Michael Floyd's road to redemption lined with long-time friends, supporters

Michael Floyd will take the field for the first time in the regular season as a Viking on Monday night after serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire

At some point, there had to have been a wake-up call. A moment when Michael Floyd realized that the choices he made were putting his NFL future in jeopardy.

Maybe that moment came the night in December when he was arrested in Scottsdale, Arizona, after he was found by police officers asleep at the wheel of his Cadillac Escalade or while he consequently sat in jail for 24 days after pleading guilty to an extreme DUI.

That harsh reality could have surfaced this season as he watched the Minnesota Vikings' first four games from home because he was suspended for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

No one except Floyd himself can truly identify when the wide receiver faced his moment of truth. Not even those who stuck out their necks to defend Floyd’s name following three alcohol-related incidents during his illustrious Notre Dame career (which included a DUI in 2011) and continued to do so when these issues resurfaced on a much larger stage can define a specific moment.

The mistakes appeared to be a pattern. Then there was the incident in June, in which Floyd violated the terms of his house arrest by failing three self-administered breathalyzer tests, something he and the Vikings claim was due to his drinking kombucha tea.

With each incident, Floyd presented himself the same way. There was no one he could blame for the spot he was in other than himself.

“I’ve often thought the only person that can stop Michael Floyd is Michael Floyd,” said Jerry Macken, Floyd’s high school wide receivers coach. "It’s all in his court. If he dedicates himself like he has done at different times of his life, he can be as good as he wants to be."

The Minnesota Vikings gave the veteran wideout what’s likely to be his last shot to make things right. On Monday night, he'll take the next step in his renaissance when he sees the field for the first time since serving the four-game suspension.

Floyd’s rare opportunity to start over in the place where he became a national star is the crux of this comeback story. The St. Paul native and Cretin-Derham Hall graduate begins his next chapter with the comforts of home and his support system within reach.

But that sense of security and familiarity provided by his family and friends can go only so far. Now more than ever, it’s up to Floyd to prove that he has his life in order.

Friends, lessons for life

A giant panorama of famed athletes is plastered on the wall of the weight room at Cretin-Derham Hall. A photo montage with the likes of Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer, New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh and Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke greets students getting a lift in. Above, it reads, “FIRST THEY WERE RAIDERS.”

Floyd is on there, too, with a photo from the night he was taken 13th overall by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2012 NFL draft.

Cretin-Derham Hall is one of the premiere schools in the Twin Cities known for churning out high-level athletes who go on to star in college and the pros. It’s a place that still holds meaning in Floyd’s life, years after he became an alumnus.

Floyd grew up on the east side of St. Paul, on Maryland Avenue near Interstate 35E. As a way to offset the cost of his tuition, he participated in CDH’s work-study program. That meant leaving home at 5 a.m., catching two city buses and helping mop the floors in the weight room and set up tables and chairs in the lunchroom before school.

“Mike knew at an early age what this place could do for him,” CDH dean of students Jerry Kline Jr. said.

Floyd regularly spent 10 to 11 hours a day at school. To show off his skills in both football and basketball, Floyd literally had to work for it.

“He made it apparent that he was our best receiver as a sophomore,” former Raiders coach Mike Scanlan said. “There was no waiting in line with Michael.”

During his senior season in 2007, Floyd averaged 21.8 yards per catch and tallied 1,221 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns. That’s in addition to the 44 carries for 436 yards and three touchdowns that he scored in the run game, the four punts he returned for touchdowns and the only touchdown pass he threw in high school. Often, quarterbacks Joe Springer and John Nance didn’t even have to make a check at the line of scrimmage; all they needed to do was make eye contact with Floyd. They knew they could throw the ball anywhere in Floyd's direction and the receiver would pick up an easy first down.

“I could’ve just sat in a lawn chair, he was so good,” Macken said.

CDH paved the way for Floyd to further his education and playing career as a five-star commit to Notre Dame. It’s also the place where he formed his network of friends and supporters who would ride for him to this day.

Ann Marie Froehle, a teacher at CDH, had Floyd in her anatomy class during his senior year. He took pride in Froehle's bragging to his coaches about quizzes he aced. One day during his freshman year at Notre Dame, Floyd excitedly texted Froehle that he had learned material from his college biology course in her class the year before.

In Froehle’s class, Floyd sat next to his childhood best friend, Shady Salamon, who went on to play football at the University of Minnesota. A row behind them were Nance and Tommy Hannon, both of whom led nearby St. Thomas University to a national championship in basketball.

Even though Floyd flew solo to Notre Dame, his core group of friends are the same guys he studied anatomy with, caught passes from and set screens for. They’ve been there through the highest of highs -- celebrating when he became the Fighting Irish’s all-time leading receiver and watching him earn a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots -- and the lowest of lows.

