The comparisons are eerily similar.
He’s an offensive lineman with the nickname, “Big Mike,” and he went through a traumatic childhood the past couple of years, leaving him headed toward social services.
Then he found a home with a new family, and his future is looking bright.
It’s not Michael Oher from “The Blind Side,” but Mike Bright from Cardinal Mooney.
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Bright is a 305-pound freshman right guard for a Cougars team that is 7-1 and playing for a Class 3A District 5 championship at home Friday against state-ranked Clearwater Central Catholic. Getting to this point, though, wasn’t easy.
“I’ve been around things that I shouldn’t have been around,” said Bright, who is 14 years old and stands 6-foot-1. “... It was pretty tough, because I was able to understand what was happening. My younger siblings, they saw it. But they didn’t really ‘see’ it.”
Current Cardinal Mooney assistant coach Ryan Barnhouse first met Bright in 2014 when Barnhouse was coaching in the Sarasota Ringling Redskins youth football league. Bright was on an opposing team, and he made an immediate impact on Barnhouse.
“Who was that,” Barnhouse recalled about his first sight of Bright.
In the summer of 2015, Bright joined a team Barnhouse was coaching. Like others on the team, Bright needed rides to and from practice. Barnhouse put him on the pickup loop and made the rounds. Bright’s living situation deteriorated to the point that he began staying with Barnhouse for a few days or a week.
“Things got pretty rough on the home front and that’s when they were displaced,” Barnhouse said.
While Bright’s mother, Loren, looked for a new home, he ended up staying with Barnhouse and his family for 1 1/2 months.
Bright and his two younger siblings, a 10-year-old sister and 2-year-old brother, reunited with his mother and stepfather at the Cadillac Motel in Sarasota, sharing a one-bedroom unit. The living conditions weren’t desirable, and Bright’s mother left Barnhouse with a prophetic message.
“She said, ‘If anything ever happens to me and I can’t take care of them, he likes being around you guys,’” Barnhouse said. “ ‘Would you all ever consider letting him stay with you if something happened to me?’ Of course.”
Within a couple of weeks in September 2015, Bright’s mother was involved with the Southgate Animal Hospital robbery off Bee Ridge Road in Sarasota, and she was sent to prison for four years the following month.
“I was surprised,” said Bright, whose younger siblings are with grandparents in Texas and Georgia, respectively. “I looked at my mom as a perfect person, because she’s my mom. But people make mistakes and I was very surprised, and obviously sad.”
Bright still writes to his mom and his most recent visit to see her was six months ago. His biological father, Dewayne Abrams, lives in Georgia and has started to become more involved in Bright’s life. He drove from Georgia to see Bright and the Cougars take on Southeast on Oct. 8.
Barnhouse and his wife Shannon gained guardianship over Bright, who has a strong bond with the Barnhouse’s two sons, 5-year-old Braiden and 2-year-old Jayce, about a week before the robbery.
Barnhouse said it was the first time Bright had his own room and bed. Before, he shared a bed with his siblings.
He often had to take care of them and cook them food.
“He had to grow up early,” Barnhouse said.
A side effect to the troubling past few years is Bright developed a stutter in his speech. A student with grades above a 3.0 grade point average, Bright’s acumen is impeccable.
The high-stress environment he was in, though, caused the stutter.
“His speech impediment was, literally, five times worse,” Barnhouse said.
Now he’s opening holes for running back Bryce Williams, who has more 1,000 rushing yards this year, on a one-loss Cougars team ready to make a playoff splash in November.
Receiving financial aid to cover Mooney’s tuition, Bright’s transition into a stable lifestyle was perfect timing.
“When he started coming to summer workouts, we instantly fell in love with him,” Cougars head coach Drew Lascari said.
Lascari also saw a player that had been through a lot, and is ready to overcome just about anything.
“For such a young man and to have such resiliency, to put a smile on his face and to be such a light of hope and joy for our school community, we are just so happy that he’s here,” Lascari said.