MIAMI — Emmanuel Belgrave wants to play in the NFL someday.
That’s a lofty, but not particularly uncommon goal for high school football players, particularly ones that are slated to attend Division I universities, as is the case for the Miami Southridge senior defensive end.
But what Belgrave wants to the most after reaching that goal is anything but typical.
He also wants to help take care of his 12-year old brother, TJ, who Belgrave has helped raise since the death of his mother when he Emmanuel was in middle school. But even beyond that, Belgrave wants to be able to help all kinds of kids that might need it.
“I feel like when I make it there, I can help my brother with anything he needs, but especially because I want to build a home for kids,” Belgrave said in an interview at Miami Southridge earlier this month.
“Like a safe haven for kids that are on the streets, kids that’s in foster care, kids that have been abandoned and kids that are just going through anything, period. A safe haven for girls and boys where they can play their video games, football, or anything they want to do.”
Belgrave knows firsthand how vulnerable those kids can be, because he was in similar situations growing up.
“I’ve been through a lot of what other kids been through,” Belgrave said. “At one point in time, I was in foster care. At one point in time, I wasn’t with my family, and we had to reunite. I was getting in trouble. So, you know, it’s big to me.“
“When you look at kids nowadays, you never know what they are going through. That’s why people always ask me why I’m always smiling and always in a good mood. Because I won’t let nothing take me down. It helps build me.”
Belgrave’s on-the-job training for his hopeful future in the NFL involved bulking up to nearly 220 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame and earning three-star ratings from each of the recruiting services through his career at Southridge.
But for his off-the-field goals, nothing has trained him better for the future that he envisions than his relationship with his brother.
“Everything I do, he wants to do it next,” Belgrave said. “When I was getting the big offers, it made him think. I told him if you follow in my footsteps and do what you have to do, they will come for you too.
“His team just won the Super Bowl. With him, he drives me. I play football with a purpose for him. How far I go, I want him to get to that same place.”
Not only does his dream of an NFL future contain the ability to fulfill his greater goal of helping kids in need, football helped Belgrave get to where his is in his life on the cusp of his college career.
“My mom just passed, and I didn’t know how to (deal) with that,” Belgrave said. “Right then and there, God spoke to me like I needed this. I needed football at this time because I was just thinking about my little brother.
“I just felt like I’m the only one here now. Now it’s time for me to step my game up. I experienced a lot of things, you know. It really allowed me to man up myself. It was only me and God and people there to help me out.”
Some of those people that helped him out came through the football community.
“I had a support system like I didn’t even know,” he said. “People who want to make sure that they’re there for me like (my coaches), most the people in my school, and my mentor Mr. Nelson. People like that are my family because some things I can’t handle by myself.”
One of those things was the recruiting process. The thought of college coaches showing up unannounced at his high school was an idea that originally intimidated Belgrave, but he got some help and got through it.
“I didn’t know how to deal with it, so one of my former teammates, Chris McDonald, who is at the University of Toledo right now, I had to call him like, ‘Big bro, what do I say and how do I speak to them? I need your help,’” Belgrave said.
“He told me not to overthink it. Talk to them the same way you talk to your mom and auntie because you talk to them on the regular. So, I just talked to them. I would check on them, and they’d check on me every day and see how I’m doing. It just came down to my best decision when he told me who’s really for you, so I just started looking at it.”
Belgrave didn’t play varsity until his junior year, and then dealt with a torn labrum that made it tough for him to put on weight. But the spring before his senior year, colleges started talking to him.
“The spring of my senior year, when FIU looked at me and came and watched my film and they gave me my first offer,” Belgrave said. “Then Pittsburgh came the next week, and coach (Charlie) Partridge himself came down. I was like, this is my future coach – defensive line coach – really came down and offered me. Like, he told me from day one that he was interested in me, and I was like, I really think strongly of them. Then schools, after school, after school, would come. Nebraska, then you had Rutgers, USF, Wake Forest.
“So right there, I’m like, ‘This is God, I’m going to college.’”
Right away, Pitt and lead recruiter Partridge rose to the top of the pack for when it came time for Belgrave to make his decision.
“Well, when I first met Coach Partridge, and he came down, the first thing he said was, ‘I love your film,’” Belgrave said. “When he first came, he gave me that type of love like my former defensive coordinator and defensive line coach gave me. It’s like a transition for me. He understands what I’m coming from and what I’m trying to build. He understood me.”
Now Belgrave is ready to take the next step toward reaching those lofty goals, and it will start once again with football, but also with a focus off the field on making the transition to a Division I athlete.
“When I go, I want to be about my business,” he said. “I want to major in business, and I want to learn the playbook. School and football. I want to go out there and make plays.”
But he hasn’t lost sight of the bigger picture, either.
“Football for me … It just kept me going until later on when I realized my real purpose.”