MIRAMAR, Fla. — Kadeem Telfort was so physically imposing on the football field as a child that he had to stop playing the sport altogether for a few years.
Well exceeding the size limits for his age group, he would have had to play with kids several years older and that wasn’t an option, his family felt.
So he waited. He tried basketball. And he waited.
All the while, his uncle, Wisler Telfort, gave him a nickname so he wouldn’t lose sight of his future.
“Big Money Kadeem,” he shares, as the family sits around their living room in late December. “When he used to look sad, he couldn’t play, I just said, ‘Man, don’t worry about it. Your time is coming. You’re going to be Big Money Kadeem. One day you’re going to be Big Money Kadeem. Everybody’s going to have respect.'”
Telfort’s time has indeed arrived. The 6-foot-7, 310-pound 4-star offensive tackle is on campus at Florida as an early enrollee and looks like a key piece in the Gators’ plans to elevate their line play.
Given Florida’s obvious needs up front, he looks to be one of the most important players overall in this 2017 signing class, for that matter.
Telfort, who remains one of the biggest kids in any age group with his towering frame and size 15 feet, is hoping to contribute immediately next fall. He was recruited as a tackle, though he also has experience playing guard.
The Florida staff, not to mention a fan base impatient with the Gators’ lackluster offense, will hope Telfort can be part of the new mindset up front that coach Jim McElwain has promised for 2017.
— Jim McElwain (@CoachMcElwain) January 9, 2017
His family, meanwhile, is simply eager to see him finally realize a dream many years in the making.
His mother Gerta Telfort couldn’t help but cry when they toured The Swamp on his official visit last month, seeing his high school highlights play over the stadium’s video board.
“I got emotional and went into tears,” she recalls. “And he was like, ‘Mom, what are you crying for?’ It’s just the simple fact that you would want your child to succeed, especially at something they’ve wanted ever since they were a child.”
And his uncle, who was prophetic all those years back, expects to have the same reaction this coming football season.
“Oh man, I’m going to cry. I’m going to shed tears,” he says. “… Especially him, because I know what he went through.”
Origins of a big prospect
Gerta Telfort says Kadeem stood out from the very beginning, to the extent that doctors had them visit a specialist after seeing how fast he was growing.
They concluded nothing was wrong — he was simply going to be a very big kid. Later, teachers would ask her if he had been held back a grade. Nope, just a big kid.
She recalls that one of his first Christmas presents was a football and from a very early age, he had made his plans for the future very clear.
“Even when he was small, 2-3 years old, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ ‘Football player,'” Gerta Telfort says. “(I’d say), ‘No, you’ve got to tell me, if you hurt yourself what are you going to do?’ (He’d say), ‘Oh, they’ll fix me, Mommy. They got doctors, they’re going to fix me.’ So this is something that has been in his mindset ever since he was a child.”
He played on the same team with his cousin Shabazz Telfort, a class of 2017 quarterback prospect, as a first and second-grader before his size became an obstacle for more than just the opposing team.
The park leagues had a weight limit for each age group, and by the third grade Telfort was relegated to the sidelines.
“The weight that he was, was probably like the sixth grade (classification) and he was only in third grade,” Gerta Telfort says. “At some parks we went to, they would allow him to play because they would have an overweight child to match, but some parks, their coaches would say, ‘No.’ … He would cry, he would be mad, but my brother would be there and say, ‘Don’t worry about it. Your time will come.'”
Says Wisler Telfort: “Some people would see him and thought he didn’t want to play, like he was lazy, but I would tell his mom I didn’t want him to play with the older kids for him to get hurt. Because he was their size. You’d see a 13-year old, he could be 8 years old, he’s damn near their size. I didn’t want him to get hurt. ‘Nah, he’s not playing.’ So I told him his time’s coming, ‘And you’re going to be Big Money Kadeem.'”
The nickname has stuck ever since. Gerta smiles as her brother says it now, and Kadeem says he happily embraces it.
During those years when he couldn’t play football, he would still go watch his cousin play and sometimes he would practice knowing there was no game for which to prepare.
“He used to practice but couldn’t play. That’s how much he loved football,” Wisler Telfort says. “He knew he couldn’t play, but he still wanted to come to practice.”
Meanwhile, his uncle had other ways for him to stay active. He signed the boys up for AAU basketball.
As Kadeem readily admits, it didn’t come naturally.
“At first I didn’t like it because I wasn’t used to it. In fifth grade we played like 30 something games, I only scored 2 points the whole season,” he says.
He grew into the sport and got better, but as soon as he was able to play football again as a seventh grader, his focus returned to his original passion.
