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.