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The Ball Hawk, part 1 | Emmanuel Forbes grew up on competition, drive and sibling rivalries


The term "ball hawk" is thrown around a lot these days. 

That was the sentiment general manager Martin Mayhew began his and head coach Ron Rivera’s joint press conference with on the first night of the 2023 NFL Draft. There are certainly some players who deserve the title, and almost any NFL fan could probably come up with a list of defensive backs who they think fit the description because of a pass breakup, an interception or even a pick-six. 

For the Commanders, however, the search for a ball hawk -- someone who can help turn an already above average defense into the gold standard of the league -- was about more than finding a player who occasionally creates a game-changing moment. For them, it was about taking a player who could consistently be relied upon to change the tides for his unit and have a reverberating effect on the entire time. 

The Commanders think they have one in Emmanuel Forbes. 

"The guy is an impact player," Mayhew said. "He's one of my favorite guys in this draft. From studying all these guys, he really was a guy that it was really fun to watch, because the guy gets the ball." 

Most Commanders fans are familiar with Forbes' reputation for being one of the best cornerbacks in all of college football. The highlights include 14 career interceptions, six of which were returned for touchdowns -- an FBS record; an 89.6 cover grade among cornerbacks last year, which was the best among all SEC cornerbacks; 150 career tackles; and 20 career pass breakups.  

Say what you want about Forbes reporting to the combine at 166 pounds. He still put up some of the best numbers for his position, and he did so in college football's best conference. 

"I'm not going to stress about it," Forbes said after he was drafted. "They [Washington] didn't have a problem with it." 

Like every other NFL player, Forbes went on a journey to get to this point. What started out as an opportunity to bond with his brothers turned into a passion, and from there, he turned into one of the best high school athletes in Mississippi and eventually one of the best student athletes in Mississippi State's illustrious history. 

Now, Forbes is getting ready to take the first step in what he hopes will be a long NFL career. Who knows how it will turn out, but if his past is any indication, he is set up to have a bright future. 

"I'm going to bring a guy that's going to have a great attitude, come in and work every day, just helping the team win games and hopefully my game is turning the ball over and create a lot of turnovers for the Washington Commanders."

Part One: Tough love and competition

Forbes grew up as one of 10 siblings, and as the youngest boy, he had an important role for his brothers and sisters: the guinea pig.

"It's either gonna make you or break you, and I did not let it break me," Forbes said initially, but after a second to think it over, he added, "It broke me a couple of times when I was younger."

There were a few times when that could be taken literally. One of the most memorable moments was when Forbes was throwing a softball with one of his brothers when he was about seven or eight years old. His brother decided to hurl the ball a little harder than normal on one throw "(I guess he wanted to be CC Sabathia or somebody," Forbes said), and accidentally knocked Forbes' front teeth out.

"They were really tough on him," Forbes' mother, Venita Rounds, said with a laugh. "They wouldn't let him get out there and be the crybaby."

Check out the top photos of Forbes' tour of the Washington Commanders' training facility in Ashburn, Virginia. (Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)

There was plenty of tough love and competition in Forbes' childhood home, and while not every moment with his brothers involved loss of teeth or broken bones, they weren't afraid to put him I difficult situations to see how he would handle them. Forbes looks back on them fondly, though, because they helped shape him into the person he is today.

"They love each other to death," Rounds said.

Like the rest of his family, Forbes started playing sports early. He was playing baseball, his first love when it came to sports, at the parks and recreation center not far from his home when he was three years old. That led to football sometime later, and of course his brothers were out at practice for his first day in pads. And, as if going through an Oklahoma drill wasn't enough of a "trial by fire," Forbes' brother found the biggest player on the team for him to go against.

It didn't end well for him.

"You think I'm little now, imagine when I was younger," Forbes joked. "He just absolutely cleaned me. And I'm telling you my brother made me get up and do it again."

Moments like that weren't exactly fun, but they did help Forbes learn a valuable lesson: toughness. His brothers wanted him to understand that he shouldn't back down from anyone, no matter how much bigger and stronger they were than him.

"Just don't get bullied out there," Forbes said. "That's something they didn't play at was getting bullied. That's something people try to do on the field. I'm always going to be the aggressor and try to be more physical."

Forbes had to learn that lesson quickly, because his brothers weren't going to let up on him. They would often play football together in the yard, and he was expected to keep up, despite being much younger than them.

"They were being very challenging with him to make him tougher and stronger, not to be the one that get hit and cry to their mama or something like that," Rounds said. "They toughened him up a lot."

It wasn't always like that. As tough as they were on each other, Forbes and his brothers were just as intense when it came to supporting each other.

"When me and his father were together, it was like a big family reunion," Rounds said. "Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, whatever they were doing on the weekend, we all made time to fish fry on Friday, barbecue on Saturday and just do fun stuff."

Take an inside look at Emmanuel Forbes draft party when the Mississippi State cornerback gets the call that he will be the next Washington Commander. (Photos by Kevin Snyder/Mississippi State Athletics)

Forbes' family had a routine in the fall. They would all head out to the junior high school for football games on Thursday night, then do the same thing for high school on Fridays. On Saturday, Forbes' family would head out to Holmes Community college for one of his brothers' games, and those trips became some of Forbes' most cherished memories.

"It was just really exciting to him," Rounds said. "I guess that just really motivated him more in wanting to do it."

Not that Forbes needed any extra determination. He saw all the players from his hometown who went on to play in college and even the NFL, and he knew he was going to be just like them one day.

Let's go over that last part again. He didn't just think he was going to be in the NFL; lots of kids have that dream. He knew it was going to happen, and he believed it with a blind passion.

"He used to tell me, 'Mama, I'm going to the NFL,'" Rounds said. "I didn't brush it off or anything. I told him, 'That's right. You get out there, do your best, and you'll go to the NFL. This is at a young age that he spoke it into existence."

Check back on next week, when we'll cover Forbes' time in high school and how he made a strong impression on head coach Ashley Kuhn during his time at Grenada High School.

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