Dylan Favre's Roller-Coaster Life in Uncle Brett's Shadow

Jeff PearlmanSpecial to Bleacher ReportOctober 22, 2014

Bleacher Report

MARTIN, Tenn. — The least interesting thing about Brett Favre's nephew is that he's Brett Favre's nephew.

It's true. No matter how many times the information is shared. No matter how many newspaper articles include "Brett Favre's nephew" within the first four sentences. No matter how many times the three words are robotically cobbled into a brick-like substance, then slammed over your head, then slammed over your head again and again and again and again until you're bloodied and dazed.

Yes, Dylan Favre is, indeed, Brett Favre's nephew. There. We said it. The information has been conveyed.

Yet the information is—ho-hum—a tiny part of the story. Brett Favre's nephew is a survivor. A star. A bust.  A failure. A success. An inmate. A saint. A father. A soon-to-be college graduate. A quarterback. Oh, and he rarely talks to his most famous relative.

"He's a great guy," says Dylan. "But my uncle and I have different lives. We're different people."

Brett Favre's nephew is sitting inside something called the Kathleen Elam Multipurpose Room, which overlooks the football stadium on the campus of the University of Tennessee-Martin. The town sits 135 miles east of Memphis, 155 west of Nashville and features the annual Tennessee Soybean Festival (where the Little River Band recently made an appearance!), a sandwich shop named Sammies, a nice yet unremarkable college campus and, um...ahem...eh...little else.

OK, nothing else.

"It's not a place you come to for entertainment," says Dylan. "It's quiet."

As he speaks, Brett Favre's nephew glances down toward the empty Poland Spring water bottle positioned in his right fist. He stops from time to time, repositions the black goop from his cheek to his tongue, drools into the container and pinches some Grizzly Wintergreen out of a tin. Then drools again.

"Repulsive habit," he says, shrugging slightly, words trailed by a slight drawl. "I'm not proud of it."

He is 22 years old—handsome, muscular, soft-spoken and the senior quarterback for the UT-Martin football team. Actually, Dylan Favre is one of the quarterbacks for the UT-Martin football team. Actually, Dylan Favre is the second quarterback for the UT-Martin football team, clawing for playing time behind Jarod Neal, a strong-armed yet erratic junior from nearby Henderson.

Which is where the story of Brett Favre's nephew gets interesting.

 

Dylan Favre in Uncle Brett's Packers jersey as his father Jeff rests on the couch.
Dylan Favre in Uncle Brett's Packers jersey as his father Jeff rests on the couch.Photo courtesy of the Favre family

Life as Brett's Nephew

See, he isn't supposed to be here. Not on this underwhelming 3-5 team, not in the underwhelming Ohio Valley Conference, not fighting for time at the position he once owned. Football glory was his destiny, as was—he truly believed—an NFL future.

Dylan Favre will tell you so much as long as one understands he's neither bragging nor complaining, that—deep down—he knows 95 percent of his missteps are of his doing.

"I have no one to blame," he says—pinch, drool. "No one else to look at..."

Wait. Stop. At this moment, let's suspend the initial premise. Let's talk about being Brett Favre's nephew and all that comes with the status. Just for a second.

First, the good: Dylan Favre has attended some cool events. He walked the red carpet at the ESPYs, met Samuel L. Jackson and stood on the sidelines in Green Bay tossing balls with Aaron Rodgers before a game. Being Brett Favre's nephew means, on occasion, receiving free sporting goods apparel and bumping into interesting people.

"I once rode to a practice with Dom Capers," he says.

There is a momentary pause, the unspoken mental debate of whether Capers—longtime Packers defensive coordinator—qualifies as interesting.

Now, the bad: Dylan Favre's father is Jeff Favre, Brett's younger brother and a man who only speaks with his sibling on rare occasion. Yet wherever Dylan Favre has gone, he has been compared to Brett. Among other items that have been noted through the years: Dylan's arm isn't as strong as Brett's. Dylan doesn't have Brett's size (nephew stands 5'11"; uncle stands 6'3"). Dylan doesn't have Brett's charisma. Dylan doesn't have Brett's instincts. Dylan doesn't have Brett's savvy or moxie.

AP Photo

"The comparisons are unfair," says Scott Favre, Brett and Jeff's older brother and Dylan's uncle. "How can you live up to the level of a star NFL quarterback?"

Dylan's parents conceived their son when they were students at Hancock High School. Rhonda Doyle was 16 at the time, Jeff a year older. On March 19, 1992, the day his son was born, Jeff was on a recruiting trip to Southern Miss.

"I was a senior, and I wasn't ready for it," Jeff says. "I was surprised, taken aback, not sure what to do. I was still a kid myself. You're told to be responsible, but you're so young. What do you know?"

"I was disappointed," says Bonita Favre, Jeff's mother. "It was a very bad decision, and it was upsetting. But then you think about it, and all you can do is accept and hope for the best."

Baby Dylan was raised by Rhonda and her mother, Cindy, in a small apartment in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, and was bequeathed the last name Doyle. Shortly after Jeff (who played linebacker at Southern Miss) and Rhonda married in 1999, he became Dylan Favre.

