Yannick Ngakoue was trying to get in touch with his mom to tell her that he was being traded from the Minnesota Vikings to the Baltimore Ravens, but she wouldn't pick up her phone.
He called seven times. Finally, he texted, "It's an emergency."
Of course, when a mother sees those three words, panic floods her heart. Marlene Chantelly nervously dialed back.
"What's going on?! What happened?!" she said.
"I'm coming back home," Ngakoue replied.
"What do you mean you're coming back home? What happened? You get fired?" Chantelly responded.
"No, I'm coming back home with the Ravens!" Ngakoue said.
With that, she stated crying. And so did he.
"I was so excited. I was soooo excited. I never imagined it could happen, and so soon," Chantelly said, a reference to the mere 12 weeks and six games that Ngakoue spent with the Vikings after the Jacksonville Jaguars finally honored his trade request.
Ngakoue left for Jacksonville in 2016. It was his first time away from home. After growing up in and just outside of Washington, D.C., Ngakoue chose to play college football at the University of Maryland. So when he left to go to the NFL, his rookie adjustment also included homesickness.
Now he's back where he's supposed to be.
"It feels great coming back home. One of the perks for me is being able to be right by my mom," Ngakoue told reporters the day after the trade.
Chantelly was born in the small French Caribbean island of Martinique and went to college in France. She moved to the United States at 22.
She and her two sons, Yannick and older brother William, forged a bond through difficult times living in a tough part in northeast Washington, D.C. Chantelly described it as "not bad, but not good either." There was gang activity around, she said, especially prevalent on their adjacent street.
She sent Ngakoue and his brother to Catholic schools and kept them busy with church every Sunday, after-school programs and, of course, sports.
"I tried to make sure they stayed away from the background," she said. "Yannick was fun. He was very likeable. Everybody liked him at school – his teachers and the kids. He was very outspoken."
Meanwhile, Chantelly worked two jobs to make ends meet. Ngakoue's father was not reliable and often not in the picture. Chantelly ultimately decided to leave him when Ngakoue was 5 or 6 years old, she remembers.
"That was very tough on Yannick. I know it was," she said. "I think he got so tough because his dad was not there to take care of him. He was upset and angry."
To make ends meet and support her kids, Chantelly worked two jobs. She was a full-time Naval nurse at a military hospital and did part-time night and weekend work as a private duty nurse. She juggled the schedule to allow free time during the day on weekends so she could take her sons to their games.
"She was a person who worked her tail off – double shifts, having a full-time, steady job during the week – and still managing to take me to practice and take me back home, making sure I had a full stomach and things like that," Ngakoue said. "So, she's definitely a major reason why I'm in the shoes I'm in right now."
Ngakoue transferred from Archbishop Carroll to Friendship Collegiate Academy, a school in a rougher part of D.C. with a dirt football field nicknamed "Friendship Beach" but a reputation for churning out gritty, talented Division I football players.
When it was time to go to college, Florida State badly wanted the four-star recruit who was ranked as the fourth-best outside linebacker in his class. But Mike Locksley, who was then Maryland's offensive coordinator and now the Terps' head coach, took over the recruitment and knew where Ngakoue's heart was.
"He wanted to stay here because of me," Chantelly said. "He refused to go [to Florida State] because of me, because he knew I wouldn't be able to go to his games."
So she went to all of them. She worked Friday nights, then went straight to College Park, back home to sleep for two hours, then back to work through Saturday night. She saw her son break Maryland's single-season sack record and become a major NFL prospect.
Yet when it was time for the NFL Draft, Ngakoue didn't go until the third round. The Jacksonville Jaguars picked him in the third round, pick No. 69. The Ravens took Boise State linebacker Kamalei Correa at No. 42, which didn't sit well with Ngakoue years later.
Ngakoue has had a chip on his shoulder since entering the league and he's more than proven himself with 42.5 sacks and 16 forced fumbles in 69 career games.
But he still wasn't happy because, outside of a magical 2017 season in which he teamed up with current Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell to help give Jacksonville one of the NFL's most dominant defenses, the Jaguars weren't winning all that much.
"He was tired of losing," Chantelly said. "He would say, 'I didn't go to the NFL to lose. I want to win. I want to go to the playoffs. I work so hard to get there, so why be on a team that loses all the time?'
"To be honest with you, I did not think he was going to play this season. It was tough. I could tell he was not happy, very irritated."
Ngakoue let the Jaguars know that he wanted to be traded, and he said they had an agreement that last year would be his last. But no trade came and Ngakoue grew impatient. Finally, after changing agents and with the season approaching, the Jaguars struck a deal with Minnesota.
Ngakoue said there were talks between the Jaguars and Ravens too, but that a deal couldn't be reached. So off he went to Minnesota.
"Everything happens the way it's supposed to happen, and I love the way it happened now," Ngakoue said.
In late July, Ngakoue returned to Maryland to give out Chromebooks to kids in Prince George's County to assist with remote learning during COVID-19. Little did he know he'd be back about three months later.
"I was a kid in a similar situation as those kids; not having, really, a lot of guidance around the house and having a single mom," Ngakoue said. "You tend to look for guidance outside of that, but it's not always positive. I just wanted to give them a positive light, and just try to brighten their day.
"After the season is over with and I figure out where I will be for the long-term, I'll just have to give back. Hopefully, it is here. Hopefully, it is in Baltimore."
Since flying into BWI late last week, Ngakoue has already driven to Bowie, Md. to visit his mom twice, just to hang out and talk.
On Sunday, Ngakoue will suit up for his first game as a Raven, ironically, against the team he grew up rooting for, the Steelers. It's a huge game in a storied rivalry that Ngakoue has watched and dreamed of from afar.
His mom, however, isn't sure if she'll be at M&T Bank Stadium. Remember, she's a nurse.
"I don't know with the COVID. I have to be honest," she said. "I'll be at his place with [his dog] Seven and I'll watch from there."
Ngakoue is still trying to convince her to come to the game. After all, you never know how manygames and yearshe might have as a Raven. Ngakoue isn't under contract for next year, but you can guess where Chantelly wants Ngakoue to sign.
"That's all I'm praying for. I would be so happy, I'm telling you. It's time," she said. "I hope he's going to stay in Baltimore. Baltimore is a good team."
Check out the images from the Ravens' Wednesday practice as they prepare to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers.