Focused on football and fatherhood
DE PERE – At a corner booth inside a rustic bar and grill, where the setting sun leaks underneath half-drawn shades, warming the wood floor and walls, Montravius Adams and Lateisha Gray find something resembling a break.
Snuggled in his car seat, their 6-week-old son has slept almost an hour through Friday night dinner rush at Brickhouse Craft Burgers & Brews. It is a rare reprieve, melting the tension of life with a newborn.
Serenity is fleeting these days. There are diapers to change. Bottles to feed. An NFL training camp five weeks away. With an infant, the exhausting cycle is interrupted only with naps.
They never last long enough.
Montravius Adams Jr. wants to see the commotion. So little MJ opens those big, brown eyes, and he stares up at Dad. Adams, a Green Bay Packers rookie, lifts MJ into his arms, cloaks him in a baby-blue blanket and blows raspberries. They play while awaiting dinner, father and son forgetting the packed restaurant in the southwest corner of downtown De Pere.
“I always wanted to see a little me walking around,” Adams says.
Professional football starts as a boyhood dream. Those boys grow up to be men with families to support. Adams, who turns 22 next month, is no different.
Except Adams’ career converged with his son’s birth. On April 28, a little after 2:30 p.m., Adams and his high school sweetheart welcomed their first child into the world. Almost eight hours later, the Packers drafted Adams late in the third round.
Adams, once among the nation’s top high-school prospects, will have to sharpen his technique in the NFL, but the 6-foot-3½, 304-pound defensive lineman has quick-twitch athleticism usually found much earlier in the draft.
“He’s got good size,” general manager Ted Thompson said, “but he’s also tremendously quick and explosive at the line of scrimmage. He’s got natural hand use that is hard to teach, and it’s good that you’re born with it.
“We were surprised and elated that he’s available at the time we picked him.”
Sleep has been evasive since the draft. Removed from family, Adams assimilates to the NFL’s demanding schedule, while conquering new obstacles of parenthood.
Maybe life would’ve been easier if Adams had waited to relocate his family. These 3 a.m. wake-up calls, reality for any newborn’s parents, are not conducive to learning an NFL playbook.
Adams wouldn’t allow it. Growing up without a father, Adams watched his mother support her four children. Now it’s his turn.
Immediately after rookie orientation, Adams hopped a one-way flight to Georgia. He loaded Lateisha and MJ into a black Dodge sedan one day later, driving most of the 15 hours back to Wisconsin.
Debbie Young watches her only son be a father, and pride overflows. She gushes more about Adams’ first diaper change than anything he’s done on the football field.
“He’s going to be a good father,” Young says. “I really believe Mon will always be there for MJ. I think he will be able to love his child because Mon knows the love that he wanted from his dad. He wanted his father in his life. So that’s what he’s going to give to his son.”
This, Adams says, is his motivation. Break the cycle of abandonment. Ensure his son has the father Adams missed in his youth. It’s bigger than football. More important than sacks.
Adams, blowing raspberries before dinner, is off to a good start.
A month after returning to Green Bay, Adams carries his son into Brickhouse to share their story. He wears a gold angel necklace, a good-luck charm from Mom. Lateisha, wearing a pink shirt with jeans, follows closely.
Everything, they quickly learned, revolves around their baby. Lateisha pulls a bottle from her diaper bag, feeding MJ while Adams surveys the menu. He settles on a bacon cheeseburger cooked to medium with beer fries and a bowl of Cheese-Z Chili. Lateisha orders a salad, lettuce topped only with bacon bits and ranch.
Then it’s nap time for MJ.
Adams, subject of the interview, is the one asking questions. When did your boys start walking? When did they start talking? Which Sunday is Father’s Day? His joy is impossible to contain. Each experience is new.
Adams, unlike his father, doesn’t want to miss one.
“I’m just excited,” Adams says, looking at MJ, “that he can live comfortably, and not have to worry about just being stable. Not have to worry about moving around place to place.”
Responsibility isn’t new to Adams. Growing up in Vienna, Ga., he watched his mother hold two jobs, working herself to exhaustion.
By day, Young was a senior aid at Pinehill Nursing Center in Byromville, Ga. She arrived at 7 a.m., caring for residents until 3 p.m. Young caught a little sleep — “not much,” she says — after her shift. House cleaning and cooking dinner often replaced rest.
After dinner, Young would drop the children off at her mother’s house before reporting for her second job. She swiped the time clock at a Tyson Foods plant before 10 p.m., deboning chicken wings overnight until returning to the nursing home around sunrise.
