative assistant who worked at the home for more than two decades. "At a young age, he was very, very big, but D's always been very quiet. He fit in well and got along with everybody."

Tyson was supposed to be in the home for 30 days before his status would be reviewed. Thirty days and almost seven years came and went, and Tyson was still at The Joseph's Home for Boys.

"I felt comfortable and safe," Tyson said. "It kind of got me out of the situation I was in with my biological mother. I believe that was God's plan to get me out of that situation. At the time, you don't look at it that way. You're in the fourth grade so you say, 'Why am I here with these other boys? I should be with my parents.' But as things got better with my life, I thought, 'Maybe I should have been in the boys' home because if I wasn't, I probably wouldn't be playing football or be in the NFL.'"

Football and family

Steve Pennington, the coach of the Statesboro High football team, had heard all about Tyson's gridiron exploits as a middle schooler — "A man among boys," he said.

But Tyson didn't like football; he preferred basketball. One afternoon, Pennington drove his blue pick-up truck to the boys' home, where Tyson was outside, shooting hoops.

"The point of emphasis was, 'Just give [football] a shot. You never know what may blossom from it'" Pennington recalled. "It was a tough sell. DeAngelo keeps things to himself. I left there not knowing whether he would show up at fall practice or not."

Tyson played football because he viewed it as a path to a college scholarship and a ticket out of Statesboro. It wasn't the first time that he would benefit from taking a leap of faith.

His relationship with the Lambs started with a homework assignment. Lamb, a life science teacher, asked the seventh grader to write down what he wanted for Christmas. Tyson asked for a CD player and a pair of sneakers, and Lamb made sure that he got both.

The Lamb family's relationship with Tyson grew — Chris Lamb was also his middle school football coach — but there were initially reservations.

"We had two young boys at home and most of the time whenever a child is in a boys' home, they've done something bad to put them there," Kim Lamb said. "So I asked the lady whenever she came to our home, I said, 'Look, we have two other boys here. My heart tells me that this is a good boy. But I need you to tell me that.' And she said, 'He is a great young man. This is not his fault that he's here.' I knew that in my heart but I just needed confirmation.

"I tell people all the time that I have taught a lot of kids with different types of needs, but D's the only one that I ever wanted to bring home with me. He was just meant to be a part of our lives. I tell him all the time, 'You're the easiest delivery I've ever had.'"

Learning to trust

Tyson started to spend weekends and holidays with the Lambs. They went to his games and brought him to family functions. He gave them a significant edge in their annual Thanksgiving football game against uncles and cousins.

They discussed legally adopting Tyson, but he wasn't ready for such a significant step. Sure, he felt extremely comfortable for the first time in his life and he loved being around Taylor and Jake, the three of them finding mischief at every turn like most brothers do. He started calling Kim, "Mama," and Chris Lamb eventually went from "Coach" to "Dad."

But a desire to reconnect with his birth family still pulled at Tyson. Relatives would reconnect with him and he'd get his hopes up, only to be disappointed again.

"He had that sense of 'Why don't they want me? What have I done?' He struggled with that for a very long time," Kim Lamb said. "But I was hard-headed. Every time he tried to push us away, I wouldn't let him. That's probably been one of the hardest things we've had to overcome, getting D to realize that when it's family, you are in it for the long haul. Family is your family no matter what, and they're not going to turn their back on you."

The Lambs moved when Tyson was a junior in high school, though they made sure he had a bedroom in their new home. Tyson stayed there all the time, but it took several years for him to gather the courage to ask Lamb if the bedroom was specifically built for him.

"My mom would tell you that it took a long time for me to understand that they weren't going anywhere and they were there because they loved me," said Tyson. "I was used to having people come in and out of my life. It was hard for me to trust. I think it took a while for that to kick in. It was more them showing me that they cared and they weren't going anywhere."

Keeping the past behind him

With his increased exposure, Tyson has been contacted recently by members of his birth family looking to get back in his life. He has also communicated with his birth parents periodically, but he's no longer consumed by or even interested in what could have been.

"I really don't associate myself with anybody who is coming out now," he said. "If you weren't there during the time where I was in the boys' home or going through stuff, then it's kind of too late. And the people who have helped me to get to where I'm at, those are the people who I will help and support."

Last season, Tyson barely spoke to anyone and occasionally sat at his locker with a towel draped over his head. When Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs heard Tyson's voice at a team function, he asked, "Wait a minute, was that DeAngelo? I didn't know he could talk."

This season, Tyson gets involved in the locker room interplay, and he shocked his teammates when he mimicked shooting an arrow through the air after he dropped the Cincinnati Bengals' Andy Dalton on Nov. 17 for his first career sack.

"From last year to this year, he's a totally different guy," Oher said. "He's not going to open up to anybody. You can tell that came from when he was younger. But we have similar backgrounds, and we talk about it. He asks me questions all the time about how I'd deal with something. I have a great deal of respect for him. I understand how tough it was for both of us to get this far in life."

Friday, a day after the Ravens' 22-20 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tyson and his wife hosted a traditional Thanksgiving at their Reisterstown home. Relatives and friends were in attendance, including the house mother Wagner, who remained close to Tyson even after his departure from the boys' home, and Tyson's three kids.

"He wants to end the cycle that started with his mother, and he's doing a very good job of that," Wagner said.

As teammates shuffled by last week, Tyson pondered all that has changed. Abandoned, and then aided by so many, Tyson now has children of his own to love and to trust.

"Even though I had people showing me how much they care, it wasn't biological," Tyson said. "It wasn't taught to me at a young age. It kind of still is hard. I'm still learning how to love and just to be the person that I need to be for my family."

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DeAngelo Tyson

Age: 24

Hometown: Statesboro, Ga.

Position: Defensive end

How acquired: Seventh-round pick by the Ravens in the 2012 draft after a four-year career at Georgia

2013 stats: Tyson has six tackles and two sacks in nine games.

Personal: Tyson and his wife, Shabrae, have three kids.