By his own admission, Tyrell Mims was a “scrawny” basketball player who decided to try football for something other than love of the sport.
“My basketball coach told me to play football so I could be more physical in basketball,” Mims said.
He was out of his element as a seventh grader trying the game for the first time with the Mt. Airy Bantoms. He was nothing special as a freshman playing for Martin Luther King High, either.
“He had a long way to go,” said King head coach Malik Jones, who was the Cougars’ defensive-backs coach that season.
Wednesday, Mims’ unusual path to college football reached a significant milestone in the library of Parkway Northwest High, where the 5-foot-11, 175-pound athlete signed a national letter of intent to attend Villanova on a full scholarship.
As a Parkway Northwest student, Mims played football for Martin Luther King, and he registered 17 interceptions in his final three seasons as a smart and savvy defensive back.
“He was like a player-coach on the field,” Jones said.
Rasheedah Mims said her son usually is shy, especially in public. But Tyrell Mims seemed comfortable in the spotlight Wednesday, shouting out to old friends and teammates, thanking his coaches and teachers, posing for dozens of photos with a smile that never left his face.
Mims’ feelings for Jones were evident when the player and coach locked in a long embrace, with tears rolling down the teenager’s face.
“I knew the tears were coming,” Rasheedah Mims said. “This is a dream come true for him.”
Tyrell Mims had special praise for his family, especially his mother and stepfather, Ronald Conner, as well as his grandmother, Inga Mims.
His 12-year-old sister, Taliyah, was at middle school. But he said she’s never far from his mind.
“I’ve always tried to lead her by example,” Mims said.
The 18-year-old dressed for the occasion, wearing a white shirt and silver tie. He had to dig deep in his closet to find the outfit.
“This guy, all he wants to wear is sweatpants,” Rasheedah Mims said.
Tyrell Mims’ road to a college scholarship wasn’t smooth. He said he lost several friends to the streets around Haines and Morton in the Germantown section of the city. He missed regular interaction with his father, who is serving a prison sentence.
“This is a lot,” Mims said, reflecting on his path. “I lost a lot of friends. My dad is incarcerated, and I’ve tried to make him proud.
“I tried to stay out of the way. I had a lot of older guys around my way who led me in the right path, and especially my mom. I dedicated myself to doing the right things, especially for my little sister.”
Rasheedah Mims said her son always has been determined to make positive decisions.
“He’s been a great son, made this mom thing easy for me all his life,” Rasheedah Mims said.
Tyrell Mims still thought of himself as a basketball player who was dabbling in football during his freshman year, when he played mostly for King’s junior varsity. He was called up to the big squad when a senior cornerback was unavailable play vs. Ben Franklin.
“I didn’t like to like to tackle, wasn’t aggressive,” Mims said. “We’re playing Franklin and the running back came out of the backfield and I don’t even want to say what happened next: He kept running, and I was on the ground.
“That’s when I told myself, ‘That will never happen again.’ ”
Mims said he became enamored with attending Villanova during a lengthy recruiting process.
“Villanova is not a school that will just throw you an offer,” Mims said. “They evaluate you, spend some time with your family, see about your grades, SATs.
“I’m like, ‘If they are that serious about me, I know that’s where I want to be.’ ”
Jones raves about Mims’ development as a player and person.
“He’s just an amazing kid,” Jones said.
The coach and player have spent countless hours together on the field, in the weight room, at a Planet Fitness facility on Germantown Avenue.
“He used to pick me up around 2 o’clock in the morning, take me to Planet Fitness, then take me home so I could get a shower, and then he would drive me to school,” Mims said. “Then we would work out together after school.
“We put in so much time. But it all paid off.”