NFL star who inspired ‘The Blind Side’ is himself inspired by story of Waco student

Published: Oct. 20, 2021 at 1:52 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Michael Oher, the athlete whose journey from homeless to an NFL star inspired the hit film “The Blind Slide,” visited Waco to inspire others at a fundraiser and left inspired by the story of a local high school senior.

Oher said he accepted the invitation to be the featured speaker at the Talitha Koum Institute’s fifth annual fundraiser Tuesday night at the Baylor Club in Waco because he sees himself as “the poster child” of those the Waco-based organization is trying to help.

The former NFL standout said he had no idea he’d leave Waco inspired by the life of Steven Torres, an 18-year-old helped by Talitha Koum since he was 10 months old.

“Most definitely,” Oher said when asked if Torres inspired him. “For a kid a junior in high school, he’s graduating early, and he started with the program, with Talitha Koum, and that’s the result you’re looking for right there in Steven.”

Steven was raised by a single mother with a full-time job who did her best, he says, to care for him and his four siblings. Times were tough and the mother made a decision that changed the trajectory of Steven’s life by enrolling him in the Talitha Koum Institute.

“It helped me say my ABCs,” Steven said. “Talitha Koum has helped me in many ways throughout my life. It helped me to keep pushing and be a leader.”

Steven, a quiet kid by nature, said he doesn’t enjoy public speaking, but on Tuesday night, he took to the stage to share how the nonprofit changed his life.

News 10′s Julie Hays interviewed Oher before the fundraiser. Watch he interview in the clip below:

Steven was paired with two mentors who have helped him for more than a decade. While life seemed hopeless at one point for his family, Steven is now getting ready to graduate high school a year early with big career goals, something he says would never have been possible without Talitha Koum.

“I probably would be somewhere like most of my peers, selling drugs, in jail, in and out of juvie, failing classes and I wouldn’t have met my mentors, the great people in my life who helped my mother and helped me whenever I needed it,” Steven said. “My life would just have been drastically different.”

Oher followed Steven’s speech by appearing on stage alongside Baylor Head Men’s Basketball Coach Scott Drew for a Q&A session.

Oher told his own story of surviving trauma and homelessness with a single mother addicted to drugs, a father in prison, no food or even someone to take him to school as young as the fourth grade.

Baylor Head Men's Basketball Coach Scott Drew and former NFL lineman Michael Oher.
Baylor Head Men's Basketball Coach Scott Drew and former NFL lineman Michael Oher.(Courtesy Photo)

He talked about dressing himself, walking to school on his own and even getting a job selling newspapers so he could afford the bus fare to school.

After the event, Oher talked to KWTX about how Steven had inspired him.

“You’re looking for someone like me when you have that, you know, right there in front of you,” Oher said. “That’s why we’re doing it and inspiring that next generation to get those results.”

Steven and his mother, along with Steven’s mentors, were seated at the same table as Oher and the two visited throughout the entire evening.

Oher took such an interest in the nonprofit, he toured the facilities earlier in the day. He donated three autographed footballs for the audible auction, which ended up raising more than $20,000, and he stayed until the last attendee left signing autographs and taking pictures.

If Oher has any advice for kids like Steven everywhere, he says it is to never give up on your dreams and look yourself in the mirror everyday knowing that your choices and desire to overcome can change your life, just like it did his.

“Younger people think ‘oh, he had a lot of help’ and in reality, I was 17 or 18 before I started getting the help,” Oher said. “I had to do the right thing years before anybody started to help me. I had to not get caught up in the environment I was in. I had to go to school every day. I had to stay away from the drugs and the people doing the things I knew were wrong.”

Oher is now living in Nashville, Tennessee, where he runs a foundation for at-risk kids. He hopes to one day open a home for at-risk boys.

Steven is set to graduate Waco High School this year and plans to join the U.S. Marine Corps. After he retires from the service, Steven would like to pursue a career in law enforcement.

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