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Through two decades of hardships, Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith and his mother helped raise each other
In a desperate attempt to get out of prison and be with her kids again, Monica pleaded guilty to felony unlawful wounding, requesting that she be spared additional jail time beyond the six months she had already served. Considering her past arrests for assault, she had no idea if the judge would accept the plea agreement.
Friedgen had written her a character reference that was acknowledged in court. It read in part: "I have never met a better character player than Torrey Smith. As a single mother, Monica has done an amazing job in raising seven children. This is a woman who has dedicated her life to her family."
During the hearing, the defense attorney asked Torrey to stand, alone, and noted that he has done well for himself as a distinguished person at a university. It was also noted that Monica and her daughter-in-law have made amends.
Ellis then concluded: "The plea agreement in this case I believe to be entirely appropriate, and I am not going to sit here and tell you that I believe that you are a bad person. Obviously a lot of people in this room think you are a very good person. You also need to know that good people do bad things."
Later, he says: "And you are very fortunate to have all these people who would come here on your behalf and stand up and testify to their belief in your good heart. Remember that when you get out."
After granting the plea, Ellis allowed Monica to hug each of her four dozen supporters. The court reporter later called it a "heart-wrenching" emotional scene. Monica, weeping, held Torrey. He flashed her a look that she only remembers seeing when he was a child. He didn't dare cry in front of his mom as an adult. But he was overwhelmed with joy.
"I wouldn't want any other mother but her," Torrey says.
'A fighter from day one'
It is midafternoon on a December Friday when Monica climbs into the passenger seat of a visitor's rental car, the 31/2-inch heels on her Baby Phat thigh-high boots jabbing at the floor mat. She snatches her cellphone from the pocket of her tight, jet-black leather jacket and calls her eldest child.
"Torrey," she says, "what's our golden rule?"
Without hesitation, Torrey says: "Tell the truth and you will work with me. Lie and get a beating."
"I told you he knows," she tells a visitor.
She calls some of his siblings to ask the same question. They stumble or hesitate before finally getting it.
Monica has been able to attend all of Torrey's home games because she receives permission from her probation officer. She is not allowed to attend road games but she was granted permission to be at RFK Stadium on Wednesday for the Military Bowl, which could be Torrey's final college game if he chooses to forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft. He could be taken in the first two rounds.
Family considerations will play a large role in Torrey's decision. The contract for Monica's $109,000-per-year IT job with the Department of the Navy expired when she was in jail.
She only recently got a job that pays $12 per hour for her to leave home at 4:30 a.m. and track down debtors by telephone.
"Would I be the youngest NFL mom?" she asks later. After some debate, she concludes yes. The subject turns back to Torrey.
"I look at him sometimes," she says, the sentence cut off by a rush of emotion.
She laughs. She pauses. She reaches for a napkin and dabs her wet eyes.
"And I get emotional. I just don't think he realizes how much I really love him."
She slows her speech.
"Never in a million years would I think that he would have made it this far, but he did. God is good. He has been a fighter from day one."
'Tough for me to break'
Work often forced Monica to miss banquets or games, but Dec. 19 has been marked on her calendar for some time. On graduation day in College Park, dozens of Torrey's supporters flock to College Park: friends, coaches, neighbors and Torrey's biological dad, retired military man Clarence who lives in South Carolina. Torrey first met him at 6 years old and now talks to him on the phone occasionally.
"I could call him if I need anything now," Torrey said. "But it's nothing that I couldn't live without. They always say that a woman can't turn a boy into a man. I disagree 100 percent. My mother taught me everything that a man could. I have been through it all, and she definitely helped me develop into a man."
When Monica first spots Torrey outside, he is wearing a black dress shirt, red and black tie and a Maryland varsity jacket. "Congratulations," she says as she wraps her arms around him. She sees the bag in his hand. He had yet to put on the gown. "You're turrrrible," she says.
Torrey's father figure, the elder James Torrey Smith, is also there, posing for pictures with Torrey and Monica. This is an emotional day for him. "I am proud," he tells a visitor. "But I am more impressed than proud."
Two hours later, Torrey leans forward in his seat as the student speaker talks about growing up with a single mom. Not long after, Monica's head hurts from screaming. She nearly chokes on her gum when his degree in criminology and criminal justice is awarded: "James Torrey Smith."
"There goes my baby!" Monica yells.
She flies up from her seat, fires her right arm in the air. On stage, Torrey makes eye contact, flashes a bright smile and holds the envelope with the diploma in the air.
"Tor-rey! Mommy loves you!"
They are the last family out of Comcast Center. A modest group then joins Torrey and Monica for a low-key dinner at Pizza Hut.
Afterward, holding the bill, Monica says, "Let's do what I used to do back in the day. You all roll out of here. I'll take the check and take off."
They laugh. Those days are behind her. She raised her kids opposite.
She pays the check. Torrey holds the door for everyone. Then the Microwave King follows his best friend outside into the chilly night.