Ryan Chartrand

In this world there are two types of people – the ones who lead and those who follow.

People are drawn to these special individuals that lead because they have that something that everyone else doesn’t. This is true in every aspect of life, whether it’s innovative businessmen such as Bill Gates fighting AIDS in Africa or men like Martin Luther King Jr. helping to pave the way for the civil rights movement.

Bottom line is these people are known as heroes and inspire because they have that special something.

There is no better example of these types of individuals than in the world of sports – John Wooden, Lance Armstrong, Pat Tillman, and Ray Ray McElrathbey.

All of those names probably ring a bell except the last one. That’s at least until you here the story of McElrathbey.

McElrathbey is a redshirt freshman cornerback for the No. 15 Clemson Tigers football team, but by no means is he your typical student-athlete.

In mid-summer McElrathbey made a decision to adopt his 11-year old brother Fahmarr and was granted custody because his parents were deemed incapable of caring for him.

“My mother is a recovering addict. Well, she’s trying to recover,” McElrathbey said. “She was addicted to crack cocaine, and my father has a few gambling problems and lives in Las Vegas.”

Before McElrathbey adopted his brother, his typical day consisted of lifting, breakfast, class, films, practice, dinner and then he would try to squeeze in some homework. Now on top of that already existing schedule he has to meet with guidance counselors, sign off on his brother’s school work, and make sure there is nutritious food in the house.

Did I mention McElrathbey just turned 20?

Because of NCAA rules, McElrathbey could not receive help from the coaches or anyone else in the community monetarily. Even people from the University of South Carolina, Clemson’s bitter rival, offered to do anything to help McElrathbey out.

It was this type of response and support that makes you proud to call yourself an American. The NCAA still said no.

“As a brother, it was still me first. As a parent, it’s him first,” McElrathbey said. “Before, I would do anything for me, now I have to do stuff for him – I come second.”

McElrathbey has seven brothers and sisters, but because of his parents’ problems, they all grew up in foster homes and are all spread around the southern United States. McElrathbey lived with coaches in high school; this kept him out of trouble and forced him to focus on football and school.

McElrathbey has given his brother hope and opportunity, but by no means without sacrifice.

While most of his teammates are dating and going out on the weekends after games, McElrathbey says dinner and a movie with his brother is about as crazy as it gets. McElrathbey has given up the chance to have the college life that most star athletes enjoy.

He has given his brother a chance in life that wouldn’t have been possible if this 20-year-old didn’t act more like 50.

“My pastor told me it’s the Lord wanting to slow me down. I’ll take it as that,” he said.

The NCAA worked very closely with the Atlantic Coast Conference and Clemson and finally granted McElrathbey a special waiver for this very unique situation. The waiver grants McElrathbey the ability to receive special benefits unlike all other student athletes.

Before this ruling, the NCAA was penalizing McElrathbey, a young man who epitomized everything they want their collegiate athletes to represent.

They finally made the right decision and should be praised for helping out McElrathbey, who is doing the right thing. McElrathbey should be a role model to all young aspiring athletes.

With many collegiate athletes making headlines these days for negative reasons, it’s refreshing to see a young man like McElrathbey representing his school and football team with such class and dignity.

The offense has even named a play after Fahmarr and all McElrathbey’s teammates have embraced him as the team’s little brother.

If you check the box score in Clemson’s dominant 51-0 victory against Louisiana Tech last weekend, you’ll see that McElrathbey only had one tackle. He may not be an elite player on the field just yet, but off the field, he has tackled a life-size problem and is an All-American in my book.

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