Growing up in a single-parent household in a less-than-perfect neighborhood in Shelby, North Carolina, Brandon Spikes recognizes the influence his few close role models had on his life.
He credits his mother, first and foremost, for doing all she could to raise him and his brother by herself.
He credits his Shelby Crest High School coach, Roy Kirby, for keeping him positive and focused on his goals instead of straying down the wrong path.
And he credits his brother, his childhood idol, for showing him what that wrong path looks like.
In 2001, when Spikes was 13, his brother, Breyon Middlebrooks, was involved in a drug deal gone bad that left a man dead. He was later convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.
"He was my hero growing up, he just made some bad decisions and got locked up, serving a life sentence," Spikes said. "He was my loved one, my hero, and the only male role model I had in my life at the time."
With his father figure gone from his life overnight, Spikes turned uncertainty into motivation, leaning on those positive role models and his football potential to distance himself from the fray.
"I was pretty much the only one to get out of my neighborhood. I just wanted to separate myself from all the crazy stuff that was going on and not look back and keep moving forward."
So when Spikes decided to participate in the annual Bills player ticket donation program, he was adamant in his choice of recipients.
"I definitely wanted them to go to the youth," he said. "Giving them something to look forward to is sometimes all you need to be positive in this life and have a positive attitude. Getting them out of the environment they're in now and providing a little change is good for them."
Not only did Spikes request that they go to children, but specifically to children of incarcerated parents.
"My thing is I relate to them. My upbringing wasn't the best and I overcame a lot of stuff. It was hard for me when my brother made that decision but I had positive people to get me through it and hopefully I can encourage kids to be positive and look at the light at the end of the tunnel."
He says giving those kids the chance to get out of their neighborhoods even for an afternoon, courtesy of an NFL player, might just be the positive reinforcement they need to follow the path that he did – if not to professional football, to a positive life.
Fifteen of Spikes' teammates will also sponsor a block of tickets to bring members of the community to Bills games this fall. Banners lining the ring wall at Ralph Wilson Stadium, pictured below, symbolize their donations and welcome their guests to the stadium. This season, the 16 players involved donated a total of 282 tickets per game. That's 2,820 tickets donated over the duration of the season, and 2,820 people able to attend a Bills game this year who might not otherwise have had the chance.
The chosen recipient agencies include the United Way, Carly's Club, Wounded Warrior Project, Kids Escaping Drugs, the Buffalo Public Schools, various Boys & Girls Clubs in WNY and many more.