That sport did come naturally to him, and he quickly made a strong impression. Heading into his first year at Miami Norland Senior High School, though, Gerta Telfort felt Kadeem’s academics had slipped and the penalty was going to be no football.
Until she learned how hard that was going to be to enact.
“His first day of school I get a phone call from the coach, and Kadeem had already told him, ‘My mom don’t want me to play,'” she recalls. “So he called me, and I’m like, ‘Well, he’s not allowed to play football. He owes me some grades.’ And he said, ‘Well, you know, I can put him under my wing.'”
Unlike the park leagues growing up, Telfort’s size was now a considerable asset and the coaches were intent on keeping him on the field.
The family would later determine that the school wasn’t the best fit academically for keeping him on track for his bigger goals and he’d transfer to Booker T. Washington High School for his final season, all the while trying to answer the biggest question about his future.
Finding his way to Florida
After seeing how coveted he was as a high school player, the family was also finding out how in demand Telfort was as a college prospect.
He didn’t know what to expect at the onset of the recruiting process. Some of his high school teammates had gotten offers before him and he wondered if he’d have a chance to play college football as well.
His says his first offer came from N.C. State somewhere around the end of his sophomore year heading into his junior season.
“It came out of nowhere because at first I always wondered would I ever play college football?” Telfort says. “I had a pretty good (run) ninth going into 10th grade, then I started seeing kids in my class getting offers so I was like, ‘Dang.'”
Once the first domino fell, though, the rest quickly followed.
The morning after that first offer from N.C. State, Louisville extended him an offer via Twitter at 5 a.m., as he recalls. Miami followed and by the end he’d have 20 scholarship offers to consider.
“It’s been crazy,” Gerta Telfort says.
Kadeem initially committed to Miami before later changing his commitment to Florida in July of 2015, which only made the process more complicated as fans on Twitter clamored about his decision and his mother faced the questions as well.
“People were pressuring me, ‘Why is he switching?’ So I asked him. At the end of the day, I have to ask him, ‘Why did you switch?'” she says. “And he said he wanted to get away from Miami. He said when he went to UF, how they welcomed him and how it was.”
As fellow Florida early enrollees from South Florida, defensive back Shawn Davis and tight end Kemore Gamble would also express, Telfort had grown wary of the violence that plagued the area. He already had football taken away from him once for reasons beyond his control and he wasn’t going to take any chances of it happening again.
“Down here, it’s just senseless killing, innocent people dying for no reason,” he says. “I have a lot of friends and people down here — I’ve got good friends, bad friends. It’s just like, you never know, they might be doing something, they might just come and pick you up and then it’s wrong place, wrong time. So I don’t want none of that happening, so the best fit for me is just get out of Miami.”
The Telforts live in a nice, gated community in Miramar, but as is a common refrain in that part of the state, the violence and risks are never all that far away.
Asked if Kadeem had ever been in a particularly tough situation personally, he shakes his head that he hasn’t.
“Thank God, no,” Wisler says.
Everything has gone as planned.
The recruiting push continued right up until the end with Miami and Louisville remaining in pursuit and Baylor making a late push for his services, but Telfort has moved in at Florida and enrolled in classes this semester.
He’s eager to make his mark and would prefer not to ever have to sit on the sidelines for another football season. That’s why he enrolled early, to give himself every opportunity to play as as freshman.
“When I started watching (Florida’s) games, I realized the coaches weren’t lying. They really need help and I could come in and make an impact,” Telfort says. “My opportunity, since I’m coming early, they said I have 7 months to fight for a No. 1 spot. So I feel that 7 months is enough for me to come out on top.”
Growing up without his father around, as his mother played both roles with the help of her brother and sister-in-law and her eldest daughter, Telfort’s motivations go beyond the football field now. He has five sisters in all and thinks about their future.
“I just looked back at my mom, I don’t have a dad, so basically she played both roles, so if she ain’t there no more, then I have to step up,” he says. “So that’s what drives me when I’m on the field.”
Says Wisler Telfort: “Only ‘Big Money’ in the house. Only man.”
That nickname. It just fits.
Telfort is seeing the payoff for his patience all those years ago, realizing the potential his uncle promised was there all along, an opportunity to play at a storied program in the SEC and take the next step toward his ultimate goal. And the Gators will all the while hope the 4-star prospect pays dividends where they need it most.
Sitting around the living room, Wisler repeats once more that message he shared with his nephew so often over the years.
“Your time’s coming,” he says. “And it’s here now.”
All recruiting rankings come from the 247Sports Composite.