Playing for loved ones

Ron Hemingway will have two important things with him at Raymond James Stadium Saturday as the Bulls take on Connecticut. The first is a picture that will be the centerpiece of his locker. The second is 1 1/2-year old Ronald King Hemingway Jr.

The photo represents one tragedy in Hemingway’s life, which has driven him to struggle. The second represents a triumph driving him to struggle even further. Hemingway grew up in St. Petersburg where he first started playing football, but injuries or grade troubles were not the struggles of Hemingway. His struggles were the loss and gains of life – not yards.

In his 10th-grade year, Hemingway’s mother passed away. That’s where the picture comes in: the picture of his mother, which sits in Hemingway’s locker – a mother who didn’t get to see her 20-year-old son make start at cornerback against Northern Illinois Aug. 30.

“I was real close with my mom,” Hemingway said. “I couldn’t really believe that she was gone. I was going to stop going to school, but I couldn’t. I realized that even though she was gone, all that she had taught me was still inside me.”

So Hemingway kept going – with school, with football, with life.

One more thing to realize about Hemingway’s life is how much family has always meant to him. He never knew his biological father. Instead he knew the man who was there before he was born, loved him and took care of him.

That too was shattered. During his 12th-grade year Hemingway watched his father die of cancer. Hemingway was suddenly charged with a new role as a father figure to his little brothers.

“All of these people were depending on my mom and dad, and now it was like these people are depending on me,” Hemingway said. “I was still young. I had to grow up fast.”

Hemingway has spent the last few years putting pressure on himself to succeed so that his influence on his little brothers is a positive one.

“I remember right before my dad died that one of my little brothers had trouble reading,” Hemingway said. “My dad and I sat down at the kitchen table and he made me promise to help Mario, one of my little brothers: ‘Promise that you will help him during school.’ That stuck with me, from that time on. I try to help my little brothers out so much.

“I’m the only father figure they really have, so without me, I think they’d be lost. I know with me sometimes, I find myself feeling lost. But without them I know I’d be lost. They are my motivation.”Another motivation for Hemingway came in March 2000 when his son was born.

“When he came into my life, he brought some joy back into my life,” Hemingway said. “I was dealing with the losses in my life. Then he came around and … it didn’t replace the loss but it helped me renew my feelings about life. He’s a little father’s boy.”

Through loss, Hemingway found motivation. He found the motivation to teach his little brothers how to be the men that he was forced to become too fast. He’s now finding the motivation to teach his son the same things. He’s found the motivation to struggle through life’s adversities to find happiness.

“What drives me in life is to find my purpose on Earth. I feel my focus right now is to guide my little brothers to stay strong. I have to stay strong for my family. I may not feel like getting up every morning, going to class, lifting weights, but I know I have to because it’s going to help in the end.”

So that’s what makes the football player – the man behind him.

Hemingway, the cornerback, is first the father, to both his son and brothers. He found his focus and motivation in life’s struggles, and he’s handling it.

“My grandma once told me that the Lord is not going to give you more than what you can stand. So I try to find positive things in my life,” Hemingway said.

“I try to maintain, to find a purpose and keep going on, learning to understand the things going on in my life.”

  • Jarrett Guthrie covers football and can be reached at