By Levi Edwards | Digital Team Reporter
Shortly after Nate Hobbs was drafted by the Las Vegas Raiders, he got a call from Gill Byrd. Byrd, a Pro Bowl defensive back who played for the San Diego Chargers for 10 seasons, was one of Hobbs' defensive back coaches at the University of Illinois.
While congratulating Hobbs on his selection in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, Byrd heard a bit of disappointment in his mentee's voice.
As if something was bothering him despite his NFL dreams coming true just hours prior.
"I'll never forget, I said, 'You're mad, huh?'" Byrd recalls now of his draft-day call with Hobbs.
"He said, 'Yeah.' And I said, 'I know. You're going to carry it with a chip on your shoulder because you're better than a lot of the guys that were drafted before you. It's now up to you to show the NFL.'"
That proverbial chip on Hobbs' shoulder was evident from the jump. Minutes after getting the call from General Manager Mike Mayock and Head Coach Jon Gruden, he let it be known to the world what was on his mind.
"I won't forget the guys who were taken before me," Hobbs said in his introductory conference call. "The guys who I feel like didn't do as much as me but were still picked up. I'm just so thankful for the Raiders for taking a chance. They won't regret it.
"They're getting the best underdog they've ever drafted."
Months later, I sat down with Nate Hobbs the day before the preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams in SoFi Stadium. I asked Hobbs about those comments he made referring to himself as "the best underdog." He lightly chuckled while reminiscing about the statement he proclaimed.
"That's funny because I was filled with so much emotion when I was saying that," said Hobbs. "I said that, but I noticed – I didn't say that just talking, but I was filled with emotion. But I noticed people didn't forget that, and if I said that, I got to stand on it.
"That's how I live. I don't like to say things just talking. I said it, and I got to stand on it. So I try to bring my A-game every day, I try to come to get better every day."
The journey Hobbs has taken to the Raiders hasn't always been a pretty one. It's been gritty, like his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, – the same city that produced one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time, Muhammad Ali. Hobbs grew up in the West End of Louisville, one of the higher crime populated areas of the city. The problems have unfortunately gotten worse in Louisville over time. The city's violent crime rate is reportedly 81 percent higher than the national average, with a record 100 homicides within a six-month span this year, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. Hobbs took to sports from an early age as an outlet from what was going on around him.
"Growing up there, a lot of times a lot of kids play sports. Louisville can be a nice place, a nice area. It's not a huge city. It's not a Chicago or New York, but it does have almost a million people so it's a big city. You can get into whatever you want to. So a lot of kids, they would play sports, and that was something that kept you out of whatever.
"Not to say it was a horrible place, but it is a top place for crime," Hobbs said. "That comes with if you live in the bad part in West End or wherever things tend to happen."
Hobbs' solid foundation comes from his family. His single mother, Denise, raised him and his two brothers since she was 16 years old. His father passed away when he was 12. Hobbs said she "dedicated her life to us" for them to make it to this point. He was also guided by his grandparents and uncle, whom he lived with for a duration of time in West Louisville. They were some of his biggest supporters, taking the village approach to raising him and his siblings.
Hobbs told me having a mother with wisdom "way ahead of her years" helped him immensely through the journey of getting to the NFL. He said that the selfless woman barely ever asks him for anything, even after signing with the team. He said he's "almost got to press her" to see if she needs something, as one of his biggest concerns is making sure the woman who raised him is taken care of.
"My mom means everything to me. She sacrificed her whole life, honestly, for her children, for her kids. She made a real commitment to raise us the right way. Everywhere I'm at, what I'm doing right now, the man I've become – I attribute that to her. Whatever I can help her with now, that's what I try to do. I just try to be there for her. We're there for each other. Be there for her like she was for me."