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Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Wyche making best of second chance

By Blair Angulo

MONTEREY PARK, Calif. -- Nothing can wipe the smile off Michael Wyche's face nowadays.

Not the fact that his mother passed away this year after a battle with cancer. Not that his father is less than halfway through a 40-year prison term. Not that he’s about 2,700 miles from his 7-month-old daughter, Sky'mariah.

No, the East Los Angeles College defensive tackle flashed his smile whenever possible during a recent practice as the sun beamed down on Weingart Stadium. The native of Chesapeake, Va. giggled when coaches jokingly questioned his punctuality, grinned at the thought of post-workout Mexican food and laughed when he was asked what he thinks of the Los Angeles area.

USC juco DT commit Michael Wyche overcame a difficult childhood to be on the verge of earning a scholarship to a Division I university.
“C’mon, man, it’s the city of big dreams,” the 6-foot-4, 325-pound Wyche said. “When I first got out here, I knew it didn’t get any bigger than this.”

So big, in fact, that Wyche has made plans to stay in town a little while longer. Just moments after landing a scholarship offer from USC earlier this month, the fast-rising juco prospect committed to the Trojans. It was a sequence he never imagined, so he smiled and cried at the same time while visiting campus.

“Man, it was big for me to even go to junior college,” Wyche said. “They threw me a big ole party for just going to junior college. That’s how bad it was back home. I was my mother’s first child to graduate high school. Nobody saw this coming.

“So when I was sitting in front of Lane Kiffin, I think he really knew how much this meant to me,” Wyche continued. “Honestly, I didn’t think I’d make it. But when I got to high school, I realized I liked this thing called success. I like the way it feels. I want to keep going.”

Not long ago, achievements seemed impossible. Wyche’s mother was on the wrong path herself, at one point leaving her only son alone with a group of strangers. He and his sisters bounced around from homeless shelter to homeless shelter. Looking to protect himself, Wyche acquired his first gun when he was 12 years old.

Before immersing himself in football, Wyche manned the corner of Commerce Avenue and Liberty Street in his hometown, selling drugs near the railroad tracks that connect Chesapeake and nearby Norfolk. Without a father figure to lean on, he struggled to separate himself from trouble.

If not for a run-in with an undercover police officer one night, Wyche doesn’t know where he’d be now.

“Actually, my pants were falling down, so that's how the cop caught me,” Wyche said. “My pants were coming down, so I was readjusting them and I took out the gun. He comes by and flashes a light on me. Boom.”

The police officer gave Wyche a break, telling him to lose the .44 Magnum he was holding. It was a life-altering incident.

After graduating from high school, Wyche arrived at Santa Clarita (Calif.) College of the Canyons and played there two seasons ago. He returned home to attend to personal matters before enrolling at East Los Angeles College.

“I’m a late bloomer and my grades weren’t right,” he said. “Going to junior college worked out for me. It’s crazy because I should have been in jail, for real. It’s been a ride for me. I’m just blessed to be in this position. ... It was meant for me to come here. I just can’t wait to get to USC.”

East Los Angeles College coach Steve Mojarro said Oregon has been one of the schools to swing by to see Wyche work out since the under-the-radar tackle gave the Trojans his verbal pledge. Wyche intends to graduate this winter and enroll at USC in time for spring practice. He will have two years to play two seasons, though he might be granted an extra year of eligibility if the NCAA approves a hardship waiver he filed due to his mother's battle with cancer.

As for the Trojans, Wyche’s commitment was important given that they signed only one defensive lineman, Kenny Bigelow, in the 2013 recruiting class. Bodies are needed up front, and Wyche recognized that when speaking to assistant coach Ed Orgeron.

“I think I’m a good run stopper,” Wyche said. “I want to be one of those big guys that runs 30 yards down field and they’re like, ‘Why is he downfield?’ I play my heart out there.”

And though a permanent smile might suggest otherwise, Wyche carries a lot of weight with him, too.

Wyche intends to describe his trials in a book he’s writing titled, “The Come Up.” The massive lineman hopes there are many happy chapters left to be written.

“I’m trying to see how this story is will end,” Wyche said, smiling.