Patriots standout rookie Sony Michel has come a long way in one year.
This time last year Michel was with the Georgia Bulldogs preparing for the Rose Bowl, which they later won 54-48 over the Oklahoma Sooners. This year, the running back is getting ready to wrap up his first season in the NFL.
“It’s been a little different,” Michel said last week during an event sponsored by Gillette at the Patriots’ home stadium. “As you know, college is a shorter season. Around this time, guys [are] on the break, most of my old teammates are back home chilling with family. I’m still in season, gotta finish three more games… It’s almost like changing that switch in your mind, that mindset and just changing the mindset like, ‘Alright, I’m in a whole different mode.’ It’s all about adjusting, just trying to adapt.”
Adapting to a new environment isn’t a foreign concept to Michel— it’s something he learned from his parents, something that they had to do years before their youngest son was born.
Michel’s parents, Jean and Marie, both emigrated from Haiti, seeking a better life in the United States. His parents met in Florida, where they settled down with Marie’s older daughter, Lamise. They later had two sons, the younger of whom became the 31st overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
“They made the best of every opportunity, really,” Michel said. “It wasn’t always the best times, but they were always fun at the end of the day. They made it fun for me and my brother and my sister. And just seeing how hard they work— and me, I’m a people-watcher, so I’ll sit back and just watch my parents and see how they operate. And just seeing the day-in and day-out, just working sunup til sundown. My sister’s the oldest, so she took care of me and my brother most of the time because my parents were working. My parents never wanted me and my brother to see the struggle.”
Growing up, Jean and Marie worked tirelessly to support their family, providing their three children with the same opportunities that other kids had regardless of the socioeconomic disparities. Michel, the youngest of his siblings, didn’t learn of his parents’ early struggles until many years later.
“I first talked to my parents about it [during] my last year of college,” Michel said. “I was like, ‘Tell me about your experience,’ and that was the first time they told me. But just from growing up, it was more of just seeing. I knew the situation I was in, we didn’t have everything. We were poor, I understood that. But at the same time, my parents always made sure I had the shoes I needed to go to school, the clothes I wanted, and I thought that was interesting. I understand, like ‘OK, they care for me, they’re going to work hard to do whatever it takes.”
In turn, Michel committed himself to excelling in school and on the field. He capitalized on every chance to learn, both in and outside of school, an opportunity that his parents had worked so hard to provide.
“My parents didn’t have an education, so when I went to school it was kind of like a self-commitment that ‘I’m going to get the best grades possible,'” Michel said. “I just wanted to be able to go to my parents and say, ‘Look, I got A’s and B’s.’ They were always like, ‘Go get good grades,’ but I could never go to my parents and be like, ‘Can you help me with my homework?’ So whatever I needed to do, I always made sure that I got it done in school so I could go to them and be like, ‘Look, I got it done.’ No matter how I did it, I got it done. I could easily have just went, ‘School’s boring,’ and it was boring at times. But at the end of the day, I knew what was right and what I needed to do to help me chase my dreams. That was part of it.”
The importance of family was something that Michel learned from his parents at a young age. While his parents were working, Michel and his older brother Marken, who now plays for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League, were often left in the care of their older sister Lamise. She’s the one who signed her youngest brother sign up for football, something he had developed a passion for, and was there when he played for the very first time.
“The football thing just came from being in the neighborhood. Actually, my brother loved football. He’s two years older than me, so I always kind of did what he did. He always loved football. I kind of liked soccer growing up, but I never played it because I started playing football first and fell in love with it. And that love just came from following my brother’s footsteps.
“I envisioned it when I was a little kid, just running around the street playing football,” Michel said of his dream to play in the NFL. “Throwing the ball up in the streets, and I knew that I wanted to be in the NFL. And that was my dream, and once I knew that was my dream and that’s what I wanted, I just never looked back and I just chased it.”
Michel said that his family has been with him every step of the way and attributes a lot of his success to their endless support. His family made the 10-hour drive to every home game at the University of Georgia, they were there with him on his draft day and his parents make the trek to New England to see nearly every one of their son’s home games.
“[My dad] was always there. Any situation, you name it, he was there. From making sure I got good grades— and I knew he didn’t know when progress reports came, but he knew I was going to get it sometime so eventually I was going to have to bring it to him. Even with sports— he was there on the sidelines, in the crowd. Not the loudest, but he was present. And I always felt that presence and I thought it was important to me.
“My dad used to play soccer back in Haiti, and back in the day I thought I was fast, super fast. So one day me, my brother and my dad were racing. Me and my brother wanted to race, and then my dad jumped in the race and we looked at him like, ‘Are you crazy?’ … I just remember we started running and my dad took off. And from that day, we were like ‘This man’s still got it.’ … He always played that best friend role, but at the end of the day it was like, ‘Alright now, I’m still two steps ahead of you guys.’ … I think I’m still trying to catch up to him.”
Over a decade later, the 23-year-old has achieved his dream of playing in the NFL. And with three 100-yard rushing games and 765 rushing yards this season, he’s on track to be one of New England’s most successful running backs this season.
“It’s a blessing. It’s a wonderful opportunity for me, it’s what I envisioned. But you still got to keep that focus [on] what got me here. And that’s the only way that my mind was going to keep me here— just keep working, keep working hard and keep grinding through it. … It’s been an amazing experience and I’m just excited.”