Despite being a rookie, Orlando Franklin started every regular season and playoff game this past season on the offensive line for the National Football League's Denver Broncos.
But, during a recent appearance in his hometown of Toronto, before an appreciative mostly teenage audience in the auditorium of St. Patrick Catholic High School in Toronto's east end, he came to talk not so much about his life in the NFL, arguably the world's most lucrative sports league, but to tell the story of how he got there.
It's a compelling story that included two stints in custody, homeless shelters, foster homes - and a mother who never gave up on him.
He arrived at St. Patrick's without any visible trappings of success, sipping a Tim Hortons coffee and with really only one giveaway that he was the morning's star guest speaker - his size.
As one female student asked during the Q and A, "how tall are you?" "Six-seven," he replied.
And another asked, "Where do you live now? Do you live in a big house?"
He patiently responded:
"My house in Denver is pretty big, I've got a five-bedroom house and then I have a condo in Miami and I'm trying to look into buying a condo down here (Toronto)," he told the cheering kids.
What he brought to the assembly was an almost disarming honesty and humility, in a voice that was soft spoken but direct, purposeful, even intense at times.
"I grew up here in Toronto, Canada. At a young age I was running with a bad crowd and I knew I was always gifted in sports, but I always chose to run with the wrong people so at the age of 12 I was arrested," he told the assembled high school students whose complete attention he easily gained and held.
"I was able to get off on the charges. I was arrested for robbery - a big mistake in my life, but I was able to overcome it and go back to school, doing the stuff that I needed to do.
"And then at the age of 14 I got arrested again. I was arrested on serious charges. I thought it was over. I didn't think I was going to be able to go to high school after that, but due to the grace of God I was able to get focused, and my mom always stuck behind me."
In the follow-up questions, he elaborated further. With his first run-in with the law, he said one of his friends "ended up robbing a kid and I was telling him not to, so this kid turns out to be in my class. I got arrested for it.
"And my mom is pretty much a no-nonsense person so when I got arrested when I was 12 years old, my mom left me there for about a week, she wouldn't come get me. Although I was able to get bail my mom wouldn't come get me."
His second run-in was during his first year of high school at the now closed Timothy Eaton Business and Technical Institute in Scarborough.
"Again I was hanging around with a couple of guys that wanted to do what they wanted to do. I was always hanging around with older kids because I've always been bigger than kids my age so although I was in the ninth grade I was hanging around with kids that were in the 11th grade, 12th grade and they got into robbing people, stealing cars and stuff, breaking into people's houses," he told the rapt audience, adding a quick aside.
"I've been there. I know what a lot of you are all going through. The peer pressure and stuff like that ..."
Needless to say, his mom was not impressed. "So that time that I got arrested my mom left me there for two and a half months, I was 14 turning 15 years old," he said as the auditorium collectively gasped.
It was also the reason why he changed schools in Scarborough. As he explained in response to another student's question on which Toronto schools he attended:
"I went to Timothy Eaton at first and then I got kicked out of the school because, like I said, I was hanging out with the wrong crowd of people and I told you guys I was in jail twice. When I got out of jail they sent me to Borden (Sir Robert L. Borden Collegiate Institute)."
So how does Franklin get from the criminal system in Toronto to the offensive line in Denver, protecting quarterback Tim Tebow, another rookie who made quite the sensation this past season?
First a quick summary of Franklin's life - in his own words:
"I was born in Jamaica. At the age of three my mom left Jamaica with me and my brother. We grew up here in Toronto, Canada," he said, in his opening remarks to St. Patrick students who had rousing cheers at the mention of both 'Jamaica' and 'Toronto'.
And then he elaborated more on his youth:
"Growing up, it's weird. I've been through it, you know. Nobody can tell me, here, that you guys can't make it because I've been through it. Me and my mom and my older brother, we were in a homeless shelter for two years. I actually was in foster care for a year and a half so you guys just got to keep pushing on."
As far as his football career, after being drafted 46th overall in the second round of the NFL draft by Denver, he started every regular season and playoff game this past season as a rookie - on the field for more than 98 per cent his team's offensive snaps.
With the University of Miami he also started every game throughout his four-year career, including his freshman year.
He started his football career in Toronto spending eight years in the Scarborough-based Toronto Thunder football organization before heading to Florida for two years of prep school - the latter decision turned out to be a key turning point in his life.
