Updated: May 23
LSU ODYSSEY'S CONVERSATION WITH TONGE' HELAIRE:
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
On Thursday, the 1st Round selections of the most bizarre NFL Draft in history will unfold...no there won't be Joe Burrow stalking up the steps and faking a smile to Roger Goodell, no there won't be close-ups of the creatures inhabiting Mel Kiper's "Andrew Lloyd Webber in a tutu" hair...we'll have to go without Todd McShay's "Nostradumbus" regalia or Adam Schefter's constant stream of sweaty, stammering defensive mechanisms: As fans, we're all dodging proverbial bullets here. While others may be content chilling at home, relaxing away from the spotlight's cold-hearted scrutiny....for some players and their families, this pandemic sours a once in a lifetime experience. We should be watching these guys walk up the stairs in 2020 because this year will be special: Not only would the gathering have been the final time the 2019 Tigers would unite, this Draft will become the most historic of all time for NFLU: With 19 players involved, I project 7 selections during the 1st Round alone from LSU's 2019 G.O.A.T unit...and that isn't a flagrant slice of bias or a typo. LSU will see Joe, Queen, Justin, Clyde, Cush, Kristian and Grant Delpit go in the 1st Round....mark my words... While there may be other prime options or team needs, if these NFL Owners and GMs based their selections on talent, longevity, versatility, brains, unstoppable pace / agility, and a buzzing love for humanity...then there's only one choice:
Jonathan Taylor, DeAndre Swift, Ohio State's J.K Dobbins all fall away when studying Edwards-Helaire's revelatory 2018-2019 eternal transcendence...
But to really enjoy his rise as a player, one has to know his path as a son and brother: Clyde comes from a family who are as strong as they are loving, as tight-knit as they are expanded, anchored by Clyde's mother, Tonge' Helaire, a proud, wise and loving woman.
She's been through a lot during her time as a parent of three children:
At 21 years of age, already a parent and desperate to help his financially strapped mother, Clyde's father (Clyde Edwards Sr) was arrested for drug distribution. Edwards ended up doing hard time, leaving behind Tonge' and 11 month old "Clydrick" for the better part of a decade.
Like his NFL-bound son, Clyde Sr possessed supernatural football abilities, lighting up Northern Baton Rouge like a meteor on Saturday nights...the only problem was the path he first chose.
This path would lead to an extended prison stay, but Clyde Sr not only found his way out of the darkness and into the light, he began helping others in the same position he'd found himself in all those years ago.
Still, another example in the form of step-father Shannon Helaire arrived just in time for Clyde Jr:
Shannon Helaire could always be seen at Clyde's games, practices...even staying for team photos...the step-father's support became as relentless as his step-son ran the ball.
Clyde's stepfather gave everything for his new family, bolstering the young Edwards Jr...to the point Clyde conjoined the last names of both fathers before his sophomore year of high school football:
Clyde Edwards Jr transformed...the sum of all parts, the totality of his experience equaled:
CLYDE EDWARDS-HELAIRE....much more than a name, the hyphen becomes an advertisement for self-belief.
EDWARDS honored the football genes, gift of life and rebirth of Clyde Sr, while HELAIRE represents the constant love, support and provision his stepfather Shannon showed for his son.
Don't be mistaken: Clyde Sr & Jr aren't estranged...evidenced by their full circle moment in front of the entire world last November:
Clyde's greatest moment in purple and gold will obviously be his "last man standing" performance against Alabama, deciding the National Championship in LSU's favor a few months ahead of schedule. He Clydrogenically froze Alabama's defenders, completing 8 of his 9 attempted spin moves, making 15 of 16 opponents miss, stiff arming 3 Bama defenders for extra yardage, earning 10 first downs, converting 4 third downs, issuing a vicious knockdown block in pass protection, 20 rushes for 103 yards while scoring 3 TDs, catching the ball for 9 times for 77 yards and another TD...he ran through, around and over Nick Saban's defense...yet the ultimate reward was waiting for him in the stands.
In the aftermath of his interview with CBS (where Joe embraces his best pal), CEH flew to the sideline, looking for his family. He found them and the first thing he did was hug his mother Tonge' and his sister Maddee...but then he saw his fathers.
