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MarShawn Lloyd
MarShawn Lloyd: Driven to succeed
A mother’s endearing love guides her son to the Green Bay Packers
By Wes Hodkiewicz May 20, 2024
Photographs By Evan Siegle, packers.com

How did those training wheels come off?

Those words, doused in a cold rush of fear, were the first thing that rushed through Na-Shawn Lloyd's mind, as her 4-year-old son came pedaling towards her – his little legs pumping like pistons to keep the bicycle going.

MarShawn Lloyd was fearless. He's been that way since the day entering the world on Jan. 5, 2001, and rather cunning, too. While given strict orders to stay in the cul-de-sac, MarShawn moseyed down to his neighbor five houses away and asked if he could remove the training wheels from his bike.

To Na-Shawn's pure amazement, the man agreed.

"MarShawn stopped at nothing," Na-Shawn said. "He was an overachiever, and he was very competitive at a young age. He always wanted to do what the older guys did."

There really wasn't anything MarShawn couldn't do as a child. He learned how to backflip from his uncle at an early age. He could skate, swim and sprint, the latter of which Na-Shawn proudly proclaims MarShawn did get from his mother. But more than anything, MarShawn loved playing football.

Na-Shawn wasn't crazy about that idea at first. She worried for her son's safety when another parent asked her about MarShawn playing on one of the area's little-league teams when he was 6. Fearing her son might be missing out on playing with his friends, Na-Shawn reluctantly gave her blessing.

Once she saw how gifted MarShawn was – how he could run away from the other kids and leap over defenders with relative ease – Na-Shawn was convinced that football was indeed her son's sport and did anything she could to help him succeed.

Even if that meant driving MarShawn two hours each way from their home in Middletown, Del., to DeMatha Catholic High, a private school in Hyattsville Md., known for its football program.

"She would do anything to support MarShawn's dreams," former DeMatha football coach Elijah Brooks said. "She was always there. Whatever he needed, she was gonna do whatever she could to support him. She's just a great, great mom, and obviously (MarShawn) turned out to be a phenomenal kid."

That upbringing set the stage for MarShawn, his mom and 100 of his closest friends and family congregating at Main Event family entertainment center in Newark, Del., last month to hear the USC running back's name called during the second night of the NFL Draft.

The tears flowed as soon as it was announced the Packers drafted MarShawn in the third round (No. 88 overall). While MarShawn isn't one to cry, all Na-Shawn needed to know what the moment meant to her son was the slight hint of a smile, an acknowledgment of everything the former five-star college recruit has overcome to realize his full potential.

It goes back to an indomitable spirit forged by a single mom willing to do whatever her kids needed to help them succeed – even if it meant overcoming her fear of heights while driving over the four-mile Chesapeake Bridge twice a day.

"She was determined," MarShawn Lloyd said. "She wants the best for all her kids. My mom, she's super excited and she knew that would be the best thing to put me in the best position possible – to have the opportunities I've had. The only reason I had those is because of the sacrifices she made."

MarShawn Lloyd
MarShawn Lloyd

Let's make a deal

Na-Shawn Lloyd can't recall exactly how many miles she put on her Ford Explorer to transport MarShawn to DeMatha and back daily, but she remembers exactly how the trunk full of football equipment looked…and occasionally smelled.

"I would do laundry probably every day when we got home," Na-Shawn said. "When we got home, my day didn't stop."

So why the long commute? Well, it started with MarShawn's time on the Wilmington Soldiers youth football team. They were a talented bunch – so much so the team struggled to find competition around Delaware.

So, the Soldiers marched north to New Jersey and then south to Maryland, which was a little more than an hour away from the Lloyds' home in Middletown. It required Na-Shawn to drive MarShawn a little more than an hour on most weekends, but the league had a reputation for exposing players to some of the region's top high schools.

A few assistants from DeMatha noticed MarShawn during spring ball his eighth-grade year and alerted Brooks, a 2002 graduate of the school who headed the football program from 2011-18.

"He was by far just a dominant athlete," said Brooks, now the running backs coach at Virginia Tech. "Really explosive, jumping over kids, his physical abilities definitely stood out. But then his eagerness and passion to play the game … he was really competitive, and I loved that about him."

Known for its well-regarded football program, DeMatha has helped produce a lineage of premier Division I and NFL football players, including but not limited to Brian Westbrook, Cameron Wake, Chase Young, and Rodney McLeod.

“I told him, ‘MarShawn, this is an opportunity of a lifetime. Not everyone gets this opportunity. If one of your friends were in your position and they were given this opportunity, they would take it in a heartbeat.’” -Na-Shawn Lloyd, MarShawn Lloyd's mother

Na-Shawn was sold on the school but MarShawn not so much. He didn't mind DeMatha but wanted to play football with his childhood friends. Na-Shawn sat her son down and reminded him what this could mean not only for his football career but also a path towards a college education.

