Derrick Tindal has never considered himself much of a writer.
But the Wisconsin senior cornerback and Lauderdale Lakes Boyd Anderson High grad, who has started 33 games in his Badgers career, has been motivated in the last few months to start working on a kids book, a story about a superhero who grew up in a rough neighborhood with drug dealers and violence and overcame the deaths of a couple of family members to make it out.
“I’ve got a couple pages down,” said Tindal, who is writing the book with one of his four older sisters in memory of his cousin T.J. Bradley, a 19-year-old football player at Deerfield Beach who died in a car accident on prom night in May. “I’ve let my teammates read it. I’ve gotten honest opinions. I’m not really a writer, but from what they’re telling me it’s real good. I grew up reading and watching Spider-Man and the Avengers and stuff, I feel like I’ve got a good story.
“Being a black kid, growing up in those neighborhoods, there’s only a few things you can do to get out. Maybe it’s football. Maybe it’s something else. I feel like my purpose in life is to help people, help them find a way to take care of their family and be better men. I feel like that’s my purpose.”
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Set to play in Saturday night’s Capital One Orange Bowl against the University of Miami (10-2), Tindal, 22, finds it fitting he will play his final college football game — and maybe his last football game ever — at home in front of the family and friends who have helped him overcome so much.
On Nov. 4, 2014, in the middle of his freshman season, he lost his mother to cancer — 11 days before she had planned to go see him play in college for the first time. After her funeral, Tindal returned to his dorm room in Madison, amidst the snow and freezing temperatures, and considered not only quitting football, but school as well.
He skipped classes, stayed locked up in his room for days and cried on the phone with his father and sisters for hours.
“When I lost her I just wanted to give up,” said Tindal, who played in all 12 games and made two starts and 10 tackles as a freshman. “I was practicing and playing, but to be honest I wasn’t really there. I wasn’t having fun playing football. I just didn’t want to play anymore.”
But little by little, those phone conversations with his family, and visits to his dorm room by former Wisconsin defensive backs coach Ben Strickland and former teammate Jeremy Patterson, convinced Tindal not to give up.
Patterson, who lost both of his parents when he was younger and spent weeks bringing Tindal food to his dorm room as he grieved, will be among the many family members and friends at Saturday’s game cheering Tindal on.
“I think I’ve got like 45 tickets. It’s wild,” said Tindal, who says most of those going to the game have never seen him play in college before. “I’m going to do my normal [thing to honor my Mom]. I always write on my wrist tape: RIP Mom. I send a prayer out before the game. My sisters are going to get shirts made with me and my Mom on it. I’ll say a prayer out to God and try to go out there and play my best.”
Before the bowl season began, the Badgers (12-1) ranked No. 1 in total defense (253.2 yards per game), No. 1 in passing efficiency defense (96.3), No. 2 in rushing defense (92.6) and No. 3 in scoring defense (13.2 points per game). Junior cornerback Nick Nelson, who starts opposite Tindal, leads the country with 20 pass breakups. Tindal has nine pass breakups and two interceptions.
Although he isn’t among the top 25 cornerback draft prospects according to USA Today — not shocking considering he was only a three-star recruit and ranked the 110th best cornerback in the country coming out of high school (with offers from Indiana, TCU, Pitt, UCF and Marshall) — Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard says that Tindal, who also handles kickoff returns, is an integral part of the Badgers defense.
“He’s got the speed, the competitiveness and makes plays for us every game,” Leonhard said. “But [what makes him special] is his energy. He brings a different mentality, a South Florida mentality where it’s ultra competitive. It’s truly a love for the game of football. So, to see that kind of permeate throughout the team, see guys bouncing around, having fun, that’s priceless to me. He’s a guy who changes the energy in the room.”
Tindal never got an offer from the University of Miami even though he attended Al Golden’s football camp. None of the state’s Big Three schools offered him a scholarship. His dream, he says, was to play at Tennessee. Given the opportunity, though, he might have stayed home to be closer to his mom, who battled cancer most of his high school career.
But he has no regrets.
“Not at all,” Tindal said with a grin. “I’m 3 for 3 in bowl games. I love being a Badger, 10-win seasons every year. God has a plan. Everything worked out like it should.”