Edwards-Helaire jumped into them both, tearfully sobbing: the release of years of frustration and outside doubt...the faith never wavering...more than LSU, more than a national title on the line, this was the moment a family became even stronger. Clyde Sr hugged his son with the fervor and might of someone with raging pride, a man of spiritual deliverance making up for lost time with the son he thought he'd lost.
I don't know about you, but everything #22 does seems to give me chills...the fact he topped off his Barry Sanders / Kevin / Marshall Faulk-esque demolition of the heralded Crimson Tide with familial positivity, forgiveness and intense love only makes us respect him more.
But when talking to his mother Tonge', you see more layers to this family's story of trials, tribulations and triumphs than you could ever fathom
The role Clyde played for his family away from the field beats anything he'll ever accomplish on the football field, which is a heavy thing to say about a running back who's about to become the Michael Jordan of his position. Q: Hey Tonge', when did Clyde first start playing football? Was this already his biggest passion?
TONGE': Clyde began playing football when he was 5 years of age. He would workout with the team at the age of 3, alongside my oldest son Leon (7 at the time) Clyde didn’t play right away, but he would literally follow the coaches up and down the sideline begging to play. His dad, Shannon Helaire became so upset during one of the games, saying he "couldn’t bear to watch young Clydrick following behind the coaches begging to play and they didn’t play him. " So after that game, my husband had a talk with the coach and told him "Clydrick can’t learn on the sidelines and we paid for him to play just like everyone else." Needless to say, that was our last year playing with Baker Jr Buffs. We changed to Scotlandville Hornets the following year when Clyde turned 6. His first year playing .... there was so many kids that the coaches spilt the teams into sub teams. So each level had an advanced team and beginners' team. Clyde had never played (except with his big brother and friends in the yard) so Coach Sean decided to place him on the beginners team. Clydrick was not happy!! He said, "Mom I don’t belong on this team ... it’s for people that don’t know how to play and I know how to play...Why won’t they give me a chance???" Meanwhile his friends are saying ... "Clydrick you belong with us on the “good team." He played for the beginners team ... I took him to every practice. Everyday, he showed up and practiced hard. I took him to every game every Sunday. The “good team” played on Saturdays. He was extraordinary from the moment he hit the field. Every week he would get better do more and score more. Coach Sean went to Clydrick in the middle of the season and apologized to him, telling him that he "had no idea he was as good as he is. That made Clydrick feel better. He smiled. After the last game Clydrick walked up to Coach Sean and said,” I need to talk to you coach...If you think I am going to play on this team next year then you need to find you another running back because I will not play for you anymore.” My husband and I were shocked, we had no idea he was going to do that...Following year, Clydrick was the starting running back on the “good team”. People we didn’t even know would come watch him play. We would walk into a gas station and Clydrick would literally invite people to come watch him play at Memorial Stadium every Saturday. He brought a difference to the games on Saturdays, people raved about how they enjoyed watching him play and how exciting he was to watch. His dad Shannon talked to him about Barry Sanders and he begin watching Barry on YouTube daily. He would come home everyday after school, do his homework and watch Barry Sanders.
My husband forgot to tell him not to try everything he'd seen (Barry try).
That Saturday, Clydrick was running & jumping over people...doing all kinds of stuff.
I was about to lose my mind...
Coach Sean told him how much he enjoyed his style of play but he was going to have to keep his feet on the ground. He agreed but it didn’t stop right away... let’s say it took a lot of fussing. Q: Was his size ever a question? TONGE': Men would talk to my husband about how good Clydrick was but they would say ... "just wait until he moves up to the next level." Year after year Clydrick played well. He broke the BREC record for touchdowns (and they later retired his jersey during an awards ceremony, it was a big deal for him!!! At Catholic High, Clydrick started in 8th grade, so he had to leave BREC (Baton Rouge Recreational football). He was excited because he was an 8th grader playing Freshman football. He felt like the man (Tonge' laughs).
