LSU's Clyde Edwards-Helaire benefits from his extended family

Edwards-Helaire: Two last names, two fathers, one bond (5:38)

LSU RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire discusses his bond with his father and stepfather. (5:38)

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Clyde Edwards' plan was just to go in for a quick handshake and short hug. But as soon as LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire made it to his father along the sideline, he jumped into Edwards and squeezed him with a big hug.

"They said you wasn't no running back! Huh! Huh!" Edwards shouted into his son's ear. "You showed them! They said you wasn't no running back! That's what I'm talking about!"

Edwards-Helaire had just run over, through and around Alabama defenders for 180 yards and four touchdowns in the No. 2 Tigers' monumental 46-41 win against No. 3 Alabama. With Edwards-Helaire's head nestled into his father's shoulder, Edwards pounded his fist into the stitched name on the back of his son's jersey.


"I can't even explain the feeling I had," Edwards-Helaire said of the very personal embrace with his father. "It took this game, as far as everything that went on, it took this November day, on this Saturday for everything to kind of come into play, for everybody to see everything that I've been through, everything he's been through, everything my family has been through. And it all came down to that day, this moment."

In the past, many doubted Edwards-Helaire because of his 5-foot-8 frame and told the hometown kid he would never play for the Tigers. He now wears an LSU jersey that fits the boy who was always too small and was told he should played another sport. Now, he is helping lead the top team in the nation, a virtual lock to make the College Football Playoff, into the SEC championship game Saturday against Georgia.

And the moment after the Alabama victory reflected the full-circle journey Edwards-Helaire and his family have taken. For more than a decade, Clyde's stepfather, Shannon Helaire, was the only father Clyde knew, as Edwards served time for a drug-possession charge. Tonge Helaire, Clyde's mother and the glue of the family, continued to provide a stable environment for her son, before and after meeting Shannon, and knew the importance of Clyde eventually having a relationship with his biological father.

Three parents. Two last names. And together, they have helped mold Edwards-Helaire into the star and man he is now.

Like his son, Edwards grew up in north Baton Rouge and made a name for himself on the gridiron, finding the kind of minor celebrity status that comes with being a high school star in a football-obsessed town.

But the local stardom didn't elevate the challenges he and his family faced at home. Edwards, at age 17, came home one day to find his mother crying as she stressed over paying the electric bill. Without another parent in the home, Edwards thought of how to make enough money to help her. He had seen small-time drug dealers make quick money. He knew a guy, and once he got his hands on some product, he sold it for enough to pay the bill.

Edwards now felt the responsibility of providing for his family and the rush that comes with money and power. He stopped playing football and quit school.

"I wasn't focused on nothing else but trying to become the big man," Edwards said.

A few years later in March 2000, he awoke to flashing lights outside of his home. The 22-year-old Edwards thought he was dreaming when his front door was kicked in and FBI and DEA agents poured in. He was pulled out of bed and taken outside, his house surrounded by police officers.

Edwards was indicted on possession in excess of 400 grams of cocaine with intent to distribute and possession of a controlled dangerous substance. He was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Edwards left behind a family that included his ex-girlfriend, Tonge, and their 11-month-old son, Clyde.

"Once I got in [to jail] and got situated, and was able to make phone calls, then you start the sadness, and thinking about your kids, and thinking about your family, your girlfriend, your mom," Edwards said. "From that point, it just was downhill."

Just months after Edwards was arrested, Tonge and Shannon met while working at Elayn Hunt Correctional Facility in St. Gabriel, Louisiana. They were both drill sergeants in IMPACT, a military-molded program for first- and second-time nonviolent offenders.

Tonge and Shannon Helaire married in 2002 and, over time, Helaire and Clyde grew extremely close, bonding over fishing and sports.

"I wasn't missing a father figure or anything," he said. "My stepdad, he was there. All props to him. Going to practice and everything else. He was there. Games, he was there."

A young Clyde dazzled in neighborhood pickup games and was usually the only kid not getting touched in tag, so Shannon figured he'd probably be pretty good at football.

But his size worried his mother. Clyde was usually the smallest, and she didn't want him getting hurt. She wanted him to run track or play basketball, like she did.

