Football a life-saver

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

But for the grace of athletics and god-given brains, Jerome Haywood may now be lingering in jail with his parents.

Montreal's import defensive tackle never met his biological dad but his mother and stepfather were addicted to drugs and Haywood was exposed to gangs while growing up in Inglewood, a suburb of Los Angles. In fact, when he was just seven, Haywood witnessed a man murdered during an argument in front of a liquor store.

"I saw a lot of stuff you see in movies," Haywood told the Montreal Gazette. "A lot of stuff didn't surprise me. My family went to funerals often. Dying wasn't something that was new."

Luckily for Haywood, his family moved to San Diego when he was eight and there, he discovered the athletics that took his life to a different direction. He got involved in football, wrestling and track.

"The thing about trouble is you can always find it," said Haywood, who will be in Winnipeg when the Alouettes play the Blue Bombers in a CFL match on Saturday. "I've always been in it and around it. But I found a way to avoid it."

Despite proving himself in college, no NFL team was willing to take a rider on a 5-foot-9 interior lineman. But former Renegades GM Eric Tillman read about his college exploits in a San Diego newspaper and invited him to Ottawa, where he would play the next four years.

Haywood attended his first pro camp six months after his mother was sent to prison for writing bad cheques and credit card misuse. And she has been to jail twice since then. His stepfather is reportedly serving 25 years to life for murder. Maybe that's why Haywood graduated with a degree in criminal justice.

Haywood, 28, signed with the Als as a free agent last winter over offers from Winnipeg and Hamilton. In fact, Bombers GM Brendan Taman would have pursued Haywood harder had he known that DT Joe Fleming would retire on the eve of training camp.

"I'm happy to be playing pro no matter where it is," said Haywood. "Most definitely, I'm blessed. The way I was brought up, some see it as unorthodox, but it worked for me and I can't complain."

HASHMARKS: Although Calgary just clobbered the Roughriders, Saskatchewan head coach Danny Barrett refused to blame it on the front page report in the Saskatchewan Leader-Post that RB Kenton Keith was being investigated for an incident where a bouncer was injured at a local nightclub on the day of the game. Keith has declined comment ... CFL chief marketing officer Brent Scrimshaw is leaving his post to take a marketing position in Atlantic Canada.


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