Trey Sermon finds strength faith, family

Natoshia Mitchell lay in her bed in Bayfront Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, watching the Denver Broncos play the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII. The previous day, she had given birth to a baby boy, An’treyon “Trey” Sermon.

“This is going to be you one day,” she remembers telling the 7 pound, 3 ounce boy as she held him up to the TV on Jan. 31, 1999.

Today, 18 years and 215 pounds later, Sermon has become Oklahoma’s featured running back in his freshman year.

The son of a single mother, and the uncle to his sister’s 6-year-old daughter, Sermon has grown up shouldering a lot from a young age. Bearing tattoos with the word “Trust” on his right bicep and “God” on his left, his faith helps with the weight of his life. Giving a prayerful bow each time he scores, Sermon has become a reverend of sorts, turning football into his sanctuary, family and friends into his disciples and Sooner Nation into his congregation.

Unlike the long, often tedious speech given in a church on Sunday, Sermon is a man of few words who typically delivers his message in a palace on Saturday.

“Have faith in God in everything you do, just trust in him,” said Sermon, who has been nicknamed “the minister” and finds strength through faith and family. “Leave it up to him to know everything is going to work out.”

Hardships

Mitchell is a mother who has suffered unmeasurable pain. Experiencing the death of three children, she’s conquered a lifetime of tragedy in her 44 years. Writing an autobiography in 2012, titled “When My Soul Cried,” Mitchell poured out her life, reflecting on abusive relationships, her parents’ deaths and raising two kids on child support.

Through it all, she’s put her kids first and herself second. Mitchell’s toughness and resiliency has made her Sermon’s rock, shaping him into the man he is today.

“I attribute a lot of his success to the strength of his mom,” said Billy Shackelford, Sermon’s coach at Sprayberry High School in Marietta, Georgia. “His mom is a phenomenal lady. She brings both bags of tricks: she’s tough, but also nurturing and loving.”

Her fortitude has become his motivation.

“It’s really inspiring because she did go through a lot and just to see how strong she was, it kind of makes me want to be just as strong as her and to be able to support her whenever she needs it,” Sermon said.

Raising both Sermon and his older sister, Oneisha, for the majority of their lives as a single parent, Mitchell says she always tried to do what was best for her children. Sermon and his family moved multiple times when he was child, before eventually ending up in Georgia when he was 11-years-old.

The move was tough on Sermon he says, but his mom demanded a better life for her kids.

“I wanted something different for them. I wanted them to see life other than Florida. So I just stepped out on faith and brought them here,” says Mitchell, who now works as a financial analyst at Parallon after going back to school for her degree in 2005. “I stopped everything in my life and just focused on both my kids.”

Revival

Coming to OU as an early enrollee, Sermon has always had a niche for exceeding expectations. At just 5, Mitchell signed Sermon up to play flag football. Having the tendency to tackle more than pull flags, Sermon soon was forced to play tackle with older kids.

During his time in Georgia, Sermon ranked as one of the top prospects in the prospect-rich state. However, Sermon stayed humble, not forgetting his roots.

Two years after moving to Georgia, Sermon’s sister, Oneisha, had a baby girl. At 13-years-old he became a father figure to little Amia, helping anyway he could.

“She (Amia) loves him,” Oneisha said, who attends Kennesaw State in Georgia. “When he left, it was very devastating for her. She’s adjusted to it now, but he’s a really big help especially when it comes to disciplining her. Whatever I need he always has my back. You would think they were brother and sister. He’s been there since day one for her.”

Sermon, who’s dad still lives in St. Petersburg, continued to emerge as a standout player at Sprayberry, rushing for more than 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior. His decision to attend Oklahoma wasn’t easy, with schools closer to home such as Georgia, Alabama and Florida bidding for his commitment.

“He felt like it was home,” Shackelford said of Sermon’s decision to come to Norman. “They were jovial, they loved on him, they teased him and gave him a hard time. Those players and coaches did a phenomenal job recruiting him.”

Sermon is 852 miles from Marietta, but his family understands his decision to chase his dream.

“It was tough in the beginning because we’ve never been apart,” Mitchell said. “But I knew he was going for his dream and knew he was happy, so I was happy.”

Balancing the struggles of everyday life and football stardom, Sermon flipped the script, becoming the superhero his mom has for so long been to him.

Success

Sermon has burst onto the scene in his first season, leading the Sooners in carries, rushing yards and tied for the most rushing touchdowns. He’s Oklahoma’s new workhorse, walking in the footsteps of Sooner legends like Billy Sims, Adrian Peterson, DeMarco Murray and recently Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. Stepping into that role — especially helping to fill the void left by Mixon and Perine’s departures to the NFL after last season — doesn’t faze Sermon.

“He’s an overachiever, he sets the bar high,” Mitchell said. “It doesn’t surprise me.”