"What would have happened had I stayed a Doyle?" he asks. "It'd all probably all be a lot less complicated."

Grandpa Irvin, sister Jade, Grandma Bonita and Dylan Favre.
Grandpa Irvin, sister Jade, Grandma Bonita and Dylan Favre.Photo courtesy of the Favre family

 

A Vagabond Upbringing

Though Dylan was born in Picayune, Mississippi, his childhood was a wayward one. His father worked as a casino executive, a job that took him from city to city and state to state. When Dylan was five years old, the Favres moved to Muskego, Wisconsin. That was home for two years until they returned to Mississippi.

In fifth grade, Dylan relocated to Livingston, Texas, then shortly thereafter came back to Mississippi again. That didn't hold for long, and the Favres took off for Nixa, Missouri. The stay lasted for two-and-a-half years until yet another homecoming.

It was dizzying and uncomfortable, and the you're-not-Brett jabs probably started, oh, 15 years ago, when Dylan began playing organized youth football. Because Favres play quarterback, Dylan found himself at the position. And he was good—very good. Quick. Smart. Feisty. Instinctive. He threw off his back foot like his uncle, made plays out of nothing like his uncle, improvised like his uncle. But he wasn't his uncle. Couldn't be.

"Ain't too many Favres outside of Mississippi," Dylan says. "People probably figured out we were related."

Dylan completed seventh grade in Kiln, Mississippi, the town where Brett came of age and where most of the Favres still live. He attended Hancock Middle School but transferred to Saint Stanislaus—a Bay St. Louis-based Catholic school with a strong football program—for the 2005-06 academic year.

It took Dylan but a couple of days to recognize a dream setting. The school staff was passionate about sports and seemed to know it was being gifted a future star. For the first time in forever, he felt at home.

Dylan's father, Jeff, and mother, Rhonda, with him after a game at Saint Stanislaus.
Dylan's father, Jeff, and mother, Rhonda, with him after a game at Saint Stanislaus.Photo courtesy of the Favre family

"I'm in my second week of school, going through workouts, loving every minute of it," he says. "We were about to play our first game. Then Hurricane Katrina hit."

 

Mother Nature Intrudes

As he begins the story, Dylan spits, then pauses. The black goop makes a sound when it hits the bottom of the bottle. Splunk. He wipes his lip with a forearm.

While his features remain young and boyish, his words carry the heaviness of a veteran. Oftentimes, there's a subtle sadness to Favre. Unspoken, but present. When you've seen a lot and those around you are worried most about keg parties and the new iPhone, it has a way of revealing itself.

On the afternoon of August 29, 2005, Dylan and a large handful of family members and friends were in Kiln, preparing for the storm inside his grandmother Bonita's home at the end of Irvin Favre Drive.

"We're boarding the windows, making sure we have enough food and gas for the generators," he says. "My grandma had experienced many hurricanes, and she never had much of a problem."

The house, situated at a dead end, is wedged between a lake and the bayou. During especially fierce past storms, water tended to rise up a hill, approach the front door then meekly run back down.

"The main worry were trees falling," Dylan says. "But we weren't scared or anything. Hurricanes are excuses for big parties. You eat, talk, hang out. It can be a good time."

At 6:30 that morning, Dylan woke to the sound of wind whistling against the trees.

"No big deal," he says. "We go outside, and we're watching the storm from the porch. We have that big hill, and the water's rising, but not so we're scared."

As the hours passed, the water crept closer to the house. And closer. And closer. And closer.

"It gets to the front door and starts leaking through the bottom," he says. "Still, no one panicked. The thinking was, 'It'll stop, and we'll just have to replace the floor.'"

The water didn't stop. Before long, it was two feet deep. Then four feet deep. Young children (and two dogs) were placed in the attic space. The water kept rising. Five feet. Six feet.

"All the water backed up all the sewage, and it's all floating through the house," Dylan says. "You would literally see what people put in the toilet floating around the house."

The Favres owned a party barge, and Scott and Jeff swam to the boat, hoping it could provide an escape.

"It wouldn't crank," Dylan says. "They came back. We're all freaking out. I'm crying. My dad and uncle opened a door in the house, and more water came pouring in."

Dylan Favre as a teenager.
Dylan Favre as a teenager.Photo courtesy of the Favre family

Dylan was 13 and terrified. He glanced out the kitchen window and decided his odds of survival were slim.

"Please let me out!" he begged his father. "I'll take my chance holding onto a tree before I drown in this house."

Ultimately, everyone put on life jackets and swam 50 yards from the home to the nearby pool house, which was raised and, apparently, dry.

"My great grandmother [Izella French, Bonita's mom] was alive, and my dad is swimming her over," Dylan says. "She pukes everywhere, all over him. Everything was gross. Our clothing, our house, our bodies."

That night, all 20 people slept in a single bedroom. The next morning, they woke up to a destroyed house, a destroyed yard, a destroyed town. The mile-long road leading down to the Favre property was covered with downed trees. Dylan and another uncle slowly, carefully navigated their way around the destruction.

"He hands me a pistol because there were reports of looting," says Dylan, chuckling. "I'm in eighth grade, walking down the street with a pistol in my hand."

