All of the players in the 2011 draft class have their own unique stories that got them the chance to join the NFL fraternity, but defensive back Mistral Raymond may be one of most incredible stories of them all.
When asked by the local media how he was doing Saturday, his answer was pretty standard.
"I'm doing just fine," Raymond said. "I'm blessed. I can't complain."
If anyone had the right to complain, it would be Raymond. Without a father around, he was the man of the house in a family that was almost entirely female. Three years ago, while attending Elsworth Community College in Iowa, his family was subjected to a horror few could have endured. In a case of mistaken identity, the house where his mother and sisters lived was attacked by violent types who threw Molotov cocktails into the house and, as the family scrambled to get out, a hail of gunfire erupted, resulting in one of his sisters being shot four times and the family being forced to retreat into the burning house to avoid the gunfire.
Just three weeks ago, another sister was found dead in her apartment a week after filing a domestic abuse police report on her ex-boyfriend, who beat her up (she was three months pregnant).
It has been a hard life for Raymond, but he said he has grown from the experience. He stayed philosophical about the personal tragedies that have befallen him, but said things could have been worse. Had he been at his home in Palmetto, Fla., when the first incident happened, he may not have been an NFL draftee today.
"There's one of two ways you can look at it," Raymond said. "My first instinct was to look at it like I should have been there for my family and I should have been there to protect them. But then again, as my grandmother told me, had I been there maybe I would have done something trying to be heroic – going out of my way and maybe gotten myself injured or possibly killed. I think everything happens for a reason. It was a situation that made me a lot stronger as a person. It influenced me to make the decision I had made to come home and be closer to my family. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I made my entire life."
The impression left from the incident was indelible. He had scholarship offers to other schools, but it would have meant being away from home again – something he was unwilling to do. He chose to go to South Florida as a walk-on – a choice he hasn't looked back from since.
"It was the easiest decision I could have made," Raymond said. "Once that stuff happened to my family, there was no second-guessing it. I was full throttle and I was all in behind my decision. I had some people support me with that decision. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I've made."
The one constant in his life throughout the tragedies has been football. While the game can be a source of frenzy in otherwise normal lives, the gridiron has provided Raymond with normalcy he doesn't have in his day-to-day existence. It has been a steadying force in his life that has helped him through the dark days of his past.
"With everything I've gone through, the thing about it is football has always been the thing that has kept me grounded," Raymond said. "It always kept my head level despite everything I've gone through. I could always get on the football field and forget about everything and just play the game. It's something that I found at an early age that I had an extreme passion for and it's carried me this far and I'm excited to see how far it can carry me in the future."
Raymond said he is excited about the opportunity to win a roster spot with the Vikings and said he is looking forward to playing with the likes of Antoine Winfield and Madieu Williams, a pair of knowledgeable veterans. He said he will give the Vikings everything he has and won't let adversity get to him. From what he has already experienced, two-a-days will be a walk in the park.
"It's definitely a milestone," Raymond said of being drafted. "I've worked so hard all my life to accomplish this and having the opportunity to be drafted is so special. Regardless, if I'd not been drafted, I would have looked at the same way. Just having the opportunity is what is special. You have to make the best of it and, when you get the opportunity to get on the field, you've got to be yourself and give your best effort. That's something I look forward to doing."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Mistral Raymond survived family tragedies
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