There have been several positive influences on Marcell Dareus' life and the decisions he's made along the way to becoming a top five pick in the NFL draft. Just in his first few days as a Buffalo Bill he's made it clear that his first and only order of business is to be productive for a team that put their faith in him.
Despite coming from meager roots Dareus learned quickly that it's better to earn everything you get instead of taking a handout.
"My mother she always told me that," said Dareus. "My big brother Pierson, my godfather. They said, 'Don't take a handout. Nothing is going to be given to you.'"
Dareus applied that to his football career. Idolizing Warren Sapp, he wanted to be a defensive lineman and nothing else. He threw himself into the game.
"I love Warren Sapp," he said of the perennial Pro Bowler. "Watching Warren Sapp really made me play football. I got real good at it when they won the Super Bowl, I was in middle school and I really started picking up on it and excelling at it."
Taking his well-honed work ethic as well as his impressive skill set to Alabama only strengthened his game and his character. Under Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban the demands on the players were very close to those of the professionals in the NFL.
"He was a hard-nosed coach and demanded a lot from us," said Dareus of Saban. "If you can do it and you can do it well, why not do it perfect? That was his whole philosophy pretty much.
"He already instilled in us to do it right, stay on time and handle your responsibilities, be accountable for yourself and others. I look at that like being on a pro team. So I want to go to the next level and do the same thing. Not someone that's just going to try to be a bulldog and just take over, but lead by example. Learn from the veterans. Learn what you don't know and it will carry over."
Saban, who quickly recognized Dareus as a special athletic talent, demanded more of him knowing his teammates would follow.
"When I got to 'Bama we were on the point of rising," he said. "And when I got in, Coach Saban used me to really push everybody else. Not verbally, but he just knew I'd go out there and give everything I had. Training running, on and off the field. I was a threat to everybody else and it kind of helped everybody as a friend. I'm not here to bull-guard or do anything crazy. I just want to go out there and give everything I have."
Dareus and several of his Crimson Tide teammates took playing hurt with a grain of salt. After seeing how his mother suffered for years with complications from congestive heart failure, his sprains and strains seemed trivial.
"Unless you can go to sleep in pain, you don't know what pain is," said Dareus. "I could have a hurt elbow, a hamstring and ankle and it's not going to keep from not playing. As long as she could go to sleep, wake up, put food on the table and be in pain 24 hours a day, the little things I go through are nothing. When I look back on my Mom, her whole drive was never give up. I can't give up."
Much like his arrival in Tuscaloosa, the Bills top pick comes to Buffalo entering a very similar situation. A team trying to get back on its feet defensively, particularly against the run will be leaning very heavily on Dareus and that's fine by him. Having played in a 3-4 defense at Alabama, which has a very similar approach to what he'll be walking into in Buffalo he believes he can contribute the way he wants.
"It'll help me a great deal," said Dareus. "The terms are the same, the same calls. Everything is the same so it's a smooth transition and I love smooth transitions. Who doesn't love them? Playing for coach Saban I had to play every position across the front, it's going to be to the point where I'm going to play one position and be great at that and do my best at that and not have to worry about everybody else being accountable for their own job. So I'm really looking forward to it."
It's been 26 years since the Bills have taken a defensive lineman this high in the draft. Hall of Famer Bruce Smith was the first overall pick in 1985. When he heard that bit of Bills draft history Dareus calmly responded.
"There's always time for another one."