So, the two made a deal. As the parent and guardian, Na-Shawn would enroll MarShawn at DeMatha. When the time came for college, MarShawn could make that decision all by himself.

"I told him, 'MarShawn, this is an opportunity of a lifetime. Not everyone gets this opportunity,'" Na-Shawn said. "'If one of your friends were in your position and they were given this opportunity, they would take it in a heartbeat.'"

MarShawn agreed and early on it made for some long days. He woke up at 4:30 a.m. every day, made the two-hour commute with mom and was in school by 7:25 to meet with an academic support team before classes started at 8:15.

Na-Shawn picked up her son after practice and the two would drive back to Delaware, as the sun set. Sometimes they'd talk about school or football. Other days, MarShawn slept or listened to music on his headphones. Until MarShawn began making friends and connections at the school, this was their daily routine.

"Every day wasn't a great day. There were days that he was tired, and I had to push him a little bit," Na-Shawn said. "I'd tell him, 'This is what we signed up for. This is what we have to do.'"

MarShawn and Na-Shawn Lloyd
MarShawn and Na-Shawn Lloyd

'Did I really see what I thought I saw?'

It's rare for freshmen to make varsity at DeMatha, but MarShawn Lloyd was no ordinary freshman. While he played mostly on JV that first year, the explosive youngster was first pulled up as a return specialist on Friday nights.

That's when Brooks and his coaching staff first began to see the speed and power that would define Lloyd as a running back. Carrying the ball 31 times, he rushed for 319 yards and six touchdowns that first year.

By his sophomore year, Lloyd was already more than 200 pounds and running around 4.5 in the 40. He was dialed in on his diet. While the team might settle for fast food on road trips at times, MarShawn was eating his grilled chicken and drinking his water.

"From the very beginning he was very clear on his goals of playing high-level football and hopefully making it to the NFL," Brooks said. "And him making that commute daily, he was able to put action behind his words. That takes a lot for a 15-, 16-year-old to do that every day. He had extreme discipline."

So, too, did the rest of the Lloyd family. A youth advocate, Na-Shawn already had her bachelor's degrees in criminal justice and master's in administration in human services but chose to work towards a second master's in organizational leadership while MarShawn was in high school.

On most days, Na-Shawn would drop off her son and drive to the local library to study. Throughout MarShawn's high school and college career, Na-Shawn kept flexible work arrangements, with supervisors who understood her situation.

The same could be said for MarShawn's older sisters, Shannise and DeVauné. Shannise is eight years MarShawn's senior, while DeVauné is two years older than MarShawn but the two actually share a birthday. With DeVauné going to school locally at Appoquinimink High School, it led to some occasional double-bookings for mom.

Na-Shawn did her best to balance everything, but there was one scheduling conflict in 2017 when DeVauné was starting college at Delaware State University and DeMatha had a game against Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas. So, Shannise – pregnant at the time with her son Kamari – helped DeVauné move in. No, she didn't lift anything.

"I always take my hat off to my daughters because sometimes I had to pick and choose," Na-Shawn said. "They're very understanding. They're so proud of their brother. They made some sacrifices in order for me to be able to constantly be there for MarShawn so that he can live his dream."

According to Brooks, MarShawn "trained like mad man" in the weight room. As a junior, he shattered an 11-year-old DeMatha record for the bench press (345 pounds) in the 204-pound weight class. That same year, MarShawn blossomed into a five-star college recruit with DI offers floating in from around the country.

"From the very beginning he was very clear on his goals of playing high-level football and hopefully making it to the NFL. And him making that commute daily, he was able to put action behind his words." -Elijah Brooks, former DeMatha football coach

Winners of eight of their last nine games in 2018, DeMatha faced off with Gonzaga in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title game. Lloyd was sensational, rushing for a career-high 160 yards on 31 carries, including a 44-yard TD for the Stags' first score.

The game is forever remembered for its three lead changes in the final 39 seconds, culminating in future No. 1 overall pick Caleb Williams throwing a game-winning Hail Mary to propel Gonzaga to a 46-43 victory.

"I was in awe that day of him," said Brooks of Lloyd. "It was overshadowed with Caleb's brilliance, but Marshawn proved to (everyone) that day that he was also an elite player."

Brooks left after that season to become the running backs coach at Maryland, which led to DeMatha program architect Bill McGregor returning for a second stint with the program.

Lloyd did a number of noteworthy things as a senior, but his entire year seemed to be encapsulated in a single play – his 61-yard touchdown against Our Lady of Good Counsel in which Lloyd not only hurdled a defender but also kept his stride and plowed through another tackler on his way to the end zone.

