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Super Bowl LI: Atlanta Falcons Running Back DeVonta Freeman Will Be the MVP

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This Sunday in Houston, Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman may accomplish something unique in football. If the Falcons beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI, the Liberty City native will have won championships at the Pop Warner, high school, college, and pro level. Getting there was a difficult journey for the 24-year-old.

Twelve years ago, when he starred for the Liberty City Optimist Club, Devonta was among several players I took under my wing. He grew up in the Pork n Beans projects taking care of his younger siblings. Devonta could have easily fallen into the trap of making easy money by selling drugs and robbing people. He didn't.
He starred for the Miami Central Senior High Rockets who won the 2010 Class 6A state title. He was named the MVP.

I cautioned him that his brothers and sisters would go down whatever path he took in life. Devonta learned to work hard. Instead of selling dope, he and his teammates Durrell Eskridge and Rakeem Cato earned money doing odd jobs around my house. They did everything from washing my cars to cutting down trees.

On the gridiron, scouts and coaches often dismissed Devonta – who's only 5'9” – as not tall enough. They also said he lacked strength and speed. Every single time, he proved his doubters wrong. For instance, he was benched the first four games of his sophomore season at Florida State University despite running for more than 1,000 yards the previous season. He never gave up and won the starting job again. As a junior during the Seminoles' national championship run, Devonta had a career-high 1,016 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns despite splitting carries with two other running backs.

Yet he wasn't drafted until the fourth round, by the Atlanta Falcons. He was selected to the Pro Bowl after a stellar rookie season despite playing behind starter Stephen Jackson. And when his team drafted running back Tevin Coleman in 2015 to replace Jackson instead of promoting Devonta, he continued proving he is an elite NFL running back.

This year, he rushed for 1,541 yards, caught more than 70 passes and scored 11 touchdowns. Naturally, his peers selected him to play in the Pro Bowl again. The last running back to make back-to-back trips to the NFL's all-star game was former first-round pick Adrian Peterson. Now, Devonta is on the verge of winning his first Super Bowl. Don't be surprised if he is the game's MVP.

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