Pounceys' parents staying humble
Published: Monday, September 10, 2012 at 9:16 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 10, 2012 at 9:16 a.m.
LAKELAND – The chances of having two sons play in the National Football League are comparable to the odds of winning the Florida Lotto Jackpot.
So it's no surprise to hear Robert Webster of Lakeland say he feels “like a lucky lottery winner.”
Webster and his wife, Lisa, are the parents of identical twins Maurkice and Mike Pouncey, both starters for NFL teams. Maurkice Pouncey's Pittsburgh Steelers opened their season Sunday against the Denver Broncos, and Mike Pouncey's Miami Dolphins opened Sunday against the Houston Texans.
The twins are well compensated. Maurkice Pouncey, a first-round draft choice in 2010, signed a five-year contract reportedly worth $17.96 million. Mike, a first-round pick in 2011, signed a four-year deal reportedly worth $9.26 million.
But those expecting to see the Websters basking in luxury at this point, drunk on the largesse of the 300-pound twins, might be surprised at how little their lives have changed. They aren't living like lottery winners.
They reside in the same 1,900-square-foot house in South Lakeland they have occupied for a decade, including the years when the twins were helping lead Lakeland High School to state championships in 2004, 2005 and 2006. It is a modest house in an unpretentious neighborhood where most homes are assessed at less than $100,000.
Lisa Webster, 41, still works full-time as a parent-outreach facilitator for Polk County Public Schools' Head Start program, her employer for 16 years. Her involvement with young children isn't limited to her job, either.
As she sat in the family's living room on a recent afternoon, Lisa Webster tended to a bawling grandson upset about not being able to find his pacifier. How's that for the glamorous life of an NFL parent?
She said people often ask her incredulously why she continues to work.
“They do (ask) all the time, but I enjoy my job,” she said. “I like working with families. I think I can make a difference in people's lives, and that's my goal in being here.”
She added: “When I get ready to retire, I can go anywhere I want in life and won't have to worry about anything.”
Mom's not flashy
The Pouncey twins' success in pro football is no surprise. Observers have predicted NFL careers for the mammoth offensive linemen at least since they were sophomores at Lakeland High. Their stature only grew during their time at the University of Florida, where they helped the Gators win a national championship in 2008.
The twins, who turned 23 in July, both start at center, the position responsible for snapping the ball to the quarterback to start each play.
The Websters almost feel as if they have three sons in the NFL. Chris Rainey, a rookie running back with the Steelers, lived with the Websters his senior year at Lakeland High because of family problems. The Websters hosted Rainey's draft party last spring.
Five sets of brothers played in the NFL last season, according to the website Bleacher Report. That group includes quarterbacks Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos and Eli Manning of the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
Lisa Webster said her sons have financial advisors and have invested most of their money, but “the boys,” as she still calls them, have indulged in some extravagances. She said each bought a Range Rover soon after signing a contract. Maurkice also owns a Mercedes-Benz, and Mike has a Bentley.
Lisa Webster said she still has an impulse to pick up the check when she and her husband go out to eat with one of the twins.
“They always want to pay,” she said. “It always feels weird.”
The Websters have allowed their newly affluent sons to spread some of the wealth around. The twins bought their parents new furniture and paid for the remodeling of their kitchen. Lisa Webster allowed the twins to buy her a Cadillac Escalade, though she still dresses simply and doesn't display gaudy jewelry.
“We don't need all the extra show,” she said. “The boys like the nice cars, but I don't have to flaunt anything.”
The flashiest item to be found in the Websters' home is a colorful painting of the twins in their Steelers and Dolphins uniforms.
Maurkice and Mike also bought a car for their sister, Talisha Webster, 19. Robert Webster, 43, drives a Chevrolet Silverado.
“I like driving their cars,” Robert Webster said of the twins' vehicles. “I figure that's enough nice cars for me.”
Robert Webster, who is not the twins' biological father but who has reared them since they were 1, is no longer working. He lost his right leg in a rail-car accident at his job in November 2008, during the twins' sophomore season at Florida. He has a sophisticated prosthetic leg but says he has only about 75 percent of his former mobility.