Not even half way through the season, Sermon has made his presence felt.

“That’s a grown man,” defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo said after Sermon’s late game heroics resurrected OU at Baylor. “You all saw him. (Defenders) bouncing off him, spinning off, (he’s) getting extra yards — he’s not playing like a freshman right now.”

But despite those high expectations and praise, Sermon has remained humble. His calm demeanor and soft spoken personality off the field counter his loud, tenacious play on the field. His style takes bits and pieces from former OU greats. He’s patient like Mixon, physical like Perine and quick like Murray. He say he mirrors his game after Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, critiquing his craft any chance he gets.  

His faithful work continues off the field, too, where Sermon’s become a member of Everlasting Baptist Church in Norman. Almost every other day, Sermon talks to his mom over the phone, and before every game they read Scriptures, praying together.

“I’ve always told him be true to yourself and always be honest with yourself, and with that strength will come,” Mitchell said.

Having to watch him the majority of the time on TV, Mitchell and Oneisha have made only one game — UTEP — but it’s a game Sermon will never forget.

“It was really big for me,” Sermon said. “For her to come all the way out there and see me play in my first college game, it was a really big moment.”

It might have been just the first in a series of big moments to come, each realizing a dream his mother had for him 18 years ago.

“Trey always wanted to be that kid that made me proud,” Mitchell said. “I’ve cried tears of joy. To see him live out something he said he wanted to do at a young age…

“It’s special to me.”

 

Q&A: How Riley Eden balances school and his dreams

Most college students have a job, some even have two.  But Riley Eden is not your average college student. He has two part-time jobs on top of owning an ice cream shop in Edmond, Oklahoma that employs 20 people with special needs.

The University of Oklahoma public relations major has had the dream of opening an ice cream shop for a while, and now owns and operates “The Super Scoop.” The shop has exceeded all expectations, welcoming visitors from all across the country. Now in his third year of college and fourth month of owning his dream business, 21-year-old Eden is trying to find balance between school and his goals.

George Stoia: When and how did this idea of “The Super Scoop” first originate?

Riley Eden: My Sunday school was the inspiration for it, my Sunday school class. It’s a class for adults with special needs at Crossings Community Church. We have “Wings” in Edmond, which is a community for adults with special needs. It’s a day program where they go and do different jobs at different locations throughout the day such as learning how to email on a computer or learning to do their laundry, mow their yard, clean dishes, make food — stuff like that. So we have that, but we have a lack of job opportunities, like actual real work places instead of modified work environments for people with special needs, and so it was a need that I saw. Just by getting to know the people I saw in Sunday school class, that’s just kind of how it got started — just seeing a need and trying to fulfill that.

GS: Why ice cream?

RE: It originally was going to be coffee. But to be successful, you have to have knowledge of your product a little bit, and I don’t really know a ton about coffee — I’ve never been a big coffee drinker. Every now and then I will, but not like every day, but I do eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner — I’m joking. But no, ice cream is a thing where it’s been around for a long time. Coffee is easy to make too, but ice cream is hard to mess up. That was another need that I saw. Downtown Edmond and the surrounding areas didn’t really have a local ‘mom-and-pop’ ice cream store — a small town ice cream store. There are coffee shops around, but not small ice cream shops. And it’s really easy to make, it’s easy to keep up with for the most part. When you’re as popular as our store has been, it’s really hard to keep up with quantity and stuff, but ice cream is something easy for people with special needs to deal with as well. They can scoop it, a lot of them can make it, (and) so that’s why I chose ice cream.

GS: What have been the biggest challenges you and the business have faced so far?

RE: The first three weeks we were open were the three hardest weeks of my life. The first three weeks of Super Scoop it was really fun and I was living it up you know, but it was really, really hard because of how busy we were. Just keeping up with all the logistics and everything. That was a big challenge that we faced. During those three weeks, we were making ice cream constantly all day from — my mom would go up there at seven or eight and starting making ice cream, and then would make it all day until we closed basically to keep up with how much ice cream we were selling. That was some of the big challenges we faced, just keeping up with logistics.

GS: How do you balance that? School and owning/running a business?

RE: It’s definitely difficult. My parents help me more than I could ever express or thank them enough for. They’re a big help, and my little brothers. My little brothers — if I need something, they’re over at the store in hardly no time. So that’s a big thing, and another thing is I work as a tour guide at OU and I work at Apple as well. Those are things that my parents have been willing to sacrifice their time to allow me to achieve those dreams as well. Working at Apple has always been a dream of mine, so just basically family and friends helping me through the whole thing is really the best way to put it.

GS: This has obviously taken a lot of your time and commitment. How important is it to you to keep the Super Scoop going?  

RE: It’s critical. If we for some reason stopped the Super Scoop, we’d be putting 20 people with special needs out of a job, and that would kind of lose hope of having another location or anything like that, which eventually is something I’d like to work toward to create as many jobs as we can. So I feel like that would kind of take that away if that was the case.

