When Bucs receiver Eric Page was starring at the University of Toledo, he sometimes ran into a student on campus with a very familiar face: • His mother. • Amy Weemes cut her college career short when she had Page at age 21, dropping out so she could work two jobs and support her two sons. Page said he has never met his biological father, so Weemes served a dual role of doting mother and disciplinarian. • But when Page, 21, received his scholarship, which Weemes called a "godsend," she went back to school, a short drive from their Springfield, Ohio, home to finish her business degree. • Weemes went to all of Page's games and shared several classes with his teammates — but never one with her son. • "I would have definitely got an A in that class," Page said, smiling. • "He would have cheated off me," Weemes joked. "I would have rode his butt."
Not that Page has needed much pushing. Weemes said her son has been extremely driven on a road to the NFL that has included its share of detours.
Page, who is competing for a spot as a kick/punt returner with the Bucs, was an All-America returner at Toledo, where he also finished with the fourth-most receptions in NCAA history (306).
He left after his junior season, expecting to be a mid round pick in 2012. But when Page was not selected, he signed with the Broncos.
Page didn't make it to training camp, tearing an ACL coming down from a catch during a workout at home. He had never been injured and now was staring at an uncertain future.
"That was the toughest part of my life," he said.
Page stayed home with family and rehabbed. He worked out at his high school in Springfield, where, as a teenager, coaches and friends helped him by giving him a place to stay, a ride to practice or money for a camp.
Most of all, he thought about his mother, who used to work part time at a bank and grocery store, struggling to make ends meet.
"Just her drive and her enthusiasm, even though things weren't always good," Page said. "She was just upbeat, and I think that just traveled with me. I tore my ACL and had to stay upbeat about it. I learned from her all my years. It helped me not get low on myself and keep going."
That's what made Thursday's preseason opener so special for Page, finally getting to play in his first NFL game. Page, a speedy 5-foot-10, 180-pounder who signed in April, had a few opportunities in a 44-16 loss to the Ravens. He returned his only kickoff 31 yards and returned punts 8 and 11 yards.
Weemes and Page's grandmother, Iris, who came down from Ohio, were in the stands.
"I couldn't ask for more," Page said. "Coming off the ACL injury, I didn't know how things were going to shake out this year. I'm just blessed to be in this position with Tampa Bay."
Though Page's dad hasn't been a part of his life, his stepdad, Darnell Easterly, has been a father figure. So was his great-grandmother, Nancy, who Weemes said was like the "husband that wasn't there," helping raise Page and younger brother Darnell.
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But Weemes wasn't afraid to make tough decisions. When the Colorado Rockies told her they'd offer Page, also a high school shortstop, $100,000 after his senior year if they drafted him, Weemes said no. That money could be gone in a year, she thought.
"I was worried about that future down the line," Weemes said, "and make sure he had an education."
Weemes got hers, recently graduating from Toledo, a special moment for the family. If Page hadn't left early for the NFL, they might have walked the podium together.
"Back in the day, I remember her working at a bank and a carryout. Now she has a nice little desk job in the school," Page said.
"She's worked her way up. It's a different level, but I'm just trying to follow her. I'm trying to do the same thing she's doing."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at TBTimes_JSmith.