An NFL prospect with humble beginnings is a story that's been told before. Rising above trying circumstances to carve out a successful professional career has been done by a good many NFL players. It'd be hard however, to think that anyone experienced as much personal loss as Alabama's Marcell Dareus.
The second youngest of seven siblings, Dareus' father, Juleus, died when he was just six. With a mother left to support seven children the financial challenges to meet the basic needs were innumerable. Michelle Luckey did what she could to make ends meet.
"My mom she struggled with all seven of us to do the best she can," said Dareus. "She was the head of our house. She brought us all up, six boys and one girl. She had to be the mother and the father. She really had to make our boys understand that they had to take care of our family and be productive in the community."
Marcell had an enormous amount of respect for his mother and her wishes, and did as he was told. The family was often lent a hand by teachers and coaches at the local school district in Avondale, Alabama. Dareus would get rides home from practice, sometimes a bite to eat as well with his mentors at school not knowing if there would be food waiting at home.
By his high school years Dareus' mother fell ill, almost dying of congestive heart failure. The episode ultimately confined her to wheelchair. Dareus and his siblings were also on the move at that time. With Hayes high school closing, his brothers and sister moved to East Lake and attended Huffman high school. His mother's condition eventually made it too difficult for her to keep a home and take care of her children.
A star on the football field, Dareus naturally bonded with his coaches, and was even living with assistant coach Scott Livingston for a while. Unfortunately during Dareus' senior year, Livingston was killed in a car accident.
All the loss and Luckey's failing health prompted a former Huffman high school Junior ROTC officer to step in. Retiree Lester Reasor took in all but the oldest of the Dareus siblings.
"He was a big influence on my life," said Dareus. "He helped me and my mother and my brothers get where we are. He helped my brothers get into school and move on in life."
Reasor preached education and Dareus committed to it during his time at Alabama. He also harped on avoiding handouts and earning everything you got, words his mother often repeated.
Dareus' only slip up happened when he was offered the chance to fly to Miami last spring by friend and North Carolina defensive lineman Marvin Austin. With his mother's failing health too much to bear and some down time before spring practices, it looked like the perfect escape.
After discovering that Austin paid for his flight, Dareus said he paid him back and got a receipt. He did not use the hotel room Austin had set up for him, and when part of the trip included an agent party Dareus immediately asked to leave.
Shortly thereafter he got word that his mother had passed and was on the next flight home.
Following an NCAA investigation Dareus was suspended for two games last season for his involvement.
"To be honest it was just a situation where I learned that everything that looks good isn't always good for you," said Dareus. "Even if it sounds good it isn't all it's cracked up to be. So I apologized to the team, my coaches and everybody. I'm just moving on with that. You can't move forward looking back."
As difficult as his mother's passing was Dareus said it brought his family closer.
"We're a really close family now," he said. "There are seven of us and when my mom passed last May we really had to get tight. My oldest brother lives out in California and he took my little brother out there so he could finish and get his high school diploma. We're just really trying to stay together and not lose contact with each other and make sure we stay on top of loving each other and being around each other."
Poised to be a top 10 draft pick in late April, success for Dareus is well within reach. For the rest of his family however, the circumstances are still far from ideal. It's why he looks forward to the opportunity to provide for them.
"It's one reason I wanted to come out," he said. "We're struggling in some ways and it'll be a big benefit for me to help my brothers and sisters to the point where we can do something in life and succeed."