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Violence surrounded Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie Brian Price

TAMPA — The tiny house in South Central Los Angeles was even more crowded than usual when Brian Price sat in front of the television for the second day of the NFL draft.

When the name of the UCLA defensive tackle was called as the 35th overall pick by the Buccaneers, the 6-foot-2, 303-pounder disappeared under a mountain of flesh and was bathed in tears and kisses from six older sisters, his mother and father. It was like being mobbed by an emptying dugout on the pitcher's mound after a strikeout to win the World Series.

"That moment, when it happened, well, I'll never see anything like that again," said agent Chuck Price (no relation). "Everything came together for this family.

"Something good finally happened to them."

Price's older brothers weren't there. They are buried close to each other in Inglewood Park Cemetery.

But they are never far from Price's heart. On his left shoulder is a tattoo of three wolves. The one representing him is shaded. The two transparent ones are for his brothers, whose lives were ended by gunfire.

Football kept the streets from swallowing Price the way the gangs and guns claimed so many friends and family members.

But he didn't play to escape the violence even though it will provide a path to fulfilling his wildest dreams.

"If I didn't have football, I'd still have God and my family," Price said. "That's what I do this for, for my family. I give God all the glory and praise because He deserves it."

Seven years ago, Damon Price, 24, was shot in the back of the head by a friend sitting in the backseat as he drove his car down Crenshaw Boulevard. Apparently, it was retaliation because Damon wouldn't pay the gang that took him in after he was sent to prison for robbery. Damon had been recruited by and joined the Rollin' 30's Crips. But after his release from prison, he tried to go straight.

What really bothered Price was his brother's killer was someone they invited into their home for dinner, who slept in their beds.

Five years earlier, Eddie Price, 18, was killed in a drive-by shooting intended for the girl he was walking to a bus stop. She was shot four times and lived, but Eddie died on the corner a block from his house.

Damon was in prison at the time and believed the shooting might not have happened other­wise. He was street smart. He moved out of his family's house after his release from prison so they wouldn't be targeted.

"In a two-week span, there were like 30 people that got killed on the corner where my brother got killed," Price said. "Growing up there just opened your eyes to a lot. We were so marginalized there. It's like a lot of people from there never get out."

Eddie's killer got 83 years in prison. Damon's killer was shot shortly after he killed Damon but was not apprehended in a case that hasn't been solved.

But how could Price not think he would be next?

The deaths of his brothers took its toll on Price. For a while, his grades dropped and he wondered if he would live long enough to realize his dream of playing pro football.

Certainly, his parents worried. With only one son remaining, who could have blamed them for locking him in his room and surrounding it with barbed wire?

But eventually, Price told his folks what he had learned in church all those Sundays when they might have thought he wasn't listening. He fears no evil. He walks with the Lord.

"My mom always told me to be careful," said Price, who turned 21 last month. "But I told her being careful is living in fear, and I don't want to live in fear. I'd rather be wise and make wise decisions. That's what I did. I had my mom and dad there along the way to help me and guide me through and become the man I am today."

Price's parents couldn't prevent the tragedies that took their sons, but they have devoted their lives to helping in the community. Frank works as a security guard in an office building from midnight to 8 a.m. but still finds time and energy to coach softball and football at Crenshaw High, where he also coaches the junior varsity defense.

Jeanetta works in Watts at a walk-in clinic for people fighting addiction. Business is rarely slow.

Price already was a youth football league star and destined for stardom at Crenshaw when Damon died. His team won the city championship when he was a senior, and he was named Coliseum League MVP two years in a row.

He was heavily recruited and chose UCLA over USC after his visit to the Bruins' Westwood campus.

It was an environment unworldly to him: lavish houses; lush, green lawns; people strolling carefree on the sidewalks. Here was a place without bars on the windows and where people could sit on their front porch.

"I didn't even know a place like that existed," Price said. "It was like a whole new world to me."

Not that Price forgot where he came from. He doesn't consider himself as someone who "escaped." The NFL has taken him nearly 3,000 miles from home, but his thoughts are always with the neighborhood and the people who endure there.

He still returns to Crenshaw High to work with players and gives his time freely to motivate them to follow his footsteps.

"It made me who I am today," Price said of growing up near Crenshaw. "I love South Central."

Giving back was instilled in him at an early age. He still works in his mother's church on Thanksgiving, serving dinners to the homeless. He hopes to form a foundation called Dream Catchers to help young adults achieve positive pursuits.

Following his first rookie minicamp practice Friday, Price surveyed the shoes on his feet that stood on another pristine patch of emerald grass. He fumbled with the collar on his practice jersey that bears the NFL shield. He held his Bucs helmet closer to his face and smiled.

"It really hasn't hit me yet," Price said. "I've had this dream since I was younger. Being here, this was a goal for me. I have a lot more. I don't like falling short of my goals."

Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud@sptimes.com.

Violence surrounded Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie Brian Price 05/01/10 [Last modified: Sunday, May 2, 2010 12:41am]

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