Curtis Lofton photos from 2014 New Orleans Saints Training Camp presented by Verizon (New Orleans Saints photos)
Christmas comes on Thursday and it's another working holiday in the NFL, so Curtis Lofton won't be going back home to Oklahoma to see his family.
But he expects to receive a certain treat from his grandmother, Delora Terrell, especially since he didn't collect earlier this year.
"One thing she does do for me during the holidays, she makes me a pecan pie that's to die for," Lofton said. "I didn't get it this Thanksgiving so I'm definitely looking for it for Christmas."
It's one of the few things he will allow to be given to him by the woman who already has given him so much in life, one of the times he will allow her to take care of him now that he has lifted himself into position to take care of her.
"My grandmother raised me," Lofton said. "Growing up, my mom was in prison, I never really got to see my Dad too much. My grandmother raised me and my two older brothers, and I can't say enough about how much she influenced my life. She's been my foundation, and always supported me in everything I did.
"It gave me an inner strength seeing her work two jobs and put a roof over our head and feed us. It was tough at times, but I relate that over to football. It kind of gives me my inner strength and allows me to go out and do what I need to get done."
And what Lofton does as an inside linebacker makes him one of the best in the business.
Through 13 games, Lofton had been credited with 127 tackles, second-most in the league, 87 of them solos. Alone, his solo tally was 21 more tackles than the Saints' second-leading tackler, safety Kenny Vaccaro, had totaled.
The seven-year veteran, who has played through more nicks and bruises and strains and separations than he can name – if, indeed, he even was inclined to share the nature and degree of his injuries – never has missed an NFL game, and never has accumulated fewer than 108 tackles.
In a season of inconsistency, which too often has been dotted by underperformance, for the Saints defense, Lofton has been as reliable and effective as a solo act could be.
Reliability is something he learned from Terrell, who took in Lofton and his brothers when Lofton was 7 years old, and essentially never let go.
And, yes, she was protective of her grandson. Had it been left up to Terrell, Lofton's football career would have been delayed; perhaps, not canceled, but definitely delayed.
"I still laugh at that story," Lofton said, a smile creasing his face at the memory. "We played tackle football in fifth grade and I wanted to play so bad. She was like, 'No, you're not playing football.' So I went to the football practice where you sign up, signed up without asking my grandmother, and then all the parents on the team came over to my house to ask my grandmother if I could play.
"She said yes while everybody else was there, but when everybody left, she gave me a whooping. She said, 'If you get hurt, I don't wanna hear you crying about nothing. It's your own fault.' Because back in the day, I was just a little guy."
The little guy grew, and grew, and became a star at Kingfisher (Okla.) High. Mostly, he excelled on the field out of the view of Terrell, but he knew the circumstances.
"I understood that my grandmother was tired when she got home," Lofton said. "She came when she could. But my hometown, it's a great place. So many people took time out of their lives to give me a ride to games, practice, give me a meal when I was hungry. I tried to make sure I stayed on the straight and narrow. Growing up, I kind of got into some mischief but everyone just took me under and helped raise me.
"I think it's a difficult situation because when you're young, and you go to basketball games and football games and you see other moms and dads being there, you kind of want somebody in the stands. But that always fueled me to become a better person, be a better football player. I knew football was going to provide a way to take care of my family."
That, Lofton has done. Specifically, he fulfilled a promise he made to himself, and that he shared with Terrell.
"I always told my grandmother when I was younger that I was going to go to the NFL and I was going to buy her a house," he said. "That always sat in the back of my mind and as I began high school and began to be a standout in high school, and got to college and began to stand out, finally, once I got to NFL, I wanted to make good on my promise to her. For the first couple of years, she wouldn't let me do it. We had a trailer over by the railroad tracks; she wouldn't let me move her out of that.
"My third year, I finally went and I was standing at the trailer and I was like, 'I can't have my grandmother living like this.' So finally I told her, 'I'm going to go out and look at a house and I'm going to buy one. So you can either live in it or it's just going to sit there.' And finally, we were able to contract and build her a house. She got to pick everything, exactly what she wanted. It's just a blessing to be able to take care of your grandmother, who's taken care of you.
"Words can't really express the feeling I had to be able to take care of someone that's done so much for me. I can't even describe it."
It resembles the passion that Lofton pours into his job.
Through 110 NFL games and 109 starts, he has clocked in and done the work. This year, when the Saints defense sometimes has been at its worst, he has been at his best.
"I feel like this year, for me personally, has been a great year and it has been one of my best years since I've been in the NFL," he said. "I've just got to keep pushing, keep staying on guys. But I don't succeed unless the team succeeds.
"I wouldn't say it's frustrating. But I would say that when you're having a great year, you have to stop focusing on yourself and try to focus on everyone else and try to make them better, whether it's helping them walk through plays or bringing them into film or getting them in the weight room. You've got to keep bringing guys along."
Bringing them along, trying to teach them, trying to take care of them.
Lofton is able to teach, because he had a great teacher.