The recovery would take months. Jeff and Rhonda relocated to Alexandria, Louisiana, where another casino gig awaited. Dylan and Bonita, meanwhile, flew to Green Bay to stay with Brett, his wife Deanna and their two daughters.

"I went from one of the worst times in my life to one of the coolest," he says. "Every morning, I would wake up and go to the stadium with him."

As Brett and the Packers practiced, Dylan would remain inside the locker room, playing video games, eating to his heart's content. He stood on the sidelines during games.

"All my clothing was ruined," he says. "But my uncle had a deal with Nike, and I pretty much got Nike everything—shoes, socks, underwear. It was amazing."

Dylan experienced the magic of Lambeau Field with Uncle Brett.
Dylan experienced the magic of Lambeau Field with Uncle Brett.USA TODAY Sports

After three head-spinning weeks, Dylan moved yet again. He returned to Nixa to live with a family friend and play football and basketball at Nixa Junior High, where he knew the coaching staff and had a handful of friends.

"Then in January, I moved to Louisiana to be with my family. And I kind of lost it."

He was 13 years old and fed up with rented homes and strange doorbells and unfamiliar pillows and beds that were too hard and too soft but rarely just right. He was tired of new coaches, new offenses, new teammates, new uniforms. He desperately craved familiarity and stability—Mom and Dad be damned.

 

Finding a Football Home

That's why, come his freshman year of high school, Dylan moved back to Kiln to stay with Bonita and Scott (both live on the same property, in different houses) and attend Saint Stanislaus.

"Not for one or two years," he says. "For four years. To have a home."

It was the time of his life. As a freshman, Dylan quarterbacked the JV team (and played wide receiver and special teams for the varsity) to a 5-1 mark. The varsity football offensive coordinator was Stu Rayburn, a former Kent State quarterback who, over two college seasons in the early 1980s, threw seven touchdowns and 34 interceptions. For whatever he lacked in Division I statistics, however, Rayburn was an offensive visionary.

As the majority of Mississippi high schools operated either the Oklahoma wishbone or the Delaware Wing-T, Rayburn installed a spread formation that placed the quarterback in the shotgun and featured four (and sometimes five) wide receiver sets. The varsity, behind quarterback Chad Boos, ran the offense well. The JV, with Dylan Favre behind center, was a Tchaikovsky symphony.

"There wasn't anything he couldn't do," says Boomer Scarborough, a wide receiver on the team. "He was just electricity, making plays, making big plays. You're talking about a quarterback who was also the hardest worker, the best teammate, the leader. Dylan was a star, no question."

Dylan Favre as the QB at Saint Stanislaus.
Dylan Favre as the QB at Saint Stanislaus.Getty Images

The following season, Dylan took over as varsity quarterback, and the roll continued. Rayburn was now his direct offensive coordinator, and in Favre, he had an on-field extension of his philosophy. Dylan was allowed to audible whenever he felt the need. He carried the ball more than any running back and picked apart opposing defenses to the tune of 36 touchdowns.

"You're talking about someone who threw for more than 3,000 yards as a 10th-grader," says Casey Wittman, the Rockachaws coach at the time. "He had an Archie Manning thing about him where he'd make these awkward sidearm throws that somehow worked. He was all about accuracy, and he was really tough. There aren't many kids at that age who played like he did."

With the success, however, came the comparisons. And the complications. Thanks both to his achievements and his name, Dylan's final three high school seasons were a whirlwind of articles, interviews, news features, hype. He wasn't merely a successful prep quarterback. He was a star. A stud. A wizard. In Happy Days speak, he was the BMOC. Yet he was also, by his own admission, immature and somewhat lost.

He believed his own clippings—partly because they were true, partly because, well, he was a kid. In and of itself, the inflated ego wouldn't have been such a problem. Yet with his parents in another state, Dylan says he often felt as if he were raising himself. Sometimes, he stayed with Bonita. Sometimes, he stayed with Scott. Sometimes, he stayed at this friend's house. Or that friend's house.

He was 15 when he got his first tattoo (his initials on the rear of his forearm), a spur-of-the-moment decision that involved showing up at the nearby parlor and saying, "Um, I guess just do letters—that'll be cool."

As a 10th-grader, Dylan and three friends decided—spur of the moment—to drive the 279 miles to Panama City, Florida, for three days of spring break debauchery.

"I just took off," he says. "It's not like I had to ask Mom and Dad for permission and say, 'Is this OK?' We just hopped in the car and drove. No one ever knew.'"

Dylan came and went as he pleased. He'd sleep on couches, on beds, on cots. When he stayed with Scott, breakfasts were prepared and rides to school offered. But nothing was mandatory. He was allowed to be his own man.

"You never really knew where Dylan would be from day to day," says Scarborough, his teammate and closest friend. "He'd pick and choose and float. Wherever he ended up that week, whatever clothes he had in his truck, there wasn't much to it. He'd stay where he'd stay. Oftentimes that was at our house—which was cool with us. Is that an ideal way to grow up? Probably not. But I think Dylan made it work."

