TAMPA — Joe Tryon-Shoyinka steered the Toyota sedan slowly and parked it just a few feet from Kenitra Lofton, a single mom in Hillsborough County with six children who tearfully took the keys from the Bucs linebacker.
The car was a gift through a donor to One More Child, a nonprofit organization that helps single moms, foster children, struggling families and survivors of human trafficking.
Lofton had not owned a vehicle since hers was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina in 2005. She was forced to walk everywhere — to work, as well as with her kids to and from school.
Tryon-Shoyinka has partnered with the organization for a couple years but wasn’t prepared for how the moment would affect him.
“She was very thankful, and I had no words,” Tryon-Shoyinka said of the giveaway in August. “It was really emotional for me.
“I didn’t really think it would be emotional. Then I’m in the car and I’m driving it toward her and I see her and I’m like, ‘This is life-changing.’”
‘She made it look easy’
The story is one Tryon-Shoyinka closely identifies with. It was his single mother, Andrea Tryon, who took control of the wheel with a steady hand in raising him and his sister, Julia, in suburban Seattle.
“She made it look easy, but I know it was anything but easy,” Tryon-Shoyinka said. “I never missed any meals, anything like that. She made sure all the essentials were there. She took me to practice or making sure my grandma or uncle got me to practice or picked me up from school. We had a tight-knit family. It was an awesome experience because, being a single mom, that’s hard.”
Money was always tight for Andrea. Joe’s father was gone from the home by the time he was 1. But even though he didn’t have a man in his life every day, his mom gave him a chance to become one.
When she wasn’t working as an executive assistant and later in the mortgage industry, she was transporting her kids to their events. She kept both busy in sports. Joe played football, basketball and baseball. Julia, who is 16 months older, excelled in volleyball and basketball until she joined the orchestra in high school.
“It’s very hard. You never know what you’re going to be able to give your kids, because the paycheck gets stretched very thin,” Andrea said. “So we reached out. There was a lot of community involvement. We worked a lot with the YMCA. Scholarships for daycare. I did a lot of volunteer work ever since the kids were little, because I wanted to give back what the kids were getting.”
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Andrea’s mother and her brother, Erik Tryon, helped with the kids when they could. Erik died in a motocross accident in 2013. A father figure to both kids, it was a profound loss to the family.
Andrea didn’t simply attend her children’s events. She participated in them, as an officer for the youth football league or raising money for the Boys & Girls Club.
“The biggest advice I always tell parents is to be present when you are there,” Andrea said. “So many parents are so distracted with their own drama in their own lives, they tend to not pay attention to the children as much as they need. That’s my thing, when you are there, you have to be present.”
‘What’s your cause?’
The spirit of volunteerism also spread to Joe. As a rookie in 2021, the former Washington Huskies star was just trying to adapt to the NFL as the final pick of the first round. Because of COVID-19, he skipped his final year at Washington to prepare for the draft and missed much of the offseason recovering from knee surgery.
During a break at a radio show, Bucs team reporter Casey Phillips asked Tryon-Shoyinka what awareness he wanted to raise with the NFL’s annual “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign.
I asked, ‘What’s your cause?’ And he said, ‘I don’t really have one yet,’” Phillips said. “I thought, you know, he always talks about his mom, a single mom, and I thought about One More Child.”
Phillips is engaged to Leon Battle, the vice president of strategic partnerships for One More Child.
As Tryon-Shoyinka’s career has ignited on the field as a starting outside linebacker, his relationship with the organization also has blossomed.
The first event he did with One More Child was a back-to-school campaign where kids were given backpacks and supplies. Phillips and Battle planned to accompany Tryon-Shoyinka to meet kids, parents and volunteers when he “just took off,” Phillips said.
“He changed the attitude and vibe of every single person in that room, from the children to the adults,” Phillips said.
“By the end of it, I remember there was one teenager in particular that came in looking a little sullen, wasn’t talking, wasn’t looking at people. And Joe sought that out. He went over, and by the end of it the kid was smiling and they were following each other on Instagram.”
Tryon-Shoyinka shrugs when he is reminded of the way he interacts with kids.
“I see a lot of myself in many of the kids there,” he said. “I try my best just to be that person I needed as a kid.”
Said Julia, ”I feel like, growing up we really didn’t have especially a Black role model. Seeing that figure, someone to look up to as a little kid, is really big. To be able to see that in yourself makes you strive for better.”
On the field, Tryon-Shoyinka is coming off his best game this season, with a sack, a tackle for loss and two quarterback hits against the Falcons. Off the field, he may be having even more of an impact.
“He’s a hero on the field for so many people through high school, college and the pros, yet that isn’t the identity he leads with,” Battle said. “His biggest desire is to show these children they have the potential to be heroes by using their own God-given abilities.”
You know what heroes do? They pay their sister’s medical school tuition and expenses at Washington as part of his four-year, $11.17 million contract.
“I don’t want her to be stressing out about the money part when she’s on the line doing life-saving things,” Joe said. “Let her thrive doing that. She knows I’ve got her.”
Julia was inspired to pursue a career in medicine following her uncle, Erik’s, death. “That’s the way I dealt with that grief,” she said. “I found that in science and just trying to understand better. Hopefully, I can do some research into how we can decrease mortality with trauma. That’s why I went into medicine.”
Andrea, who has joined Joe in a “Mom Strong” campaign, likes to joke that the NFL is the first paying job Joe has ever had, which is true.
It’s afforded her a chance to travel to all the home games and about half of those on the road. Two weeks ago, she was in Tampa and evacuated from her son’s downtown waterfront home with the team to Miami as Hurricane Ian prepared to strike southwest Florida. Last weekend, Andrea accompanied a bunch of volunteers from the Bucs organization to help the Red Cross in Sarasota.
“That was kind of eye-opening, to get a first-hand glimpse from the Red Cross,” Andrea said. “(The hurricane) was devastating.”
But she was there, giving a hand up, not a hand out.
Ask any single mom. You don’t need a car to be driven.
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