Tuesday November 29, 2011Sharrif Floyd - Overcoming the Odds
By Emily Arthur, UF Communications
Football saved Sharrif Floyd’s life – it was more than an after-school activity growing up.
The game provided a safe haven, an outlet, for the eventual starting defensive tackle at the University of Florida. Throughout a past of instability and uncertainty, playing football became the focus for Floyd to be the driving force that would give him a better life.
For Floyd, football opened doors to an opportunity to leave a troubled area of Philadelphia and provided him with the hope that he could make his dreams come true.
“I think football saved me because it kept me focused on something instead of nothing,” he said. “Every time I thought of doing something wrong, I would think of how it would affect football. That’s what kept me on the right track.”
Coming from a crime-ridden neighborhood and affected by a depressed family life, Floyd had to experience harsh realities as a young child. His father passed away when Floyd was three-years-old. It wasn’t until the age of 15 that Floyd found out the man who had helped raise him, was not his biological father.
“I always felt like I was an outsider and it made me feel like I didn’t belong. I knew something was wrong,” Floyd said. “This was before I found out he was not my real father, and it was tough growing up like that.”
There were times when Floyd would have to go to school and wear the same clothes day-after-day. At that point, he went to live with his grandmother to be in a better environment. Still, they had trouble making ends meet.
“There were points where we didn’t have enough to eat,” he acknowledged. “We ate, but there was no room for seconds. We just had to deal with it and get ready for the next day.”
Floyd was in middle school when he first experienced these hardships. It was during that time when football became a vital part of his life, and his natural athletic talents began to shine through. Before he pursued football, Floyd thought he would never escape the life he knew, then a middle school coach helped him realize the potential he possessed. At that moment, Floyd realized the opportunity that he had ahead of him.
“I’ll always remember that moment,” Floyd said. “It was after my middle school season. I asked Coach Edwards, ‘Do you think that I should keep playing football?’ He looked at me like I had two heads, and said, ‘Don’t stop.’”
Floyd proposed the question because he did not recognize his own talent. Growing up, he didn’t watch football on television and didn’t know much about the sport. All he knew was that the game was an escape from reality. It was a place where he could release his anger. It kept him on a positive path in life, in an environment where such roads are hard to find and negative influences were overwhelmingly strong.
“It would have been so easy to quit and put football to the side,” Floyd recalled. “I wasn’t going to make that an option.”
Once he entered high school, things became much brighter for Floyd.
“Before I started playing football, I didn’t think I would make it out,” he reflected. “I never thought about leaving until I had an opportunity. When I got to high school, I started talking to my coaches about college. It wasn’t until football came into my life that I thought of anything beyond that.”
While representing George Washington High School, he earned an invitation to the prestigious Army All-American Game and received numerous scholarship offers to continue both his education and playing career. In a desire to leave Philadelphia behind, Floyd looked forward to a fresh start in a new town.
“It was between Ohio State and Florida,” Floyd said. “I was trying to get into a different environment and something I’m not used to. Florida made me happier. Usually, moving to a new state would be scary for a young kid, but with my past, I was looking for a new place to start and a new chapter to begin. Now that I’m here, I’m loving it.”
Floyd has made himself a significant force on the field, starting every game that he has played and being among the Gators’ leaders in tackles and quarterback hurries. Despite the rough path he navigated to arrive in Gainesville, he does not dwell on the past or focus on what his life could have been like – instead of being a Gator.
“I actually don’t wear that on my shoulders anymore. I play for the love of the game,” Floyd said. “I pray before I touch the field because I’m so thankful for everything that I have here. I’m taking nothing for granted.”
With a team and The Gator Nation behind him, Floyd is focused to become one of the greats who have walked through The Swamp. He wants his story to be told to children from the same background as his own. He wants them to know that there is a way out of that lifestyle.
“To the kids who are in the same position I was in growing up, who think there is no way out: stay strong, because that’s all it takes,” Floyd said. “Find something that makes you happy and stick to it, don’t let anybody bring you down.”