The Evolution of Brandon Maye
By BJ Bennett
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Family influences helped shape a frame of reference that, at a trying point in Brandon Maye's life, would prove especially critical.
Through his many, changing roles, Brandon Maye has always been a football player. And at W.P. Davidson High School in Mobile, Alabama, he was quite a good one. As a senior middle linebacker he recorded 120 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, five sacks and five recovered fumbles. At 6'2'', 222 pounds with a 4.72 forty yard dash time, some college football programs took notice.
Overlooked by regional powers such as Alabama and Auburn, Maye packed up and headed east for Clemson. After a redshirt season to recover from a foot injury, his impact was immediate. Maye started 12 games for Tommy Bowden's Tigers in 2008, setting a school-record with a dozen stops in his first career game, which came against the in-state Crimson Tide. After 71 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and three fumble recoveries, Maye earned national attention and acclaim.
"It was a very amazing experience for me," he recalled of the start of his career on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. "Coming out of high school I was a two star recruit so not many colleges gave me the opportunity to become a Division I player. I think two weeks before signing day Clemson called me up and gave me the opportunity with a full scholarship. I got there and was a three-year starter."
With a chip on his shoulder, Maye's motivation was constant and clear. He also, however, was ever-mindful of the rare opportunities laid before him. Maye made it a point to dedicate himself both on and off the field, earning Freshman All-American honors for his playing production and all-conference and all-district recognition for his academic efforts.
Maye was, in each of his three seasons in the league, named to the All-ACC Academic Team and, in 2009, was cited as a selection on ESPN The Magazine's All-District Academic Team. A member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society and a team representative to the school's student-athlete advisory committee, Maye graduated from Clemson in 2011 with honors Cum Laude with a B.S. in Sociology in three-and-a-half years.
"I took it upon myself to make sure that I showed people and I worked hard and dedicated myself to eat right, talk right, sleep right, that I did the right things to get that opportunity," he explained. "And I think the biggest thing for me was I was not only was an All-american on the football field, but also in the classroom."
College degree already in hand, Maye had a chance after his redshirt junior year to enter the NFL Draft. Scouts were intrigued by his overall athleticism and the versatility he could bring to the next level. A lifelong dream was seemingly within reach. As Maye weighed his options, though, his thoughts continued to be tugged back home. There, his grandmother was suffering from congestive heart failure.
Maye ultimately decided to postpone a professional career, but also to step away from his alma mater and transfer to Mississippi State for his final year of eligibility to be closer to his family. Once in Starkville, he worked with family and friends to provide the best possible care for his grandmother.
"With my grandma, it was the toughest decision in the world. I had teams knocking on my door my junior year and they were saying it was my opportunity to come out. Then I had the NFL give me a pretty decent grade and say I could get to a pro day or go to the combine and increase that. But I feel like God positioned me right where he wanted me to be because He showed me through my Grandma that this is where He wanted me. He wanted me to use my life story to inspire people."
The change was a dramatic one.
"So that whole emotion thing when I went to Mississippi state, it was crazy for me to focus everyday on class knowing that my grandma was still going through her process," he acknowledged. "I was closer to home, I was able to go home and take care of her most of the time. But it was a tough transition for me. I got hate mail when I left Clemson."
Following the end of his college playing career, Maye, dealing with an Achilles injury, did receive an offer from the NFL, though in the form of an unheralded free agent invitation from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Despite the long odds, Maye prepared for practice with every intent of making a pro roster. He ultimately did not got that chance as he failed his team physical and was never cleared to compete.
"It was the craziest feeling in the world. The thought was 'where do I go now?. I’m sitting here, I’m 24, I have a master's and I have the whole world in front of me but I used this game as the way from a tough community growing up and it took me to different heights. Now I have built this marriage with this game and you’re telling me you’re going to take it away from me?'," Maye asked. "My junior year so many teams were telling me I was a probably a top ten linebacker in the country, but all of a sudden in the snap of a finger my whole life had changed."
The memories of what transpired stick with him today. From a major college linebacker who had been told he had the potential to play football for years, Maye suddenly went from being evaluated as a player to being examined as a patient. That first test proved much easier to pass.
"I got down to Tampa. They brought me in to mini-camp just to try me out to see if I could get that contract, but I took it as an opportunity that I was going to get that contract. I told them that even though my Achilles was a little bummed out, that I was going to be there, I was going to compete and I would show them my heart and my dedication," he stated. "I got into the physical and I noticed that more doctors came in with me. I had three or four doctors when other people only had one or two. The NFL is very thorough with their physicals so they came in and it was just the craziest thing. I couldn’t come up on my toes."
From there, reality set in.
"When I was walking out of the facilities, the player personnel person came up and took my playbook. It felt like the world had crashed down on me. I wondered where I would go now? When I got back onto the plane I kept hearing this voice telling me 'now is the time'. When I got back to Mobile I knew it was the voice of God telling me 'now is the time to take my story to show people that you will get knocked down in this life, but it is not the start that matters, it is the finish'," he remembered.
A big part of Maye's story at that time was his decision to head back closer to the gulf to be with his family. Such relationships had long defined him, with loved ones helping to clear his forward path. After his father died when he was a young child, Maye relied on the guidance of his mother and his stepfather to help him through. Their influences helped shape a frame of reference that, at a trying point in Maye's life, would prove especially critical.
"My mom was blessed to have a husband step into her life when I was about five years old. He taught me the values and morals it takes to leave a legacy. He taught me that education comes first, but before all of that Christ comes first," Maye detailed. "When you think about your own story, what are your long term goals? I think the sky is the limit. I think whatever I can dream, that’s what I believe I can do."
Maye was fortunate to have great mentors all the way around.
"The ladies in my life, mom and grandma, have been a huge part of my success. Without them there is no me. The sacrifice they have made for me and my sisters drives me to be great in all that I do. To see family members going back to school and each one of my sisters in college is the most amazing thing in my life right now," he nodded. "Because of my grind in the classroom, they have hope. If I can do it, they can do it."
Maye is officially turning turmoil into triumph as he now is helping others through motivational speaking, his book "Diamond in the Rough" and The Brandon Maye Foundation. While football has always been at his core, the affect of Maye's current work is even more impactful. Instead of changing games, Maye is now potentially changing lives.
"I have the book out, I’m speaking across the country, I just started my own construction company. So I have so many great things going on and so many different avenues that I can go into. So I’m using this time to be able to inspire and encourage people that you can be down one day and be up the next day. I’m a living testimony," he exclaimed. "I was able to take that same emotion that drove me as I went through life at the beginning, with the humble beginnings that I come from, and channel it. After that my life just kind of took off. That’s why I say don’t worry about the start, just focus on the finish."
Looking back, Maye is thankful for the many experiences and interactions that have led him to a happier place.
"From interacting with different coaches and people, I have been taught about leadership, hard work, how to overcome obstacles," he added. "So I’m able to go all across the country and speak and talk about getting knocked down and getting back up and how I did it. It's just such an awesome time for me right now. God positions people right where He wants you. So I feel like this is His calling for me at this moment to go out to colleges, schools and churches and to be a motivation not just for their day, but for a lifetime."
Today, with a Bachelor's in Sociology and a Master's in Human Resources, Maye the linebacker is an author, a motivational speaker, and for many, an inspiration.