Boomer Scarborough, left, and Dylan Favre after a Saint Stanislaus win.
Boomer Scarborough, left, and Dylan Favre after a Saint Stanislaus win.Photo courtesy of the Favre family

 

The Glory Days

If Favre emerged as a sophomore, he exploded as a junior, setting a state record with 45 passing touchdowns and rushing for 448 yards and seven more scores. He was named the Sea Coast Echo's Offensive Player of the Year and was a first-team all-district selection. And yet as Division I recruiters prowled the sidelines of Mississippi high school games, seeking out the next generation of college stars, Dylan found himself overlooked and ignored.

Whereas his famous last name and video game-esque statistics made sportswriters drool, his famous last name and video game-esque statistics made scouts wonder whether this was a case of hype trumping substance. They questioned his size, arm strength and ability to run a conventional offense. They wondered whether he knew how to take the snap from under center. Dylan Favre was deemed a quirky curiosity—entertaining to behold, but more question than answer.

Plus, there was the strut. The walk. The smirk. Dylan rubbed many as unlikable even though one is hard-pressed to find those who actually dislike him. In person, he's warm and charming, looks people in the eye and asks about their day. But from afar, the perception wasn't great.

He just seemed like a kid who thought himself God's gift to football. It probably didn't help that Favre says (with the school's blessing) he rarely attended classes on Mondays after games—his time to stay home and reflect.

"I've always had a swagger in football," he says. "I admit that. But I really think a lot of that was perception. People saw my name in the paper all the time, and they thought I saw myself as big time. Which I really didn't. There are people I don't know who can't stand me. It's weird."

"Dylan was cocky, confident...whatever you want to call it," says Forrest Williams, the Saint Stanislaus head coach for Favre's final two seasons. "But not in a malicious or mean way. He knew he was good, and he took pride in what he did."

Favre’s senior season was, by all measures, unparalleled. He completed 341 of 539 passes for 5,539 yards (yes, 5,539 yards), 63 touchdowns (yes, 63 touchdowns). He ran for another 18 touchdowns (yes, 18 touchdowns), intercepted six passes as a safety and averaged 41.4 yards per punt. He was named the state of Mississippi's Mr. Football and 4A Player of the Year.

No one in the history of United States organized high school football has ever scored more touchdowns in a season. Not Barry Sanders. Not Herschel Walker. Not Joe Namath. Not Joe Dudek.

No one.

Favre led his team to a 14-1 mark and its first state championship—a 35-16 win over Lafayette County that still ranks as his No. 1 personal highlight.

 

A Frustrating Recruiting Process

Surely, the recruiters would now come flocking.

Surely, they'd see the title and the numbers and the highlights and...and...and...

Nothing.

Rivals.com failed to rank Favre among its top 30 in-state prospects.

"Dylan is a limited guy physically," Barton Simmons, one of the service's analysts, said at the time. "He's undersized, maybe 5'10", so that's a concern from the quarterback position. He's put up some great numbers and won a state championship, and I think his greatest attribute may be his competitiveness, but from a physical standpoint, I think he's going to have a hard time playing quarterback in the SEC."

Signing day was February 3, 2010. By mid-December he had a single offer, from Northwestern State—a school he'd never heard of. While attending the Ole Miss football camp before his senior year, Favre had been approached by Houston Nutt, the Rebels head coach.

"You've got a swagger about yourself that I love," Nutt said. "Would you consider maybe trying another position?"

The one college Favre expected to hear from was Southern Mississippi, the school where, 23 years earlier, his uncle rose from sixth-string nobody to legend. Yet throughout his senior season, the Golden Eagles showed no interest.

"I mean, I'm right there in your backyard," Dylan says. "My dad played there, my uncle played there. And...nothing. They offered me a scholarship the night before the state championship game, but I'm sure it was only because of alumni pressure. It was insulting."

Adding to the insult fest, Favre was bypassed for the Under Armour All-America High School Football Game, the nation's elite prep showcase. He did, however, play in the North-South Mississippi All-Star Game on December 19, completing his first 13 passes en route to winning the MVP trophy. In attendance was Dan Mullen, Mississippi State's second-year head coach.

Two weeks later, the primary name on the Bulldogs' quarterback wish list—some kid out of Blinn College named Cameron Newton—committed to Auburn, leaving a gaping hole in the program's recruiting plan. On January 2, 2010, Dylan received the call he'd been waiting for.

"We're offering you a scholarship," Mullen said. "We want you to be a Bulldog."

"It was," says Dylan, "a dream come true. I was going to be an SEC quarterback."

 

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen.Jim Lytle/Associated Press


A Dead End at Mississippi State

The worst three-year span of Dylan Favre's relatively charmed life began with the naive hope of emerging as an instant collegiate superstar.

He arrived in Starkville, Mississippi, midway through the summer of 2010 certain that great things awaited. Tyson Lee, Mississippi State's quarterback, had graduated, leaving a wide-open gap in Mullen's offense.

There were three candidates for the job—junior Chris Relf, redshirt freshman Tyler Russell and Favre—and the gunslinger from Kiln believed, in his heart, he was the man.

"I just want a shot to prove myself," he told Sports Illustrated. "I think that's all I need."

