Once, Keith McCants was the nation’s most feared defensive player, a relentless package of sideline-to-sideline intensity for the University of Alabama. Now, he’s in constant physical agony because of football injuries.
He walks with a cane. He said he has been diagnosed with clinical depression and early stages of dementia. Sometimes, he can’t recognize family members. More than once he considered suicide. He’s 43 years old.
Once, he was a first-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who presented him with a $7.4 million contract and the largest signing bonus ever given to a rookie defender. He lived fast and hard, with a mansion on the water, cars, boats, jewelry, flashy clothing, nights on the town, lavish vacations. Now it’s all gone. He’s broke.
Once, he was the good-guy favorite son of Mobile, Ala., where residents bragged about his accomplishments. Now, they are accustomed to his litany of legal entanglements — since 2002 he has had 11 arrests on charges of possessing drugs or drug paraphernalia and three convictions — but remain baffled about how it all went so wrong.
McCants said he had 29 surgeries, many on his troubled knees, and six concussions. Football injuries caused an addiction to painkillers, which he said led to cocaine use. His problems, though, began much earlier.
“I wish I had never had any money,” he said during an interview at the Pinellas County jail, where he has been held since April 23 on a fugitive warrant from Mobile. “I would’ve been great without money. It’s a sad story, but it’s a true story. Money destroyed everything around me and everything I care for, my family, my so-called friends. I just want enough to live on. I never want to be rich again.”
He wants his mistakes to be an eye-opening example. He wants to stand before high school and college athletes and tell his story. If he can remain clean, if he can stay away from the law, that’s how he says he will spend the rest of his days.
McCants, who has a wife in Mobile, moved back to the Tampa Bay area within the past year. He’s closer to his children, who live with his ex-wife. He had been entered in a drug-rehabilitation program at St. Petersburg’s Solid Rock Ministries.
“I’m trying, really I am,” he said.
In December, McCants was arrested after St. Petersburg police said he was found leaving an exotic dance club with a crack cocaine pipe on the console of his vehicle. His female passenger had cocaine in her purse, police said. In February, as McCants removed identification from his pocket during a police stop, the officer said she noticed a plastic wrapper of cocaine. When she attempted to handcuff McCants, he pulled away and fled.
Last week, McCants pleaded guilty in both cases. The judge%