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Storm’s McPherson appreciates long journey

Published:   |   Updated: April 20, 2013 at 12:53 AM
TAMPA -

Whatever happened to Adrian McPherson?

Here’s what happened.

His father told him, “98 percent of people would have given up a long time ago.”

Adrian McPherson thought of his daughter. Demi turned 3 this week.

When she was born, “her white cell count was the lowest ever,” McPherson said. “She was crying, crying, crying, IVs, IVs all over her body, IVs in her head. The doctors didn’t think she’d make it. ... We walked out of the hospital three days later. She hadn’t been crying to give up. She’d been crying to keep going.”

Thursday, McPherson sat on a bench at the Forum, home of the Tampa Bay Storm. He’ll turn 30 next month. His chin is dotted with gray stubble.

“I feel young,” McPherson said with a grin.

He’s playing like it for his new team. It’s the Arena Football League, not much money, but he’s home, for the first time in a decade, his mom and dad at most games, like in high school or at FSU. He’s a starting quarterback again, and that’s everything.

“It’s a thrill to have him back here, close to us,” Floyd McPherson said of his son’s return.

It’s a world away from where Adrian Jamal McPherson was in 2003, a court room, as the Bradenton Southeast High and FSU star pleaded no contest to gambling and theft charges and was sentenced to probation. His college career was over and his name was tarnished, forever in some circles.

“I was at the top and I’ve been at the bottom,” McPherson said. “If it ends here, it’s still a story. People were telling me I’d never play again, anywhere.”

McPherson has thrown 17 touchdowns and run for 12 in four games for the Storm, reviving memories of when his arm and legs could do no wrong.

“One on one with anybody, I’ll take him,” Storm head coach Dave Ewart said.

Just wanted a chance On the long road back, McPherson has made several Arena stops, plus a quick shot in the NFL that was really no shot at all — drafted, but never used by the New Orleans Saints. NFL notoriety found McPherson once, in the 2006 preseason, when he injured his knee when he was accidentally struck by a moving vehicle … in pregame warm-ups … by an ATV driven by the Tennessee Titans mascot. No, seriously.

McPherson spent the past five seasons with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL — as a backup.

“I wanted a chance to play,” he said. “I’ve got it here, and it’s been great.”

Storm president and FSU and Bucs great Derrick Brooks recruited McPherson.

“I always rooted for him,” Brooks said. “I’m attracted to the story of redemption, for anybody. For me, that attraction is my faith, Jesus redeems. I want to be part of that process. I’m always attracted to someone overcoming something, because he’s a story out there someone else can learn from.”

“I don’t just speak to kids,” McPherson said. “I speak to churches, to anyone who’ll listen. This is what happened to me, some bad decisions I made, and I’m still going. There are no dead ends. No one can tell you who you are.”

McPherson made history at Southeast High. As a senior, he threw 42 touchdowns. In basketball, he averaged 35 points. He remains the only Florida athlete to be named Mr. Football and Mr. Basketball.

“He’s a legend down there,” said Joe Hills, the Storm’s leading receiver and McPherson’s childhood friend.

McPherson couldn’t miss at FSU. He was starting as a sophomore.

Then …

McPherson was dismissed from the team. He was arrested on a felony charge related to a stolen check, and was at the center of a subsequent gambling investigation. McPherson denies betting on FSU games or anything else.

He phoned his parents when it first broke, Floyd and Henrietta, who’d worked and made sacrifices, and “now Mom is on the phone crying. Dad is fighting it, too. … I’d embarrassed my parents, who had taught me right from wrong, and all the kids back home who looked up to me.”

In 2004, McPherson joined the Arena League Indiana Firebirds, coached by former Bucs quarterback Steve DeBerg. He threw 61 touchdowns, ran for 19 and was AFL rookie of the year. He was so good the New Orleans Saints chose him in the fifth round of the 2005 draft, the only Arena player ever drafted by an NFL team.

But McPherson never played a down for the Saints. When New Orleans changed coaches, and Sean Payton came in, Payton asked McPherson if he’d ever played any receiver. “That’s when I knew,” McPherson said. The Tennessee mascot merely finished the job.

McPherson moved around the Arena League and then joined the CFL in 2008. He hardly played. Montreal’s starting quarterback was Anthony Calvillo, pro football’s all-time leading passer and Canada’s answer to Brett Favre, still playing at 41. After last season, McPherson went job hunting.

Bad decisions Brooks knew McPherson’s story — and sympathized. Brooks once made a mistake at Florida State, nothing like McPherson, but he accepted free sporting goods, part of the “Free Shoes U” scandal that landed FSU in hot water.

“I made a bad decision myself,” Brooks said. “I had a chance at redemption and I didn’t get in trouble after that. I was young. Hey, if you would have told me that in 1993, after what I did, receiving those gifts, that I’d one day sit on the board of trustees of my college … are you kidding? It’s about redemption. That’s how I look at this young man.”

At Storm practice, Brooks smiled as he watched McPherson coach up teammates. “He’s a leader,” Brooks said. He thinks McPherson, 6-foot-3, 228 pounds, rocket arm, quick feet, owns NFL skill sets, even now. At 30.

Dave Ewart said, “Heck, they didn’t find Kurt Warner (in this league) until he was what, how old?”

“I throw it with anyone,” McPherson said.

Today is for the Orlando game. Sunday is his daughter’s birthday party.

“She changed my life,” McPherson said. “Every decision I make today. She’s the first person I think about.”

He’ll eventually tell Demi what he tells anyone when telling his story.

“It’s choices, decisions and consequences. But it’s about sticking to the journey. I tell people all the time I wouldn’t change a thing, not any of it. Everyone has their own journey. Something good is eventually going to happen.”

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