DALLAS — The smile on Joe Broadnax's face beamed the morning of Feb. 4 at Bryan Adams High School. He had friends and family surrounding him. Teammates surrounding him. Classmates, underclassmen, coaches, teachers, even strangers.
They were all supporting the big man during his time to shine. It was national signing day, and he was officially a TCU signee.
But this day was a lot bigger than football.
For Broadnax, signing his national letter of intent meant a son would fulfill a promise made to the mother he lost two years ago.
"I promised her I would go to college," Broadnax said. "Now I just have to finish high school, maintain all A's and B's and continue to keep striving for excellence.
"It's what my mother would have wanted."
Doing It for Them
Before Broadnax could make it to college, life dealt him a series of melancholic haymakers. On Dec. 2, 2012, his grandmother, Claudia Mae Lydia, died from various medical conditions. The next month, he had to bury his mother, Vonceia D'Ann Lydia-Broadnax, who had heart issues.
Almost exactly a year later came the death of one of his favorite uncles, Emmett Lydia III.
Three deaths. Thirteen months. Seventeen years old.
While most his age were focusing on who to take to the prom or how to beat the rival in the next big sporting event, Broadnax simply worried about how to get by, how to find the push to want to get to the next day.
It wasn't easy. It wasn't supposed to be. Fortunately, the teen was strong-willed, backed by a dedicated support staff and motivated to finish his goal of getting an education.
Having football pay for it is an added bonus.
"I knew I had to graduate. I couldn't let any of this beat me down," Broadnax said. "I know my mom wouldn't just give up on life and let it beat her down.
"When my grandmother passed, I saw it in her. She never gave up. She would still go to school Monday through Friday, and she'd work at 8 a.m. and get off at 12 at night. She never gave up."
Vonceia D'Ann Lydia-Broadnax was a licensed vocational nurse pursuing a bachelor's degree in nursing before her untimely death in early 2013. She would always have conversations with her son about the importance of obtaining a good degree. Even when Broadnax verbally committed to TCU on Feb. 27 last year, he was more focused on earning a bachelor's degree than potential all-conference accolades as a Horned Frogs defensive tackle.
"She'd always tell me that time is valuable," he said. "You've got to get on your horse and not waste time. It's always running out."
Football was the perfect diversion from the trials of the teen's personal life. He was the leader of Bryan Adams' defense and a player who was praised for his character off the field, his determination on the field and his ability to lead by example.
"To be honest, it really wasn't tough to sell him [to TCU]," said Brandon Roberts, Bryan Adams' recruiting coordinator. "Joe did it all himself; I just put the tape together. He has all the intangibles and tools, and he worked hard.
"Talking to [running backs coach Curtis] Luper and [head coach Gary] Patterson, I know they're going to take good care of him. The most important thing, I just want him to get his degree. Everybody wants to go to the NFL, but I know getting his degree will mean a lot more to him and his family."
Derick Roberson, a former head coach at Bryan Adams recently named the new head coach at Dallas power Skyline High School, still remembers Broadnax as a middle-school standout. He played middle linebacker and running back then. Now, at 6'0" and 303 pounds, he's a defensive tackle who bench-presses 340 pounds and squats 530. Broadnax should remind TCU fans of a Chucky Hunter starter set—and Hunter ended up an All-Big 12 defensive lineman for Patterson.
Ron Grace, in his second year as head coach for Bryan Adams, said Broadnax's work ethic and family upbringing will take him far. Before his mother, grandmother and uncle died, they gave him a solid foundation.
"Joe doesn't say too much, but he's one of the first ones in the weight room and one of the first ones on the practice field," Grace said. "He goes 100 miles an hour and gives 100 percent effort all the time. He comes from a great family. He's been raised to do things the right way."
Strong Support System
Fear? Of course there's fear when life is tough and you're asked to go without three of the most influential people in your life before you're legally a man.
Broadnax knows his story is sad, but the last thing he wants is for people to cry for him. He still has a group of key supporters, led by his father Joseph Broadnax Sr. The TCU signee lives with his older brother, but he said his father has been a rock during difficult times.
"He's big time," Broadnax said of his dad. "He works a lot, but I get whatever I need from him. He's really been there since my mother's passing."
And then there's his family at Bryan Adams. Roberson, Roberts and Grace are all father figures. Roberts kept Broadnax motivated with scholarship news and discussion from schools of interest. Athletic coordinator Stacey Segal was one of his biggest cheerleaders while also keeping him grounded.
"I always tell the athletic department and staff to leave a legacy, and Joe has done that," Segal said. "You want your athletes to make their mark on a school and aspire to be great. He is a leader, and he has amazing character. 'Speak softly; carry a big stick' is one of my favorite quotes, and that's how I can describe Joe."
Roberson added, "It's his desire to be the best at everything that I like. I remember when everything happened, he came to me, put his arm around me and said, 'Coach, I want to go to college.' I always thought he had the tenacity and the desire to succeed. He always showed it on the field, so I knew he would be successful regardless."
"I'll Be OK"
Segal has her own theory about what the future holds for the young football star.
"In 10 years, Joseph Broadnax Jr. will have graduated with a bachelor's degree from TCU, made all-conference and been drafted already and playing for the New Orleans Saints," said Segal, a diehard Saints fan.
"But with all that, he will come back. You need young men like him to come back and talk to the kids about getting to the next level and what it took. I have no doubt in my mind that I will be able to call Joe, ask for that favor and know he will say 'yes, ma'am.'"
If you ask Broadnax, the future is bright.
"My mother was a strong woman. I'm a strong boy. I'm my mother's boy, so I'll be OK," Broadnax said. "I'm surrounded by a group of people who have my back, and I have their backs."
National signing day on Feb. 4 was a proud day for Broadnax, and it's a day he knows put a smile on the faces of his mother, grandmother and uncle. But he also knows his journey is far from over.
There are still objectives to be accomplished—academic and athletic objectives—all as a tribute to those who first believed in him.
"My mom would have loved all of this," he said. "My grandmother is just like my mom. They both would have been proud of me. I know I can't let them down."