“When [Floyd's extreme DUI arrest] happened, it’s almost like I did it because I’m getting all these texts and calls like, ‘Hey, what’s going on? What do you know?'" Nance said.

“In that situation, he knows he’s made a mistake. There’s nothing I need to say at that point. He’s in jail.”

'I wish people knew Mike like we know Mike’

Floyd entered a unique situation when he signed a one-year deal with the Vikings in May. Two of his closest teammates from Notre Dame were Harrison Smith and Kyle Rudolph, who was his roommate in college. The three would again share the same sideline.

Rudolph took the definition of being a teammate even further by allowing Floyd to stay in his home. Their living scenario is fairly different from the last time they shared quarters at Notre Dame. The tight end and his wife, Jordan, have twin daughters who just turned 1 year old. Floyd relied on Rudolph to keep him in the loop while he was suspended.

“You get a look, a perspective of what’s going on out there in practice,” Floyd said. “Obviously, we talk about other things than football, but it’s always good to have a guy like that, that you can talk to on a daily basis and get the inside scoop of what’s going on in practice.”

"Everyone here understands that he made a mistake, but they're not coming up to him and saying something aggressive. Let him live his life and focus on what's at hand. He's got a great support system." John Nance
Michael Floyd friend since high school

Beyond Rudolph and Smith, Floyd’s other Notre Dame teammates are a tight-knit group who keep up with each other via text message. They, too, have noticed how much living with Rudolph has provided a sense of stability for Floyd, who was able to be around his teammates in only a limited capacity (at position meetings and when working out at the team’s facility) during his suspension.

“Coming off a tough situation for him personally where he can lean on this guy not only as a resource in the building but when they go home, he’s got someone to keep him accountable, and he’s got something to focus on in Kyle and Kyle’s family,” Notre Dame teammate Mike Golic Jr. said.

Floyd remains a fixture in the community in which he grew up. Across from Cretin-Derham Hall, The Nook serves the popular “Michael Floyd” burger, piled high with pastrami, cream cheese, pickle planks and mustard. Memorabilia is plastered across the walls inside the St. Paul staple, including Floyd’s Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year. A mile away at the Irish pub Shamrocks, Floyd’s No. 3 Notre Dame jersey hangs above a doorway.

Since he has been back in town, it hasn’t been hard for Floyd to blend in.

“People leave him alone, let him do his own thing,” Nance said. “There are no real distractions. He can focus on his comeback.

“Everyone here understands that he made a mistake, but they’re not coming up to him and saying something aggressive. Let him live his life and focus on what’s at hand. He’s got a great support system.”

Last week, Nance, Hannon and Floyd attended CDH's homecoming game. It was their first time back at a high school football game since they visited on breaks in college.

Along with Salamon and Torres Tillman, another CDH graduate, the friends have stayed thick as thieves, having taken trips to watch Floyd play in Arizona and joining in their friend’s newly developed love for golf.

Floyd picked up the game when he was in the Scottsdale area, often sharing tee times with Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer. With golf, Golic says, Floyd can compete against himself, a fitting metaphor for the issues he has had to navigate.

“We’re getting updates through the round that he’s playing on a Tuesday morning by himself, and it’s sort of funny because we’re just there to basically bust his chops about it,” Golic Jr. said. “But he’s trying really hard to let us know that, look, I’m getting better at this thing that I’m trying really hard at.”

That competitive fire is apparent in everything Floyd tries. So is his sense of humor.

“The first thing you’ll notice is how freaking loud he is,” Golic Jr. joked.

The wide receiver’s favorite game is to recite the most obvious movie line to his friends and act astounded when they correctly recall the quote. He has been reciting the same lines for years from a collection of favorites. "Happy Gilmore," "Mr. Deeds" and "Wedding Crashers" are at the top of his list.

“I’ll get a text of him at 10 a.m. rewatching a 'Happy Gilmore' clip that he’s watched 20 times, and he’s just laughing by himself,” Hannon said. “I wish everyone knew how funny he was. One of my brothers was watching an interview, and he would say, 'I wish people knew Mike like we know Mike.'"

A long season

It’s hard for those closest to Floyd to try to pinpoint why these multiple alcohol-related instances happened.

In high school, Floyd volunteered to help new students transition to life at Cretin-Derham Hall. He was part of a mentoring program called CHOICE, which stands for Choosing to Help Others In a Chemically-free Existence. The program is specific to CDH and was started by two coaches who wanted to let other student-athletes know that not everyone in high school drinks.

“It was real important but thankless work,” Scanlan said. “Not a lot of people would look to do that to get a patch on their letter jacket. For a high-profile guy like Michael to have the time to speak to his peers about the choices he was making, that carried added weight.”

Despite the three alcohol-related incidents in college, some of his Fighting Irish teammates can’t find a reason that points to Floyd's struggling with alcohol.

