It took exactly one question, about her son’s professional football debut Friday night, for the emotions to overcome Evan Engram’s proud mother.
Michelle Zelina’s voice choked up and she said: “Oh wow … it’s just gonna be amazing, this whole experience … I’m sorry.”
She was asked why this moment is so emotional for her.
“Just tears of joy … I know how hard he’s worked … just being his mom, I still believed in him from Day 1,” Michelle said, still choked up. “Seeing your child live their dreams is just … there’s nothing more amazing than that.”
This was her boy’s dream, from the time it all began as a five-year-old center with fear in his eyes, to his days as a pre-middle school quarterback with Michael Vick and Craig Krenzel and Doug Zeigler posters in his bedroom, to making enough receptions and touchdown catches at Ole Miss to earn a life-changing call in the first round on draft night from the New York Football Giants.
Michelle texted the Post the text that she sent her son before his senior year at Ole Miss:
“WoW! Where do I start, young man?? Just a minute ago, you left a wide eyed high school graduate working for a starting position, now you’re a few hours short of starting your senior camp as one of the best TE’s in history of Ole Miss football!! It’s absolutely amazing of the name you made for yourself in that short time. I remember telling you to dream BiG. Holy moly!! I can’t wait to watch what you are about to make happen this year. Staying your senior year will be one of the best decisions you will have ever made in your lifetime. Hope I’m still alive to read those exact words in The Book of E and how God’s plan works for your life.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
“Your hard work is about to pay off and I’m so blessed to be able to witness all of it!! Love you BiG, Evan Michael Engram!! Have fun your senior season! Have no regrets!! (followed by 14 blue and pink heart emojis)
No longer No. 17, it is #speedlimit88 from now on.
Engram has become the apple of the Giants’ eyes as well, and Giants fans will get their first live look Friday night at Eli Manning’s new 6-3, 240-pound toy who could grow into their Jordan Reed against the Steelers.
Michelle Zelina and Evan’s sister, Mackenzie, will be there, as always, as will his father Derrick.
There was one speed bump on the road to the NFL that Michelle and her ex-husband had to navigate through, so young Evan would stop exceeding the adolescent speed limit.
It was when Michelle caught him in a lie.
“Something about him and his girlfriend,” she recalled. “I knew the truth. That’s when I said, ‘Give me your phone.’”
This was prior to his senior year of high school. “I opened that phone and I was sick to my stomach,” Michelle said.
A family meeting was called in the kitchen of their Powder Springs, Ga. home — mother, father, son, daughter.
“I took the phone, his dad took his jersey — the coach gave him his jerseys — and he told him, ‘You don’t deserve this. You don’t deserve to put this on your back,’” Michelle said. She thought for a minute and said: “Did he take it or did he threaten to take it if he didn’t shape up? I’ll have to ask Evan that one (laugh). Maybe he threatened to take the jersey away and talked to the coach. … We told the coach, ‘Don’t play him if you don’t have to,’ that kinda thing. Just kinda make him realize this could be taken away from him. We just wanted everybody to be on the same page as far as making it clear to him that he needs to shape up or turn in his jersey.”
It worked. Evan was scared straight, although he soon became frustrated when college programs weren’t pounding on his door. In a Walmart parking lot, Michelle told him: “What aren’t you doing right? You should ask yourself those questions. With what you do in the dark, it comes to light. God knows what you’re doing.”
It wasn’t long before Evan was going to church, wowing the Ole Miss coaches and the rest is history.
Odell Beckham Jr. face-timed Evan shortly after the draft. “This is where he’s supposed to be,” Michelle said.
Class kid playing now for a class organization with a class quarterback throwing him the football.
“He was more concerned with he’s gotta prove himself, there’s a lot of expectations on his back right now,” Michelle said. “I think Evan’s more concerned with just meeting those expectations for himself … and just doing what’s best for the team. That’s just him. He’s just a team player that whatever it takes to make the New York Giants better, he will help you.”
Of course Michelle is aware of the concussion risk.
“We actually went to see the Will Smith Concussion movie together,” she said. “That was a big eye-opener to me about just how bad it really is. He’s always said, ‘Mom, I’m doing what I love.’ And I said, ‘Exactly. I can’t stop you from living your dreams.’ Ohio State (her alma mater) was my dream for him. That wasn’t his dream. And, he’s living his dream.
“Nothing better than that.”
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