SALISBURY — Baltimore Ravens royalty came to Prince Street Elementary last week when Michael Oher visited the area.
Last month Jason Miller, assistant principal at Prince Street Elementary School (PSES), announced that Oher would stop by in February for a student and staff book signing, as well as a public meet and greet. Students at PSES read Oher’s book, “I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to the Blind Side and Beyond,” earlier this year and last Friday he spoke about the messages in his autobiography in person.
“Since I was younger, I’ve always had a strong urge to succeed,” he told a crowded auditorium.
Oher spent the entire morning signing copies of his book and then spoke to students from PSES, Salisbury Middle School and Pinehurst Elementary School. Later that night, he also addressed members of the public at a free event. The only payment asked was for attendees to each bring three cans of food for collection by the Maryland Food Bank.
While Oher’s book was on sale during the public event, copies were given to all PSES students and staff free of charge, purchased by the school directly through a grant.
Born into a troubled home, Oher’s mother struggled with drugs and alcohol while his father spent large stretches of time in prison. At age seven, Oher entered foster care and spent the majority of his formative years bouncing around the system including brief periods of homelessness.
“I went through a lot of things but I stayed positive,” said Oher.
While in high school, Oher was adopted by Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy and began to find success on the field and the classroom. That part of his story was the basis for the 2009 movie The Blind Side.
Oher told the audience that while he was in high school he had an epiphany.
“I didn’t realize how important grades were until my senior year,” he said.
Hoping to continue his sports career in college, Oher reflected on how he hit the books, took Internet courses and even got the help of a tutor, raising his Grade Point Average from .76 to over 2.5, which allowed him to attend the University of Mississippi.
Oher would go on to be drafted as a lineman by the Ravens in 2009.
While answering questions from students in the audience, Oher revealed that being drafted by a professional football team was not his greatest challenge.
“That was trying to get into college,” he said.
Oher told students that because he ignored academics for most of his life he had to fight an uphill battle during his last year of school to catch up. Though he succeeded, Oher urged the audience not to stack the deck against themselves and to commit to learning at an early age.
“It’s very important to listen to your teachers,” he said.
Wicomico Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Fredrickson agreed.
“Our number one goal is to have every one of you succeed,” he told the students. “I look forward to signing your diplomas.”
Because of his experiences and achievements, Oher said that he strives to be a role model for youth who are struggling with adversity.
“As long as you have passion and determination,” he promised, “you’re going to be successful.”
When asked if he could go back in time would he want to live a normal life, Oher said that he would not.
“I learned so many different things … I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said.
Though he expressed the most pride in his academic accomplishments, Oher admitted that being able to play in the National Football League (NFL) was so great it was surreal.
“I have to pinch myself every day at practice and each time I walk onto the field,” he said.
Entering the NFL from college, Oher admitted to being “scared to death” of famous teammate Ray Lewis but said that the two are now good friends, with Lewis functioning as a mentor and role model for Oher.