ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – ** On Sept. 9, 2009, Rochelle Knighton's dream came true.
When she was pregnant with Terrance Knighton, she dreamt that he would play in the NFL. In the dream, her future son was running around with a football and she asked him where he was going and his answer was simple: "The NFL."
Nine months pregnant with the future NFL player, Rochelle walked across the stage of her high school graduation with a huge belly. Her classmates called her "the Michelin Tire girl."
She was just 18 years old when she gave birth to Terrance on the Fourth of July in 1986.
It's said that it takes a whole village to raise a child. In Knighton's case, it took three women: Rochelle; his grandmother, Martha Gates; and his aunt, Regina Knighton. These three women molded a future NFL playmaker and a genuine, honest man.
"It gave me a different perspective on what women go through and also gave me more respect for women and my mom was young when she had me," Terrance said of his childhood. "We didn't have everything growing up. She [Rochelle] worked a lot, she was trying to go to school so my grandmother and my aunt helped out a lot. It's all boys, really. I have a cousin that's a boy, I'm the oldest of four boys so it's all boys and all women.
"It was an interesting household."
He learned the value of hard work from these women as Rochelle worked tirelessly to support her family. She was a hairdresser (the mannequins around the house would scare Knighton), she worked in the corrections system and later in social services. Her work in the prison system inspired Knighton to major in criminal justice at Temple University.
Rochelle would drop Knighton off at his grandmother's when she went to work. But Martha wouldn't babysit if Rochelle wanted to spend time with friends – babysitting was only offered if she was working to better her family's situation.
Terrance Knighton received the eighth-annual Darrent Williams Good Guy Award on Friday.
While Rochelle worked diligently, she wouldn't allow Knighton to work when he was a kid because she wanted him to focus on his education and football.
"That's what motivated me to get to college and get a scholarship," Knighton said of witnessing his mother's work ethic. "I didn't want her to pay a dime for school. I also wanted to get to the NFL and make sure she didn't have to work anymore and get whatever she wants. She still works now even though she doesn't have to. She still works because she's a very prideful person."
While his mother showed him what hard work looks like, she also taught him empathy and the importance of family. When he was growing up, about 15 foster kids came through his house at various times. His mother worked in the Connecticut Department of Children and Families at that time, and saw many kids in need so she stepped in to help in an unprecedented way.
"I have the room, I have the heart, I have the time, the patience," she said of her decision to welcome children into her home.
It was a family affair in receiving kids into the Knighton home. Martha worked at a school in Hartford when her children were growing up and Rochelle said there were always extra kids at the house for the holidays and summer vacation.
Regina, who lived on the top floor of their shared home also brought in foster children. The boys lived with Rochelle and the girls stayed on the top floor with Regina. In addition to a safe place to live, the Knighton home was also a positive place for foster children because of Terrance and his cousin, Tyron. They were born two months apart and Rochelle saw an opportunity for her son and nephew to be a mentor to the children living in their house.
She knew Terrance and Tyron could be a good influence on the foster kids who were going through tough times.
"I think it made them more grounded" Regina said of the effect of living with foster kids in addition to her nephew and son. "[It] definitely made them more grounded and more open to diversity because both of us had children of all different ethnicities."
Fostering kids brought the Knighton's an additional blessing: 7-year-old Jaden, who Rochelle adopted after he had lived in their house previously as a foster child. Rochelle grew attached to him and adopted him and, according to Terrance, "he's the boss of the family now."
While Rochelle had endless support and the help of her sister and mother, she had no support from Terrance's father. Terrance has only seen his father three times: Twice he didn't say a word to him, and on the third and final time, Terrance was about 12 years old.
"I think that he had a moment where he was going to try and that lasted for 24 hours," he said. "After he came by my grandmother's house that one day, I never heard from him again."
Terrance's father's negligence doesn't bother him; He has all the parents he needs. At 28 years old, the lack of a father's presence in his life wears on him for a different reason now. As he considers settling down and starting a family, he doesn't have a reference point for how a father and a husband should be.
Sure, he had father figures and mentors, but that didn't replace the father he should have had.
Check out photos of Terrance Knighton when he was a kid.
"Now when I'm at the point where I'm looking to start my own family with someone, I kind of wish I had seen what it's like to be a father or how to run the household and things like that," Terrance said. "My mom and my grandmother and my aunt did such a good job and I have other men figures in my life that were big keys in my life, like my basketball coach and my uncle, my cousin's father was an influence in my life. There were a few men who stepped up here and there that showed me a little bit.
"But ultimately most of it came from my grandmother."