“No, not at all. Not one bit. Still don’t to this day,” Detroit Lions wide receiver TJ Jones said. “I think sometimes it’s just bad luck, sometimes it’s just luck of the draw, being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Again, no one’s perfect. It’s, I would say, the way he’s taken it to bounce back, to not let it really be something that’s a career-ender, more as a stepping-stone and a building block for how to carry on the next, if he plays another seven years, now, how to carry and be more aware of what could possibly happen down the road.”

Floyd’s fallout in Arizona went beyond his being released by the Cardinals two days after his arrest on Dec. 12. It was a wave of emotion for nearly two months. One day after being cut, he was signed by the Patriots. Floyd played in three games for New England, with his biggest moment coming in Week 17, when he delivered a punishing block on Dolphins cornerback Tony Lippett that made way for a 77-yard touchdown reception by Julian Edelman. Floyd was a healthy scratch for the Patriots' Super Bowl LI win, but friends, including Hannon, and family were there to watch him be crowned a champion. Twelve days later, he was back in Arizona to begin his jail sentence after pleading guilty to the extreme DUI charge from December 2016.

“That’s a hard year to go through,” Hannon said. “He had a few bad games, he’s in a contract year, it’s a lot of pressure, the situation that happened and then you get picked up by a team and you end up with the longest season going to the Super Bowl. Sometimes it just gets to you.

“That was the first time I had seen him look emotionally and physically drained, just tired. After the Super Bowl, anyone would be. You can tell he’s back to his normal self. He has that look in his eye. Anytime he’s had to face adversity in college or whatever, he’s always done well.”

‘You’re with us’

Floyd wore a Cretin-Derham Hall hat when he addressed the media last Monday, signifying the end of his suspension.

He returned to practice ahead of the Vikings' Week 5 NFC North showdown in Chicago, back to a position group in which he made a strong impression throughout the preseason. He now joins the competition to be the team’s No. 3 receiver behind Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.

He might have been absent from practice for the entire month of September, but the first-year Viking doesn’t need much time to adjust to his new teammates. They, like Rudolph and others, have supported him since he arrived.

“I don’t know how it is at other places, but once you’re with us, you’re with us,” Diggs said. “You’re stuck with us. That’s my guy. With all my teammates, I will never let anyone say anything bad about them. I always have their back. I’ll fight for them any day of the week.”

At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Floyd provides the unit with another big target and deceptive speed.

“People might get it mistaken that he can’t run because he’s so big,” Minnesota receiver Jarius Wright said. “But he can run, jump. He knows how to win and get open.”

In five NFL seasons, Floyd has amassed 3,781 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns, with an average of 15.4 yards per catch. In Arizona, he developed into Palmer’s favorite deep threat. In Minneapolis, he’ll get a chance to showcase his size-speed combination and his ability to turn out more yards after the catch on slants and crossing routes.

The same people who supported him throughout his trials and tribulations will be present at Soldier Field to watch their friend in his comeback.

“I get butterflies just thinking about it,” Salamon said. “I can’t wait to watch him. His best years are yet to come.”

Floyd never won a state title at Cretin-Derham Hall, but he and the Raiders reached the championship game his senior year. That was after losing in devastating fashion in the playoffs the season before.

“I’ll never forget it,” Salamon said.

Cretin was beating Lakeville South 21-7 going into the fourth quarter of the sectional final. The Cougars then came back and scored 15 unanswered in the final period.

Salamon and Floyd hung a newspaper clipping from the game in Floyd’s room, as a constant reminder of what they had within their reach and how quickly it slipped away.

“We would look at that picture, and that would allow us to go out there every single day, wake up at 4:30,” Salamon said. “The reason we were training so hard was because of that loss. I think that was a moment that lit a fire under us, as far as what we wanted to do that next year, and I think it helped us out as leaders, too, bringing the younger guys up. That was a situation where I feel like a negative, essentially, turned into a positive with our work ethic and getting us to that college level.”

Throughout his career, Floyd has been fortunate to not miss significant time due to injuries, but the game has been taken away from him on several occasions due to off-the-field incidents. Each time, he has come back, he has owned the mistakes he has made, and he has had to prove that he can be held accountable by his teammates and supporters.

If Floyd runs into another alcohol-related incident while in the NFL, his career could be over. Staying on the straight and narrow this season is the difference between a one-year and a multiyear contract.

“He won’t say it, but he wants to show everyone why they stuck their neck out for him,” Hannon said.

Life has come full circle for Floyd. The next phase starts at kickoff. If he stays on the path he's on now, those dark days when he nearly jeopardized everything will fade further into oblivion. The security of home has kept him safe throughout his journey back. One day, he could realize that the place that built him into a star is also the place that saved him.

-- ESPN NFL Nation’s Michael Rothstein and Mike Reiss contributed to this story.