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Geathers give two generations of stars to NFL, college

HEMINGWAY, S.C. -- There has been plenty of NFL talent to come out of the state of South Carolina -- many from the Geathers family tree.

Brothers Jumpy and Robert Sr. are the patriarchs of a group that has produced six pro football players with more on the way. Jumpy, known as "The Human Forklift," spent 13 seasons as an NFL defensive lineman and helped Washington win the Super Bowl in 1992. Robert Sr. played six years with the Buffalo Bills.

Robert's sons, Robert Jr. and Clifton, are currently on NFL rosters. A third son, Kwame, is a rising junior defensive lineman at Georgia. Jumpy's sons played football too, Jeremy at UNLV and Jarvis at UCF.

That's a lot of football skill from one lineage out of small-town South Carolina.

The family recently talked with The Associated Press about their football heritage.

"It's really kind of neat when you think about it," said Adria Geathers, wife of Robert Jr., who's preparing for his ninth season with the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Geathers' group came together earlier this month for a family football camp designed to give something back to Carvers Bay High and the Georgetown County community where they grew up.

"This is something we've wanted to do for a while and we're glad it happened," said Clifton, who played at South Carolina and is on the Dallas Cowboys roster.

Robert Sr., who owns a car dealership, got things started when he starred at South Carolina State and was a third-round NFL draft pick for Buffalo. Younger brother Jumpy was right behind, going to Wichita State to play basketball before joining the football team for former South Carolina State coach Willie Jeffries.

Jumpy Geathers was taken in the second round by New Orleans in 1984 and played until getting injured before the 1997 season with Denver, which went on to win the first of two straight Super Bowls.

Jumpy, known for his devastating forklift rush, finished with 62 sacks in a 13-season career at defensive tackle with the Saints, Washington, Atlanta and Denver.

"I'm still trying to catch up to my uncle," Robert Jr. said.

Robert Sr. and Jumpy were part of a family of seven brothers who grew up harvesting tobacco in the rural fields of Georgetown County. Sports were a natural distraction and football, as it is throughout most of the Southeast, was king at now-closed Choppee High. The brothers passed the love of football on to their sons, but they also made sure their children put it its proper place behind faith and academics.

Friends and Carvers Bay teachers out to visit the camp recalled how the Geathers' parents made excelling at school more important than a quarterback sack or fumble recovery.

"We're all just here for a short time with nothing promised," Jumpy said. "It's important to know what matters most."

Robert Sr.'s sons remembered their parents' insistence on working area farmland and washing cars in the searing South Carolina summer heat. Clifton said studying came before most anything else and if there was a problem at school, his parents made sure he understood that it had to be corrected.

"I had people leading me in the right direction," Clifton said.

That's the reason behind the camp, which was open to area youngsters who might one day play for Carvers Bay or beyond. Clifton and his father, Robert Sr., said they were there to show young people that doing what's right can lead to success in any field.

For the Geathers, that's meant the football field.

Neither Robert Sr. nor Jumpy pushed their sons to play. But as they grew in skill, it was hard for the next generation of Geathers not to attract the attention of college coaches. Robert Sr. remembers a "who's who" of colleges stopping by his house to talk about Robert Jr., then Clifton and finally Kwame. Robert Sr. remembers with a laugh how he was cooking shrimp for the Georgia coaches "while other schools were outside waiting," he said.

Robert Sr.'s boys can't escape a playful rivalry with the family business. Robert Sr. recalls Clifton telling his older brother Robert Jr. that's it was time for him to step aside. Kwame chimed in right after that it was time for both his older brothers to make way for the young defensive end.

"Out with the old and in with the new," Kwame said, chuckling.

Kwame is a 6-foot-6, 329-pound nose tackle who was praised by Bulldogs coach Mark Richt for his work during Georgia's spring ball. Should Kwame catch the eye of pro scouts, it could give Robert Sr., a third son in the NFL. "I don't know if anyone else can say that," he said.

Kwame's not the only Geathers excelling at college football. Cousin Clayton Geathers Jr. started 12 games for UCF last fall, finishing with 40 tackles and six passes broken up. "I just want to work hard and see where it takes me," Clayton Jr. said.

That's usually the approach in the Geathers family.

"You've got a destiny," Jumpy said. If you come from a family of top carpenters, "you'll be a top carpenter. If you're in sports, you learn sports and you want your kids to do the best," Jumpy continued. "That's only human."