"One day my mom sits me down; she asked what do I really want to do in life. I told my mom I wanted to play football. So we sat down, she made me write this note, I'll never forget, it was like a two-page letter. She made me write it down saying that if she helped me to get to Florida to play football, that I do everything in my power to make sure that I make it to college.
"Growing up in Toronto I never imagined that I'd be able to go to college. So my mom and me we write this plan out, she ups and quits her job, she moves to Florida for me, so I get to Florida now and it's like, OK, my mom made all these sacrifices for me and I can't let her down."
But here are still challenges aplenty.
First, he missed Toronto:
"My biggest thing that I had to give up was leaving here because I missed a lot of my friends, but a lot of my friends they were really supportive of me and helped me out each and every day. Whenever I needed someone to talk to, whenever I was stressing out because of college and whatnot I was able to call back here and they were like, hey man, you're living the dream, just keep doing what you're doing."
And second, his marks were nowhere near good enough for the Florida prep school "so I wasn't eligible in my junior year. I had to go and take classes over. I was a junior (Grade 11) taking 9th grade classes over so I could become eligible so I'd be able to play football.
"At the end of the day I was able to get eligible. I finished high school with 72 division-one scholarships. I don't know if you guys know how big of a deal that is, that was a great accomplishment for me. There are 110 division-one schools in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and I finished with 72 of them offering me full scholarships to go to school."
He chose the University of Miami and was all set to play for them when he hit yet another bump in the road.
"I finish up high school now and I go to college. I actually take some college classes in the summer time and I'm thinking that everything's all good."
But again his not-so disciplined time in Toronto comes back to haunt him.
"They flagged one of my English classes from my ninth-grade year in Toronto, Canada. So they actually kicked me out of college. I have to sit for a year - it was probably the hardest year of my life. I had to retake classes. I had to go back to high school and I was walking around with ninth graders. I was walking around with 14 year olds, and if you guys see me I'm a pretty big guy so I'm towering over these kids."
But his point is he did it.
"Like I said, I made the sacrifices and always believing that I can and always knowing what I wanted to do in life. I got up every day I made sure that I was on time and I made sure that I did the work. Then fall came around again and I was able to re-enroll in the University of Miami. "I played 52 games. I played every game that I was at the University of Miami. I started as a freshman. I was all-American, all-Conference. I accomplished all of those things."
It all paid off when he was taken 46th in the NFL draft:
"I just want to let you guys know the greatest day of my life was when I was drafted. I did my draft down here in Canada (Toronto). I was able to have all my childhood friends around me. It was the proudest moment of my life."
Besides overcoming adversity, there was also hard work. A lot of it.
"At UM (University of Miami) we practice at 5:30 a.m.," he said in response to a student's question of whether there ever was a point he wanted to give up. It's no joke there. They teach you discipline so we were waking up at 4:30 a.m. and you had to have all your equipment on at 5:30 a.m. in the morning and then on top of that you had to go to class all day after that.
"I remember I called my mom one day and I said, look - it was my freshman year - I don't think I'm going to make it. I don't think I'm going to be able to do this. She's like, well, I kept my end of the bargain, so you need to man up at the end of the day and keep your end. I was able to refocus my energy into taking care of business."
As inspiring as his life story is to students, the topic of conversation did finally come around to good old fashion football, and he was asked how the NFL compares to college ball.
"It's a lot faster. In college I was able to bully people. I was able to muscle a lot of people. But in the NFL, everybody's big, everybody's strong and on top of that these guys are grown men with families so that's their way of income so they're not going to let you bully them like in college."
Another difference, he added, is "every play in the NFL, it really counts compared to college. In college, you got players that take off plays all the time, but in the NFL that's not the case."
A student in the St. Patrick's gym asks him, "of all things you've been through, going to jail, making the NCAA, going to the pros, what have you taken out of it? What's the life lesson?"
"All things are possible. I never would have imagined that I'd be in the position that I am today. Without being in the situations that I've been in, in my life, I don't ever see myself really making it where I am.
"Like I appreciate every time my mom used to get mad at me. I thank my mom all the time for leaving me in jail and stuff like that. Because if she didn't do that, if she was easy on me, I would have never been strong enough to make it.
"At the end of the day I realize that everything is possible because if I can make it growing up in a one-bedroom house here in Toronto - anybody in this world can make it, especially doing the things that I've done in my life and making the wrong decisions that I did, but be able to overcome them. Anybody can do it."