Oct. 6, 2011
By Todd D. Burlage
The story of Michael Floyd hasn't always followed the script that was laid out for him as a young man trying to navigate the tough journey the college years often provide.
But when the University of Notre Dame senior leaves campus next spring with a sociology degree in hand and his NFL dreams in place, Floyd's final act will be just rewards for the sacrifices he and his mother made to reaching these goals.
Nope, it hasn't always been easy for Michael Floyd. But through a mother's dedication and a personal work ethic that never wavered, Floyd will go out on top, along with a mother who climbed every step alongside him.
"I am so very proud of Michael," says Floyd's mother, Theresa Romero. "I am very proud in the way he is maturing and the opportunities that are coming his way - from a mother's point of view - that he gets to play football, and finish school, and graduate. Michael promised me he would get his degree from Notre Dame, and he went out and did it."
Romero was a single mother of five who wasn't able to provide many of life's luxuries in their modest home in St. Paul, Minn. Floyd was the only son and the youngest of the five children, meaning older sisters ganging up on him with every chance they got.
"It was tough at times, but it wasn't too bad," Floyd says with a laugh. "You couldn't get away with anything. Everything that happened around the house was your fault - you did it, even if you didn't."
Perhaps those early life lessons and household battles were the roots to the type of mature young man Floyd became even before high school. Floyd understood early that life could be tough, but he always carried a dream of someday making the future better for his family.
And that dream has helped transform Floyd into a budding Heisman Trophy candidate, and the best receiver ever to play at Notre Dame. With at least seven games still remaining this season, Floyd already holds the Irish career records for receptions, receiving yards, touchdown catches and 100-yard receiving games. His tireless work and attention to detail at practice have also made him one of the strongest team leaders.
"Michael has been what we expected and more," Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly says when asked about Floyd's development as a player and young man. "He's been great in the locker room. He's been great around teammates. He's a joy to coach. He's upbeat and positive about everything, and he's a great competitor. I'm just lucky that I get an opportunity to coach him."
"What people don't see is the preparation (Floyd) puts in week in and week out," adds Irish quarterback Tommy Rees. "Through the off-season, he's the hardest working guy on the team. He pushes everyone and he never takes a play off. To have your best player showing you how to work and lead, that obviously helps the entire team."
The on-field praise has been there for Floyd his entire career, but he has become much more than just a football star during his time at Notre Dame. Through a commitment to his academics, athletics and community, Floyd will leave the University as a well-rounded and prepared young man.
One area where Floyd is quietly leaving his mark without the "game day" fanfare is in the launch of a new university endeavor called the Irish Experience League. This program brings Irish student-athletes together with youngsters in an initiative that uses flag football and educational opportunities to help grade-school students stay on course, stay in school and stay after their dreams.
The Irish Experience League is just one of many experiences that have helped to mold Floyd into the person he is today.
"And that's what I appreciate so much about Notre Dame," Floyd says. "It's a place where people want you to succeed, and help you succeed. There are a lot of positive and successful people around, and that is what you want to be surrounded with during your time here."
The maturity that Floyd has used to overcome certain obstacles stays right on course with the strong character he has shown all the way back to before high school.
Floyd was wise enough as an eighth-grader to realize that attending high school across town at prestigious Cretin-Derham Hall would best pave the way for his lofty college and NFL dreams. Cretin-Derham Hall is an upscale, Catholic institution with a distinguished list of star alumni in athletics, and an equally proud reputation for its academics.
Former Heisman trophy winner Chris Weinke and Major League Baseball stars Paul Molitor and Joe Mauer were among the better-known athletes who attended Cretin-Derham Hall. And the school had also become a bit of a pipeline for Notre Dame football, with Ryan Harris, Rashon Powers-Neal and Marcus Freeman all Cretin-Derham Hall products as well.
Floyd knew attending Cretin-Derham Hall would be a long shot, but he insisted that his mother at least take a tour of the school in the spring of 2004 before his high school freshman year. But with neither the tuition money nor an automobile to get Floyd all the way across town each day, Romero believed the practicality of a free public education closer to home outweighed the benefits that Cretin-Derham Hall had to offer.
"It just didn't seem like that was an option," Romero says. "But Michael wouldn't let it go."
So Romero turned to prayer to show her the way. If Cretin-Derham Hall was the direction her son wanted to go, then sacrifices would have to be made, and faith would become the compass.
"Our faith in the Lord had to help carry us through, and our prayers were answered," Romero recalls. "The friendships Michael established in high school I would say have been the greatest impact on his life, outside of his family."
The end results were all positive but surviving the journey during those years was far from easy.
Showing maturity well beyond his 17 years of age, Floyd made personal sacrifices that would make almost any teenager cringe. A typical day for Floyd started at 5:15 a.m. so that he could catch a city bus early enough to get him to Cretin-Derham Hall by 6:30 a.m., or about 90 minutes before classes began.
Floyd was involved in a work-study program that allowed him to work off some of his tuition fees in exchange for odd jobs on campus before school. His main responsibility was cleaning the weight room.
The early hours and thankless job didn't make for the most glamorous upbringing, but it gave Floyd the chance to grow as a young man, a student and a football player in the best surroundings the Twin Cities had to offer.
"There were some mornings I didn't want to get up and go but I didn't have a choice because it was helping me pay for school and helping make my mom's job easier," says Floyd, who held up his end with a 3.2 grade-point average, and by finding a healthy group of new friends. "It helped me grow up a lot faster than the other guys, just being able to get on the city bus and just doing all the things that I had to do. Sometimes the bus wouldn't go the same way home so you had to take a different bus and then walk from there. It wasn't easy."
So while Floyd was doing his part in the mornings, his mother became involved with a payment program at night through Cretin-Derham Hall that allowed her to work off tuition payments with concession jobs at the Metrodome and Xcel Energy Center.
Nobody may have realized it at the time, but the sacrifices mother and son made during those years were part of the process of a lifelong dream coming true. And sometime in April of 2012, those dreams will become a reality when Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd hears his name called as one of the first wide receivers selected in the NFL Draft.
The Internet service NFLDraftCountdown.com rates Floyd as the top wide receiver and the No. 5 player overall in the 2012 draft class.
"Michael has big dreams, and I never realized that you could dream that big until he really showed all of us," Romero says. "I think he even showed me, and his sisters, and his friends, and his teammates, that if you work hard and never lose sight, you can live out your dreams."
Even if the road gets bumpy at times.