Yvondy Rigby is about to add another stop to his amazing journey.

The 2018 Egg Harbor Township High School graduate, who grew up in Turks and Caicos, will be reporting to the Baltimore Ravens rookie camp this week after signing as an undrafted free agent.

“My mother (Almonthe) always told me America was the ‘Land of Opportunity,’” Rigby said in a phone interview. “And now I’m about to have the biggest opportunity of my life and I’m going to make the most of it.”

Rigby, a 6-foot-2, 239-pound linebacker from Temple University, has the size, speed and strength to play in the NFL.  Most importantly, he also possesses an incredible work ethic, a trait that he inherited from his mother.

Yvondy’s father was seldom around the family, which left Almonthe to raise five children in Turks and Caicos, a string of 40 islands in the Atlantic Ocean located southeast of the Bahamas.

Yvondy remembers playing on the beach and frolicking in the crystal blue ocean as a child while Almonthe earned $5 an hour while working as a maid at The Palms resort nearby.

But danger and desperation weren’t very far away.

“It is definitely a beautiful country,” he said. “But like with any place, there are also ghettos and that’s where I lived. There were days when we didn’t eat and there was no electricity in the house.

”But my mother did the best she could for us and worked extremely hard.”

Sometimes too hard.  Yvondy recalled one day when he found out his mother had passed out at work.

“They were trying to find out what caused it, but I knew,” he said. “She passed out from working so hard. That stuck with me and I have the same work ethic. If I don’t feel like I’m going to pass out when I’m training, that means I’m not working hard enough.”

When Yvondy was 14, Almonthe made the decision to send him and his sister Johnika to live with a family friend. Yvondy and sister enrolled at Atlantic City High School before transferring to Egg Harbor Township a year later.

Yvondy joined the football team on the advice of classmates. He had never even seen a football before and knew nothing about the game, but proved to be a quick learner and became one of the better players.

But he had to wait a while before he could shine under the “Friday Night Lights.”  Yvondy’s family and his guardian were members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, which celebrates the Sabbath Rest period starting at sundown on Friday.

A few weeks before his junior season, Kevin Stetser, who was EHT’s football coach at the time, arranged a meeting with Yvondy, his pastor and his guardian in hopes of allowing him to play for the Eagles in the season-opener against Millville.

“My mother had given her blessing and the pastor was onboard,” Yvondy said. “He and coach Stetser realized that playing football could actually change a kid’s life. But my guardian didn’t want to hear it. He told me that if I played in that football game, he was going to kick me out of the house.

“I was dumbfounded and confused. I was 16 years old and had to make a choice between football and being homeless. The day of the game, I went back-and-forth about what to do. When I talked to coach Stetser about it, he told me, ‘No matter what you decide, I will have your back.’

Yvondy made his football debut on September 8, 2017 against the Thunderbolts.

Stetser drove him home after the game. When they pulled up to the trailer on Delilah Road, Yvondy’s belongings were in a plastic trash bag on the doorstep.

Stetser took him to his home and eventually Yvondy moved in with the coach and his family, which includes his wife Laura and children Jack and Madeleine, who were seven and eight at the time.

“My coaching philosophy has always been to give the kids a better life through football,” Stetser said. “I saw an opportunity to help someone, I offered it, Yvondy took it and we’ve been taking it from there ever since.

“His mom sacrificed so much to give him the chance to have a better life and we’ve done our best to help him achieve it. We’ve treated him like our son and our kids consider him their big brother. It’s always been that way.”

He grew especially close to Laura, whom he actually met during a chance encounter during his sophomore year at EHT.

In addition to playing football, Yvondy was also a member of the Eagles track and field team.  Yvondy was throwing the shot put at the Woodbury Relays in the spring of 2016 when Kevin Stetser noticed he was constantly staring at the sun.

“It was a Friday and the sun was going down,” Yvondy said. “I told coach Stetser I had to leave before it got dark, so he got his wife to drive me home.”

After graduating from EHT, Yvondy spent seven months at Milford Academy in New York, where he had 57 tackles, four sacks and an interception in 12 games before landing at Temple.

He emerged as a standout player for the Owls. As a senior, he finished third in the American Athletic Conference with 8.4 tackles per game and registered 207 career stops in 35 games.

Yvondy, 23, also wore a single-digit uniform number (0) in recognition of his outstanding leadership both on and off the field. He graduated last spring with bachelor’s degree in Adult Organization Development.

Almonthe helped him celebrate. She lives in EHT now with daughters Johnika and Ashley, who graduated from Mainland Regional High School, while working as an aide at a nursing home. Yvondy’s older brothers Junior and J.P. live in Turks and Caicos.

Yvondy still lives with the Stetser family. He watched the NFL draft there last weekend and they led the cheers when he donned a Ravens cap and jersey after signing with the team.

“He’s just an amazing kid,” Kevin Stetser said. “He’s been through hell, but has always had a big heart. He’s physically and mentally tough and has integrity, which is why the Ravens signed him.”

He appears to have a solid chance of making the team as a backup linebacker and special teams standout.  No matter what happens, he knows coach Stetser will support him, just like at that meeting with his pastor and guardian years ago.

“He’s always believed football could change my life,” Yvondy said. “And he was right.”

Check Out Greater Atlantic City, NJ Area Athletes Who Played Games In NFL

Many people are not aware of the number of athletes from the Greater Atlantic City Region who have played in the National Football League. Football players who played at high schools in Cape May, Atlantic, Cumberland, and Ocean Counties have a strong representation in the NFL over the last few decades.

One of the most difficult accomplishments in sports is to make a Professional Sports Roster and earn the opportunity to play in a game at the highest level of the sport. Check out some of the great South Jersey Athletes who have played in games in the NFL:

Gallery Credit: Joshua Hennig/Townsquare Media

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