Mario Addison overcomes obstacles to live NFL dream

Mario Addison is a huge part of the Panthers' top-ranked defense. But every Sunday, he's playing for much more than just himself. 

When Mario Addison steps on the field, his 6-foot-3 stature is hard to miss. But the biggest hit he's ever taken was off the field. None

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- When Carolina Panthers defensive end Mario Addison steps on the field, his 6-foot-3, 260-pound stature is hard to miss. 

Six opposing quarterbacks have had the unfortunate pleasure of feeling Addison's wrath as he comes around the edge and slammed them to the ground. Through nine games, Addison is second on the Panthers roster with 6.5 sacks.

He's a threat every time he steps up to the line, and although he knows how to skillfully make his way to a quarterback to deliver a devastating blow, it was Addison who took an unexpected hit this offseason. 

The Phone Call

Addison was wrapping up a trip to his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama and getting ready to board a flight back to Charlotte when his phone rang. His mother was on the line with bad news. 

His grandfather was in the hospital. 

"I was like, 'Do you think he's going to be alright?' And she said, 'just come back,' so I did," Addison said. "I didn't take the flight."

Addison's grandfather had problems with his blood pressure and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance. Addison got to see his grandfather, but his troubles continued. He caught pneumonia and suffered a stroke. Eventually, Addison and his family said goodbye. 

It was a day that the Panthers' unstoppable defensive end felt a pain he'd never felt. The man who took him to church, fed him and his siblings Sunday dinner, and taught him valuable life lessons was gone. 

But Addison felt some comfort in knowing another season was coming and seeing him on that field always made his grandfather proud. 

"He was probably more proud of me than I was," Addison explained. "That's one guy I always think about when I get on the field."

Unfortunately, his grandfather isn't the only one. 

Friends Become Family

It wasn't long after he got the phone call that his grandfather was in the hospital that Addison picked up the phone with more bad news looming on the other end. 

Growing up in Birmingham, Addison had a close group of friends that always felt more like family. His little brother's best friend also fight right into that mold, a guy they called "Quan Money."

It wasn't long after he got the phone call that his grandfather was in the hospital that Addison picked up the phone with more bad news looming on the other end. 

"Something happened, he got into it with some guy and he ended up getting shot," Addison lamented. "Young man, 25 years old. It shouldn't have happened. It shouldn't have happened from the get-go."

It was a different pain than the unexpected loss he felt when his grandfather passed away. But Addison didn't have long to mourn the loss of Quan before bad news rang again.

It's Time To Go

"It's crazy, it's something to this day I still don't understand, but I know when God calls you home, it's time to go."

Addison grew up loving sports, as did his friend Corey White. The two played basketball and football together when they were younger. Corey was the basketball star, while Addison shined on the gridiron. 

"We were always competing against each other, seeing who was the fastest," Addison recalled. "In fourth grade, we used to go back and forth. We were the two fastest in elementary school."

The two kept in touch and their passion for sports continued to grow. But Corey's ended on a basketball court, when he was just 30 years old. 

"The other team called timeout, and he was walking back to the bench and he just grabbed his chest and fell down and started having a seizure," Addison said. "The ambulance picked him up, but he died on the way to the hospital."

Addison describes his late friend as a young, active, and caring person who took care of everyone he loved. It was another painful, unexpected loss, yet somehow, this death gave Addison a little clarity.

"He just died playing basketball, doing something he loved. I came to the conclusion that when it's your time, it's your time," he said. "It's crazy, it's something to this day I still don't understand, but I know when God calls you home, it's time to go."

Unexpected Loss

Addison found comfort in that mindset and found himself depending on it to get through the next few months. 

He lost his friend Derek to a shooting. Quan Money's grandfather lost his battle with cancer. His friend "Fat Daddy" died while having surgery on his eyes, and his friend Bam Bam was shot and killed. 

In a three-month period before the preseason, Addison lost seven friends and family members. At one point, he had two funerals the same day and had to choose which one to attend.

"Now you see why I say the beginning of my year was rough. It was really rough," Addison shared. 

To cope with the loss, Addison said he built himself up to be a loner.

"I learned how to deal with stuff on my own in different ways. I won't say I'm cold-hearted because I'm far from it. But I have a strong heart now, I can deal with stuff," he said. 

One of his favorite ways to deal with that pain is football.

A Football Life

Overcoming obstacles isn't something that was new to Mario. He fought for the last 30 years to get to the position he's in now. 

Addison was an undrafted free agent when he was signed by the Chicago Bears in 2011. When he wrapped up his college football career at Troy, he thought his NFL dream was going to be reality when Chicago called. But four months after signing with the Bears, he was released to free up roster space. 

He then made his way to the Colts and Washington before ending up with Carolina in December of 2014. But even after reaching Charlotte, Addison had to work hard to go from a former practice squad guy to the player leading the Panthers in sacks two years later. 

"I do look back a lot and imagine where I came from and how I made it this far," Addison said. "I always say to myself, 'Mario, you're a very blessed man.'"

The football field takes him away from the tough lessons life has taught him and gives him an outlet, the opportunity to escape. 

"When I'm playing the game, I really don't think about too much but the game. It kind of helps me clear my mind."

But it's not just about the X's and O's. 

More Than Just A Suit

When the Panthers travel for a road game, there's a photoshoot before they get on the plane. Every player must wear a suit for travel, and while dressing up isn't for everyone, it's the part of the road game requirements that Addison enjoys the most.

It reminds him of his childhood, of his grandfather. 

"He taught me how to dress. He always kept suits on and said, 'Young man, one day you're going to be dressing just like your granddad,'" Addison said. "And I said, "I'm going to dress better than you!'"

So when he's posing for a picture as he waits to board the plane, it's not just about showing off his latest suit. It's about honoring his grandfather. 

"I know when I put one of those suits on, walk up those stairs to get on the plane, I can see him shaking his head, 'Yeah, you're trying to be like granddad,'" Addison said smiling. 

His grandfather never got to come to an NFL game. Addison says there's no way they could talk him into getting on a plane. It's part of his career he wishes his grandfather could have seen up close, but now he knows he has a front seat every Sunday. 

"When I get on the field, before we even go out there, everyone is listening to their own music. When I'm listening to a song, I'll be like, 'This is for you, granddad, this is for you.'

"I'm going to go out there, do my thing, do what I do. Just go out there and play hard."

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