As he walked off the field at Lucas Oil Stadium in February, former LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry was devastated. He'd trained for two months for the NFL scouting combine and felt he'd reached his physical peak at the perfect time, but when it was his turn to perform in front of the men who make the draft decisions, his body failed him.
Landry, one of the top wide receivers in this year's draft class, had strained his right hamstring while warming up to run the 40-yard dash but decided to run it anyway. He turned in a time of 4.77 seconds, leaving him dead last among an unusually deep class of receivers.
"Man, I was hurt by it," Landry told Yahoo Sports. "After the combine I was kind of in disbelief, like, this is the biggest interview of my life and I got an incomplete."
As a player who prides himself on shining brightest on the biggest stages, Landry didn't know how to process the setback. As he realized he'd have to wait a month and a half to redeem himself at his pro day, frustration mounted.
"It was tough for me having to wait after the combine to prove to everyone else what I knew I was in the pit of my soul," Landry said.
Ultimately, it was a lesson his mother had been teaching him since he was a child that brought him peace: Prepare yourself diligently to take advantage of opportunity when it presents itself, and don't let the things you can't control rob you of your energy.
And when his opportunity came to prove his underwhelming performance at the combine was a fluke, he did just that. Landry ran the 40-yard dash in somewhere between 4.50 and 4.58 seconds, depending on which stopwatch you were looking at. He also ran crisp, smooth routes and, despite a few drops, turned in the performance he'd hoped he would.
"It was almost like I was so focused when I was getting ready to run that no one else was in the facility with me," Landry said. "It was the ultimate peace because I was so confident in what I was about to do. I just trusted that my hard work was going to get me the results I needed to answer any questions teams had left. "After I ran, and I got that thumbs up, it was like, 'I can breathe.' You know?
"The first thing I did, I walked over and embraced my mom, and she embraced me. It reminded me of all the sacrifices she made to help me get to this point.
"We looked at each other and we didn't have to say anything because we could see it in each other's eyes. She's who I do this for. It was one of the best feelings in my life."
Raised on the banks of the Mississippi River in tiny Convent, La., Landry has always called the Bayou State home. He played football at nearby Lutcher High School, where he earned national recognition as one of the top-rated wide receivers – a Rivals.com five-star player – in the class of 2011. During his sophomore year at Lutcher, he committed to LSU, and thus, to spending at least three years of his life after graduation about 50 minutes up the road in Baton Rouge.
When all was said and done, he had amassed 137 catches for 1,809 yards and 15 touchdowns to become one of the most productive wide receivers in LSU's history.
As a native son, Landry has done Louisiana proud. But in a few short days, an NFL team will obtain his rights in the draft, and in all likelihood, Landry will have to leave the turf he was raised on and learn what it's like to live away from "home" for the first time.
He says at least ten teams in the first round could use a receiver like him, and mentioned that he had productive meetings with the New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts and Atlanta Falcons. He added that he'd be honored to play for and live in any of the 32 cities that have an NFL franchise.
Wherever he lands, Landry says it'll feel like he's an eternity from where his life began.
"I came from the projects, from having nothing, so I see every day I live on the other side of poverty as a blessing," Landry said.
"There were times where we were living in a trailer with no lights and no water. I had to battle through not having my mom in my life the way I wanted her in my life for a period of time, through not having a father figure in the house at all. Growing up was a struggle."
Landry's mother, Dietra, has always been his rock. But there was a time he largely had to live without her, and as a child, he didn't fully understand why it had to be that way.
"All I knew is I wanted my mom by my side," Landry said.
The reality was, after Landry's mother and father divorced, she was forced to work two jobs to stay afloat. And it was that reality that led Dietra to make the most difficult decision of her life: She gave up legal custody of Jarvis, then about age 11, to Elmo LeBeouf III, a local youth football coach of Jarvis’. He and his family were deemed better equipped to provide Jarvis with the attention and resources he needed.
"That was the ultimate sacrifice," Dietra said. "It was kind of difficult for us when Jarvis was young. I got to see him on weekends, but we weren't living together. I didn't really want to do it, but as I look back at it, it was the right thing to do. Jarvis was too young to really understand what was going on, but it was something I felt I had to do for him to have the best opportunity to succeed.
"I always wanted my children [including oldest son Gerard] to have the things that I couldn't have in life. And that's what all the times I had to work nights at the hospital and then turn around and work days doing home help were about. But those days taught him a lot of tough lessons about life. "You can only control what you can control."
After a few years, Landry's mother got to a place where she could better take care of Jarvis, and her son was able to come back home. And while their time apart was difficult, the experience further steeled an already rock-solid relationship.
"When I got to come home, I was a little older and I became a lot more aware of my mom's work ethic and how much she sacrificed for me," Landry said. "But it wasn't because of anything she said to me, it was because of what I saw. And learning from her example is a big part of the reason my work ethic is what it is now."
Landry could always depend on the stability football provided him, and he also credits the sport for saving him. "It's crazy when I take a step back and think about it now; I've given my life to the game, and in return, the game's given me a chance to give my family a better life. It's amazing, man. Truly amazing."
Landry believes he's at his best when he has something to prove, so he appreciates those who question his speed, size and value in the NFL draft. Some analysts and pundits point to Landry's physical limitations. They say he's undersized at 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, that he doesn't have elite speed to "take the top off" a defense and that he lacks experience, having started only 12 games for the Tigers.
Landry scoffs at all of that, saying his production speaks for itself while stressing that the teams he's spoken with understand what makes him special.
"I'm the hungriest receiver in the draft, period" Landry said. "And hunger can't be measured with a stopwatch."
Wise scouts will tell you that stats account for only a piece of the puzzle when evaluating players. Scouting for traits is often thought of as being more important. When you ask Landry what traits he possesses that separate him from the pack, he doesn't hesitate.
"My football IQ is off the charts, my catching radius is that of a 6-4 or 6-5 receiver, I block like my life depends on it, and you won't find another player who prepares for the game like me. And if you have questions about my ability after you recognize that, just turn on the tape and watch me play the game. My film doesn't lie." His film reveals circus catches, disruptive blocks and polished technique that stands out in this draft class. He realizes receivers like Clemson's Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M's Mike Evans, Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, Fresno State's Davonte Adams and former LSU teammate Odell Beckham Jr., are the guys he's competing with for a team's endorsement in the first round. But he points out that his production last year – all 1,193 yards and 10 touchdowns of it – came primarily against SEC competition in an offense that also featured Beckham Jr., who finished the season with 1,152 yards and eight touchdowns.
Only Adams shared the field with another 1,000-yard receiver and his yards came primarily against Mountain West Conference competition. Evans, Watkins and Cooks all received the lion's share of their team's targets and weren't competing with as impressive a teammate as Beckham for stats.
Whenever Landry is selected, he says the chip on his shoulder will remain.
"I'm a rare breed," Landry said. "Even though I'm happy my hard work and dedication will let me help my family out, I'm not playing the game for the money. I'm playing the game because I really love the game. And I know a lot of players say they love the game, but there aren't many whose actions back up their words."