MIAMI — Patricia Webster went to her boss a month ago with a list of requested days off, including all of this coming week in full anticipation of her son Kayvon playing in the Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos.
The boss raised an eyebrow, not at the number of days she wanted off but reminding her that the Broncos were going to lose to the Patriots.
Sure enough, Webster is in his second Super Bowl in three NFL seasons, in part because of his mother's hard work and her confidence to bet on her son's future, to expect and embrace what many would say is unexpected success.
"I don't even have words for what I really feel," his mother said last week, excited to watch her son play for a championship in Santa Clara, Calif. "I can't even explain it without crying. For my kid, somebody I birthed, to get to go two times in three years. … For him to get a ring, I might have to take a couple days off work, just from the joy."
She knows how fortunate he is to be playing in a second Super Bowl at 24. She has lived her whole life in Miami, where Dan Marino made the Super Bowl in his second season but lost, then never made it back again.
Webster's good fortune goes back to his childhood, as he grew up amid poverty in the Opa-Locka and Carol City neighborhoods of northwest Miami. There were times where the family had to stay with his maternal grandmother, Eula Lawson, with as many as 17 people in a four-bedroom house.
"I used it as motivation, because I didn't want to have my family grow up just like that," Webster said. "I wanted to do more. As I got older, I got a vision."
Lawson cleaned trains for Amtrak for 30 years to keep her family afloat, and her daughter followed suit. Patricia was 19 when Kayvon was born, putting college plans on hold. But after three sons, she went back to school, getting her undergraduate and master's degrees and a good job at Humana selling insurance.
The job offered nearly unlimited overtime, and during Kayvon's freshman year of high school, a football teammate took him to Monsignor Pace, a private Catholic school in Miami Gardens. The school offered him a better education and coaches and teachers who would mentor him, but the tuition was about $900 a month. His mother took on the extra hours to pay the added bill, sometimes working from 7 a.m. to 10 or 11 at night, in addition to his father Paul's full-time job.
Webster thrived at Pace, both academically and in football and track. But seeing the long hours his mother was working, he went to school officials before Christmas his sophomore year.
"He told them, 'Y'all are trying to kill my mother. She cannot do this,' " Patricia said, and Kayvon told administrators he would leave Pace rather than see his mother continue to work the long days. "He was willing to do that. He doesn't know they told me that. They called me and made some arrangements where the tuition dropped a little bit."
Fast enough to win a state championship in the 4x100-meter relay in track, Webster was a coveted football recruit as a cornerback and chose USF over hometown Miami. He shined with the Bulls — when USF got a huge win at Notre Dame in 2011, Webster returned a fumble 96 yards for a touchdown. He graduated in four years with a degree in health science and had the luck to be drafted by the Broncos, letting him learn under a future Hall of Famer, cornerback Champ Bailey.
Two years ago as a rookie, Webster was practically a spectator in his first Super Bowl, playing only four snaps on special teams. When Denver changed coaches after last season, he wasn't sure if he'd still have a job with the team. But he carved out a role for himself — in last week's AFC Championship Game against the Patriots, he played 45 snaps, including 25 on special teams.
His mother broke out in tears before that game, not realizing he would walk to midfield for the coin toss as a team captain. The week before he had been given a game ball — which he gave to his mother — for his role in kick coverage, leaping into the end zone and flipping the ball over his head to down a punt at the 3-yard line, setting up an early field goal.
Webster has in turn inspired more to follow in his path, starting in his own family. His brother Paul, less than a year younger, played college football at Minnesota-Crookston, and his brother Khalil at Clarion University; his youngest brother, Antione, will sign scholarship papers next week, perhaps at Massachusetts.
"He's such a phenomenal kid," said his mother, who now lives a few miles north in Miramar. "All my children are such great kids, all work hard at their own level. For Kayvon to make it to the place he thought about as a kid is amazing. That's my kid right there! He's always going to be my kid."
The Webster children always had a high bar set from Patricia and Paul Sr. Once they graduated high school, they were going to college or the Army. "Pick a school or pick a service," she told them. "We're not raising kids to just sit in the house."
To keep them away from the violence and crime in the neighborhoods around them, they had no down time — if it wasn't football, it was baseball, basketball, track, even karate. "They hated karate," she remembers. "Oh, Lord, they didn't like it at all. I always had them in something, kept them busy all the time."
Valarie Lloyd, who taught Webster at Pace and is now a dean of students there, has photos of him on her office wall, both from Pace and in his Broncos uniform.
"He was a leader, everywhere," said Lloyd, who has flown to Colorado twice to see Webster play with the Broncos. "You knew he was special. … To see that speed, that burst, you knew then he possessed something that put him over the top. But the way he handled himself, you knew he was doing everything he needed to do to achieve his dreams."
His mother points to Webster's work ethic, more than his football success, as what inspired his brothers to earn college scholarships.
"He works when everybody else is sleeping. His mind is always on 'How do I get better,' " she said. "So many doors were opened just by him doing the right thing. He paved the way for them. All they had to do was wake up in the morning and follow his path."
Webster has done that at Pace — he has come back to campus to talk to students during stops home, and just representing their school and hometown in the Super Bowl is inspiring in itself.
"Tremendously," said Anthony Walker, who coached Webster in football and track and is now a dean of students at Pace. "The kids just flock to him, listening to his every word. They've heard the Kayvon Webster stories … the kids who have come through the program and now are able to give back. He was the model kid when he was here."
Webster said so many people have helped him along the way — "My mom always made sacrifices, and that's where I got some of my traits from" — but for him, success starts in staying focused and staying positive, no matter the circumstances.
"I think you have to have a strong mind," Webster said. "You have to have the things you want to accomplish, and once you make that a priority, you control the things you can control, stay prayerful, giving thanks, all those things you want to accomplish are right in front of you."
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.