Bucs assistant Jon Embree connects with Rae Carruth's 17-year-old son

Published Oct. 10, 2016

Chancellor Lee's father left him for dead in the middle of the night. The man drove away, thinking he was done with the inconvenience of an unborn child.

He didn't hear the screams of his girlfriend on the 911 call on Nov. 16, 1999. "I'm eight months pregnant, please help," Cherica Adams said, sobbing and in excruciating pain after four bullets ripped through her abdomen.

Adams was induced into a coma after the attack and died a month later in a Charlotte, N.C., hospital, a few hours after she was taken off life support. Chancellor Lee was with his mommy, nestled on her chest, before she took her last breath. As the machines were rendered useless, her vitals spiked considerably. She knew.

Chancellor Lee Adams lost his mother, but he never has been alone. Tragedy marked the beginning of his life. Triumph has defined the next 17 years.

The bullets did heavy damage. Chancellor Lee was born 10 weeks' premature with cerebral palsy and other physical issues, because he was deprived of oxygen for 70 minutes before an emergency Cesarean section.

But nothing could kill the human spirit in Chancellor Lee or his maternal grandmother, Saundra Adams. Cherica's mom took him in and raised Chancellor Lee as her very own.

Except for two brief interactions, Chancellor Lee never has met his father, once a famous football player with the Carolina Panthers. Chancellor Lee hardly speaks but understands things very well. He has an affinity for football and is expected to accompany his grandmother to the Monday Night Football game when the Panthers host the Bucs.

This is where family comes into play. Chancellor Lee is loved by many, including those who knew his father for something other than a monster. They include Bucs tight ends coach Jon Embree, who coached Rae Carruth, Chancellor Lee's father, for a year at the University of Colorado.

Chancellor Lee and Saundra will go to the game in Charlotte as guests of Embree. He isn't trying to be a father figure or make any apologies for Carruth's deplorable behavior. He is simply there for Chancellor Lee and Saundra, doing whatever he can to make their lives easier.

It is a simple gift, yet one of great significance.

"I'm glad God bought somebody in my life who has influence," Saundra Adams said. "Chancellor looks up to him, maybe not like dad but a close uncle."

Embree, Tampa Bay's tight ends coach since 2014, reached out to Adams after watching an HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel special on the bond between Saundra and Chancellor Lee in 2012.

It started as a conversation among strangers, but there was an instant affinity that stretched from Colorado to Charlotte at the time.

Embree knew another side of Chancellor's father, back in the day. He remembers Rae Carruth as a guy who got his degree in English, graduating on time. A guy who in the spring of his senior year, showed up at the birthday party of a kid who had met him one day and said he was his favorite Colorado player. He came with a present, too.

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Embree remembers a guy, who, after he became the Panthers' first-round draft pick as a wide receiver in 1997, would come back to football camps and wait until all the kids were picked for teams. He then would take all the castaways and put them on his team, and then buy them pizza, subs and ice cream during those summer days.

"He had a heart for those kids," Embree said. "That's what makes this even more tragic. Because I really believe he would have been a tremendous dad."

Carruth barely has acknowledged his son. He did stop by the hospital for a brief visit on that infamous night. Saundra Adams spent hours trying to contact him before he finally came. He brought another girlfriend to the hospital. He marveled at how much he looked like him, especially his gangly frame.

Carruth had another visit with his son when Chancellor Lee was almost a year old. By then, Carruth was on trial and later would be convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, shooting into an occupied vehicle and using an instrument to destroy an unborn child. (He was acquitted of a first-degree murder charge.) When he was told he couldn't take pictures, Carruth sent the kid back after 10 minutes. He wanted him as a prop for a sympathetic photo op.

Police had pieced together the crime thanks to details given by Cherica before she was induced into a coma. Carruth went on the lam and eventually was captured in the trunk of another woman's car, with $3,900 in cash and bottles holding urine.

He was sent to prison in January 2001 for his role in hiring a hitman to kill Cherica. She was following him in her car after a movie date when he suddenly stopped. Van Brett Watkins, the hired hit man, then sprayed her with bullets after he pulled alongside Cherica's car. Carruth wanted her dead because she refused to have an abortion. He didn't want to be burdened with child-support payments.

Rae Carruth's burden has become Saundra Adams' gift. Doctors didn't have high hopes for Chancellor Lee. They didn't know whether he would walk. He barely could sit up. Talk? Probably not. They told her to brace herself because he may not live beyond his teenage years.

Chancellor Lee has defied all expectations. Much like his mother, he is a fighter.

Embree has seen that going on four years now. The relationship grows stronger since the first time Saundra and Chancellor Lee went to Colorado to participate in Buffs4Life charitable endeavors. Embree, who started the nonprofit organization in 2006, holds a golf tournament and auxiliary events annually to raise money for his organization. Some of that money is earmarked for Saundra and Chancellor Lee.

"Man, this kid is tough," Embree said. "He's competitive. There are a lot of things they said he wouldn't do. When he first came out, he was using a wheelchair. Next year, he was using a walker. This past year, he was walking on his own and just had the walker so when he got tired, he would have somewhere to sit.

"The heart that this kid has and the love she provides for him, it just shows you the human spirit, when it's nourished right, there's a lot we can accomplish."

Humans aren't supposed to have super powers. But you might want to meet with Saundra Adams before making any definitive statements.

She's a cross between a saint and a superhero. She forgave Carruth for his sins years ago. She can't harbor hate for Carruth because the young boy she loves dearly looks so much like him. Every time she sees Chancellor Lee, she sees Rae Carruth. Love trumps hate.

"I have a constant reminder every day right in your face of Rae Carruth," Adams said. "Every day."

She pushes forward with the help of others, including Embree.

Carruth, 42, is scheduled to be released on Oct. 22, 2018. He has yet to apologize for, nor own up to, anything. Yet Saundra Adams wants to arrange a meeting between Carruth and his son. If he declines, so be it, but she wants to give him that opportunity. They are flesh and blood, bound by tragedy.

Embree wants to try to help if he can. He is one of the few men who can bridge those barriers. He is hopeful there is still some good in Carruth, a good that will allow him to be a man and honor his son.

"I would feel bad for Rae if he didn't, because he's missing out on a relationship that would be an incredible gift that just happens to be your son," Embree said.

A gift delivered by tragedy. A spiritual woman through and through, Saundra Adams would be the first to tell you that the Lord indeed does work in mysterious ways.