TAMPA — At 6 feet 7, 278 pounds, the only thing bigger than William Gholston is his potential.
His nickname in high school was "Too Tall" because that's what coaches told him he was when he came out for football, insisting on playing linebacker.
But wherever Gholston, the Bucs' fourth-round pick last week, has lined up, he has felt more at home on the football field than anywhere else.
"Football has been the most consistent thing in my life," he said.
That's because growing up in Detroit, Gholston lived in more homes than he can remember. At 14, he had some issues with his parents and moved out. He stayed with relatives, with coaches and, some nights, slept in a car.
Gholston didn't disclose what led to the separation from his parents, and they have since reconnected. "Heading down the wrong path," is how he described it.
Eventually, stability arrived when he moved in with the family of his high school coach, Vince Session. The one-time running back at Northern Illinois was dropping Gholston off at the home of a relative where he had been staying. But nobody came to the door, and Gholston didn't have a key.
At that point, Session had seen enough and ordered the house-hopping to stop. He moved Gholston in with him, his wife, Donna, and their two daughters.
Not only was Gholston saved from the streets, but by providing stability, he was able to tap into his potential as a football player.
"Adversity always shapes a man," Gholston, 21, said Thursday, shortly after he reported with the rest of the rookies to minicamp. "It shapes anyone. And going through the adverse situation I grew up in, it did fuel me sometimes on the field. Sometimes, it doesn't.
"But going through all that and having the right people around me to mold me into the man I am today, I'm just blessed. I'm extremely blessed to be here today."
At this point, Gholston's story sounds similar to that of Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher, the inspiration for The Blind Side, a 2009 movie. The difference is Gholston had a place to live. He just chose not to stay with his immediate family.
"I wouldn't necessarily say it was tough at all because it's not like that," Gholston said. "I could go to my family's house. It's not like they just shunned me or I was out. It's just like it was more of a choice. Once I got stability, it was a whole lot easier to focus."
Gholston was switched from linebacker to defensive end at Michigan State and started the past two seasons. He knifed past blockers but found it difficult to shake the perception he was an underachiever.
There were two reasons for that.
One, he produced only 10 sacks over three seasons though he recorded 30 tackles-for-loss and defended 10 passes.
Two, his last name. Gholston is the cousin of former Jets linebacker Vernon Gholston, the sixth overall pick in 2008 out of Ohio State who had no sacks over his three-year career.
"We're not necessarily as close as everyone would believe. But I did follow him through high school," Gholston said of Vernon, who is five years older. "I looked up to him so much.
"We both do have the same last name. But I'm William Gholston. That's Vernon Gholston. Two completely different players, two completely different people. And there's only one way to show it."
Gholston smiles when he speaks. He looks interviewers in the eye. On the first weekend in May, he was like a thoroughbred being led into the gate, eager to get started.
"There's a lot more you can put into it yourself," he said. "Not having to go to classes. This is a job, and it's not even like a real job. I get to do what I love to do, and that's play football. I feel like I can only go up."
Bucs general manager Mark Dominik said the team spent a lot of time with Gholston and researched his past, convinced about his bright future.
"I felt Coach (Greg) Schiano and his style and his leadership is everything this kid needs. I think he can thrive here," Dominik said. "That's why I was excited to make the selection. Nervous but excited because I think this is a great home for him."
Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected]y.com and can from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.