TAMPA — There has been plenty of football royalty to come out of southeast Texas, especially the cities of Beaumont, Orange and Port Arthur.
Dubbed the "Golden Triangle," the area birthed star defensive end Bubba Smith, two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Jimmy Johnson, Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and several current NFL players.
But having grown up in Port Arthur, Bucs cornerback Danny Gorrer knows there are many, less-told stories of those who struggle, fall into crime and land in prison (or worse). They include his older brother, Coreyan, who spent three years in federal prison on drug charges.
"It was up to me to veer off," Gorrer said, "and I wanted to change."
So did his best friends, Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles and Seahawks safety Earl Thomas. Before Charles, 25, became a Pro Bowl player, he dreamed of making it big while playing on the same youth fields as Gorrer, 26. Thomas, 23, living in nearby Orange, looked up to both.
"They're like brothers," said agent David Mulugheta, who represents all three. "They work out in the offseason together. They go on vacations together. They're very supportive of each other."
As close as the trio is, they have taken different career paths. Charles (third round in 2008) and Thomas (first in 2010), both former University of Texas stars, were drafted and now are established starters who have made it to a Pro Bowl.
Gorrer went undrafted out of Texas A&M in 2009 and is on his fifth team, signing with the Bucs on Oct. 31. Even in a reserve role, Gorrer, whose only appearance for Tampa Bay came against the Falcons last week, is likely to play against the Broncos' potent passing offense Sunday.
"It's exciting to just have the foot in the door in the NFL," he said. "That's a blessing."
Gorrer appreciates the opportunity even more considering he almost walked away from the game. During his junior year at Texas A&M, Gorrer tore his left ACL in a game against Texas Tech. Shortly after his surgery, he found out his brother was heading to prison. Coreyan, who had two previous felony narcotics convictions, was out on pretrial bond when he was arrested Oct. 31, 2007, for crack cocaine possession.
Devastated, Gorrer called his mother, Yulander Randle, who raised the boys on her own.
"I'm like, golly, they say God doesn't put more things on you than you can handle. But I felt like I was just drilled with all kinds of things at once," Gorrer said. "So I was like, 'What do I do?' I called home, and I was like, 'Mom I can't do it.' I think she hung up in my face.
"She said, 'I don't want to hear that. Stay focused. Get your mind right. Get your heart right, and call me back.' "
Gorrer's mom told him everything happens for a reason. Then Gorrer thought about his daughter, Ryah, 8, who was born as he was coming out of high school.
"It changed my mind-set," said Gorrer, who has two other daughters, Ariana, 8, and Daniya, 2. "I had to step up and be a father at an early age. That's the way I took it and ran with it."
Being the father he never had has driven him to persevere through his journeyman career, having been cut by four teams (including the Saints twice). He got to play 11 games for the Ravens last season and spent a month this year with Seattle and his buddy Thomas.
Thomas, Charles and Mulugheta have encouraged Gorrer along the way, the Bucs corner calling them the "Four Horseman" for their tight friendship. Just as they keep him on track, Gorrer talks daily with Coreyan, 28, who is out of prison and working construction back in Port Arthur. He plans to fly Coreyan to New Orleans for the Saints game on Dec. 16.
"He's made a complete turnaround," Gorrer said, "and I'm proud of him."
Gorrer plans to return to Port Arthur when his career is done. The city shaped him in many ways, and he hopes to give back like he does each summer in a football camp run by Charles.
"It's crazy that two kids came up together and got the opportunity," Gorrer said, "because everything wasn't promised for us."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.