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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Former Packers LB John Corker bounces back from drugs, homelessness

Thanks to and written by  ALEX BRANCH  Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Link follows:
FORT WORTH, Texas — John Corker, all 6 feet, 7 inches and 280 chiseled pounds of him, attracts plenty of attention at the Salvation Army.
"Is that you?" a homeless man asks, eyeing a photograph of Corker as a linebacker for the Green Bay Packers in 1988, about to lay a hit on quarterback Vinny Testaverde.
Seconds later, a woman stops Corker, but for a different reason.
"Hey, I recognize you," she said. "You used to drive the No. 2 bus!"
Yes, John Corker has done both of those things.
But his real story, the one that defines him, is his battle back from the edge of oblivion.
Corker was once a brash all-America linebacker who set tackling records at Oklahoma State University and played years of professional football.
Today, he is a city bus driver — and a recovered drug user who once lived homeless and hungry.
Corker's large frame is a common sight at the Salvation Army, where he has for years been involved in the church ministry. The facility on East Lancaster Avenue gave Corker shelter after he became stranded in Fort Worth following a drug binge in the mid-2000s.
It's where he found the programs that turned his life around, helped him get a home and a steady job, and stay clean and sober for seven years now.
"People ask me how it felt to be an NFL player who competed at the highest level, and then come live in a homeless shelter," said Corker, 53.
"I tell them it was probably the greatest day of my life."
"John Corker is imposing a personal reign of terror on quarterbacks," a Sports Illustrated journalist wrote about Corker in 1983.
Described as tall, fast and fearless, the Miami native was an all-American at Oklahoma State, where he played from 1976 to 1979. He finished his four years as the school's all-time leading tackler and was named Big Eight defensive player of the year in 1978, the first OSU player to receive the award.
Drafted by the Houston Oilers, he played three seasons in the NFL before moving to the USFL. In 1983, while playing for the Michigan Panthers, he was named the USFL's defensive player of the year. He eventually returned to the NFL, playing in two games for the Packers in 1988.
Corker earned hundreds of thousands of dollars playing pro ball. But the fast-lane lifestyle slowly destroyed him.
Cocaine was the monster on his back.
"I was probably smoking $1,200 (worth of cocaine) a day and playing pro football at the same time," he said. "How my heart didn't burst, I can't tell you that."
In 1994, he played in the Arena Football League, but he eventually found himself out of football, broke and cashing in his $30,000 pension.
He got a hotel room and in one month blew every penny on drugs. He ended up on the streets of Baltimore, eating out of trash bins.
His brother eventually brought him to Texas, where Corker cleaned up long enough to get a job driving tractor-trailers.
Then came the day when, on a trip from Odessa to Dallas to pick up a cargo of electronics, he stopped in Fort Worth to find drugs.
He left the truck near Vickery Boulevard and Tucker Street. That was the last he saw of it.
"Because of my capacity to get high, I couldn't remember where I left the truck," he said. "I was walking around the city of Fort Worth asking people if they'd seen a parked tractor-trailer truck on the side of the road."
With nowhere else to go, Corker wandered into the Salvation Army.
Corker's weight had dropped to a gaunt 185 pounds, and his long legs dangled over the end of his bunk in the men's dormitory.
"I figured I'd blow off a couple days here," he said. "But to be inside from the elements consistently for the first time in years, it gave me the belief that I could do this. I could get my life back."
Corker committed himself to the self-improvement programs and drug counseling.
Salvation Army Lt. Chris Bryant worked at the facility in 2008 and remembers Corker reaching out to other homeless men.
The former linebacker had regained his weight and muscle. He towered over others and commanded attention, Bryant said.
"When you first meet John, he's an intimidating figure," Bryant said. "He could walk up to the guys off the streets and tell them it was time to get their lives in order. They listened to him."
Corker eventually got a job driving buses in Fort Worth, and he has kept it. He rented an apartment in east Fort Worth, where he raises his 4-year-old daughter, Alexis.
"It's all about her now," he said. "She's been the apple of my eye."
Corker serves on the Salvation Army's advisory council and shares his story at Salvation Army events, as well as with other organizations and in public schools.
His life is not always simple, he said. He would like to one day buy a house, but the cost of child care commands a startling chunk of his monthly paycheck.
But he said he looks forward to the future and refuses to dwell on the past.
"I look back over my life now and say I've really been blessed," he said.
"I'm not perfect, but I thank God I'm not where I used to be."

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