In 1972, a baby boy was born to a 16-year-old girl named Carol Briggs. His first name was originally Jon, but when Carol gave him up for adoption to a family that was better equipped to care for him, the new family changed his name to Deland. Unfortunately, Carol never told Deland’s birth father about the boy.
Deland was only six weeks old when he was adopted by a couple from Youngstown, Ohio. The happy couple welcomed Deland into their family with open arms. Unfortunately, the happy family didn’t stay that way for long. When he was only two years old, Deland’s adoptive parents divorced each other, and Deland was once again left without a father figure in his life.
Deland never heard from his adoptive father again. His mother, Adelle Comer, tried her best to support her two boys on her own. Deland has memories of utilities being shut off at their home for many days at a time because she was unable to make payments.
Adelle was more than determined to not allow the end of her marriage to control Deland’s future. She wanted Deland to live life to the fullest, and she wanted to do whatever it took to help get him there. Adelle encouraged Deland to participate in sports, after-school activities, and church. But there was one sport, in particular, that Deland not only loved playing, but he excelled at as well.
That sport was football. Because of football, Deland was able to get his mind off of his stressful home life. Throughout the years, Deland began to get better at playing football. Eventually, when Deland was a senior in high school, he became the star running back for his high school varsity team, which meant that college recruits were hearing his name and playing close attention to what he could do on the field.
Sherman Smith, a football coach at Miami University in Ohio, was one of those recruiters that saw something special in Deland. Over time, Sherman grew to be extremely supportive of Deland, and eventually, the two became very close to one another. It was nice to have this bond because there was a void that Deland felt throughout his life. He often thought of his birth parents and he wondered why they gave him up.
After having many conversations with Sherman, Deland decided that he wanted to attend Miami University and play football for their team, which was an undeniably smart move for his football career. During that time, Sherman became his support system for Deland’s personal and academic issues. He told Sherman, “You may not be looking for a father, but I am going to treat you like you are my son.” Unsurprisingly, Deland played extremely well while he was in college, which meant that he was offered a deal that every single college player dreams of.
Deland and Sherman remained close throughout the years. Sherman couldn’t have been any prouder of the man that Deland had become. Deland landed a coveted spot in the lineup for the NFL team the Cincinnati Bengals! He put all of his passion, drive, and hard work into being the best, and he finally succeeded. But soon, something would happen that would change the course of Deland’s life.
On August 23, 1996, during a game, Deland received a horrible blow to his knee that tore several ligaments. The 23-year-old man was devastated. Deland tried to stay in good playing shape, but nothing could improve his knee. It seemed like his career in football was over, but it was only the beginning. It would be a few years before Deland came back to the football field.
He thought his days of football were over, so Deland moved to Columbus, Ohio and started working at a group home. It wasn’t his first choice for a career, but it did put him in the path to meet the woman of his dreams, Darnell. She also worked at the group home. They feel deeply in love and got married. The couple had four children.
It was during their visits to the doctor that the couple was asked about their medical history. There were so many unanswered questions they had about Deland’s family’s medical history. Deland had no idea if his birth parents were dead or alive. Eventually, the desire to find his biological mother became even more intense.
Deland decided to become a teacher and football coach at Harmony Community School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was finally able to use all of the skills he had acquired over the years. And what was even better was that he was able to help young players reach their ultimate potential. In 2011, Miami University offered him a position as their running backs coach.
It was late in 2017 when Deland began to search for the parents that he had never met. Luckily, there had been a change to the laws surrounding the ease of access to adoption papers, so Deland took full advantage of the situation. It didn’t take him long at all to find information about the woman who gave birth to him.
Deland did a search on Facebook for his biological mother, Carol Briggs. He found a woman that looked very similar to him and his children. Deland messaged her: “Hello, I apologize for reaching out to you like this, but did you have a son in Allegheny County in 1972 that you put up for adoption?” He waited for her reply. All of the questions that he thought about for his entire life were about to be answered!
She replied “yes.” Then another question: “What did you name the baby?” She answered “Jon.” She was could feel something wonderful was happening when her phone suddenly rang. It was Deland calling. She knew this was the baby she had to give up years ago when she was just 16. The conversation was very emotional. They both had wondered if this day would ever happen.“It was like I had known her all my life,” Deland told ESPN. His biological mother lived just ten minutes away from him in Youngstown, Ohio when he was in high school. Carol admitted that she thought of him often. She even made posts to her Facebook on his birthday each year. She searched the adoption websites to see if he was looking for her. She told ESPN that her mother used to say, “You need to find that boy.”
Carol explained that her mother sent her to Pittsburgh to a place for unwed mothers. She returned to Ohio after Deland was born and adopted. Deland had many questions for Carol. Did he have any other brothers or sisters? Carol explained that she never had any other children and she never married. He asked about his biological father. Carol hesitated because she had never told the man about her pregnancy, but she knew she had to tell Deland the truth. When Carol said his biological father’s name, Deland was in total shock.
Carol told Deland that his biological father’s name was Sherman Smith! His biological father was the same man who Deland had met 28 years earlier. It was the same man that had mentored Deland throughout his entire football career. Deland couldn’t believe what he was hearing. How could he have been with his father the entire time and neither one of them had realized it!
Deland spent hours thinking about the news that Carol had just shared with him, especially when he thought about how unbelievable the odds were of something like this actually happening. But once he really started to think about his relationship with Sherman, he began to notice little clues that presented the truth throughout his life.
Over the years, people often told Deland how much he looked like Sherman. People even claimed that they talked the same and walked the same. Others commented on how they even shared some of the same mannerisms. Finally, everything made sense: they had been father and son the entire time. Now, Deland needed to drop the bomb on Sherman.
Deland gave Sherman a call to tell him the news. Just like Deland, Sherman was shocked. Despite the fact that he didn’t know about Deland, Sherman felt guilty about not being there for Deland while he was growing up. But once Deland assured him that there was literally nothing for him to feel guilty about, Sherman began to feel a lot better.
Adelle was also shocked to hear the news. She planned a family reunion for everyone in July 2018. Deland’s biological family and his adoptive family met each other in Youngstown, Ohio. No one could believe that Deland and Sherman had known each other for almost 30 years without knowing that they were father and son, but they were all grateful that the truth was finally out in the open. Now, they are all one huge happy family.