The circumstances would make anyone cringe. There have been numerous NFL prospects with stories of rough upbringings, but Louisville pass rusher Lorenzo Mauldin's early years were far from what one usually describes as a childhood.
His father has been incarcerated in California since Mauldin was two-years old. His mother sold drugs to make ends meet for her and her five children. Mauldin and his older sister took care of their younger siblings and did odd jobs to earn extra pocket change. But by the time Lorenzo was 15 his mother's line of work landed her in jail and the siblings were separated. He was placed in a group home for teenage boys.
A series of 16 stops in various foster homes through the East Atlanta neighborhoods where he grew up soon followed. Change was the only thing Mauldin could rely on at the time, that is until football came into the picture his sophomore year at Maynard Jackson high school.
"It was pretty rough my last few years before college keeping all that emotion inside and transferring it over to football," Mauldin said.
Simply put football saved Mauldin. He was able to channel his anger and repeated rejection to the field. His play soon led to an opportunity to avoid living a life not all that different from that of his wayward parents. College recruiters quickly came calling by the close of his junior season.
By the time he was a senior, Mauldin was an AA All-State player in Georgia and a three-star college prospect. He was offered a scholarship by Steve Spurrier at South Carolina and accepted. However, three days before signing day the Gamecocks pulled their offer citing Mauldin's grades as the culprit.
Once again Mauldin had been abandoned.
The truth was South Carolina overextended their scholarship offers and had to trim someone from their recruiting list. With Mauldin still needing some work with his grades to academically qualify he was the odd man out.
Troy University quickly stepped in to offer Mauldin a scholarship. On his way to visit the Troy campus Mauldin got a phone call from then Louisville head coach Charlie Strong.
"He called me on my way down to Troy University and told me he had a scholarship for me after South Carolina had oversigned," Mauldin said.
Mauldin said he wouldn't be able to visit until the following weekend since he was on the way to visit Troy, but when he did Strong made a powerful first impression.
"Coach Strong had an impact on me because every chance he had he was calling me to see if I had signed a letter of intent for him," Mauldin said. "He was a funny guy when I first met him. Coach Strong has that feel about him of being a father, someone who wants to see you succeed at everything whether it was on the field or off the field."
A father was something that was completely unfamiliar to Mauldin. Raised solely by women, Mauldin had trouble developing trust in male figures of authority. It's easy to understand why the pass rusher would be distrusting, defensive and angry.
The first semester at Louisville under demanding defensive line coach Clint Hurtt was very difficult.
"Coming into college I didn't really trust men. So just going to a new school in a new state and a bunch of men are yelling at you and you don't know what's going on," he said. "Trust was a big issue for me when I first got to college, but Louisville pretty much taught me that trust is something that you need when you're going into a new environment."
It took some time, but Mauldin eventually came to trust his coaches as they along with his teammates became his family.
"Coach Clint Hurtt couldn't be closer than blood," Mauldin said. "He stuck with me since I first got there. We bumped heads when I first got to Louisville, but I look at it as a blessing because someone was on my back when I needed it. The fact that he was there and I could talk to him alone was important."
Mauldin's raw pass rushing talent was steadily refined to the point where he had a breakout junior season in 2013 racking up 40 tackles, 9.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. At the end of season however, his head coach Charlie Strong took the vacant job at Texas and his defensive line coach went to coach with the Chicago Bears.
As a new staff came in Mauldin was more accepting the second time around. A new defensive scheme also came in as the Cardinals shifted from a 4-3 to a 3-4 front moving Mauldin to outside linebacker.
Mauldin adjusted and managed a career-high 51 tackles including 13 for loss and 6.5 sacks. More important than his personal statistics that season was who was in attendance for him for his last home game at Louisville.
"Coach Hurtt came back for me on senior night when I didn't have anybody to walk with me," said Mauldin. "That told me right there that coach Hurtt would be there for me."
Seeing Mauldin in both defensive schemes has afforded NFL scouts the luxury of seeing where he might be the best fit. The pass rusher has his own preferences.
"I'm a 4-3 lineman at heart," admitted Mauldin. "Last year I played outside linebacker and it was pretty fun, but I'm a D-lineman at heart. I rush off the edge. At outside linebacker you pretty much do the same thing you just drop into coverage."
Some scouts agree with Mauldin's self-assessment, but he does possess traits that could make him a fit for both defensive schemes.
Where Mauldin will be most valuable is with his separated siblings. After he gets his NFL career underway he hopes to buy a home where they all can gather and spend time together.
It's an image he's visualized more than once and it's closer than ever with an NFL career about to begin. Mauldin has been projected as a mid-round pick and is eager for what lies ahead. At the same time during the dozens of interviews he's had with NFL scouts and front office executives over the last few months he can't help but look back at where he came from.
"I think about it every time I sit down with a scout or a coach to get interviewed," he said. "That's the first thing that's running through my mind, talking about how long it took for me to get here, what it took for me to get here and what I have to do to stay here."