Thanks to his pedigree, Favre was one of the hot topics of the incoming class. He played well in practice as well as in the annual Maroon-White spring game. Then, one week before the Sept. 4 opener against Memphis, Favre was sitting with Russell and Relf in a quarterback meeting. Mullen entered the room, and the two players left.

"Dylan," Mullen said, "we're going to redshirt you this season. It's a good thing because..."

Shortly thereafter, Dylan Favre began to cry.

He didn't understand. Hadn't he played well? Wasn't he a proven winner?

"Looking back now, I know Coach was right," he says. "But at the time, no. I was a competitor. I wanted to play and play immediately. It crushed me."

Because he was the third quarterback on the roster, Favre dressed for every game knowing he wouldn't appear. As his fellow redshirts worked out Friday mornings then did as they pleased over the weekends, Favre felt as if he were playing pretend backup quarterback.

He'd travel to away games, slip into a uniform, hear the pep talks up close yet sulk internally.

"Yeah, it's cool seeing some of the amazing stadiums," he says. "Going to Death Valley, going to Alabama. But mostly, it sucked standing there, soaking in the atmosphere but knowing I wasn't a part of it."

The Bulldogs finished the season with a 9-4 mark, destroying Michigan 52-14 in the Gator Bowl. The one thought that kept Favre afloat was that, come 2011, he could no longer be redshirted or ignored. Despite being inactive as a freshman, he studied hard and felt well-versed in Mullen's wide-open offense. On paper, he was competing with Russell for the task of backing up Relf. In his heart, he was shooting for No. 1.

Dylan Favre scrambles for yardage in Mississippi State spring game.
Dylan Favre scrambles for yardage in Mississippi State spring game.Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

On April 9, 2011, Favre excelled in the Maroon-White spring game, completing 17 of 26 passes for 199 yards and rushing for a team-high 41 yards. He was dashing and energized, and his 24-yard touchdown pass to Robert Johnson was a breathtaking sight.

Five months later, however, Mullen suspended Favre and four teammates for the opener at Memphis, citing "various violations of team rules."

"I was just stupid," Favre says. "Not doing some things I was supposed to do."

Like what?

"Honestly, I don't really want to go back there. But it's painful because we were up big late (the Bulldogs beat Memphis, 59-14), and I probably would have gotten in. Just really dumb of me."

The dumb continued. Favre was restricted to punt coverage in a Week 2 loss at Auburn, then again in a Week 3 setback at No. 3 LSU. On the night of Sept. 15, maybe an hour after returning to his room following the defeat, Favre sat at his computer and, under the now-defunct Twitter handle @DnoB_favre_6no4, wrote, "Is an opportunity too much 2 ask for?" He then went to sleep.

"I had a couple of hundred followers," he says. "When I woke up Sunday morning, I had more than 3,000. I'm like, 'What did I just do?'"

He immediately called Mullen to apologize, and the coach offered a kind word and quick forgiveness. However, the season was quickly spiraling down the toilet. Mississippi State was a mediocre team, and Favre's opportunities rarely came.

He made his collegiate quarterbacking debut at Georgia on Oct. 1, went 0-of-2 passing, accounted for minus-10 yards of offense and barely touched the turf. For the season, he played in nine games, completing 13 of 26 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. Favre was clearly skilled and athletic, but also lacked any sort of patience or perspective..

Dylan Favre carries two Arkansas defenders over the goal line.
Dylan Favre carries two Arkansas defenders over the goal line.Getty Images

On November 19, the Bulldogs traveled to Arkansas, where they were crushed by the No. 6 Razorbacks, 44-17. The only offensive bright spot was Favre, who ran for one touchdown and threw for another. A few days later, Mullen told Favre and Russell that Relf, back from a concussion, would likely play the entire final regular-season game against Ole Miss. Favre seethed, and everyone on the team could feel it.

"Once I found that out, I was already so mad and immature, and I was unable to see the big picture," he says. "I was only seeing right now. The moment. And the truth is, I was a redshirt freshman with plenty of time. But I wanted the ball at that moment, every single play. It was stupid. I was stupid. And I reacted...badly."

Those who know Dylan Favre well—really well—agree his passion is his greatest strength and his stubbornness is his greatest weakness. He says something, he stands by it. He makes a decision, the decision sticks. It matters not if he's proven wrong, shown a different way, made to understand alternative methods. No. When Dylan puts his foot down, he rarely—if ever—picks it back up.

Even though Mississippi State routed Ole Miss, 31-3, Favre found the experience to be an intolerable one. Instead of cheering on his teammates or making suggestions to Relf, Favre pouted. Now, some three years removed, he admits it was selfish and petulant, that he allowed football frustration to engulf his life. But at the time, the pain was real.

When the game ended, Favre sought out Mullen to tell him he would not be sticking around for whatever bowl game the Bulldogs might qualify for. He wanted to go elsewhere. He wanted to be a star.

"That's fine," Mullen said. "I hope it works out for you."

 

Dylan Hits Rock Bottom

Considering its considerable charm, its breathtaking beaches, its grassy plains and eye-catching landscapes, the state of Mississippi can offer a whole lot of physical ugly.

Thanks to BP, rainbow-hued oil slicks continue to plague too much of the Gulf. Thanks to the intensive heat, there are wide, unflattering swaths of dry, brown nothingness. Jackson, the capital city, is rundown and dilapidated in spots—one boarded-up window after another.

