A run at redemption
After prison, Clyde Edwards finds a career in trucking and reconnects with his son.
NFL running backs like Kansas City Chiefs rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire must make decisions in a fraction of a second.
Decisions to cut this way or that way, to speed up or slow down – and sometimes they result in a running back taking it to the end zone, sometimes in a loss of yards.
In life off the field, some decisions lead to more than a loss of yards. They can lead to a loss of freedom.
Just ask Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s father, truck driver Clyde Edwards.
He didn’t have many people blocking for him growing up.
Edwards grew up in a single-parent home – his mother raising him and his eight siblings. A stepfather was in the picture for a bit until he got tripped up on drugs.
Then his mother fell on hard financial times – and Edwards made a decision, the kind that ultimately led to that loss of freedom we were talking about.
“It pushed me out to want to be able to provide and do things for my mom, you know, put in a bad situation,” Edwards said. “So I ended up going into a negative lifestyle.”
Edwards said that he began selling drugs to help his mom financially, but his greed for big cars and flashy jewelry eventually became the driving force.
Edwards was making his money by selling drugs, and he eventually got busted.
In the spring of 2000, Edwards woke up to flashing lights outside his home, with FBI and DEA agents hauling him off and finding something in the neighborhood of 400 grams of cocaine.
Indicted, convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison, Edwards was just 22. His son, Clyde, was only 11 months old.
“You look at the sadness of leaving your kids and your family and all that, but once you get into that situation, you just have to adapt into the environment, you know?”
Once in prison, Edwards began adapting by taking advantage of opportunities to better himself.
He joined a number of outreach programs. Over the years, he became an addiction counselor and an HIV-AIDS peer trainer and educator. He mentored juvenile offenders who were following the same path Edwards had been walking down, and he helped older prisoners get around.
In a way, Edwards admits getting locked up was probably the best thing that could have happened to him.
“It saved my life,” he said.
Edwards said his mother used to pray to get him off the streets.
“There were three things that could have happened,” Edwards said he told his mom. “I could have got killed. I could have gone to prison, or I could have stopped selling drugs. But you never specified in your prayer. You just wanted me to stop selling drugs. And I told her, ‘your prayers were answered.’
“It was still a hard pill for her to swallow, because I stopped selling drugs, but I got taken away from her. But I let her know, it could have been different. You could have been coming to my grave, you know. So it worked out for the better.”
While Edwards was behind bars, paying back his debt to society and bettering himself, his son, Clyde, was growing up.
Reconnecting with his kids
Edwards and the young man who would become a football star at Louisiana State University and now the Chiefs were in contact over
the years – mostly through phone calls – but Edwards acknowledges it was difficult to develop a close bond.
That would have to wait. In the meantime, Edwards-Helaire was being raised by his mother and stepfather, Shannon Helaire, in a loving household.
“It could have been totally different,” Edwards said. “His mom could’ve chosen someone that was in the streets, or chosen someone that was living a different lifestyle, and my child would’ve saw that, and he maybe would’ve gravitated toward the negative things like I did and what I saw living in a low poverty area growing up. So I was thankful she met a man as such.”
When he was 14, Edwards-Helaire legally changed his name. He kept Edwards to honor his biological father and added the hyphenated part to honor his stepfather.
Shortly after, Edwards was released from prison early for good behavior. He then made a decision to reconnect with his children.
“Back when I came home, I spoke with all my kids and I let them know that, you know, I made a decision that took me away from them,” he said. “And now that I’m out, I made a decision to try to mend the bridge of our relationship. I can’t make up for the time that I lost, but I can make up for the time that I’m here now.”
A football star
As for his relationship with his son? Edwards says it didn’t take long for the two to hit it off. Edwards and his son shared a love for hunting and fishing. It was also clear that Edwards-Helaire was going to be an even better athlete than his dad, who played multiple sports in high school.
“People contacted me, like out the blue,” Edwards said. “‘Say, man, your baby is just like you were playing football in school. Like, he has a vision. He runs like us. You know, he’s just a pure athlete.’”
It was most apparent on Friday nights in high school, then on Saturday afternoons in college and now Sundays in the NFL.
Edwards went from a four-star recruit in high school to LSU, where he helped win a national championship in his junior season earlier this year before leaving for the NFL draft.
The Kansas City Chiefs selected Edwards-Helaire with the 32nd overall pick in April.
In his first NFL game on Sept. 10, Edwards-Helaire rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown as the Chiefs defeated the Houston Texans 34-20. According to ESPN, he became the fourth player in the past 30 years to rush for at least 130 yards and a touchdown in their debut. He earned the NFL’s FedEx Ground Player of the Week award.
While NBC sportscaster Al Michaels was marveling at Edwards-Helaire’s debut, his father was watching from his seat inside Arrowhead Stadium alongside family.
And as soon as Edward-Helaire’s 27-yard touchdown run started taking shape, Edwards knew how it was going to end.
“When he came through there and the defensive end made the move to come in, and then he did the signature move that he has where he steps hard to the left and when he steps hard to the left, he throws his body up and he throws his left arm in the air like he’s gonna go that way,” Edwards said. “And for some reason, man, like when he did that, like I jumped up and told his brother, I was like it’s over … I knew he was about to score his first professional touchdown.”
A fresh start in trucking
As for Edwards, he’s busy working, just like his son. After getting out of prison, Edwards needed a job, and after reconnecting with some acquaintances who had gotten into trucking, he found his answer.
Today, Edwards is an owner-operator. His company, RCR Trucking, hauls logs.
Edwards is returning the favor that was given to him after he paid off his debt to society. He’s helping others get their feet back on the ground through trucking.
“There’s a few people that came home that I walked through a few things and helped them LLC a few businesses,” he said.
Edwards is open about his past, about the decisions that landed him behind bars, and about the decisions that lifted him back up.
Now he gets to enjoy watching his son make decisions on the football field and in life.
“And you know, it’s just like, right now it’s still unreal to be like, wow, OK – this kid’s amazed to this point. But you know, man, it’s always happening, you know, to see him living his dream. And like always I always tell him, your happiness is always first. If you up and say, I don’t want to play football today, I’m going to still love you as I do right now.” LL