TAMPA — It wasn't long after the Bucs drafted receiver Robert Herron when the sixth-round pick shot a text message to past acquaintance and new teammate Dashon Goldson.
"You've got cleats coming your way ASAP," Herron said.
Herron has a 4-year-old promise to keep.
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Growing up in gang-ridden south central Los Angeles, Herron didn't have much.
His dad was in jail. Herron played pee wee flag football because his mom couldn't afford tackle leagues. He never had to sleep on the streets, but he didn't always have his own home.
Soon after he got to high school, his mom couldn't care for him anymore. Herron connected with a cousin through MySpace and showed up at the door of a pseudo-aunt he had never really met.
He had nothing but a backpack of clothes and pair of shoes.
"That was it," said his aunt, Kathy Hales.
Hales threw Herron into sports to keep him out of trouble. In the first track meet he ever ran, Herron blazed through 100 meters in 10.6 seconds.
He started getting serious about football in the summers, when he'd call or text one of his high school coaches, Ivan Stephenson, to ask for a ride to the gym or an 8 a.m. workout.
"I just wanted to see the kid have a chance," said Stephenson, who now serves as Herron's manager.
Stephenson used his connections to take his pupil to train alongside pro athletes to make his NFL dreams more tangible.
And that's where Herron first met Goldson.
The fellow Los Angeles native had just finished his rookie season with the 49ers and was doing offseason conditioning when he saw a teenager working out. The kid was small but fast, and Goldson remembers his drive.
"I just knew he was out there training for a purpose," Goldson said.
Then Goldson glanced down at Herron's feet.
"He's trying to chase his dream," Goldson said, "and he's doing it in tennis shoes."
And that wasn't acceptable. NFL dreams require NFL equipment. Goldson went to his car and came back with a new pair of black and white Nikes.
Goldson gave the cleats to Herron, who thanked him with a promise: When I make it big, I'll return the favor.
Herron didn't need the shoes for long. When he arrived at Wyoming a few months later, the Cowboys gave him a new pair. The ones Goldson gave him have been torn up and lost.
But the shoes helped carry Herron down his road to the NFL. The drills he ran in Goldson's cleats in the summer of 2010 prepared him to make an impact as a freshman receiver and running back at Wyoming despite an academic issue that kept him from joining the team until fall camp.
His versatility and 303 all-purpose yards in that one season under then-offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo must have left a strong impression. Arroyo, now the Bucs' quarterbacks coach, helped encourage Tampa Bay to draft Herron with its final pick.
Herron has a chance to make an impact as a rookie as a slot receiver or punt returner. He spent time doing both over the weekend at the Bucs' three-day rookie camp.
He has already chatted with Goldson in their locker room, and the All-Pro safety gave the rookie some advice: Don't get too emotional, and keep doing the things that got you here.
"It's crazy that we're on the same team right now," Herron said. "From looking up to somebody, now you're playing with him."
And now that they're peers, Herron knows exactly what he has to give to make good on a 4-year-old promise.
A pair of black and white Nikes.
Times staff writer Matt Baker can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @MBakerTBTimes.