What would you give up to pursue your dream?
Giants linebacker David Mayo gave up running water, electricity and anything resembling legroom.
For a semester when he was attending junior college, Mayo lived in a 10 x 15 uninsulated shed in a woman’s backyard in Southern California. And he paid $450 a month for the privilege of doing so.
“L.A. is crazy expensive,” Mayo said by way of explanation. “But it was a great experience.”
The way Mayo sees it, every NFL locker room is filled with crazy stories of what guys did to get there. His journey to the Giants — for whom he has started five games after he was picked up at the start of the season – is as crazy as any of them.
The youngest of seven from a sports-obsessed family in Scappoose, Oregon, Mayo said he decided he was going to be an NFL player when he was in the fourth grade. Problem was, when he was coming out of high school, no Division I school showed any interest in him.
Rather than play for Western Oregon, a Division II school, he decided to enroll in Santa Monica Junior College, which had a reputation of sending players on to FBS programs.
When Mayo started looking for places to live online, he found that studio apartments in the area were going for $1,000 a month, more than double what he could pay. After he placed an “I’ll stay anywhere” ad on Craigslist, he was contacted by a woman who lived five miles from campus.
She offered him a shed in her backyard made out of wood paneling and sitting on a concrete slab. The shed was outfitted with a bed and an ottoman, and she said he could run an extension cord from the house to power a lamp and a space heater. He also could have access to the bathroom and kitchen inside the house.
“I just went for it,” Mayo said.
Mayo made 68 tackles in his year at Santa Monica in 2011 and garnered interest from exactly one school, Texas State, which was adding 22 new scholarships as it made the transition to an FBS program. Mayo had an impressive senior season there and ended up being a fifth-round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2015.
Fast-forward to this fall. Mayo had just signed a two-year contract with the 49ers and moved his family to the Bay Area. Then, on Aug. 31, he was cut. The Giants signed him two days later.
“A part of being a pro is even when you don’t know when your opportunity is going to come, you have to be ready when your opportunity does come up,” the 6-2, 240-pounder said. “That’s what I’ve focused on my entire career.”
Giants general manager Dave Gettleman was the general manager of the Panthers when they drafted Mayo. The thought was he would be a top-notch special-teams player and someone who could fill in in emergencies.
After a rash of injuries, Mayo was elevated to a starter in Week 4. His best game came against the Patriots in Week 6 when he made a career-high 13 tackles and had a half sack.
“I love what David Mayo has done, I really do,” Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher said the week after the Patriots game. “He’s come and worked his tail off. David’s another guy that loves the game. This guy really loves the game, he’s tough, he’s physical.”
Mayo feels as if he has found a home with the Giants — a real home, not the sort of place where he needs an extension cord to charge his cellphone. And he wouldn’t change anything about his journey here.
“It’s wild, but it’s a blessing,” Mayo said. “A lot of guys have the same dream I did. And one thing goes wrong, or one mess-up, or you’re one injury away from that dream not being achieved. One call away from it not being achieved. If Texas State had not given me my offer, the only school that did, who knows where I would be? Or if I was at a different [junior college], would I succeed there? You just never know.
“This whole journey is just crazy, so I’m very blessed.”