Young’s work ethic planted a seed. From a young age, Adams remembers wanting to take care of Mom. It rooted from necessity.
If not him, Adams thought, then who?
For almost eight years, Bruce Granville was present in his son’s life. Some of Adams’ earliest memories include Dad. After their breakup, Young says, he disappeared.
Granville lived in Lilly, Ga., not 10 miles from their home in Vienna. As visits become more infrequent, ceasing almost completely for about 10 years, Lilly was some distant country.
“I just didn’t have him,” Adams says.
Granville did not return phone calls for this story.
Sports became an escape. A safe place to channel time. Adams was a running back and linebacker in his youth league, fastest kid on the field.
A growth spurt before his 15th birthday made him a hulking high-school athlete, but Adams never lost speed. He was the biggest high-school sprinter you’ve ever seen, running a 400-meter-relay leg at Dooly County High. Adams ran a 4.87-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, fastest among this year’s 300-pound defensive linemen.
“To be honest,” Adams says, “I was planning to run faster.”
Adams was young when he first realized football could be his vehicle. He recognized it before anyone. Young, refusing to let her children’s needs go unmet, would leave every night for the Tyson Foods plant.
Most nights, her son had a message as she walked out the door.
“We would just talk,” Adams says, “and I’d be like, ‘One day, you won’t have to worry about all this. I’ll be able to take care of you.’”
Through most of his life, Adams’ dream was to buy Mom a house. No more living in the three-bedroom rental off Highway 41. Adams would make it to the NFL, he promised.
First, he needed to reach adulthood.
For all Young’s work, she recognized one person’s limitations. It would take a village to raise her boy. She wanted Adams to have a strong, male influence. A father figure.
He found one through football.
The man that talked to Mon
It started with bicycles.
Adam Langley would see the neighbor boy who lived three blocks south riding a different one all the time. Preoccupied with yardwork, he thought nothing of it.
But the boy kept riding. And riding. Each time, a different bicycle.
“I was always trying to make it somewhere,” Adams says.
Adams stopped one day. A curious 8-year-old, he straddled the bike in Langley’s driveway and asked his recreational football coach if this was where he lived.
“I’m going to come back and see you,” Adams told Langley.
“You come back and visit me whenever you want,” Langley said as Adams pedaled off.
Langley, an outside salesman, opened his home to Adams. He started repairing Adams’ bicycles, no more replacements. They discussed life in his garage. Langley’s questions prodded deeper and deeper, from whom Adams hung with, to how he was doing in school.
Adams confided in Langley. He shared his dream of playing college football.
Langley gave Adams an ultimatum: do the right things, or crash somewhere else. He has two children, a 14-year-old daughter named Addie, and a 7-year-old son named Carter. So long as Adams put in effort, Langley would make him a priority.
Adams never gave Langley a reason to walk away. He would come and go, sometimes spending the night, always finding safe harbor.
“There were times,” Langley says, “that he’d come into the house and would just stay there. Wouldn’t even say two or three words to us, fall asleep in his chair, and get up and leave. He’d say, ‘Hey, I’ve got to go.’ I’d tell him, ‘All right, we’ll see you later.’”
Langley “danced around” his role in Adams’ life for years. When Adams was 12 or 13, Langley whipped up the courage to ask about his absent father. He knew it was a sensitive subject, never broaching it before.
In that conversation, Langley learned two things. Adams yearned for a father figure, and he was clinging to Langley. Thinking back, Langley’s voice cracks.
“I considered him one of my own,” Langley says, “but I never just outwardly would say, ‘Montravius is my son.’ I just kind of tip-toed around that. It was more of a buddy relationship that grew to a mentor relationship that grew more into a father-son type of relationship when I realized he was needing that out of me. That’s when I started telling people, ‘This is one of my kids.’”
Langley tagged along on recruiting visits. He remembers one trip to Florida, the moment he realized what Adams always knew, that football could be his vehicle.
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, now the Atlanta Falcons head coach, and defensive line coach Bryant Young gathered with Adams around the bench press. They loaded a 45-pound weight on each side, 135 pounds total, with a string connecting the bar to an electronic clock.
The objective: bounce the bar off your chest as fast as possible, measuring upper-body explosiveness.
Bryant Young, who played 14 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, wasn’t out of the NFL long when he challenged Adams. Langley doesn’t remember their times, only that Adams beat Young once, then beat him again.
