For each home game, BaltimoreRavens.com will feature a Raven's childhood journey that will also be featured in Sunday's stadium gameday program.
Whether you call him "T-Sizzle," "Sizzle" or "Siz," Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has a knack for grabbing the spotlight. From his – mostly off-pitch – singing on the field, to his eccentric sack dances, to his fun-loving antics in the locker room, Suggs enjoys eyes being on him, because for a time growing up, no one was looking his way.
Change is not always easy, but is often necessary, especially for a young teenager. Terrell's father, Donald, wanted a better life for his family, so he decided to move the clan from the gritty streets of Minneapolis to a markedly different existence in suburban Chandler, Arizona when Terrell was 16 years old. Suggs knew it was the right move for him.
"It affected a lot of things for me," Suggs shared. "My life in Minnesota – none of us had ever really seen anybody make it out. It was the same thing every day; it was very poverty-stricken. Then we went to Arizona, and it kind of just changed my view of things. It was neighborhoods, and all your family was there. It gave us hope when we left. It just showed me another world that I never knew existed."
What existed for Suggs in the warm Southwest was a land of opportunity. As a kid, he didn't dream of stardom on the gridiron, because he was fantasizing about far-away places and fantasy worlds.
"My love of movies grew over the years," explained Suggs. "I always loved to see great stories portrayed on film. I watch all kinds of movies – chick flicks, sci-fi. I'm a big Star Wars geek. Cartoon movies – I love Disney films. All of that."
The love of cinema was a family affair growing up. "It probably started when I was around eight years old," he added. "Me, my dad and my brothers would get together and watch movies. I just loved the stories, the art and the talent of it all."
Talent takes on many forms in many fashions. As a budding athlete, both on the gridiron and the hardwood, Suggs never thought he could make a living playing a child's game. He simply loved the competition and camaraderie that sports provided. But, there was something more he strived for – a higher education.
Following his junior year in high school, Suggs realized that he couldn't showcase his skills the way he would like. His teammate and principal competition at running back was the head coach's son, and he was getting the carries. Suggs couldn't make the impact on the field he desired, so he made the decision to transfer from Chandler to Hamilton High School.
"I wanted to get the ball more," Suggs stated. "I wanted to get the chance to get a scholarship for college. Only two people in my family went to college (cousin De'Marr and uncle Ricky), and that's what I wanted. I wanted to be the third. It was important to me, to try to provide a better life for my family."
Desire sometimes isn't enough. Often times an off-field game plan and the belief of someone outside your circle is needed.
"There are a lot of kids that can go to college that can make it," Suggs lamented. "They can, but they never had anybody to care, to sit them down and say, 'If you take yourself seriously, and you get your job done in the classroom, then you can make it to a Division I college.'"
Enter John Wrenn, head coach at Hamilton.
"When I met with coach Wrenn, he already had a plan mapped out of what I needed to do. He had mapped out what I needed to do to be able to get a college scholarship – what classes I needed to take and what grades I needed to get."
With the path laid out off the field, Suggs took care of business on it. He earned Parade All-American and Gatorade Arizona Player of the Year honors as a senior. He was named to the All-American team and Arizona Player of the Year by USA Today after leading the state in rushing yards (2,274). He also finished third in touchdowns (26) and fourth in scoring (156), in addition to setting a school record with 367 yards and five touchdowns in a single game.
Suggs then earned a coveted scholarship to Arizona State, where he concentrated on the defensive side of the ball and eventually shattered PAC-10 conference records with 24 sacks in a single season (2002). He also recorded a school-record 44 sacks over his three years as a Sun Devil. But even during his highly-decorated collegiate career, Suggs still wondered if he had what it took to play professional football.
"My junior year at ASU, I figured eventually I could make somebody's team and just help my mom out with bills and stuff. When I got drafted, I had no idea I was going as high as I did. I didn't know I was as good as I was."
Many NFL pundits didn't know how good Suggs was either. His speed was overlooked, his dedication was questioned, and he was tabbed as too immature to make an impact in the league. Those challenges served as motivation for Suggs following his selection as the 10th-overall pick in the 2003 draft. And, following a stellar initial season, his motivation and drive were rewarded when he was selected as the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year.
"It absolutely lit an extra fire in me to show the 'so-called' experts they were wrong about me," Suggs proclaimed.
"They talked about me as if they knew me. They didn't know the motivation I had inside of me, which was to make my family proud. Each person is different than the next, so I didn't really put that much stock in it. It was motivation, but I guess I proved them wrong since I'm still here. I was also 20 years old when I got drafted and had a lot to learn."
Now, with eight years in the NFL and three Pro Bowls in his portfolio, Suggs knows that where he is now is a product of where he was, and he tries to share his story with young people who struggle the way he did.
"I just tell them to go for it," he shared. "If it doesn't happen, at least you can say you tried. I gave it a try when so many of my friends gave up at a young age, and I am happy with where I am. A lot of people don't try, so they could say, 'I could've done this, I could've done that' to give themselves an excuse. But, just go for it."
Doing something one loves and providing a better life for one's family at the same time. Those were the dreams of a son whose family made the tough decision to leave its hometown so many years ago.
"It's for the simple things," Suggs affirmed. "Like I said, I have an awesome job. I get to play a sport to make a living. It's a job. It's a sport, too. It's supposed to be for fun and for entertainment. And that's what I want to do – entertain people and just have fun with it. Yes, we're competitive, and we always want to win. But, like I said, I do this to give a better life to my family."
Now, along with a grateful family, all eyes in Baltimore are on "T-Sizzle"…Just the way he likes it.