Through pain and support, Maybin emerges

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The scene was typical for a teenage boy and his father.

Together in a van on a long drive, the father began to preach a little. In this particular case, he really was a preacher. With nowhere to escape, his son stared out the window and looked for anything amid the passing landscape to distract him from the lecture.

Only this wasn't some mundane interlude. The teen wasn't ignoring the speech or rolling his eyes. He was absorbing every word. The tears welled.

"It was a very pivotal time for me in my life," Buffalo Bills rookie defensive end Aaron Maybin said of the intimate talk he had four years ago with his father.

Maybin was 17 and on his way to Penn State for a Nike camp. College football recruiters from across the country had begun to notice his athletic ability. He had the size, the speed, the explosiveness that made them slobber. He was on the verge of landing a full scholarship to practically any college in the East.

"Everything was really starting to come together," he said.

Michael Maybin reminded Aaron of what they had endured, shared some painful regrets. Aaron's mother died while delivering his little sister. He was 6.

Michael Maybin was the 12th of 14 children and the son of a steelworker. Nobody in the family earned a college degree. He attended Penn State for a while but didn't finish. That kept him from being the provider he wanted to be.

"Before we both knew it we both were looking out the window, trying not to make eye contact with each other because we were both crying," Aaron Maybin said. "He spent a lot of time relaying how badly he wanted to see his son be successful.

"That was a time when he allowed himself to be vulnerable and express to me how much he really loved me. We expressed to each other what our feelings were. We both put it out on the table how important it was for us to see that moment happen for us the right way."

One day after his father's seminal speech, Aaron Maybin was incandescent at that Nike camp. Penn State coach Joe Paterno offered him a scholarship that opened the door for all sorts of glorious possibilities.

The tears returned Saturday. Aaron Maybin's dream of being in the NFL came true.

The Bills drafted him 11th overall. He left Penn State a year early, but he's looking at a contract that will pay him around $4 million a year and about $14 million in guarantees.

"This whole thing is mind-blowing," said Michael Maybin, a fire inspector and associate minister at Transformation Church of Jesus Christ in Baltimore. "He went into a press conference at his school as Aaron Maybin, a defensive end heading to Penn State and walked out a corporation."

The Bills gladly will pay Aaron Maybin Inc. for sack services rendered.

They struggled last year with Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Schobel sidelined by a foot injury. They recorded 28 sacks. Only three teams -- the Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals -- had fewer.

Maybin, meanwhile, was a pass-rushing thunder clap for Penn State.

He went into the season as the backup to Maurice Evans, who was coming of a sensational sophomore season of 21.5 tackles for losses and 12.5 sacks. But marijuana possession forced Paterno to suspend Evans for three games.

Maybin stepped in and led the Big Ten with 12 sacks and 20 tackles for losses. He was an All-American. Evans finished with three sacks. He also entered the draft a year early but wasn't selected. The New York Giants signed Evans as a rookie free agent.

The biggest question about Maybin is whether one great season is enough to project NFL success.

"I don't feel like you can be a one-year wonder in that conference," said LaVar Arrington, Maybin's mentor. Arrington was a star Penn State linebacker and three-time Pro Bowler for the Washington Redskins.

"He made it fun to watch games. He just has a knack for getting to the ball carrier, getting to the quarterback. He has a knack for knocking the ball out. We joke a lot: 'What's the difference between my game
and your game?' He'll say 'Well, I know how to get the ball out. You tried to knock [quarterbacks] out, and if the ball came out you'd get it. I get the ball out.'"

But Michael Maybin admitted there were internal misgivings about Aaron's decision to turn pro early.

"There were so many dynamics going on [Saturday], the feelings of insecurity, wondering whether or not we made the right move," Michael Maybin said.

"When Aaron's face popped up on the TV screen when the Bills called him, it was euphoric. The feeling was surreal."

Aaron Maybin, his cell phone pressed to his left ear, bowed his head and cried.

His head was swimming in emotions. He thought of his mother.

The last time he saw Connie Maybin, he kissed her goodbye and his father whisked her to the delivery room. Aaron blissfully went back to his toys with the expectation of meeting his new sister in a couple days. Instead, Michael Maybin had to come home and explain something no child should have to hear.

Connie died while giving birth. The baby was stillborn, but they were able to revive her. But his mother was gone.

"I think about her every day," Aaron Maybin said. "I try to live my life in a way I feel she would be proud. There are a lot of things she wanted me to accomplish in my life."

He never craved support. With his mother-in-law's blessing, Michael Maybin soon remarried. The former Violette Grant, a British missionary who had visited Michael's church, became Aaron's mother in every sense.

"Even as a father, there's a certain hug you can only get from a mother," Michael Maybin said. "There's a certain kiss that you can only get from a mother.

"Because I think he didn't lack in that area, God sent us someone who was sensitive enough to step into that very difficult position and be able to cause some healing to take place and be able to nurture the boy that we know into the man that he has become."

Aaron Maybin was a middle-schooler in Ellicott City, Md., when he met Arrington at a community event staged by Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. Arrington and Maybin hit it off.

"I have a picture from that day," Arrington said. "We're both making muscles. My arm was way bigger than his. He was a little string bean."

Aaron Maybin was expressing himself through art at the time. He loved to paint and draw, and some would say he's better with a brush or pencil in his hands than he is at planting quarterbacks. When he was 11, he painted a 50x40-foot mural on the side of a St. Paul Street building as part of a neighborhood revitalization project.

Michael Maybin called Aaron "a busy child," so much so that he underwent a battery of tests that determined he had borderline attention-deficit disorder.

"These days they call that having a motor," Michael Maybin said. "We just tried to channel his energies in areas that he showed interest."

Athletics eventually took over, but sports never superseded schoolwork. In the winter of his sophomore year, he brought home a D. Michael Maybin yanked his son off the wrestling team even though he was projected to do well in upcoming tournaments.

"We don't do Ds," Michael Maybin said. "The message of academics being very important has been reinforced all throughout his career. College was nothing different.

"My job was to keep these size 13s squarely implanted in his backside every time he did something he wasn't supposed to do."

What size shoe does Aaron wear these days?

"Well, he's got 15s now," his father replied.

Do the 15s ever trump the 13s?

"No," Michael Maybin said. "Because I'm still daddy."

Arrington tracked Aaron Maybin's career through high school, watching him become Mount Hebron's first Division I prospect in 33 years, and later at Penn State.

Maybin now is a client. He signed up with Arrington's company, LEAP Management, which handles marketing and myriad financial services for pro athletes and entertainers. Arrington sat in on interviews when the Maybins were choosing an agent.

"I think that you guys are going to be writing some pretty awesome stories about Aaron Maybin in the future," Arrington told reporters Sunday at the Bills facility. "The more individuals get to know him, it'll be very hard not to love him. I think the community will love him."

In speaking with those close to Aaron Maybin, it becomes apparent they're struck by how grounded he is more than how well he buries quarterbacks.

Character problems have been a recurring theme for the Bills since the season ended. It's easy to see how their front office would sit down with Aaron Maybin and walk away feeling refreshed.

"I have always tried to carry myself as mature because of the situations I've been in," Aaron Maybin said. "But I'm still a first-year guy. There's a lot of things I have yet to see and experience that will be a surprise when the time comes.

"All that I expect out of myself is to work as hard as I possibly can and do everything it is that my coaching staff and my teammates require of me. With the skills that I bring to the table, I think that if I can do that, everything will fall into place because I feel my best will be more than good enough."