SAINT PETERSBURG, Fla. — Keith McCants was supposed to be the next big football star as the first-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1990. But during his short career, he struggled physically.
"That’s me praying to God, to help my knee," said McCants, pointing to a picture of himself praying on the field while wearing a knee brace.
McCants, now 52, says his injuries led to pain pills, which led to addiction, which led to prison.
"In 2010, I was home from college and was reading the newspaper and saw he (McCants) was arrested for the 14th or 15th time for crack cocaine possession and in his mug shot, he looked so incredibly sad," said Robert Blackmon.
Blackmon, who is now a St. Petersburg city councilman, was only 21 at the time and says he knew he had to do something to help.
"So, I reached out to him and said 'hey I understand where you’re coming from. I know life can be tough. Is there any way we can save your life?' He immediately called back and said, 'I think this is a God-send, I feel like I have no options, I don’t know where to turn or what to do,'" said Blackmon. "Quickly, I understood that I had no expertise in dealing with such things, but I just tried to help him out with whatever he wanted."
He says all McCants wanted was a friend. In their 10 year friendship, Blackmon has helped McCants work to overcome his addiction.
Now, after walking with a cane for 20 years, Blackmon says the NFL declined to help pay for McCants' hip surgery.
Blackmon says he’s paying the thousands in co-pay out of his own pocket, with the goal of changing the life of a dear friend.
"Anybody can change a life," said Blackmon.
McCants says he dreams that after the surgery he'll be able to walk on the beach without a cane, and hopes his story will inspire others.
This story was originally published by Wendi Lane at WFTS.