Miami Dolphins tight end Michael Egnew plans on a large Thanksgiving crowd

11/28/2013 12:00 AM

11/28/2013 6:37 PM

Think your home will be cramped for the holidays? You've got nothing on the Egnews.

For years, at least 11 would sit down for Thanksgiving turkey and fixings, a gathering so large that it took up the family's entire Plainview, Texas, living room. It was a dinner that looked like America, a diverse collection of faces assembled under one roof.

But this wasn't some extended family gathering. There weren't friends and acquaintances who added to the party.

No, the full house was the rule, not the exception, for Richard and Ersa Egnew and their nine children — a multicultural group that included Michael, who grew up to be a tight end for the Miami Dolphins.

Theirs was a Norman Rockwell snapshot of America, complete with the bowed heads before the meal and chickens and horses running around the ranch.

With one big difference, of course. Michael Egnew and his twin sister Michelle are biracial. Richard and Ersa are white. Yet they're all family.

Michael Egnew is adopted. Seven of his siblings are, as well.

“It didn't matter,” Richard Egnew, 61, said of his family's unique racial makeup. “The biggest challenge we'd run into was the way people looked at our family. We told the kids, ‘We like it, so don't worry about what people on the outside think.’”

Shortly after his birth in Lubbock, Texas, on Nov.1, 1989, Egnew was taken away from his unfit mother. He has never seen her since, and has no desire to do so.

After spending his earliest years in foster care, he and his biological brother and sister were all adopted by the Egnews, a stable, religious and close-knit family in West Texas.

“You have to imagine where I would be if I wasn't taken from my drug-addict mother,” Egnew said. “I could be anywhere.”

Where he is, then, is nothing short of miraculous. Millions of kids dream of playing pro football. Only a few hundred get to do it. Egnew won the lottery.

So, no, he doesn't need a day to remind him to be thankful. But when the fourth Thursday in November rolls around every year, it's particularly poignant.

“I see them as my real parents, through and through,” Egnew said. “They're the greatest people. They're saints. I feel blessed that they were chosen to be my parents. They just wanted to help whatever kids they could help.”

It's not like Richard, who works at a Walmart distribution center, and Ersa picked the kids out of a lineup. Richard also was adopted as a child, so the couple made it a life mission to lift up others in need.

They had originally tried to find Egnew and his biological siblings a suitable full-time home, but when they couldn't, they decided to formally add them to the family.

The new kids added to an already cramped home. There were only three bedrooms for 11 people, so Michael slept in the dining room. Privacy simply wasn't an option.

He always wore hand-me-down clothes, but never felt poor.

“My dad worked hard for us,” Egnew said. “You had to be thankful for him. My parents just had a good sense about buying only the things they could afford. Everything we had, my parents earned it.

“Just goes to show, if you put your mind to something, you can do it.”

That mind-set rubbed off on his kids. All but a handful went on to college. Ben, the oldest child, is a nuclear engineer.

Michael found his calling in sports. He was a star receiver at Plainview High, and was offered a scholarship to play for Missouri. As a collegiate junior, he was a finalist for the Mackey Award, given to the nation's best tight end.

The following year, he was one of the top tight end prospects entering the NFL Draft. The Dolphins took him in the third round in April 2012.

Fittingly, he got the news at home — with his family by his side.

Nineteen months later, Egnew has a family of his own. His wife Allie gave birth to their daughter Alexa earlier this year.

And the Thanksgiving traditions he learned back home have been transplanted to South Florida. They'll have their own packed house Thursday, with Allie's family and teammate Kyle Miller among the guests.

“Absolutely, I am very thankful for where I am now,” he said. “My parents, they always told us, work as hard as you can. That was one of my dad's biggest things. He's still working hard now.”

• The Dolphins elevated safety Jordan Kovacs to their 53-man roster, allowing D.J. Campbell, who was cut Tuesday, to take his spot on the practice squad.
• Mike Pouncey, who practiced fully Wednesday, acknowledged he dropped 15 pounds because of the illness that kept him out of the past two games.
• Daniel Thomas (ankle), Chris Clemons (knee/hamstring) and Dimitri Patterson (groin) did not practice Wednesday.
• Jonathan Martin (illness), not surprisingly, was ruled out.

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