Yet when it comes to pure dreariness, few places match the inside of a cell at the Pearl River County Jail, where random hair follicles reign supreme, peeling paint dangles from the walls like dead bugs in discarded webs, and toilets are repositories for lingering excrement samples from inmates past.

This may well be one of the worst places in America.

This is where, for three nights in April 2012, Dylan Favre resided. Still, to this day, the experience scars Favre like few other moments from his life.

The initial trouble began shortly after midnight on April 19, when Favre's silver Dodge Charger was pulled over by police for not having a functioning taillight. At the time, he was in Poplarville, Mississippi, to work out with his new teammates at Pearl River Community College, the place where, Favre presumed, he'd spend one year before landing at Hawaii or Texas Tech or one of countless Division I programs.

Years earlier, Scott Favre, Dylan's uncle, starred as a quarterback for the Wildcats, and he strongly encouraged Dylan to follow suit.

"They threw a lot, they had strong teams," says Scott. "I was a big influence in him going there. I feel very guilty for that."

On this morning, with the sky dark and the police lights flashing, Dylan watched as officers removed three bags of marijuana, empty sandwich bags and a set of digital scales. He was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute.

"Stupid," he says now, still spitting tobacco juice, still holding a bottle. "Just really, really stupid..."

He was handcuffed, loaded into the rear of a police car and taken to Pearl River County Jail. When he closes his eyes, Favre can still picture the cell.

"There was a bench shaped like an L," he says. "They gave me a little mat, a toothbrush, a little cup to get water out of the sink, then a sheet. It was gross. There was hair all over the floor. Dirt, too. It was freezing. I tried to sleep the time away, but I couldn't sleep. I had to put on the yellow jump suit, and they gave me some Crocs. You had to put stuff in your hair so you don't spread lice. They spray you down, rub it in your scalp. You're not a person. You're an animal."

Shortly after being admitted, Dylan was granted one phone call. He thought about his parents. His grandmother. His Uncle Scott. Then, he picked the person whose voice he needed most to hear. Her name was Brianna McLeod, an Evans, Georgia, native and junior soccer player at Mississippi State. The two initially met during a freshman class, Life Skills of a College Athlete, and shared a passion for sports and conditioning.

They were, on the surface, opposites—the African-American daughter of a Harvard-educated physician; the white kid from rural Mississippi.

"We were just friends at first," McLeod says. "My freshman year, I tore every ligament in my left knee and was on crutches. From that first day, if Dylan saw me crutching somewhere, he'd offer a ride, help me get to class, help carry my stuff. He'd come watch movies with me because there weren't many places I could go."

Brianna McLeod and Dylan Favre.
Brianna McLeod and Dylan Favre.Photo courtesy of the Favre family

Friendship morphed into love, and when Dylan initially told her of his plans to leave the SEC powerhouse for a middle-of-nowhere junior college, McLeod urged him to reconsider.

"Not for myself or any selfish reasons," she says. "Honestly, I just thought it was shortsighted and kind of dumb. But Dylan does what he wants to do. It's hard to convince him otherwise."

Now, in the early hours of April 19, McLeod picked up her cell phone, unsure of what she was hearing. Was that Dylan...crying?

"I thought he was joking at first because I'd never seen this boy cry, I'd never heard this boy cry," she says. "When I realized he was serious, I asked what he wanted me to do. He didn't really have an answer—he just told me he wanted to explain why he wasn't answering his phone."

Over a span of 72 hours, as his lawyer tried to get his release, Dylan Favre sat in his cell and thought. He thought about awful mistakes. He thought about the possible ruination of his football career. He thought about the embarrassment he brought upon his family. He thought about Brianna having to explain this to her parents. He thought and thought and thought and thought.

"As soon as I saw my grandma after my release, I bawled," he says. "I was ashamed and embarrassed."

Dylan pauses to think about this. Spits out tobacco juice yet again.

"It's weird," he says. "That was as low as I've ever been. But I wouldn't change it. You sometimes need moments like that—really bad, really awful moments—to wake you up. I always had things go my way. Then I was sitting in jail. I think it served a purpose for me. Maturity, maybe."

The news went viral—almost always presented beneath a headline that included the familiar words "Brett Favre's Nephew." Tim Hatten, the Pearl River football coach, had no choice but to suspend Dylan—more out of public relations survival than genuine intent to punish.

"The truth is, what hurt Dylan most was his name," says Hatten. "If he wasn't related to Brett Favre, it's not even news. I was aware of that. Plus, I've always devoted myself to giving kids second chances, third chances, to turn things around. I wasn't going to give up on Dylan."

Favre was placed in a pretrial diversion program, which allows first-time, non-violent offenders the chance to not have a criminal record as long as they complete a series of goal-oriented, community service-related conditions, which Favre did.

 

The Pearl River Mistake

The quarterback was reinstated in time for the season and returned to endure the worst beating of his career. Favre had envisioned Pearl River as a glorious stepping stone; he'd inevitably dominate the lesser competition en route to a full scholarship elsewhere.

