Courtney Upshaw

Ravens rookie linebacker Courtney Upshaw works out during rookie camp in May. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun / May 13, 2012)

Joining a champion

In four years, Upshaw had 141 tackles and 17.5 sacks and was on two national championship teams. However, one incident marred his time at Alabama. In his sophomore year, Upshaw and a female companion were arrested on campus after a verbal altercation turned physical. Initially facing a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence and third-degree harassment, he was granted youthful offender status and required to undergo anger management counseling.

"I learned that you can't make dumb decisions," Upshaw said. "At the end of the day, you're not allowed to touch a woman in any way no matter what the story said that I did. You have to stay away from stuff like that. Even when I was getting interviewed by teams during the draft process, I would get asked questions about it. I told them, 'All I know is the right thing to do is walk away.'"

The Upshaw that his family and friends talk about graduated from Alabama with a degree in Human Development in 3 1/2 years, started a fund to raise money for the victims of the 2011 tornado in Tuscaloosa and befriended an ardent Crimson Tide fan named Dewey Norton, who has cerebral palsy and can't speak but lights up with the mere mention of Upshaw's name.

"He is really, really special," Leigh McKenzie said. "We've been honored to be friends with him. We've gotten a lot more out of it than he has."

Accompanying Upshaw to April's draft was the McKenzie family, his brothers and sisters and his mother, Lisa Upshaw. She first saw her son play during his junior year against Florida and he played so well that he deemed her his "good-luck" charm and decided that she needed to go to the rest of his home games During one of those visits, Lisa Upshaw explained to her son why things happened as they did.

"I didn't have very much," said Lisa Upshaw, who now lives in Upshaw's old apartment in Tuscaloosa. "I worked and did whatever I could but I was staying with my mother in Birmingham and my sister already had Courtney. Don't get me wrong, whatever I had, they had, but it was just not enough. It felt good to talk to him. I told him things that happened and why they happened. He was very receptive and he got emotional about it. He told me, 'Mom, you are telling the truth. I had figured that out.'"

Lisa has grown friendly with the McKenzie family and thanks them every time she seems them for what they did for her son. Upshaw does the same.

"I just find it to be a blessing to have the McKenzie's come in my life," Upshaw said. "I know I didn't have much and without them, I probably wouldn't be where I am now. I know right from wrong. I know how to treat people because my aunt raised me right. The difference between me and a lot of people is instead of me waiting on somebody to give me something, I went out and made it on my own."

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