When Kendal Thompkins did not get a call after attending a Kansas City Chiefs rookie minicamp last year, he began preparing for his next opportunity.
One like his brother, Kenbrell, received with the New England Patriots last year.
"When I started playing football, that's when my life completely changed for me," said Kendal, a first-year wide receiver with the Orlando Predators.
The path to Orlando wasn't easy. Thompkins faced multiple roadblocks growing up in Liberty City, one of the roughest neighborhoods in Miami, but he always kept playing football.
"His commitment to excellence is unmatched," Predators coach Rob Keefe said. "He puts in so much time to studying the game."
Thompkins, 24, has loved football for as long as he can remember, ever since he and Kenbrell shared a room with beds covered in football-themed sheet sets and curtains to match.
The brothers, the youngest of five boys with a little sister, were two years apart and the only ones with a passion for the sport.
"We'd sleep with the football, man," said Kenbrell, whom Thompkins calls every day for advice. "We always had the video games and Madden."
Their mother, Gloria Thompkins, used to yell when they tossed a ball around the house. At the time, the single mom could not imagine her sons playing pro football while she worked two jobs at fast-food restaurants. Or when Kenbrell was arrested seven times, some of them related to drugs, before his 19thbirthday.
And especially when she was huddled on the floor with six children, hoping bullets didn't fly through the house during a drive-by shooting.
"Every day, one thing we had to tell each other was, 'I love you, and it's going to get better,''' Gloria said.
"Every corner you turn, there's always something trying to tell you what you can't do and who you aren't. You have to have that fight in you to keep pushing."
Kendal did. He stayed out of trouble but couldn't play for Miami Northwestern's football team for two years because his GPA was too low. Hours studying with tutors and attending summer school allowed Thompkins to raise his grades and take the field for the Bulls his junior year.
"I had to work so hard to play that football kept me out of a lot of things," he said. "I didn't have time to be out running the streets."
The Hurricanes offered Thompkins a scholarship after his senior season. He finished his UM career with 14 receptions for 152 yards and three touchdowns.
"Seeing him get that scholarship, that set me up and put me in the position I am today," said Kenbrell, who took a year off after high school before heading to junior college and then Cincinnati. "I was confused.
"I had a lot of loose screws at the time and didn't understand my purpose in life. He motivated me to put my cleats back on."
It's a good thing because Kenbrell's time with the Patriots has pushed Thompkins to keep striving for the NFL. Keefe said Thompkins (5-10, 180 pounds), who caught three passes for 23 yards and a touchdown Sunday in a victory against the Jacksonville Sharks, is dynamic, quick and explosive.
"Watching my brother and seeing him do it made me want to do it that much more," Thompkins said. "We make each other better."