The paths that ended up taking them to USF should really have pushed them somewhere else.
Nobody thought Mistral Raymond had any business playing big-time college football.
Nobody thought Kayvon Webster would ever play big-time college football in Tampa.
Raymond got a chance.
Webster took a chance.
They met when Webster arrived on campus in 2009 as a highly touted safety out of Miami. Webster was so convinced he would play for his hometown Miami Hurricanes, he made a verbal commitment months earlier.
But something changed. He wanted to leave his hometown, the burdens and the expectations that come with playing right around the corner. On Signing Day that year, he chose USF, stunning Miami and just about every member of the Webster family. His father, an ardent Miami supporter, took the news especially hard.
So it came to be that Webster found Raymond, who scrapped his way into making the USF squad, overcoming more adversity in a few short years than most of us face in a lifetime. As improbable as it sounds, both ended up at USF looking for a new life and ended up forging a brotherhood that remains to this day.
"I don’t know what it was, but the first time I met him, I got a feeling. The Lord told me to look after this kid and take him under my wing," said Raymond, who played with the Minnesota Vikings last season. "There was something about him. Once we got on the field and I saw him work and what type of talent he has, I always wanted to be there for him and mold him because I saw so much potential in him. To this day, whenever I come home, he picks me up from the airport. We have a great relationship. He is like a little brother to me."
Webster had to overcome his share of adversity as well, growing up in Miami. Because of his family's poor financial situation, he, his parents and siblings were forced to live with his grandmother and various other relatives off and on for years. At one time, he lived with 14 other relatives in a three-bedroom house that also included a garage converted into another room.
He slept everywhere, from the floor to the couch, to his grandmother's bed. When the house was too crowded, he lived with a friend down the street as a sophomore in high school. The following year, he lived with teammate Sterling Griffin, who also plays for USF now.
But the times spent in his crowded home allowed him to grow closer to many of his cousins, all close in age. One cousin in particular has had a big impact on Webster. Joshua Clark, now age 23, has the mind of a 10-year-old. When kids used to pick on Clark, it was Webster who stood up for him.
And now, it is Clark who helps give Webster motivation in practice and games.
"I want to make it to where whenever he mind decides to grow up, I want to have everything available for him," Webster said. "He doesn’t have to worry about where he’s going to get a car from or if he wants to go ride on a bike or get something to eat, it’s there for him."
While Webster has had to deal with much in the way of family adversity, when he met Raymond, he realized that things may not seem so bad. Their relationship has allowed Webster to keep his life, and his career, in perspective.
"Seeing him go through his situations, that opened my eyes," Webster said. "There are people in worse situations than me. I’m looking at him, how strong he is, and I never saw him break down through all that. My situation is hard, but I’ve got to keep going because there's people counting on me, and I can’t let that set me back from what I want to do."
Raymond played a big role in helping Webster grow up, living so far from home. When Webster got to USF, many expected him to waltz right into the starting lineup. But it was Raymond -- the unrated recruit who went to junior college and then begged USF for a shot -- who ended up starting. Though Webster was frustrated, he understood.
Then he got one of his big breaks against hometown Miami in 2010. After Raymond got hurt, Webster came in and played a terrific game as the Bulls pulled the upset in overtime. The two played together in nickel packages, and Webster ended up starting four games, making 29 tackles. Raymond went on to get drafted in the sixth round by Minnesota, and Webster moved into the starting lineup.
He ended up starting 11 games in 2011, and had 49 tackles, two interceptions and seven pass breakups on the way to second-team Big East honors. Webster had one of his biggest plays in the season opener against Notre Dame, returning a fumble 96 yards for a touchdown. Given his growth last year, Webster should be one of the top cornerbacks in the Big East this season.
"He likes the game, he likes to go to practice, and as a coach you have fun with a guy like that because he’s confident but he’s into details, too," defensive coordinator Chris Cosh said. "He asks you every day, 'What can I get better at? I think right now, he’s still got some room to grow, but he’s real close. He can be that type of player that in this league is one of the top cornerbacks. I had Nigel Malone at Kansas State. He reminds me of Nigel -- bigger, but has savviness."
Webster now hopes to follow the path Raymond took. The one that will lead them to the same place again.