There was just one problem: The 2012 Pearl River Wildcats stunk. The offensive line was abysmal. The receivers were, with rare exception, Division III-caliber. During his amazing high school run, Favre would drop back and have a good five...six...seven seconds to throw. Here, it was one, two—splat!

On September 1, the team traveled to Scooba, Mississippi, to face East Mississippi—and was walloped, 35-15. Pearl River followed with a triumph over Mississippi Delta then lost five of seven. It was, by all measures, a complete failure. The stands were usually packed with invisible entities. Division I scouts rarely showed up.

His statistics (16 touchdown passes, 15 interceptions, 2,204 yards passing) were unremarkable. In the third game of the season, a 39-34 loss to Jones County Junior College, a defensive lineman named Julian Boochie slammed into Favre's right knee, tearing the meniscus. As he stood on the sideline, tears streamed down Dylan's cheeks. He turned to Hatten.

"Coach, this is not how it was supposed to go," he said. "Not at all."

One weekend later, against Coahoma Community College, Favre released a pass as a Tigers lineman drove him backward into the ground, left shoulder first. The pain shot through his body, and when he rose, he felt his collarbone touching his shoulder pad.

"My season probably should have ended right there," he says. "My knee is messed up, my shoulder is messed up. But if I sit, we'd have won one game out of four, and my college career probably ends. I couldn't go out like that."

Favre returned the following week and played out the season. He was, Brianna says, far from the ideal teammate or student.

"He was home all the time at his grandma's," she says of Bonita's house, a 40-minute drive from campus. "He probably went to some classes, and he probably did some workouts. But mostly, he stayed in Kiln, as far away from Pearl River as possible. I can't blame him—he was miserable. Nothing went right that year. Nothing."

Well, there was one thing. Depending on how you look at it.

 

Bonita Favre and grandson Dylan.
Bonita Favre and grandson Dylan.Photo courtesy of the Favre family

Life Interrupts Football

She felt weird.

That's the best way Brianna McLeod describes it. Just, weird. Not right.

In the summer of 2012, leading up to her junior year at Mississippi State, her body was...off. Yes, she'd skipped her period. But that happens, right? Certainly to athletes in the heat of training.

Regardless, en route to visiting Dylan at his Uncle Scott's house that July, she picked up a home pregnancy test from the local drugstore.

"I didn't tell Dylan what I was thinking because I didn't want to upset him with a false alarm," she says. "But it was on my mind."

It was a weekend night when she slipped into the bathroom to take the test. Dylan was on the couch watching his favorite film, Friday. The room was dark.

"I came up to him, and I was really, really quiet," Brianna says.

"What's the matter?" Dylan asked, pausing the movie.

Brianna began to cry. "I'm pregnant," she said. "I just took the test. I'm pregnant."

Three months earlier, Dylan sat in a jail cell, bemoaning life. Now, he sat in a living room, numb. But not numb in the traditional sense.

"I was shocked, but excited," he says.

He thought about his own childhood, about coming and going and going and coming, about seeing his parents then not seeing them.

"It's going to be OK," he said. "Let's go to the doctor and find out for sure. But it's OK. I love you. I know I want to be with you. Stop crying. I know we're gonna make this work."

Truth be told, he didn't know. His dreams of being a professional football player were all but dead. His SEC scholarship was gone. He was about to play awful football for an awful football team.

"I don't think it hit me until much later," he says. "I don't get how you can be fully prepared for that sort of news."

With her pregnancy confirmed, Brianna dropped out of college to live with her parents in Evans, Georgia. Dylan played out the season at Pearl River, head foggy, mind racing.

"I was arrested in April," he says. "I found out I was going to be a dad in June. Then in September and October, I had two injuries that would later require surgery. It was a very strange year."

The one thing he truly believed was that his football career had ended. Pearl River was an unmitigated disaster. No colleges—Division I, II or III—were in the market for unproductive, injury-prone, undersized quarterbacks with arrest records and pregnant girlfriends.

"Nobody was after me," he says. "I was old news."

 

A Helping Hand

Then, a rare stroke of fortune. The University of Tennessee-Martin employed a quarterback coach named Eric Stuedemann, who had been a graduate assistant at Mississippi State during Favre's time at the school. Though Dylan Favre was a cold product, the Skyhawks—members of the Football Championship Subdivision—didn't have the luxury of ignoring former Division I players. Especially when they came recommended.

Stuedemann was insistent that Favre had matured and would be an enormous asset to Martin's offense. It hardly hurt that Jason Simpson, the team's head coach, had attended Southern Miss, where he starred in baseball at the same time Jeff Favre played football.

UT-Martin coach Jason Simpson
UT-Martin coach Jason SimpsonAP Photo

With some trepidation, he invited Dylan for a campus visit. The quarterback arrived with his left arm in a sling, a result of postseason shoulder surgery.

"Here's the truth...Dylan had a bad reputation," says Simpson. "He had baggage. There were some coaches who warned me not to take him. Two, in particular, said he'd ruin the program. But then you meet Dylan. And you know what? He's personable and funny. He's passionate. I was drawn to him, and I could see he was hungry for another chance."