GS: What’s been your favorite part so far?

RE: Definitely just the joy of the Super Scoop. Seeing the special needs people accomplish everything they’re accomplishing, and just trying to mold to a work environment that hasn’t been modified — working in a real ice cream shop and all that kind of stuff.

GS: What’s the future hold for Super Scoop?

RE: My goals are to have more locations and create more jobs, and that kind of thing. Who knows what direction were headed for now. That’s my goal, to be able to have more locations and stuff like that. As well as being mobile and getting out in the community, and being able to go to people instead of them having to come to us. Maybe having like a truck or something like that, I’m not sure yet.

GS: And for Riley Eden?

RE: My goal, personally, would to be to make sure the Super Scoop stays a success and then to be able to achieve my own dreams at the same time. The Super Scoop is one of several dreams that I have, so I’m just kind of going down the list right now, and being able to achieve all those dreams would be awesome.

Essay: My cool aunt

BY GEORGE STOIA, JMC3023

My aunt always gave the best Christmas presents.

Each year, I always anticipated something special, but I’ll never forget what she got me in 2007. I was 11, and my excitement grew every second, wondering what was coming this time around. I finished opening my presents from my parents and siblings and prepared to make my favorite trip of the year — the 45-minute drive from Tulsa to Bartlesville to see my aunt, and 20 other relatives.

I passed the time in the car listening to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” while playing the guessing game with my little brother, a game we played every year, about what our aunt got us. As we arrived at our grandma’s small red house on Fleetwood Place, a sudden warmth came over my body as I saw my aunt’s red Mazda CX7 sitting in the driveway. I walked in the door of my father’s old home, hearing a familiar voice yell my least favorite nickname from across the room.

“Georgie!” my aunt yelled as she ran to give me a hug.

For a split second, I didn’t care about what she got me for Christmas or that she added an “i” to my name. I didn’t care because I was back with my best friend — my Aunt Tooter.

That evening I unwrapped an oddly shaped present from her to find a lime green skateboard with black stripes, which could also transform into a scooter. I immediately attempted to ride the skateboard, failing miserably. I never learned how to ride, nor did I care to learn, but man that thing was cool.

Now 10 years later, and three years after her diagnosis of Frontotemporal Degeneration Dementia (FTD), I can bear to be with the woman I once adored for only five minutes. She’s no longer the woman I once knew. In fact sometimes I don’t even recognize her.

***

FTD is a rare form of Alzheimer’s usually diagnosed to middle age men and women, slowly taking over the victim’s brain. The average victim has a life expectancy of 7-8 years.

Before, Tooter could make an empty room feel cramped with her contagious laugh. She was the voice of every family discussion, usually validating her dislike for Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones. She always had something to say, no matter the topic.

Today, we consider it a good day if she mutters a word.

Working as a marketing executive for AT&T in San Antonio for the majority of her life, she was a massive Spurs fan, and loved her Sooners. A former softball player at OU, she bought football season tickets each year, making sure she made the trip to Norman six Saturdays each fall.

Today, she sometimes doesn’t even get out of bed.

Buying my older sister her first cellphone in fifth grade without my dad’s knowledge, Tooter was the cool uncle my siblings and I never had. She was the first person I called when my parents wouldn’t buy me a phone in middle school, telling her I was buying the first ticket to San Antonio to live with her instead.

Today, I can barely build up the courage to drive 45 minutes to visit her.

***

I wish she could see the man I’ve become today. I’ll never forget not being able to tell her when I was accepted to OU or when I covered the softball national championship or when I attended the OU-Ohio State game. She’s missed so much of my life — a life she cared dearly about.

When I see her today, I don’t see the woman that I so admired. I don’t see the woman who surprised me at my junior high football game. I don’t see the woman who dared me to ride the “Steel Eel” roller coaster at SeaWorld when I was barely tall enough. I don’t see the woman who convinced my dad to buy me my first phone. I don’t see the woman who promised to take me to New York when I graduated from high school.

I don’t see the woman who bought me that lime green skateboard in 2007.

I see a woman who doesn’t know who I am. A woman who can’t speak. A woman who needs help going to the bathroom. A woman who has gone through depression. A woman who has been diagnosed with one of the rarest forms of Alzheimer’s known to man.

A woman who I still love.

I used to ignore the fact that my aunt would never be the same. I’d brush it off like it was no big deal. I’ve watched my family be torn apart about what to do with everyone’s favorite relative. I’ve watched my dad struggle day-in and day-out, trying to find a solution to why his little sister is the way she is.

There was a point where I didn’t want to see her — I didn’t want to face reality.

But that woman is still my hero: the person I aspire to be. I can no longer ignore my aunt or the obstacles she faces because I know if we were to switch places, she would make that 45-minute drive to see me.