Former NFL player DeMario Pressley gives back to YMCA

Portrait of DeMario Pressley after attending his second board meeting at the YMCA in Cumming. The former NFL player volunteered there throughout his career and has now joined the board of the Forsyth County Family YMCA. The Y is where he was introduced to sports in middle school, and it's the place where he sought refuge from a dangerous neighborhood. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

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Portrait of DeMario Pressley after attending his second board meeting at the YMCA in Cumming. The former NFL player volunteered there throughout his career and has now joined the board of the Forsyth County Family YMCA. The Y is where he was introduced to sports in middle school, and it's the place where he sought refuge from a dangerous neighborhood. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

DeMario Pressley will always remember the day his entire life changed. It was the day he was invited to visit the YMCA for the first time. Now, decades later, the former NFL player hopes to improve others’ lives as a board member at the Forsyth County Family YMCA.

Pressley grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, the only child to a single mother, who was just 15 when he was born. She was a child raising a child.

“Our environment was filled with violence, drugs, crime,” said Pressley, 36. “It was next door, down the street, everywhere. I’d play in the yard and find drugs stashed, I found guns a couple times. We’d play football in the streets and see drug paraphernalia. We heard gunshots at night, and we’d lay on the ground. We wanted better, but it was our situation, our normal.”

By the time he was 12, Pressley had witnessed dog fights, drive-by shootings, attempted murders, and a person get beaten to unconsciousness. One year for Christmas, he begged his mom for a Super Nintendo and was thrilled to receive it. It was stolen from his house just hours later.

Because it was all he knew in his neighborhood, and despite his mom’s effort to keep him out of the fray, Pressley began to consider life as a drug dealer. He started to hang around bad kids in the neighborhood and got in trouble for stealing from the corner store. Luckily, many in the neighborhood looked out for Pressley and his mother, which is why he was invited to the Hayes Taylor YMCA with his friend and his friend’s father.”

“My friend’s dad coached a youth basketball team,” said Pressley. “I’d played street ball, but never organized team sports. Once I got inside the Y and saw everyone having fun and playing sports, I was changed, hooked.”

After that first day, Pressley walked to the YMCA multiple times a week.

“I felt accepted there,” said Pressley, who took anger management classes and speech therapy as a kid. “I grew up with a stutter and had been bullied for it for years, which made me defensive. At the Y, people engaged with me and didn’t rush me as I spoke. That was a big deal to me.”

At the YMCA, Pressley received help with his homework, he was taught servant leadership, and teamwork. He was exposed to many sports and learned how to exercise.

“The Y ignited a fire inside me,” said Pressley. “I wanted to be an athlete.”

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DeMario Pressley (center) attends his second board meeting at the YMCA in Cumming. The former NFL player volunteered there throughout his career and has now joined the board of the Forsyth County Family YMCA. The Y is where he was introduced to sports in middle school, and it's the place where he sought refuge from a dangerous neighborhood. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

DeMario Pressley (center) attends his second board meeting at the YMCA in Cumming. The former NFL player volunteered there throughout his career and has now joined the board of the Forsyth County Family YMCA. The Y is where he was introduced to sports in middle school, and it's the place where he sought refuge from a dangerous neighborhood. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

caption arrowCaption
DeMario Pressley (center) attends his second board meeting at the YMCA in Cumming. The former NFL player volunteered there throughout his career and has now joined the board of the Forsyth County Family YMCA. The Y is where he was introduced to sports in middle school, and it's the place where he sought refuge from a dangerous neighborhood. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Pressley played football, basketball, and ran track in high school and attributes his skills to his time at the YMCA. He especially excelled in football. He was the 7th ranked player in the nation for football and received scholarship offers from schools across the nation. He chose to attend North Carolina State University to stay close to his mom.

“I didn’t want to get too far from home,” said Pressley. “I knew if I went somewhere like UCLA, my mom wouldn’t be able to make it to all my games. I chose NC State and she made it to every game, even the away games, she’d get in the car and drive to watch me.”

Pressley played for four years in college and was a fifth-round draft pick to the New Orleans Saints in 2008. He played with the Saints for three years and the team won the Super Bowl during his second year. He went on to play for the Houston Texans, the Carolina Panthers and the Chicago Bears.

During his time in New Orleans, even though he had full access to a state-of-the-art gym, Pressley found his way to the local YMCA.

“My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, would go with me,” said Pressley. “It just felt like home.”

Pressley retired from football in 2013, but he and his wife, Kristle, moved to Cumming the year before.

“We looked everywhere, and our Realtor kept telling us about Cumming,” said Pressley. “We wanted a place not as fast-paced as downtown, where we’d feel safe, could raise our family, and have good resources around us. And, lo and behold, there’s a Y just two miles from the house.”

Pressley and Kristle are expecting a baby boy in the summer, and are parents to an 8-year-old daughter, Delainie. They visit the YMCA as a family multiple times a week and now Pressley has chosen to join the board.

“I was on the Social Impact Committee last year and I enjoyed it, so now I hope to dive in a bit deeper and further the focus on inclusion and diversity for the people of Forsyth,” said Pressley. “I want to bring new ideas to the community; I have big plans. Most of all, I want people to realize how impactful the Y can be to children, adults, and families. I’m the prime example of that.”

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DeMario Pressley (right) attends his second board meeting at the YMCA in Cumming. The former NFL player volunteered there throughout his career and has now joined the board of the Forsyth County Family YMCA. The Y is where he was introduced to sports in middle school, and it's the place where he sought refuge from a dangerous neighborhood. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

DeMario Pressley (right) attends his second board meeting at the YMCA in Cumming. The former NFL player volunteered there throughout his career and has now joined the board of the Forsyth County Family YMCA. The Y is where he was introduced to sports in middle school, and it's the place where he sought refuge from a dangerous neighborhood. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

caption arrowCaption
DeMario Pressley (right) attends his second board meeting at the YMCA in Cumming. The former NFL player volunteered there throughout his career and has now joined the board of the Forsyth County Family YMCA. The Y is where he was introduced to sports in middle school, and it's the place where he sought refuge from a dangerous neighborhood. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner