Fatherhood and football go hand-in-hand for Ashley

Calvin Ashley with wife Zaria Kee Ashley and son Calvin Ashley Jr.
Photo by Thai Floyd

Florida A&M football standout Calvin Ashley accomplished his greatest achievement on March 11, and it had nothing to do with football.

On that day his son, Calvin Ashley, Jr. was born at 10:21 a.m. at Winnie Palmer in Orlando. Ashley wanted to tell everyone, facetiming his friends with an abundance of joy, taking pictures and videos, and standing over the bassinet in awe of what he’d helped create.

“It was breathtaking. Just seeing him come out and open his eyes changed my life,” Ashley said. 

Ashley’s life has changed a lot since high school. As a highly touted recruit, Ashley has traveled all over the country and garnered a lot of attention for playing football. According to ESPN and 24/7 Sports, he was a 5-star recruit and the 26th overall recruit in the class of 2017. AT 6-foot-6 and 330 pounds, he’s hard to miss, but what measures Ashley is his heart.

“He is a great father and husband. He always puts us first in sickness and in health, he’s very hands-on with our child and with our respective schedules that’s a big help,” his wife Zaria Kee Ashley said.

Zaria and Calvin met in Orlando, and fell in love after persistence from Ashley. At ages 20 and 21, respectively, they had Calvin Jr. At the time Ashley was still enrolled at Auburn University, but his heart was with his family in Florida. 

“I left five days after he was born, we were currently on spring break. After that, I wouldn’t see him for another three months. I was really upset that I would miss all of the little things and miss all of his growth. So, I had to make a move,” Ashley said.

Ashley left Auburn in the spring and transferred to Florida Atlantic University, where he planned on continuing his football career and education. However, things didn’t click there either and he ended up leaving again, ending up at Florida A&M.

“It was hard being away from my family, I was afraid to miss out on things that my son would do and I wouldn’t be able to see him grow. These are some of the most important moments that I really didn’t want to miss out on,” Ashley said. 

Zaria is an information technology major at Florida State University. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she’s in class until 8 p.m. During the day, Zaria and Calvin have to make themselves available to switch responsibilities and rely on friends for help.

 “It takes a village to raise a child. We have a reliable support system and can make it work for the most part,” said Erica Kee, Zaria’s mother. 

Ashley is Florida A&M University’s first 5-star recruit, and there are many expectations for him, especially with the progression the program has made under second-year head coach Willie Simmons. 

The offense averages 26.4 points per game and Ashley’s in front of two All-MEAC running backs who accounted for over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Earlier this season, quarterback Ryan Stanley became the school’s all-time passing leader.

Ashley’s biggest mission isn’t on the field, though. It’s building awareness and destroying the stigma surrounding black men and mental health. 

“I suffer from depression and anxiety. I need to speak out because it’s killing people, I had a friend who I played football with and he took his life. He was going through a lot and that’s why I feel it’s important to speak up about it,” Ashley said. 

In 2013, Dr. Brian Hainline deemed mental health the No. 1 health and safety concern for the NCAA. There is a handbook on the NCAA website, “Mind, Body, and Sport: Understanding and Supporting Student-Athlete Mental Wellness.” This handbook details the struggles surrounding mental health in athletics and what factors play into it like injuries, loneliness and sleep difficulty. 

By using his stature as an athlete and being transparent about his mental health issues, Ashley plans to normalize mental health so more people can receive the help that they need. 

With a wife, a baby, classes and football he recognizes he’s got a full plate. But to Ashley, it’s the life he has always imagined.