Q: When did he make you all feel he was special on the field? TONGE': Coach Kelly talked with me after a home game ... they had played probably 3 games by then. He asked if it would "be ok if he didn’t play freshman football next year because it would only hold him back" ... he said “he’s too advanced for the freshmen.” He finished his 8th grade year playing freshman football. He would only play the 1st half because he would score so many TD they would let him play the 2nd. His freshman / 9th grade year, he dressed for junior varsity. By the 2nd or 3rd game, Coach Kelly came to talk with me about Clydrick dressing for Varsity! Varsity !!! I said ...'oh no hold up coach...' He explained that (regular starting running back) Derrius Guice was hurt and he would have to sit out the game that coming Friday. He took me to Coach Weiner and he explained to me that Clydrick wasn’t actually going to “play” that he would be a place holder. Coach Weiner said "they would practice what he has to do and that would be all." Outside of Clydrick, there wasn’t another running back. I agreed... only if he promised to make sure Clydrick didn’t play because I didn’t want him to get hurt. The agreement was made ... and Clydrick made history becoming the first freshman to play for varsity in Coach Weiner's 29 years at Catholic High. Game night: St Amant. On a punt return, Clyde went out for his first play for Varsity...and of course ... the ball goes straight to Clydrick. They actually practiced that (the week prior) and Clydrick was suppose to let the ball bounce or go wherever it would go...... not to my son! He catches the ball! It felt like the world had stopped at that moment... My heart ached....I couldn’t believe this was happening... He caught the ball and started running, right as I start running and crying in the stands......He ran the ball for I think 72 yards...( I’m not exact on it ... it was between 68-78). Coach Weiner said, he was "elated he followed his gut! I knew he was something special."
Clydrick became MVP of the Championship game his junior year, winning Catholic High's first State Championship ever. The game was extraordinary...watching him play in the New Orleans Superdome. Q: The Superdome would become familiar territory for Clyde you could say. Arriving at LSU as a freshman, with Derrius Guice, Nick Brossette and others ahead of him, how did he fit in at Louisiana State? TONGE': Being behind some great running backs, he was aware that he would have to wait his turn. He was patient and practiced hard. He got his feet wet freshman year, then sophomore year Clydrick won the starting running back role and he was excited !!! We couldn’t wait for the season to start because I knew he would be able to quiet all the noise and silence the doubts. Q: It took a while for many outside of LSU (and some within) to notice how good he was...How did it feel when your son was doubted yet again at the collegiate level?
TONGE': When the (2018) season started and Nick Brossette became the starter, I wish I could say I wasn’t upset but I was extremely upset. Clydrick prayed about it and we talked and I said we are going to trust God through this process. Nick is a senior he needs his time. Clydrick agreed and became back up. He did well but I know, and so does he, that if given the opportunity, that freshman year would've been a great season for him. When Junior year came... I said: "NO EXCUSES and no back burner. You have waited and now it’s your time!" Q: And it was his time...I don't think we'll ever see an LSU running back as explosive, as productive or as entertaining as your son. He gives me chills...sorry for the fanboyisms, Tonge'. Your daughter Maddee overcame incredible odds....doctors gave her 6 months to live and now she's 12! How has your family been able to go above and beyond the obstacles placed in front of y'all time and time again?
TONGE': Maddee being born with Muscular Dystrophy was a surprise to the family...it wasn’t expected at all. It changed a lot of things for us as a family but she was always Clydrick’s strength. He said, she was his motivation: “Make Muscles 4 Maddee” we would say! Clydrick was always very attentive (to his family's needs), after Maddee came home (following a stint in the NICU for 4 months) he helped me so much. Clydrick wanted to know what he could do to help me. He's always been that way. He definitely was proud to be my little right hand man. . Clydrick would feed Maddee through her feeding tube, he knew how much milk to put in the tubes, how long to set the feeding pump... he learned it all. He watched and paid attention to everything I would do with her. He knew how to do CPR. And to say the least: I really needed him. That’s crazy to say that about an 8 year old little boy but many many days...I don’t know what I would have done without him. He always made me smile, or he would say "awww mom you look like you need me to hug you!" Mom moments...missing it (Tonge' laughs). Maddee couldn’t say "Clydrick" so she called him "Yaya".