Favre accepted a scholarship offer from Martin and moved to campus for the spring 2013 semester. He was happy to have a home but heartbroken over being apart from his pregnant girlfriend, who remained in Georgia with a rapidly expanding belly. There are 533 miles separating Martin and Evans, and while he visited as often as possible, it wasn't an easy journey.

On the afternoon of Friday, March 1, Dylan told Brianna—18 days away from the due date—that he wanted to delay his latest trip for one day. He was tired, he'd endured a taxing practice that morning, it was a relentless drive.

"Well," she said, "it would really suck if I went into labor today."

"Fine," he said. "I'll take a nap then start driving."

There was no way the baby—a boy, they knew—would arrive so soon. The due date was March 19, one day before Dylan's birthday. He was convinced it was meant to be. Father and son would share a birthday.

At 12:30 in the morning on March 2, Dylan texted Brianna from Atlanta. He was two hours away. After reading the words, she went to the bathroom.

"That," she says, "is when my water broke."

This is how the texts went:

Brianna: WATER BROKE

Dylan: YOU SURE?

Brianna: YES!!

Dylan called his mom, who assured him these things take time. Then Brianna's mother, Sonia, timed her contractions, which were four minutes apart. Four minutes!

She called Dylan—"Drive fast," she said. "This baby is coming well before tomorrow." Jeff Favre texted his son—IF YOU GET A SPEEDING TICKET, I'LL PAY FOR IT.

That was all he needed to hear. Dylan averaged, oh, 95 mph en route to Augusta's University Hospital. He barged into the delivery room at 2:20.

"I'm here!" he shouted. "I'm finally here!"

Xavier DeWayne Favre was born at 2:56.

Photo by Kenneth Cummings

 

Finding a New Identity

There's an unwritten rule in the world of sports journalism: Endings need to work out.

There has to be a last-second Hail Mary that's snagged from midair by the undersized runt with the heart of gold. There has to be a record set, a roster spot earned, a glorious final on-field scene that makes the entire piece worth reading.

Well, sorry.

Dylan Favre's career as a UT-Martin quarterback has been, at best, OK. Last season, while splitting time with Neal, he started five games, throwing for 1,081 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions. There were some good moments (he tossed three touchdowns in a 24-23 upset of No. 7 Central Arkansas) and some boneheaded ones (he fumbled six times on 60 carries).

He ranked second in the nation with a 71.1 completion percentage but also whined when his playing time was cut. This year, playing infrequently for a bad team, Favre has thrown two touchdowns and three interceptions. His one start, against Jacksonville State on Oct. 4, was awful. He completed just six of 20 passes for 25 yards. The Skyhawks lost 38-14, prompting the school's website to run the awesomely optimistic headline, "Satterfield Breaks School Punt Record but Skyhawks Fall." He hasn't appeared in the last two games—both UT-Martin victories.

"Dylan is a good player," says Neal. "But he's spastic. He's always moving around a lot, running a lot. He's got his uncle in him. That gunslinger mentality. He's anything but prototypical."

"Dylan probably hasn't had the career he's wanted," says Simpson. "And I feel bad about that. He expected big things of himself. But I also think he's probably OK with life. Maybe that's surprising, but I really think so."

Nathan Morgan/UT Martin University Relations

Indeed. When Xavier was born, Dylan decided he would drop out of UT-Martin and move to Georgia, where he could be with his girlfriend and newborn and finish his degree requirements at Augusta State College.

"You're an idiot," Brianna told him. "Your education is being paid for. What are you thinking?"

Dylan acquiesced but with the understanding that they find a way to be together. Last July, four months after the birth, Brianna and Xavier relocated to Martin.

"My parents were terribly sad," says Brianna, who is enrolled in school as an occupational therapy major. "They wanted us to stay so they could help raise their grandson. But a family needs to be together. And me, Dylan and Xavier—we're a family."

These days, as a forgettable football season comes to a close and the Martin leaves turn from green to yellow to brown, Dylan Favre's existence revolves not around the game he once lived and died for, but the child who waddles back and forth, a nonstop blur of motion.

Inside their off-campus apartment in a development called The Meadows, Dylan and Brianna spend most of their time chasing Xavier from room to room, picking up his pacifier, cleaning out bottles, changing dirty diapers. He is a handsome boy with his mother's eyes and his father's smile, and when he picks up the ball lying at his feet, it zips across the room with notable velocity.

"If I could change some things, would I?" says Dylan, who will graduate at semester's end with a degree in accounting. "Maybe. But at the end of the day, I can't ask for much more. I mean that. I have a son who's healthy, who brightens my day regardless of what happens. Which is big time for me. Because back when I was only concerned with football, football, football, everything in my life depended on how I played. The decisions I made, the mood I was in, how I interacted with other people. If I had a bad day, I would be so mad about it. I didn't even want to see anybody.

Photo courtesy of the Favre family

"Now, I come home every day—whether I had a good day or a bad day—and as soon as I walk in the door and see my son, he's saying 'Dah! Dah!' He's smiling and wanting to play. It sounds silly, but I mean it. How can anything else bring me down after that?"

He grins knowing that, at long last, his days being known as Brett Favre's nephew are coming to an end.

He is now, simply, Dylan Favre.

Xavier Favre's dad.