Sean Chandler has found a home, a home he dreamed about as a boy who bounced from homeless shelter to homeless shelter.
He is one of the lucky ones who made it out of Camden, N.J., an undrafted free agent safety from Temple who has turned a potential nightmare into this sweet, improbable dream of playing for the team he rooted for as a child.
And with Landon Collins on IR, this is Chandler’s real chance, starting Sunday against the Redskins, to open eyes and convince the Giants that he does not deserve to be homeless in the NFL.
“I feel like just coming from humble beginnings, not even just with football, just in life, it just gave me that chip on my shoulder just to go after everything I ever wanted, and that is to be in the NFL,” Chandler said.
He first told his tearjerker of a story as a freshman at Temple, six or so homeless shelters in all with his mother, LaTonya Woodson, and two older sisters, some summer nights sleeping on the street when he was 7 or 8 years old.
“I was homeless for a majority of my life, so that definitely put the chip on my shoulder,” Chandler said, “and just getting my mom out of the circumstances that she lives in, and making it to the NFL can possibly do that.”
He is driven to run from that past to a future where he can take care of his mother the way she strained to take care of him. It is a mission not yet accomplished.
“Not yet. But mom, she’s definitely stable right now,” Chandler said.
He does not look back on his childhood with bitterness. Asked how agonizing it was, Chandler looks on the bright side and tells you: “My mom kinda sheltered us from it, so I was just being a kid. I had a fun childhood. It wasn’t really agonizing like you said, but as I got older and saw the things that I came from and how I overcame them, it just, like I said, gave me that chip on my shoulder.”
As a New York Football Giant, he stands as a 22-year-old inspiration to those who haven’t made it out of a place that ranked third on Neighborhood Scout’s list of “Murder Capitals of America” behind East St. Louis, Ill. and Chester, Pa., and serves as a symbol of hope.
“That’s also something that drives me, knowing that I have friends back home that weren’t able to make it here, so they’re living life through me,” Chandler said.
So you’re kind of playing for them?
“Right, definitely,” Chandler said.
You can only imagine what getting a scholarship from Temple meant to him.
“That was special, ’cause I knew that was gonna give me the opportunity either to get a good-paying job, or to make it to the NFL, which is also a good-paying job,” Chandler said.
He was a four-year starter there. He cites Temple’s 28-3 Gasparilla Bowl game victory over FIU last year as the highlight.
“They weren’t known for making it to bowl games and things like that,” Chandler said.
As a junior he played against Penn State’s Saquon Barkley.
“I knew he was a special player … he was our main guy to circle for the game plan and things like that,” Chandler said.
He was credited with four tackles in the game. But not one in the open field on Barkley, who broke open the game midway through the fourth quarter with a 55-yard TD run.
“The last one, he popped that one on us,” Chandler said.
Chandler does not mention he forced Barkley to the sidelines to have his ankle examined in the first quarter of the 34-27 Penn State victory.
“I played him one time my sophomore year,” Barkley said. “He actually gave me a good shot on the first play of the game that kinda took me out. But I was able to come back and finish out the game strong.”
If anyone knows about coming back strong, it is the 5-foot-10, 200-pound safety they have called Champ from the time he was playing midget football for the East Camden Seminoles to Camden High to Temple.
“I think when we were working really in training camp and we get a chance to put some pads on, and you saw Sean is not afraid to go put his face on somebody,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said.
There is a simple explanation for it.
“You go through tough things in life,” Chandler said, “and then it just makes you tougher in football.”
Coach Pat Shurmur is looking for a few good men. He saw in training camp that Sean Chandler might be one of them.
“First you look at the player characteristics,” Shurmur said. “His movement skills were good. We felt like he had good instincts. You can see that he knew how he fit within a system and a scheme. Good coverage skills. We felt like he could develop into a good tackler. So all the things you’re looking for in a safety.”
The Giants are all the things Sean Chandler had been looking for all his life, the call he had been waiting for all his life. He signed his contract on May 10. He has eight NFL tackles in limited playing time to date.
“I grew up a Giants fan, so that was a special moment for me,” he said. “Even though I didn’t get drafted, I was still excited to come here and join this team and just show out and play football again.”
Home, sweet home.
“When I walked into camp, I had the mindset that I could play in this league,” Chandler said.
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