Mistral Raymond Overcoming Tragedy To Reach NFL Stardom
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By Joseph Gunther
Mistral Raymond, S #41
Hometown: Palmetto, FL
College: South Florida
Experience: 2 years
Raymond has persevered through a lot of adversity and tragedy prior to the 2011 NFL.
After completing high school, he was an un-recruited defensive back that took his game to Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, Iowa.
He generated a little buzz, but still did not receive a scholarship offer. His mother, Valencia Raymond, talked to him about the great men he should study – Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali and a man she saw on television that is “going to make it” named Barack Obama. In 2008, Mistral attended a fundraiser the future President of the United States of America held in Iowa Falls. He met and talked to soon-to-be First Lady Michelle Obama for several minutes before she introduced him to the eventual president.
Not long after his meeting the Obama’s, Mistral listened in disbelief to his mother. She told him that her house had been firebombed and everything was gone. Raymond’s best guess was that someone was trying to get revenge on his cousin that was living next door, but threw the jars of fire into the wrong house.
To make matters worse, the assailants were waiting with guns to shoot anyone who escaped the fire. That was Mistral’s sister Nanise. She was hit seven times and eventually escaped the house with her children, Valencia and another one of Mistral’s sisters. Nanise was injured, but survived. It took her more than a year to learn to walk again.
“That story is just unbelievable,” Vikings then-Vice President of Player Personnel (now General Manager) Rick Spielman said. “I sat there for a half-hour just listening to that story. It tells you what kind of character that kid is.”
Valencia remained strong for her son and said she was fine. However, she inhaled a lot of smoke in the fire and was beginning to have breathing problems. Mistral promised his mom that he would remain at Ellsworth.
After completing the 2008 season at Ellsworth, he returned to the closest Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) college to his hometown. He yelled through a chain link fence for the then-coaching staff of the University of South Florida. Offensive line coach Mike Simmonds walked over to Mistral before realizing he once coached against the defensive back in high school. Simmonds took Mistral’s highlight DVD, but tells him that blind requests for a roster spot rarely are appeased. The young man would have to be persistent. When the Bulls opened training camp and Simmonds calls Mistral to let him know there is a spot open. Mistral gladly takes the walk-on opportunity.
A couple months later, Mistral was on his way home to see his mother. She was in the hospital and not doing well. While on the way, his phone rings and his sister tells him Valencia is dead.
Mistral thought he was doing fine, but soon his school work starting slipping and then-USF football coach Jim Leavitt kicked him off the team. A couple weeks later, Mistral’s grandmother, Jean Moreland, calls Leavitt and begs him to take Mistral back. With an open roster, the coach took him back.
Mistral spent months getting a hardship waiver from the NCAA and then a ton of classwork caught up to become eligible. He played, and even started a few games, as a junior. The following season, new head coach Skip Holtz, names Mistral a starting safety and he is eventually named second-team All-Big East.
Following a dominating performance at the Dixie Gridiron Classic, NFL teams start setting up interviews and workouts. The Vikings tell his agent, Melvin Bratton, that Mistral recorded the highest score on their defensive aptitude test.
A few weeks before the draft, Mistral had a workout with the hometown Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Following a workout, Mistral found out that his half-sister, Myslene Gabriel, was found dead in her apartment. Gabriel was three months pregnant and her ex-boyfriend was believed to be involved. However, an autopsy was inconclusive and remains an “unclassified” death, according to the Herald Tribune.
Raymond left an impression on the Vikings coaching staff when he visited Winter Park prior to the draft.
“Learning about him as a person gave us an idea that this guy could overcome odds,” head coach Leslie Frazier said. “And in pro football, that’s a big part of succeeding. When things aren’t right, how are you going to deal with it? I just felt like if this guy got an opportunity, he would make the most of it.”
Mistral opened this season as a starting safety next to rookie Harrison Smith, but during the Week 3 upset of the San Francisco 49ers, he suffered an ankle injury that forced him to miss the next six games. He returned to the active lineup Sunday and had an assisted tackle in the win over the Detroit Lions.
He may not have a lot of experience, but has shown the ability to become a star safety in the NFL.
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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.