- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Lorenzo Mauldin had absolutely nothing going for him, and that is not overselling the calamitous circumstances surrounding his childhood.
His dad sat in jail.
His mom sat in jail.
His extended family had no way to take care of him, or his four other siblings for that matter.
So Mauldin became a child without a mother or a father, tossed around between foster families from the age of 2. He would last in one home for about three months before being sent on his way, a child without a guiding influence to teach him right from wrong, to set an example for him to follow.
His mother would come back into the picture every once in a while, before her drug addiction eventually landed her back in jail. His siblings? Well, he was mostly split up from them, having only his younger brother with him for most of his life.
Mauldin was given no real incentive to care, because nobody cared about him. His brother gave up on himself and landed in jail a few times. Mauldin got into plenty of trouble, too, before he had what he calls “a life check” in high school. He could either follow the path of his troubled parents or he could use football as a way out.
That is what makes his story among the more awe inspiring in the Big East. The Louisville defensive end had only one person who could save him from following his mother and father.
He had himself.
And somehow, at the age of 16, he had the maturity, instincts and capability to think like a grown up, and act like a grown up. As he goes into his sophomore season at Louisville, Mauldin is expected to take on a larger role at defensive end. But it is a wonder he is even on the field at all given everything he had to overcome.
“I'm glad I worked hard, and I'm proud of myself to get myself out of those predicaments,” Mauldin said in a recent phone interview. “I'm the first to go to college out of all my siblings. I feel like I'm part of something that can be very outstanding, and I’m glad to put the Mauldin name out there, to fill the gaps of what my family has been through.”
Mauldin spent the bulk of his childhood growing up in Atlanta. Though the foster care system nearly broke him, one of his foster mothers indirectly showed him the way out. In 10th grade, she brought him to a small football camp and told him he should play. Mauldin was a pretty big kid, and he used to watch his cousin play so he figured he would give it a shot.
He joined his high school team that year as a linebacker, but his head coach quickly saw he would be much more effective as a speedy rusher at defensive end and moved him there his junior year. Position coach Maurice Hart saw a kid with trust issues.
What he didn’t know was that Mauldin had moved into a group home around the corner from the school to try and stabilize his home life.
“I just saw him go through a lot of stuff, and I told him, ‘Don’t take the wrong path like everybody else has,” said Hart, still an assistant at Maynard Jackson High. “I tried to focus him to go the right way. I told him, ‘You’re going to fight and do the right thing, and that’s what he did. He became the man I thought he could be.”
Pretty soon, Mauldin was drawing scholarships from some pretty high-profile programs. He committed to South Carolina, but he did not get the test scores to play there. He started drawing interest from Louisville and coach Charlie Strong. At the same time, Mauldin retook the SAT to get the qualifying score.
Days after committing to Strong, Mauldin got his test scores back.
“That week I’ll never forget it,” Hart said. “When those scores came back, he was eligible to play football.”
Mauldin has formed a deep bond with Strong and defensive line coach Clint Hurtt. But trust was hard to come by early on. Mauldin rarely said anything when he first arrived on campus. Hurtt had no idea about Mauldin’s childhood until he arrived.
“It was difficult for him to take coaching, difficult to take constructive criticism until he believed that person had his best interests in mind,” Hurtt said. “He had put his trust in so many people and was always let down. He’s been through a lot of things that adults my age have never gone through.”
Mauldin was moved to tight end to help with depth last season, but is now back at defensive end. He has blossomed and allowed more of his personality to show. What he’s determined to do is to set an example, to prove to not only himself but his family and all those other people who let him down that he will amount to something.
He may not have anybody to call mommy or daddy. But he has plenty of people in his life today he can call a true role model.
“So many young men today want to be like someone else,” Hurtt said. “They want to follow along. Lorenzo wants to be a leader. He wants to be a leader for his family. That’s a special gift.”