Cliff Avril Never Has Haiti Far From his Mind. How Did the Seahawks Defensive End Reconnect with his Roots?

Cliff Avril has been defined this season, maybe his best season, by his charity work in Haiti. But his re-connection with Haiti after more than a decade away from the island is rooted in the death of his father. The cycle of life and death made Avril consider history.

Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril called 911, but he lasted only a few seconds before he “fell out” and someone else had to take the phone. His father was slumped in the car parked in the driveway of Avril’s Charlotte home, unresponsive and cold.

A weekend Avril looked forward to every year — his family hosted an annual party over Memorial Day weekend — had become a nightmare.

Avril and his wife, Tia, had even planned a special twist for the 2015 party: They were going to learn the gender of their second child.

Some family members arrived Thursday night, but most reached Avril’s home on Friday. The last car to arrive was the one carrying Avril’s dad, Jean Samuel, who couldn’t leave Jacksonville until he got off work.

Avril didn’t know his father as well as he wanted. His parents divorced when he was younger. His father was always involved, but he was also always working, and then Avril got swamped with football and college and the NFL. Avril’s parents emigrated from Haiti in the ’80s, but unlike his summer trips with his mom growing up, he never went to Haiti with his dad.

One of Avril’s cousins pulled the car into the driveway after the six-hour drive. Avril’s phone rang: his cousin.

“He was like, ‘Hey, come out here and help me. Your dad’s not responding,’ ” Avril recalled.

Avril thought his cousin was pulling a prank, so he told him to wake his dad and get in the house.

“Then he came inside and I saw his face and was like, ‘Oh (shoot),’ ” Avril said.

Avril rushed outside and saw his father in the passenger seat. He looked like he was asleep, which is what his cousin assumed during the drive. Avril called 911.

“I still can envision when I ran out there and where they laid him down to give him CPR,” he said. “Nothing.”

The next day, a Saturday, Avril and his family learned they were having their second boy. On Sunday, Avril started making arrangements for his father’s funeral and autopsy (his father died from a heart attack in his sleep).

Avril has been defined this season, maybe his best season, by his charity work in Haiti. He rebuilt and opened an elementary school and has pledged to build a home for every sack he gets this year. He needs just one more sack to tie his career high of 11. But his reconnection with Haiti after more than a decade away from the island is rooted in that Memorial Day weekend.

The cycle of life and death, of one life suddenly ending and another about to begin, made Avril consider history — what gets lost and what continues on.

“I didn’t really know my dad as much as I should have,” he said. “Just his background, my grandparents on his side, where he’s from. I want my kids to know me. I want my kids to know where I’m from. I want them to go back to the islands, to appreciate where their grandma and grandfather came from.”

But first he had to learn about the place himself. “The older you get,” he said, “the more intrigued you get with where it started.”

Avril loves flying over Haiti. The colorful houses, the rooftops, the beaches and curves along Haiti’s coast. When he was younger he used to look at a map, then look out the window of the plane, then look at the map again and wonder how they made it look the same.

It had been almost 15 years since the 30-year-old Avril had been back, but when he flew to Haiti with his mom and Marshawn Lynch last April, he felt the same excitement he felt as a kid.

“It’s always good to see people take pride in their country,” said Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, Avril’s closest friend on the team, “and he’s doing a good job of it.”

On his trips to Haiti growing up, Avril played basketball and soccer with his cousins but never football. He didn’t start playing football until high school. Now he plans on running a football camp on the island every year, and the strangeness of how much his life has changed in between isn’t lost on him.

The older he got, the harder it became to go back. He kept pushing forward — toward a scholarship in college, an NFL career now in its ninth season, a new contract and the creation of his own family.

Haiti became something in his past.

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SOURCE: The Seattle Times – Jayson Jenks