In a league where most players cite their mother or a coach as their most-influential mentor, Sergio Kindle could be called a "father's boy."
Raised solely by his dad, Johnny Walker, Kindle came out of high school as one of the nation's top recruits, an All-Texas performer on both offense and defense.
But once he left his father's care and hometown of Dallas for the University of Texas, a checkered start to his collegiate career nearly derailed his All-American aspirations.
While he eventually did earn All-American (The Sporting News) honors as a senior, Kindle had to rebuild a reputation tarnished by wild days of post-party fights and an arrest for driving while intoxicated.
Now, after the Ravens used their first pick of the 2010 draft on the hybrid linebacker/defensive end, Kindle is not inclined to repeat any of that past.
"I just feel like the Lord puts you in situations for a reason, and to my happiness, look where he put me," said Kindle. "You couldn't have a better opportunity than this defense, so maybe I fell down for a reason. When I got the call from the Ravens, I was so ecstatic.
"I realized then that the trials were all worth it." **
A Strong-Willed Father **
For starters, Kindle and his brother, Calvin Walker, grew up without a mother figure in their lives.
Johnny explained that she left the family when the boys were young. Calvin commented in one New York Times article that it was because of drugs.
"She ended up hanging around the wrong people, so I ended up raising them mostly by myself," Johnny Walker said.
Their neighborhood didn't do the family any favors. South Oak Cliff was and still is regarded as a dangerous suburb of Dallas, and Kindle lived there in a modest house his father supported as a bridge construction inspector with the Texas Department of Transportation.
When Johnny found out a rash of break-ins on the block were committed by a group of local teens who attended the nearby South Oak Cliff High School, he refused to send his boys there.
Instead, Walker enrolled Kindle in the safer Woodrow Wilson High School, located across the city.
"I didn't want that for Sergio," Walker said. "It was a better area.
"The homes over there are the big homes," he added with a chuckle.
Sergio would typically arise at 6 a.m. and take a 40-50-minute bus ride to Wilson High. Walker would see him off and then sleep through the day.
Walker always worked in the evenings, sometimes putting in 60 hours a week when development was humming.
That way, he could watch after his sons by inviting their friends over to his own house, playing basketball with the crew, or attending their local games.
"My neighborhood can be tough if you let it, but with a strong-willed father like I had, it was easy to manage," Kindle said. "He put his foot down, and didn't lift it back up. Growing up, we had two rules, keep the house clean and make good grades. After that, life was easy." **
Troubles Begin As A Longhorn **
Grades didn't exactly come easy, but with help from friends and teachers, Kindle graduated early and joined the Longhorns in Austin a few weeks after they won the 2005 BCS National Championship.
Nearly three hours away from Walker and without the immediate football success to which he was accustomed, Kindle's troubles began.
Kindle said he got in scuffles after bawdy nights on Austin's party-hard Sixth St. And there was the DWI in July of 2007, which cost him a three-game suspension as a sophomore.
At the same time, Kindle wasn't getting playing time on defense, buried behind several upper classmen linebackers. He had rushed for 5,632 yards at Wilson, but Kindle didn't have the option to switch positions.
The frustration mounted, and Kindle called it a "low point" of his life.
"I was probably more down on myself than anyone else," Kindle stated.
Texas defensive coordinator Will Mucshamp, whom Kindle also called a major role model, arrived before the 2008 campaign and tapped into the 6-foot-4, 255-pounder's potential.
During his junior season, Kindle started 11 games at strong-side linebacker, earning All-Big 12 first-team honors. As for the grades, Kindle excelled by making the Texas Athletic Director's Honor Roll that year.
But just as momentum was building for a standout senior campaign, Kindle suffered another setback.
After watching a UT baseball game at Muschamp's house one night last summer, Kindle was texting on his phone while driving home. Checking his message for a few moments, he hopped the curb and crashed into an apartment building. Kindle's car bashed through to a living room, and luckily, nobody was home.
Returning To His Roots
Once again, Kindle had to restore luster to his image, and that's what he did, dedicating his life to "walking the straight line" both on and off the field.
"You try to grow when you're faced with situations like that," Kindle said. "I didn't want that to define me. I wanted to move forward.
"Those situations made me stronger, tougher and smarter in my decision-making. I'm a better man because of it."
Going back to his mentor, Kindle recalled a family motto, Walker noted.
"We have a saying that my father used to say," explained Walker. "It was, 'Be a better man.' That's not just a better man than one other person. It's about being a better man than all."
As a senior, Kindle switched to defensive end and responded to his adversity with an All-American performance.
Kindle also joined a group of Longhorns who visited the Austin Children's Hospital and earned a degree in youth and community studies last December.
Now, with an opportunity at the highest level as a Raven, Kindle is bent on setting a good example for his son, Sergio Kindle Jr., 3, and representing his father's sound reputation.
For a player that has fallen several times only to pick himself back up, Kindle's resolve is evident. But, one more slip up could be devastating, and Kindle is determined to keep that from happening.
"Coming out of high school, my dad said, 'You helped me do my job, bringing you up. Now, I want you to take advantage of it,'" stated Kindle. "I want to be that type of role model for him and my family. He didn't know what 'I quit,' or 'I can't' means.
"That's how I'm going to take advantage of this opportunity with the Ravens."