There were mornings several months ago when Cordavien Suggs would wake up with stiff knees. It is difficult, he learned, for a 6-foot-6, 300-pound senior offensive tackle to sleep comfortably while sharing with another person the third row of a gray Yukon truck.
The estimated 15 nights Suggs said he spent sleeping in the truck owned by a close friend’s family was part of the sacrifice he made to get to where he wants to be.
At some point later next month shortly after Suggs graduates from Duncan U. Fletcher in Neptune Beach, Florida, on June 2, the Jackson native will report to Mississippi State, the school he signed with in February.
His path to Starkville has never been easy. Suggs grew up fast, raised by his single mother in south Jackson, an area notorious for crime and poverty. His father, whom he barely knew, died when Suggs was in second grade. He moved away from his mother to Florida as a freshman. In January, Suggs started living comfortably with Brad Bernard, the offensive line coach at Duncan U. Fletcher, but before that, he slept in a couple of different homes, a variety of hotel rooms and a truck.
“It has definitely been a long journey for me,” Suggs said.
The road started with a hoop dream. As a youngster in Jackson, Suggs was never interested in gridiron — despite his mother Nancy Suggs suggesting he should try football.
“Growing up, I didn’t think about football at all,” Suggs said. “I was sold on basketball.”
Suggs’ athleticism was one reason why he moved with former Dandy Dozen and current Mississippi State forward Mario Kegler to Florida to attend Arlington Country Day, a private school known for basketball, at the suggestion of AAU coach Omhar Carter, Kegler’s legal guardian. This was in 2014, when Suggs was a freshman and Kegler a sophomore at Callaway.
Another reason for the move was Suggs wanting to change his surroundings.
“My friends were getting put in jail,” Suggs said. “I had to get out of that environment.”
Still, this was Nancy Suggs’ oldest child saying he was no longer going to see her every day.
“It was a very difficult decision,” Nancy Suggs said. “Of course, letting my first born go away to another state was hard. I just prayed and prayed, and talked to him every day. He changed his mind, but I told him, ‘Yeah, you need to go.’ I thought it would be a better opportunity. I second-guessed it a lot. I didn’t like the idea of not seeing him and not being able to touch him. But the environment was better for him there.”
Suggs stayed with coaches from Arlington Country Day after he moved, but he tore his patella as an eighth-grader at Powell Middle School and was never the same basketball player.
“That kind of ended my basketball career right there,” Suggs said.
In his sophomore year, Suggs finally took the advice of former Callaway coach Patrick Austin, former Callaway and Ole Miss lineman Rod Taylor, Nancy Suggs and, really, everyone else who saw his size and athleticism when he tried out for the football team.
That’s when he developed a friendship with Keshawn Bennett, the friend whose family’s truck would later serve as Suggs’ bed for a period of time. Suggs ended up enjoying football so much that he and Bennett decided Arlington Country Day’s limited football program wasn’t enough. The two transferred to Duncan U. Fletcher after Suggs said he moved in with Bennett’s family.
“We weren’t being taught anything in football and didn’t even have a workout plan or anything like that,” Suggs said. “I slept over his house one weekend, told his mom my situation and I ended up moving in with him. They took me in and are like my second family.”
Suggs stayed with the family of five for the rest of his sophomore year. During Suggs’ junior year, in the middle of the football season, the family was evicted from their home. That’s how Suggs ended up bouncing around a few different hotel rooms, on good nights. On worse nights, that’s how he ended up sharing the back row of the truck.
“I feel like I was homeless my whole junior year,” Suggs said. “Some nights, when there wouldn’t be money to stay at a hotel because that can be expensive, I wouldn’t have anywhere else to go.”
Suggs has always talked with his mother over the phone daily and has returned to Jackson for holidays, but Nancy Suggs, who now works at a pre-school, wasn’t always able to send him money while out of work for a time and with four other kids.
“It got pretty hard,” Nancy Suggs said. “But with every story he told me, he would say, ‘Mom, I’m a big boy. I’m OK. I’m good.’”
It was in that dark period for Suggs when he began to see a light.
While his home life was increasingly becoming unsteady, his football skills were blossoming. College coaches took notice by the middle of his junior season.
Suggs was eating packaged noodles from the microwave of a Best Western on when Troy assistant coach Bam Hardmon extended Suggs’ first collegiate offer.
“That,” Suggs said, “meant everything to me.”
“It relieved some stress, but then again it put some pressure on me,” he added. “I put myself to a high standard and I’m not easily satisfied. So when I got that first offer, I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to work even harder to see what else I can get.’”
Suggs ended up earning 36 offers. Mississippi State offered Suggs in the spring of 2016, shortly after Austin became a recruiting specialist for the Bulldogs. MSU coaches, like offensive line coach John Hevesy, became intrigued by Suggs’ size and raw ability as a pass-blocker.
“I can’t even explain or really express how good that feels,” Nancy Suggs said. “It doesn’t make sense how proud I am of my baby.”
For Nancy Suggs, the recruiting process ended when MSU offered.
“I had already had my mind made up,” Nancy Suggs said. “I just let him had to make his mind up and allow him to see what he wanted.”
“They make me feel comfortable and I don’t get too comfortable with too many people because of the situation and the stuff I’ve been through,” Suggs said of the Bulldogs’ coaches. “Once I do feel comfortable, I have a level of trust with you and that takes our relationship to another level.”
That also explains how he wound up living with Bernard, his offensive line coach, in January.
Suggs is taking Algebra II online as one of the final courses he needs to pass in order to graduate. Therefore, Suggs needed daily access to internet, something he didn’t have with his home life in flux.
“He started coming over more and more after we had our annual cookout and at one point, I just told him, ‘Cory, you need to just stay here and get your studies done because our computer isn’t being used anyway,’” said Bernard, who is married with a 15-year-old son and a 20-year-old son. “Next thing you know, he’s living with us. My wife loves him and we have a free room with my son in college. He is with us 24-7 and when he’s not, we ask where he is. He is part of the family now.”
The running joke in Bernard’s house is that one of the few things Suggs has to stress out over these days is not hitting his head in the doorway that is 6-foot, 6-inches tall. It’s easier than worrying about stiff knees.
Suggs’ better days seem to be ahead of him. The way Bernard sees it, that’s true from a football standpoint as well, considering Suggs didn’t play at a young age and hasn’t yet reached his potential. At MSU, Suggs is the highest-rated high school offensive lineman signee from February’s class. He is expected to be a significant contributor by his second or third year.
“That’s one reason we are excited,” Dan Mullen said on signing day. “Cordavien Suggs gets to come home.”
“When I wanted to leave Mississippi, it was because I was still growing as a person,” he said. “I couldn’t be around it every day and not expect to turn into what was surrounding me. That’s how I felt. So when I left, in these past years, I felt like I’m more developed as a person. I really know what I want in life so when I do go back to Mississippi, I don’t feel like there is anything that can tempt me to do bad or do wrong or anything like that.”