But football was his passion.

From the time he first joined a team, Clyde was an electric bowling ball on the field. He'd spend days studying Barry Sanders highlights on YouTube and use the Hall of Famer's moves on his unprepared opponents.

"Everybody used to laugh at me, because when he ran, I ran, because I was just so nervous, and that would be like every game," Tonge said. "If he takes off running, I'm running on the sideline. I always tell him, 'Run for your life, just run, son, just run,' and he'd say, 'I got it, I got it,' but he was jumping over people then and doing all kind of stuff."

When he was 14, Clyde met with an attorney and legally had his name changed to Clyde Edwards-Helaire, keeping his biological father's last name out of respect and adding his stepfather's to honor the man who was always there.

"My stepdad is pretty much my dad," Edwards-Helaire said. "Shannon pretty much raised me, and I felt like it was the right thing to do to take his name and not get rid of Edwards, to honor them."

Helaire said he was overcome with emotion when Edwards-Helaire extended his name in a salute to their relationship. He didn't ask for it, but it was something he cherished.

"It was overwhelming to have somebody to want to do that, because you know that you've done something right," Helaire said. "Because if you haven't, they wouldn't want to mirror you in any capacity. So for him to say that, that meant a lot. That's one of those things where you just got to sit down by yourself for a while and say you don't know how many things you've done right in your life, but you know you've done that right for a kid to come to you that way."

Clyde's biological father was slowly getting his life together, and, after more than a decade of carefully trying to ease into his son's life, Edwards was thankful his son and ex-girlfriend had found the right man to bring stability and happiness to their lives.

"His stepdad stepped up to the plate and did the things that I wasn't able to do," Edwards said.

By the time Clyde changed his last name, his father had turned his life around in prison.

Edwards joined various outreach programs at East Carroll Parish Detention Center and later Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson, Louisiana, to help himself and other inmates learn day-to-day skills that translated outside of the penitentiary.

He started requesting inspirational literature for the inmates. He became an addiction counselor and educator. He was an HIV-AIDS awareness peer trainer and a part of the Youth Defender Project, to help juvenile offenders. He spent time working for the sheriff, cleaned facilities, helped elderly prisoners get around and became a certified nursing assistant.

Edwards was released early in February 2014 for good behavior, 14 years and one month after going to jail.

While he was in jail, Edwards rarely spoke to his son and saw him only a couple of times. When he got out, he made it a point to make up for the lost time.

Tonge and Shannon didn't oppose Edwards-Helaire having a relationship with Edwards.

"I wanted him to know his dad," Tonge said. "That's his biological father. At the end of the day, you need to know who your family is. I didn't grow up with my dad like that either ... and I knew that was important for me ... that [he doesn't] grow up missing that, feeling like you have a void and you're trying to figure out how to fill that void."

Shortly after his release, Edwards took his son to get his driver's license. After Edwards-Helaire passed the test, he was handed the keys to Edwards' Dodge pickup truck and the two spent the day driving, talking and connecting.

Eventually, Edwards, who was now making an honest living selling used cars and would later buy two 18-wheelers to haul logs, gave Clyde his first car -- a 2006, all-black Mustang GT.

Clyde didn't need the car to know his dad was making the effort. He was seeing that in him just being around, being at football games and calling him every day just to talk.

Shannon, a former narcotics agent, said he didn't judge Edwards on his past, just on how he presented himself to them. The expected tension between two fathers of the same son was nonexistent from the start, and, now, all three, along with Edwards' wife, Michelle, sit near each other in the parents' section at every home LSU game and some away games.

"You have two men in your life who've been through things," Shannon Helaire said. "So him having perspectives from both ends, it can definitely have a positive effect on him. I was just hoping for a smooth transition, and it's been smooth."

For Edwards, the recent years have also been bittersweet. So much of his son's life has come and gone without him, and he has had to make up for lost time; but seeing his son and the success he's had creates a powerful sense of pride.

This is his son.

"I know he looks at my life, and he always says he looks at the return and the positive that I made," Edwards said. "I always tell him, 'Use my experience as a stepping-stone, as far as maybe losing a game. You could come back from that. You know if I come back from what I came from ... know that you could come back from anything."