Robert Webster said he spends his days supervising renovations at the house, taking care of the pool and looking after the dogs the twins keep accumulating and then leaving at their parents' house. The latest addition is an excitable Yorkie that's about the size of a football.
The Websters' lives have been transformed in one way: Their air miles have greatly increased since Maurkice joined the Steelers two seasons ago. The couple traveled to several of Maurkice's games in his rookie season, including the Super Bowl, in which the Steelers faced the Green Bay Packers on Feb. 6, 2011, in Arlington, Texas.
That snowy week proved a bittersweet experience. Maurkice missed the game with an ankle injury, and the Steelers lost 31-25.
The Websters said they attended about nine Dolphins games last season and about six Steelers games. On game weekends, they leave Lakeland late on Friday, after Lisa gets off work, and return either Sunday evening or Monday morning, depending on the kickoff time. Sunday night games sometimes require Lisa to miss half a day of work.
Robert Webster said Maurkice “rolls out the red carpet,” arranging for a car service to pick up his parents at the airport in Pittsburgh. The Websters drive to Miami for Mike's home games.
NFL teams host “family rooms” on game day for the relatives of players. The Websters said they have gotten to know some of the twins' teammates, mentioning Steelers running back Jonathan Dwyer and offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert, a former Florida Gator, and Dolphins players John Jerry, Richie Incognito and Davone Bess.
“Once you're around other NFL players, they're just normal people, too,” Lisa Webster said. “People think of them as great big celebrities. They just have a lot of money, but they're normal people.”
The Websters stayed home Sunday when the Steelers played in Denver and the Dolphins played in Houston. Aside from the cost and difficulty of traveling to distant cities, Lisa Webster said the tickets players get for road games are usually at the top of the stadium.
The Websters do plan to attend the Steelers' home opener Sept. 16 against the New York Jets and former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow. They'll travel to Miami the following week to see the Dolphins play the Jets.
“We'll see Tebow almost as much as we'll see the boys,” Robert Webster quipped.
The Steelers and Dolphins did not meet last season and are not scheduled to play this season, but the teams could meet in the playoffs or in a future season. Lisa Webster said she has contemplated that occurrence.
When it happens, she said, she and her husband plan to wear specially made jerseys in a half-Steelers, half-Dolphins design. She said they will do their “Dolphin dance” when Miami has the ball and wave their Terrible Towels — a Steelers tradition — when Pittsburgh has the ball.
In close touch
In general, Robert and Lisa Webster said people in their neighborhood don't bother them. They do sometimes notice cars parked on their street, especially when a Range Rover in the yard marks the presence of one of the twins. At worst, they said, visitors sometimes come and ask for an autograph.
Lisa Webster said “the boys” try to oblige all autograph-seekers.
Demands for the twins' time and financial support prompted them to create a charitable foundation called Team Pouncey. The foundation has hosted a football and cheer-leading camp and contributed to a school supply giveaway in Lakeland.
Robert Webster said the twins also donated new uniforms for the girls track-and-field team at Lakeland High School, where their youngest sister, Tierra Webster, is a junior.
The Websters often hear questions from parents of young athletes who want to know the secret of getting a son into that exclusive fraternity of the NFL.
“We'll see people and they'll say, ‘What can we do to get my kids (to the NFL)?' like we had a magic wand or something,” Robert Webster said. “But it was just letting them be their own person.”
“We were involved in everything,” Lisa Webster added. “We went to the little league football games. When they were in track, we went to the track meets. I think children, when you're involved, they're more interested, and they try harder.”
Lisa Webster said she communicates with the twins every day, either through a phone call or text messages. She has a special phone routine on the mornings on the twins' game days.
“They'll call me, and I'll answer the phone and say, ‘What time is it?' and they'll say, ‘Game time,'” she said. “That's our little ritual.”
It's just another way in which life remains the same for Robert and Lisa Webster.
Gary White can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7518.