He also remembers the four-time Pro Bowler’s reaction.
“Coach Young looks at him,” Langley says. “They grab Mon, they do the gator chomp for him, and they carry him off. Then Coach Young looked at me with this blank stare, and he goes, ‘That kid has absolutely no idea what he has.’”
By Adams’ junior year, he was a five-star prospect. He led Dooly County, one of Georgia’s smallest schools, to the Class A title. Adams lived with Langley two years, finishing his education at Dooly County when his mother moved away.
He calls Langley his “God dad” to this day.
“I just thank God for Adam Langley coming into my son’s life,” Young says. “Adam was the man that talked to Mon.”
Mad dash to the hospital
Midway through his senior season at Auburn, Adams was playing his best football. He would be selected first team All-SEC, second team All-American. The NFL was on the horizon.
And Lateisha was pregnant.
The news never fazed Adams. He and Lateisha were in agreement, both hoping for a son. When they found out their baby was a boy, Adams’ first gift was his name.
Entering this spring, Adams considered the possibility MJ could be born on draft day. He blew past one due date, then another. His third was the Tuesday after the draft.
The family gathered at Langley’s house for the first round, returning to Young’s home after Adams was undrafted. Lateisha, a couple days past 40 weeks, and Adams walked the neighborhood past midnight, hoping to naturally induce.
Before bed, financial adviser Damien Moore called reminding Adams to tell whichever team drafted him that he might miss the start of rookie orientation for his son’s birth.
“Thirty seconds after that,” Adams says, “she’s in the bathroom saying, ‘I think we need to go to the hospital.’”
The contractions were coming. Every four to five minutes, a new wave. Adams called Langley, asking him to drive his mother to the hospital, almost an hour away.
Adams won’t say how fast he drove Lateisha, but you can imagine.
“She was squeezing my hand,” Adams says. “About cut off my circulation.”
At about 2 a.m., he flashed his emergency blinkers and started up Interstate 75. Adams sped past a police cruiser, but kept driving. Instead of a traffic stop, the patrol car swung next to Adams, then in front of him, escorting him to the hospital.
“He saw the emergency blinkers were on,” Lateisha says. “So he knew something was wrong.”
They arrived at the hospital around 3:30 a.m. MJ was born 11 hours later.
Adams held his son through the draft that night, barely noticing his slide to the end of the third round. When the Packers called, friends and family erupted inside the crammed hospital room. Adams couldn’t hear the conversation. He still is unsure who spoke with him.
“He was sitting right beside that bed,” Langley says, “making sure Lateisha was good, and he was holding his baby. To see him more concerned about being a dad at that moment than being picked in the NFL draft, it was pretty cool.”
A promise kept
The home has six bedrooms, six bathrooms and brick exterior. It’s quickly becoming Young’s most prized possession. All hers.
Courtesy, her son.
Adams didn’t wait to buy that house he promised. In March, two weeks after Young’s mother died, Adams moved Mom from Vienna to Cordele, a nice neighborhood not far from Langley. His three older sisters live with her.
“I just look at my house,” Young says, “and I just thank God, and I tell Mon, ‘Thank you.’ I can’t believe it, but I’m so happy.”
Adams speaks with his father occasionally now. Granville re-entered his son’s life when he was in high school. He would go to Friday night games, and sat beside Adams on signing day when he declared his intent to attend Auburn.
Is Adams pleased his dad returned?
“I don’t know if it would’ve made a difference,” he says, “if he did or didn’t. The time I needed him, I didn’t have him. But it’s good to have him.”
Adams followed Langley’s garage-talk advice. In December, he became the first person in his family to graduate college, earning a degree in interdisciplinary studies. His major has three emphases befitting a professional athlete: coaching, communications and nonprofit.
Langley always stressed the importance of life after football. Degree in hand, Adams has options for whatever comes next.
“He had every opportunity in life to make the wrong decision, to get involved in whatever he wanted to get involved with,” Langley says, “and he never, never did. He never has. He always made the right decisions for himself.”
There’s another big decision upcoming.
Young, the way mothers do, says she hopes her son marries Lateisha. Adams says they’re thinking about it. What’s already agreed, Adams says, is they aren’t done having children.
Adams says he wants five or six kids. Lateisha, flashing a look inside the corner booth, quickly answers she’s fine with three, if not two.
No matter the number, Adams will give his children a father. There are so many experiences ahead.
He doesn’t want to miss one.