He was the only one (in the family) she gave a nickname to. The boys never treated her like something was wrong with her...they would play and talk and sing read to her. Clydrick would put her feet on top of his feet holding her hands to give her the feel of walking. We were devastated (over Maddee's health) but I believe it brought us closer together as a family. It taught my boys about people with disabilities and caring and helping people. Initially, we can’t always see or find the good in a situation but with faith and a lot of prayers I know that God always delivers. My Maddee is proof of that! God has spared 2 of my kids lives and I am forever thankful and grateful. My kids are my life: each and everyone of them. Q: Have you shared that story before about Clyde stepping up as an 8 year old for his sister and you? TONGE': The story about him and Maddee I hadn’t shared all of that with anyone.
Q: Tonge', you said how "God spared two of your childrens' lives", how has Clyde's life been spared as well? TONGE': Clyde’s life spared during that incident last year. I truly try to think about that as less as possible....because...it’s truly hard for a person, who's learning...growing...trying to live right and do things in a Godly manner to understand how cruel people in this world can be. ---------------------------------------------------------
January 1st, 2019 wasn't just any other day for Clyde Edwards-Helaire.... No this wasn't just the day LSU played UCF in the university's biggest bowl game since their 2012 National Championship defeat: This was his first time back on the field (and some semblance of normalcy) since the most traumatizing day of his life, December 22nd 2018. Heading to sell an Iphone or IPod to local 18 year old Kobe Johnson felt like a regular Saturday afternoon; but once Clyde found himself looking down the barrel of a gun, he knew this was anything but a normal day. In an attempt to rob the running back and his LSU teammate Jared Small, the teen held the pair at gunpoint in their vehicle...beyond a compromising, positively terrifying position: this was life or death. Out of nowhere, as if someone had lit off firecrackers in the Saturday afternoon daylight, one of the LSU players feared for their lives enough to fatally shoot teenager Johnson in self defense. What happened next is the most important detail NFL General managers and owners should pay attention to: Disregarding their own legal safety, Clyde and Small called the police themselves, waited for their arrival, were summarily detained, questioned and then released in what was a clear case of self defense. Despite never having any doubt as to the legality or morality of the self-defense shooting, the incident seemed to cast a pall over Clyde's pre-Fiesta Bowl preparations and into the 2019 off-season...how could anyone focus on football after something like that? Following the news, there were demands (from wanna-be "fans") for Edwards-Helaire to leave the team for the rest of the season or be "shut down" for the 2019 Fiesta Bowl vs Central Florida. Yet again, Coach Orgeron knew the strength of his players...he was loyal to Clyde, he cared about #22 enough to believe in the young man. The adversity of the era and the Central Florida game in particular would turn out to be a major watershed for Clyde Edwards-Helaire's ignition for opposition submission.
In an act of pure release, Clyde returned the opening kickoff vs UCF for 77 yards, narrowly tackled at the last gasp...just as he had in front of Mom on his first play of varsity...as an 8th grader... From that moment on, this was Clyde and Joe's offense, and for the rest of the Fiesta Bowl, our Offensive Coordinator Steve Ensminger began feeding Clyde the ball with regularity....coinciding with the LSU offense exploding into the stratosphere as a whole. Turning trauma into triumph, Edwards-Helaire endured his most trying moment in purple and gold while still an "unknown"...the mere fact he rose above the agony of the situation, the scrutiny and unjustified criticism from outsiders, and then became the legend he is today makes me astounded. We'll get back to Tonge': Q: I am a big fan of ESPN's late Ed Aschoff. I worshipped his story on Clyde. Ed had an impact on your family as well?
TONGE': Ed......He won me over...I enjoyed the time spent with him during that story. He really cared and admired Clyde’s attributes in life...not just in football. He will forever be missed. Q: All of these experiences prepared him for what's about to change your lives forever. So, how do you feel, Tonge? Your son is about to play in the NFL... TONGE': What I will say is: Whichever team chooses my son will not only gain a great football player who’s dedication and work ethic is impeccable, they will be gaining a young man who’s so driven and focused with a huge heart! He is the BEST RB without a doubt. The team that is blessed to get him will not be disappointed.
THANK YOU, TONGE' FOR YOUR KINDNESS, YOUR CANDIDNESS & YOUR TIME!
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN Copyright 2020 Uninterrupted Writings Inc LLC