The play was voted No. 1 on ESPN SportsCenter's top plays, one spot ahead of MarShawn's childhood idol, LeBron James. Na-Shawn had seen her son leap over kids a countless number of times since fifth grade, but on this day, the eyes of the world were opened to his talent – as were McGregor's on the sideline while presiding over a 30-17 victory.

"Did I really see what I thought I saw? Like is this humanly possible?" said McGregor, who's won more than 300 games at DeMatha. "The defender had him squared up (but) ducked his head on the tackle and MarShawn had the vision to pick it up and have the awareness immediately to hurdle and not lose his stride. It's just incredible. You turn to the coaches after that and say, 'Did that really just happen, or did I imagine what I thought I saw?'"

MarShawn Lloyd pictured with mom Na-Shawn (center) and sisters Shannise (grey shirt in left photo) and DeVauné (black jacket in left photo)
MarShawn Lloyd pictured with mom Na-Shawn (center) and sisters Shannise (grey shirt in left photo) and DeVauné (black jacket in left photo)

Ecstasy, then agony

Na-Shawn was a lady of her word. After guiding her son to DeMatha and putting in the miles to get him there, Na-Shawn left the decision on where MarShawn would play college football entirely up to her child.

And MarShawn pretty much had every offer imaginable.

He sought mom's input throughout the recruiting process, but Na-Shawn couched any feedback she gave with, "This is something you'll have to deal with for the rest of your life. I don't want you to say, 'Oh well, my mom had me do this or nothing.'"

Whatever MarShawn wanted to do, mom was good with it.

The decision finally came while the two were driving back from Maryland one day. Out of nowhere, MarShawn says, "I know where I want to go. South Carolina."

Na-Shawn was surprised – happy but surprised. If asked to make a prediction beforehand, Na-Shawn would've guessed Georgia. She enjoyed the South Carolina campus and its coaches, but MarShawn still had some visits lined up.

“She was always in his corner; would never interfere. I never knew if she was around other than hearing her cheer, but she was always there for him. It was always MarShawn and his mother.” -Bill McGregor, longtime DeMatha football coach

Not anymore. South Carolina was the pick. The two went home and began preparing for the official announcement. One gem of Will Muschamp's 2020 recruiting class, Lloyd enrolled early and seemed destined for Year 1 success.

That all changed when his football world came crashing down after tearing his ACL in an August practice. MarShawn was no stranger to adversity. He broke his wrist in 2017 and missed eight games during his sophomore year at DeMatha.

But this, this felt different. There was no coming back. His freshman season was over before it ever started.

"That was probably one of the worst moments of my life. I'm sure it was the worst moment of his," Na-Shawn said. "When he told me, I had to hold back because I knew if I responded in a way where I was super emotional, it would have an effect on him. It would make him feel worse than he had already felt. The moment I got off that phone, I bawled my eyes out. My heart was broken."

Once the shock wore off, the Lloyds collected themselves, put their trust in God and focused on the comeback. There were changes, though. Muschamp was fired after seven games amidst a two-win season for South Carolina and Shane Beamer was hired to replace him.

MarShawn bounced back the following year, though Na-Shawn didn't fully realize how much of an effect the injury had on her son mentally until much later. After regaining his footing in 2021, Lloyd returned to form to rush for 749 yards and 11 touchdowns on 129 touches as a redshirt sophomore.

After the season, MarShawn jumped into the transfer portal in hope of landing somewhere he could compete for a championship and solidify his NFL resume. That path brought him to USC and a reunion with Caleb Williams, his former youth and high school rival.

Na-Shawn was cool with it. If MarShawn wanted to go to the West Coast, mom was right behind him.

"She and he sacrificed an awful lot to get where he is today," McGregor said. "She was always in his corner; would never interfere. I never knew if she was around other than hearing her cheer, but she was always there for him. It was always MarShawn and his mother."

MarShawn Lloyd
MarShawn Lloyd

An opportunity and a dream

Southern California was a new kind of adventure, but Na-Shawn didn't miss a game. Of course, she had to overcome another fear – flying – to make the cross-country trek, but rearranging her work schedule proved to be a breeze.

Working as an intensive community clinician, Na-Shawn would pull some long hours Monday through Wednesday to free herself up for weekend trips. If USC had back-to-back home games, she'd bring her laptop to meet with clients virtually.

"She's that type of mother. She's going to find a way to get to every game," MarShawn said. "It's like a 5½-hour flight to fly there and then fly back to Delaware. Sometimes she'll stay in Cali for two weeks and be at two home games and stay at my place. Bonding time, more time for my mother, so that was pretty cool."

USC was a great fit for MarShawn. His game-changing explosiveness was back and on full display when he rushed for 154 yards on just 14 carries during a 42-28 victory over Arizona State for the Trojans, who started the season 6-0.

MarShawn set career highs across the board and led USC with 820 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. His 7.1 yards per carry were good for fourth in the FBS among running backs with at least 100 carries.

