SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Stephon Tuitt believed his sophomore season at Notre Dame had promise, for the usual reasons. He was healthy and experienced. He aimed for double-digit sacks. A full year of college football honed his skills and amplified his natural, comprehensive strength to cartoonish levels.
It was August, the month overflowing with optimism because nothing has happened to drain it.
Down in Georgia, Tuitt’s mother, Tamara Bartlett, put in for time off from the Gwinnett County sheriff’s department. She and her other three sons piled into the car and began the drive to South Bend, Ind. She had called ahead to Notre Dame’s coaches, advising them of her visit and the reason for it.
She watched her oldest son practice and then the family retreated to a local hotel.
There, Stephon Tuitt learned that the father he never knew was dead.
At that moment, the one possibility Tuitt clung to tighter than anyone knew, the one he spoke to no one about, went dark. If he had a good season, he would star on a national stage. If he starred on a national stage, a man in New York named Cornelius Williams might notice. If that man noticed, the hole in the middle of a 6-foot-6, 303-pound leviathan might fill up.
“I just wanted to meet him, and use this attention to grab out there to see him,” Tuitt said in a quiet moment outside the Irish locker room. “But it didn’t work out the way I thought it would. I thought I was so close. Yet I’m so far, because he’s gone already.
“It has been hard. It had a lot of effect on me in different areas and I still feel it to this day. It’s a lot of hurt. A lot of hurt.”