His grandmother was the disciplinarian of the family and Terrance considers her very "old school," but she is also the glue that held them together. When Terrance was in elementary school in Hartford, he got in trouble and his mother took swift action, moving him to Martha's house in the suburbs of Windsor, Connecticut.
He finished elementary school in Windsor while living with his grandmother and attended high school at the Milford Academy and later earned a scholarship to Temple University. He doesn't know where he would be had he not moved out of Hartford and in with his grandmother.
"I probably wouldn't be sitting here," he said. "I probably would have been… who knows what I would have been doing. It probably wouldn't have been positive. The area I grew up in wasn't a positive area... She [Rochelle] knew my grandmother was going to run a tight ship at home. It was good for me."
"My mom instilled in us family first all the time," Regina said. "As far as my mother's support, she's been 100 percent to help us. She's always pushed us. It was never financially, it was always be who you are, be true to yourself around other people. You'll figure out your friends eventually.
"She let us all grow and we let the boys grow."
When Terrance accepted this season's Darrent Williams Good Guy Award for his cooperation and honesty with the media, he told reporters that his family motivates him, and that family includes his teammates. He also noted that his grandmother would be exponentially more proud of him for this award than any on-the-field accolade.
"She takes a lot of pride in how her grandchildren and how her children are as people," he said.
When Rochelle found out that Terrance received this honor, she cried.
"But he [Terrance] says I cry for everything," she said laughing.
Terrance deserved that award, for his actions with the media and his teammates. Always the big brother, he has fostered that same "open door policy" his mother, aunt and grandmother had.
"We just have that type of home," said Terrance, also a first-year Broncos captain. "I'm like that with my teammates, I'm like that with kids that I meet, playing football and that's just the type of family we have. We have an open door policy and I don't know, my mom and my aunt have big hearts. They just always wanted to do something to help others."
"I'm just so proud of him," Rochelle said. "He spoke out about the domestic violence stuff. I expected him to because he's always been that [kind of person]. If it bothers him, he told you. And to be the Good Guy Award winner and just to hear him speak and say how he respects the media. A lot of people don't like the media, I told him, 'You know, it's their job, everybody has a job.' People don't like what I do. They don't like when I come in with another worker and we go and grab people's kids out the house. [People ask me] 'Why are you taking the kids?' But it's a job and I just respect him so much, not only as my son but as a young man."
His mother said he gets his outspokenness from his aunt, but she appreciates his willingness to stand up for what he believes in.
Rochelle's pride for her son is obvious, but his pride in being her son rivals it. He admires her hard work and the fact that she still works as a family support worker at the Children's Home Society in Jacksonville.
She had a hard time explaining why she still works. She doesn't want her son's money, saying, "It's his money and his career." But she said working with kids and families is her calling and she likes to work, just as she did when Terrance was young and she was just a teenager.
When Terrance signed his first NFL contract with the Jaguars, the first thing he bought was a car and the second was a house for Rochelle in Jacksonville. She still didn't have ideal living conditions in Hartford, so he wanted her to have a better life. Regina and Rochelle are inseparable, Terrance says, so they both now reside in Jacksonville.
But when he joined the Broncos in 2013, she didn't follow – but she still flies to Denver for each of the Broncos' home games.
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"When I first got to Jacksonville I was kind of homesick, I wanted my mom there," Terrance said. "Then I got here, my mom, she wanted to come. I was like 'I'll never find a girlfriend if you keep following me.'"
His mother and aunt are in Jacksonville and grandmother remains in Windsor. While the distance between him and the women who raised him is significant, he still has plenty of contact with them. He consistently jokes with/reminds the media that his grandmother Googles him every day and calls him on a consistent basis.
She'll ask him about anything – sports, his personal life, the list has no limits. Conversations have the potential to last up to 45 minutes.
"She'll start going off on a tangent and start preaching to me again like she did when I was 13," he said, laughing.
He tattooed the names of his family members on his arms to honor them. But his grandmother has a special place on his right hand, where her name sits above a rose.
"When I think about a rose, you think about just love, period," he said. "I just felt like it was very fitting to have it behind my grandmother's name, just the love I have for her, just being on my fist just holding us together and being strong."
Three strong women molded Terrance into a resilient, respectful man with the utmost reverence for those around him – whether that's the media, his teammates or women. But he said the main thing these women taught him was to follow his dreams. Growing up, his grandmother reminded him of that every day.
"She always kept asking me what I wanted to do and I said to play football, to play in the NFL," Terrance said. "She said just keep following that, keep chasing it and do what you have to do to get there and don't stop until you get there."
Thanks to these three strong women that supported, cared for and guided him, he did get there.