ATLANTA -- Robert Nkemdiche and Collins Hill head football Coach Lenny Gregory have a bond bigger than football.
The two got together at Nkemdiche’s free football camp in Lawrenceville on Saturday – a journey years in the making.
“Feels good to come back and actually have an event where you can give back to such a great community,” Nkemdiche said.
A football camp for kids reunited him with Georgia and his high school football, Gregory.
“We kind of bonded from day one when he was a little freshman,” Gregory said.
“He did not let me settle for anything but great in whatever I did,” Nkemdiche said.
A coach and a player - the two go way back to a time when Gregory was an assistant coach at Grayson High School – and the legal guardian of the top recruit in Georgia.
"His mom was in Africa working and his dad was working late hours,” Gregory said. “I just saw a need to help, so I offered my help, next thing you know he's over at my house eating dinner."
Nkemdiche had his highs – and lows – in their 4 years apart.
“Life’s a journey, right? And Robert is on a journey,” Gregory said.
“I’ve seen the dark side; I’ve seen the light side,” Nkemdiche said.
A charge of marijuana possession kept Nkemdiche out of the 2016 Sugar Bowl with Ole Miss. Within a year the Arizona Cardinals drafted him in the first round.
Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians questioned his maturity in November of 2016. He battled an ankle injury and finished with three tackles in five games.
“There were some things me and him weren’t really seeing each other with and I made some mistakes,” Nkemdiche said.
He found the answer in time for his second NFL season.
“I also made a jump back and made sure I fixed whatever I had to do to make sure I have him by my side,” he said.
It just took some tough love – something Gregory approves of.
“It’s neat to watch him, having been his coach, to watch him become a grown man,” he said.
Nkemdiche expects results.
“Nobody’s going to have a perfect game,” he said. “But when you know you’re playing with no mistakes and no regrets, now you can play free.”
Playing free has a price.
Tough lessons and the open doors at your coach’s house – they eventually pay off.