Mark Timmons could have turned to anger.
He could have dropped out of school and tuned out his mother, teachers and friends.
Whether purposeful or not, though, the Carolina Forest tailback took the path opposite of what he learned from his absentee father. He stuck it out, deciding to make a situation that was anything but ideal the best it could be.
"I made contact with his dad, and he chose not to be in his life," Timmons' mother, Sheilah Gourdine, said before relaying the message she tried to beat into her son's head while he was growing up. "You can't make him do something you can't [control]. But don't let that be an excuse to fail. That is not going to make or break you as a man."
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As Timmons continues to discover to this day, following his mother's advice has done him more good than anything else. He has shown an ongoing pursuit to better himself personally, admitting he needed extra help in a couple of classes and accepting remedial courses so he could graduate on time - something the senior is on pace to accomplish in the spring.
On the football field, his path has taken a similar route. Timmons' patience behind other players the last two years has helped morph him into the Panthers' feature back. He has now tallied 1,006 yards and 10 touchdowns on 114 carries in just six games. In that time, he's set the school's single-game record for rushing yards - twice.
Timmons has also helped turn Carolina Forest (5-1) into a winning team as it enters its Region VI-AAAA opener tonight at Lugoff-Elgin. With one more victory in the coming weeks, the Panthers will guarantee themselves their first non-losing season since moving to Class AAAA.
Carrying most of the load is the first-year starter.
"He's definitely not a flash in the pan. The kid can play," coach Drew Hummel said. "All the boy every wanted was an opportunity to show what he could do running the ball."
After getting only a handful of carries as a junior, he stepped into the No. 1 tailback role during spring practice. Any hesitance over Timmons' small stature - the back admits he's just 5-foot-6 and 160 pounds - was wiped away almost immediately.
But why wouldn't it be?
Size was never anything that would hold him back. Born a 4-pound, 61/2-ounce preemie, Timmons overcame childhood asthma under the care of his 17-year-old mother.
As he's gotten closer to adulthood, Timmons continued to try to repay that strength with his own form of love.
"My mom's a single mom, and she goes out of her way to do things for us," said Timmons, who has helped raise his 17- and 14-year-old sisters, as well as a 2-year-old niece now living with them. "Whenever she needs help, I gotta help around the house.
"I'm her only son. She expects me to be there. I'm her backbone, she says."
Gourdine said her son rarely questioned having to watch his younger sisters when she was forced to work nights. As Timmons moved through Ocean Bay Middle School and now Carolina Forest, Gourdine has seen her son develop into a person able to adapt to a lack of luxuries like privacy and free time.
AlthoughGourdine is now engaged, she doesn't pause before calling her son "the man of the house," even considering her own relative youth.
"Being 17 when I had him, we kind of grew up together." she said. "I was told a woman can't raise a man's child. I find that pretty much not to be true."
Timmons is running, football-pounding proof his mom's assessment is spot on. In fact, while talking about the job Gourdine has done raising him, he never mentions his father, by name or paternal title.
Timmons has long since moved on, concentrating on the here and now, not on what could have been.
And for at least five more regular-season games, he'll focus on getting Carolina Forest back to the playoffs. In doing that, he's also accomplishing something else.
"When I'm having a bad day at home or things aren't going right," Timmons said, "football is just my medicine to calm me down."
He readily thanks his mother for that elixir.