Marshawn flashed as a pass-catcher, too, gaining 232 yards on just 13 catches (17.8 yards per reception). Having fully completed his comeback, MarShawn officially declared on Dec. 4, 2023, for the 2024 NFL Draft.

"It was very exciting," Na-Shawn said. "It felt like he was finally where he wanted to be, where he deserved to be. He was used in ways that he hadn't been before. It also put him in a position where he is now where they're able to see his versatility and all that he can do."

Given the nature of the running back position in today's NFL, the Lloyds understood MarShawn likely wouldn't go in the first round but were hopeful his name might get called on Day 2.

The family rented out a room at Main Event in Delaware for everyone to gather and not-so-patiently wait for the evening to play out. Shannise's son was the only child present, and he didn't make it to the third round before falling asleep.

"She’s that type of mother. She’s going to find a way to get to every game." -MarShawn Lloyd on his mother Na-Shawn

MarShawn was conversational with all the guests but barely ate until Na-Shawn forced him to eat some of her chicken wings. Eventually, the run started on running backs with Trey Benson going to Arizona at No. 66 and East Coast product Blake Corum heading to the Los Angeles Rams 83rd overall.

Surely, MarShawn was next…right?

"I think we all got a little anxious like, 'When it is gonna happen? Come on already,'" Na-Shawn said. "When they started calling the running backs, we hoped it was gonna happen soon because you never really know."

Then, the phone lit up. All Na-Shawn saw was "Wisconsin," but that didn't tip her off to which team was calling. MarShawn picked up, crouched down and started talking to whoever was on the other end of the line.

The room noticed and the shouting commenced. MarShawn's agent caught the team's name and began combing through the 32 NFL hats they had nearby. She pulled out a Packers lid and handed it to Na-Shawn.

Tears pooled in her eyes. She prayed – oh, how she prayed, repeatedly thanking God for this day. She held that hat with a vice-like grip until Na-Shawn heard her son's name on the TV and the emotion poured out of her.

Lost in the calamity of the moment, MarShawn didn't see the footage of his mom's emotional response until days later, but her tears of joy hit him squarely in the feels.

"It was everything," Lloyd said. "My mother being right next to me the whole time. When it finally happened – I didn't see her because I was so emotionally in it but when I saw the video of my mother – just her pure emotion; how excited she was and how happy she was."

MarShawn Lloyd
MarShawn Lloyd

'It's the best feeling in the world'

For all the miles Na-Shawn and MarShawn have traveled, the drive they took together to Philadelphia International Airport two weeks ago will forever be one of most ironic for Na-Shawn.

Here she was, the mom who didn't want her son to play football was now driving him to the airport to join his NFL team. This wasn't some combine or even rookie minicamp. It was the real deal. After all these years, they'd reached their destination.

Back home, MarShawn is already a superstar in his nephew Kamari's eyes. Shannise bought her son a Packers hat and he has not stopped wearing it. Whatever the wardrobe, whether it's blue, orange, or red, the cap comes with him.

Kamari recently turned to Na-Shawn and asked, "Mom-Mom, are we going to Green Bay?" Na-Shawn confirmed they were – not Brazil – but definitely Green Bay. Compared to some of their trips, the 15-hour drive north isn't too bad.

And everyone is coming along for the ride.

"It's been a blessing. It really, really has," Na-Shawn said. "I got joy from looking at him and looking at his sisters (on draft night) and how they reacted to this because this has been a long time coming. MarShawn played the game but the whole family made a lot of sacrifices in order for him to be in this position."

In Green Bay, MarShawn will be paired up with one of his idols in All-Pro Josh Jacobs. He's also excited to work alongside AJ Dillon, with whom he's developed a friendship on social media.

"MarShawn played the game but the whole family made a lot of sacrifices in order for him to be in this position.” -Na-Shawn Lloyd, MarShawn Lloyd's mother.

In one of the strangest coincidences of all, MarShawn will be mentored by the same man – Packers running backs coach Ben Sirmans – who recruited Brooks to Kent State more than 20 years ago and coached him during his first two college seasons.

"I'm so happy for him because he's one that did everything he could to put himself in this position," said Brooks of MarShawn. "It's really rewarding to see a kid reach their dreams after all that hard work so I'm really proud of him."

The Lloyd family's story is one of determination, resolve and endless love. It's a Ford Explorer packed with every piece of football equipment MarShawn needed and understanding that sometimes mother truly does know best.

It's sticking together through life's ups and downs, and realizing dreams attained together are dreams that last forever.

"It's the best feeling in the world," MarShawn said. "My mom has done so much stuff, things I may not have wanted to do at the time, but she forced me to do it, and it's put me in the right position each time. Now, her son is a Green Bay Packer, which is pretty crazy."

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