Breaking through the shadows

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Through the first four games of his sophomore season, Greg Lloyd II, son of Pittsburgh Steelers great Greg Lloyd Sr., is doing his best impression of his father. His reckless, hard-hitting style of play has him second on the team in tackles, which is especially impressive considering Lloyd II doesn't even follow college football.

Does Lloyd II know who the preseason No. 1 team was this year?

"No idea," he said. "When the guys turn on ESPN in the lounge, I get annoyed. I play football all day long, I know what it is. I don't need to watch it."

Instead, Lloyd II spends his free time writing. Whenever a story idea pops into his head, he starts scribbling. He writes in his dorm, he writes on road trips and sometimes -- against his academic advisor's wishes -- he writes in class. He had never written anything longer than six pages when he sat down and decided to compose a lengthy story. His goal was 10 pages, maybe 12 if he really got into it. One day, he sat down and started to write:

Suichi's sword was truly a magnificent sight to behold. Its blade was long, yet still an image of power and precision. As I examined it more I found it very unique. On the side of the blade by the point where the blade touches the handle there were two black flames etched into both sides of the blade with a red interior flame.

"Do you really think you can beat me with a sword you just received, or are you just trying to be foolish?" Suichi said mockingly.

A few months later, Lloyd II had completed a 305-page novel, a story he calls a "fantasy version of his own life." The tale begins as Konachi, a half-human, half-demon, wakes up with a mysterious sword in his possession. He quickly learns one thing: This sword is special, and there aren't many others who own a sword like his. This sword must have been some type of gift. It gives him the potential to be great, but at the same time, it gives him the potential to self-destruct. Lloyd II calls the novel Shadow Legend.

The story -- and the title for that matter -- are certainly fitting, as Lloyd II has lived in the shadow of a legend his whole life.

Lloyd Sr. was named to the all-time Steelers team alongside Hall of Fame linebackers Jack Lambert and Jack Ham. He amassed 54.5 sacks and five Pro Bowl nominations over a 10-year career. The 6-foot-2, 226-pound Lloyd Sr. played with one intention, to kill the guy holding the ball. Doug Porter,his college head coach at Fort Valley State, told Sports Illustrated in 1996 that he held Lloyd Sr. out of non-contact drills because "non-contact wasn't in his vocabulary." He was, as his son puts it today, "the nastiest linebacker of the decade."

Lloyd II never studied his father's game -- he was just six years old when Lloyd Sr. was busy laying out NFL quarterbacks -- but you can't tell.

Lloyd II led East Ridge High (Fla.) to three consecutive undefeated regular seasons as a defensive end and outside linebacker and was named the Central Florida All-Star game's defensive MVP. As a senior, he racked-up 154 tackles and 20 tackles for loss thanks to the same blend of aggressiveness, power and intensity that made his father a household name a decade earlier. Lloyd II was so dominant, his local newspaper referred to the East Ridge defense as "The Greg Lloyd Show."

Like his father, Lloyd II plays the game for a simple reason: He loves to hit people. Some players, such as an unlucky wide receiver from rival West Orange High School, learned that the hard way.

In a game during Lloyd II's senior year, the West Orange quarterback threw a ball down the sidelines that East Ridge defensive back Pat Conrad intercepted. Conrad almost fell upon catching the ball, but Lloyd II grabbed him and prevented his knees from touching the ground. Once Conrad got up, he started dashing for the end-zone with Lloyd II as his lead blocker. A West Orange wide receiver flew in full-speed from the other side of the field, ready to save the day. Lloyd II took three steps toward the receiver and made him wish he'd never tried to chase down Conrad. It was the most viscous hit in a high school career littered with bell-ringing tackles.

UConn offensive tackle Mike Ryan describes Lloyd II's game in two words: "reckless abandon."

"We hit people all day," Ryan said. "But when he hits you, you feel it."

Just ask UConn running back Andre Dixon. At an August practice, Lloyd II, still adjusting to the switch from outside to middle linebacker, was barking out signals to the rest of the defense when the ball was snapped. He quickly popped in his mouthpiece, met Dixon in a hole between the guard and tackle, and delivered a powerful blow to Dixon's chest that wiped the running back's feet out from underneath him and drew "oohs" and "ahhs" from his teammates.

"He just plays with his helmet," Dixon said. "He'll come in there with his head and just blast you."

But while the father-son similarities on the field are obvious, they don't extend past football.

"That aggression my dad played with," Lloyd II said, "It just carried over."

He paused. "To everything."

Lloyd Sr. was given the nickname "Just Plain Nasty" during his professional career -- and he certainly earned it. He developed a knack for shoving reporters and swearing during interviews, and to make matters worse, Lloyd Sr.'s malicious reputation translated to his family life. In 2001, he was accused of sticking a gun down his son's mouth and shortly after, pointing one at his ex-wife, Rhonda.

Outside of football, the most violent thing Lloyd II has done is play video games.

"Never play this kid in Call of Duty," Ryan warned. "He'll run around and knife his own teammates."

Ryan jokingly compares being friends with Lloyd II to hanging out with a five-year-old. When Ryan asks Lloyd II a serious question, he's usually greeted by the sophomore linebacker's signature response: "Your Mom." Sometimes, if Ryan is lucky, Lloyd II will skip the "your mom" and simply stick out his tongue. Lloyd II's goofy personality and upbeat outlook on life have made him one of the most likeable athletes on campus. According to Ryan, he can walk into a party without knowing a single person and leave as everyone's best friend.

Lloyd II hasn't talked to his father in six years. He does, however, wear his dad's No. 95 jersey. He always has. In fact, Lloyd II wore it in baseball and lobbied for it as a high school basketball player as well. Many people, including his mother, ask one question -- Why?

"Is my dad a good role model? He's far from it," Lloyd II said. "But as an athlete, I admire him. Now I understand how great he was. I kind of keep it as a family memento."

While Lloyd Sr. spends his "downtime" as a black belt Karate instructor in Georgia, Lloyd II always finds a safe haven at his computer. It's his place to unwind, to have a sense of purpose off the field. He opens his laptop and just lets his thoughts flow:

"So, I presume you inherited that sword from your father," Suichi said as he looked me up and down.

I slowly drew my sword from its sheath and stared in awe of its magnificence. The blade was long and slender, but you could see the power in it just by looking at it. Towards the bottom on my blade, close to the handle, there were two black flames etched into both sides of the blade with blue interior flames.

"Are you sure you can handle it?" Suichi said.

"Don't bother warning me," I said. "I can handle myself."