As flood waters rose in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, 12-year-old Arthur Maulet and his grandfather, Anthony Hicks, escaped their home by splintering a hole in the ceiling with an axe and climbing onto their rooftop. From there, they traversed through the floodwaters to the Claiborne bridge and awaited rescue.
Hurricane Katrina had made landfall East of New Orleans and the levee walls protecting the city under sea level broke. Devastation surged into the streets and murky waters filled the two-bedroom home that Hicks and Maulet had make-shifted into a five-bedroom by constructing walls sectioning the space to fit Maulet and his four siblings. His sisters, Kawanda and Bri, slept in one bisected room while he and his brothers Juan and Henry shared the other. Hicks slept in the living room. But none of it mattered as they sat on the Claiborne Bridge.
Eventually, a National Guard helicopter whirled above them and both Hicks and Maulet were saved from the fifth-deadliest hurricane in the history of the United States. They were flown to the Louisiana Superdome, which was operating as a refuge center.
For two weeks, a young Maulet saw the horrors of Hurricane Katrina. A fierce competitor and a physical veteran cornerback in the NFL shifts uneasily in the Ravens locker room recounting the trauma.
“Women getting raped. Kids getting raped,” Maulet said. “People getting killed. People dying. People fighting for food. It was… it was a shit show. I was lucky I wasn’t there long enough to be in one of those situations.”
Hicks, Maulet and a few of the children returned to their home a month after their refuge in the Superdome, or where it was. His home, like countless others in the Ninth Ward, was gone. Any possessions the young boy had were swept away in the destruction. The only distinguishable features of where they lived was a painted outline of the hopscotch drawn into the concrete sidewalk. They also found the fish tank Hicks kept with fish named after all the children, alive and swimming in the tank.
“What are we gonna do with your fish box,” asked a grandchild of Hicks.
“We don’t have nowhere to live,” Hicks said. “We can’t provide for the fish no more.”
The sight of his home swept away in the surging water stunned the adolescent Maulet.
“For me as a kid, I was kind of still young and I was helping build on the house. And I was like, ‘Damn. Everything that we worked for, built for, to kind of be comfortable with all these people in the house was gone,’” Maulet said. “It was tough going back and not seeing your home there.”
Hicks took the family to Texas for a short stay as he tried to figure out the next moves to be made for the family. Then, a Presbyterian church reached out with incredible help, funding a home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for the six of them to live.
Hicks and the five children arrived at a home in Ann Arbor that brought joy to the family. They had enough bedrooms for a boys room, a girls room and Hicks had his own. Maulet smiles, revisiting the memory.
“We had a big yard,” Maulet said. “It was my first time shoveling snow! I was like, ‘yo, this is pretty cool.’”
It was in Ann Arbor Maulet discovered his love of football and sports. Maulet received tickets to see the Michigan Wolverines in The Big House. Afterward, Maulet enrolled in basketball in the Winter. In the Spring, he played baseball. The following Fall, he played his first season of football.
For two years, Maulet enjoyed Michigan. He had a home that didn’t need Hicks and himself to wake up at 6 a.m. to build on and repair. He was safe and happy. Coaches were mentoring Maulet and volunteering to take him home from practices as Hicks was working to provide for the family of six.
But it didn’t last.
Hicks was summoned to the church’s office. The funds had run out on paying off the home and in 60 days, they’d be homeless. Maulet and his siblings were devastated.
Maulet struggled leaving Michigan. The friends he made and the security he felt were stripped from him. His adolescence was robbed as they packed up and moved to Columbus, Georgia, to live in a home provided for Hicks and his siblings by his uncle. No longer could Maulet play sports. He was thrust into a position to provide for his family.
After school and on weekends, Maulet wasn’t tightening his cleats or snapping on his chinstrap. Instead, he was leaving the house with Hicks to do odd jobs. Providing for the family was now on Maulet’s shoulders, too.
“We had to do plumbing jobs. We had to do roofing jobs. We had to do construction,” Maulet said. “I was the ‘next man up’ in the household.”
One particular job had Maulet and Hicks repairing the roof of a house. Hicks recalled how frightened the teenager was.
“Pops, I’m scared,” Maulet told his grandfather.
“Well, if we don’t finish this job, we don’t eat,” Hicks answered. “This is how we get our money. We have to work.”
Upon completion, Maulet told his grandfather nothing would scare him anymore.
The work and stress to help provide for the family became too much for Maulet. He was in pain and his judgment was clouded. As a result, in his words, Maulet began running with the wrong crowd. He dropped out of school and looked for a way—anyway, to be a participant in life. For what felt his entire existence, Maulet was on the receiving end of life, always reacting to the latest news or situation, which frequented loss and suffering. He sought a way to feel control, but it was with the wrong crowd. Hicks saw the path his grandson was taking. If Maulet stayed in Columbus, he could end up dead or in prison.
“You’ve got to get out of here,” Hicks said to Maulet. “You’re not going to make it.”
Maulet was on the move again. This time, alone, back to Louisiana to live with his aunt.
Return to New Orleans and Football
Maulet quickly returned to school football. It brought stability and joy to the 18-year-old junior in high school and kept him off the streets. He stepped onto the field for his first tryout of Spring football. It’d been so long since he stepped onto a field that he’d even put his pads on backward. His friend and teammate, Cory Hardy, teased him before fixing his pads.
Maulet’s first snap at cornerback proved he was in his element as he intercepted the ball. But the highs of being a cornerback faded as the quarterback got his revenge.
“He started roasting me after that,” Maulet said, laughing. “Throwing at me every time. Just darts. Catch, catch, catch. I’m getting mad.”
And though Maulet was allowing catches, he contended with each snap, catching the eye of defensive backs coach Donald Cox, who was a defensive backs coach for Under Armour and coached numerous NFL players, including Keenan Lewis and Kendrick Lewis. The two formed a bond as Maulet showed the athleticism and competitiveness to be a professional player. Cox would help coach Maulet his junior year where he saw significant improvements by seasons’ end. Now, Maulet was grinding workouts preparing for his senior season where he’d get the recognition he’d earned. That is, until he became ineligible to play due to turning 19 years old. Maulet wouldn’t be suiting up for the Bonnabel Bruins his final year in school.
Football was Maulet’s driving force. With it stripped away from him yet again, he once more was without purpose. He quit living with his aunt. He was homeless and back to “bull-crapping,” as he puts it, on the streets doing what he wanted to do. There was no way he was making it.
Maulet one day, weeks into being homeless, he decided to attend school. Cox found him and pulled him to the side with a plan devised to get him back on the right track.
“I told you, work your butt off for six months and we’re gonna go to a junior college,” Cox told him.
Cox brought the teenager into his home, and they got to work.
At 6 a.m., Maulet was at a 24-Hour Fitness going through workouts with Cox. Afterward, he studied for his G.E.D. After finishing his studies, he’d go with Cox to his new coaching gig at Helen Cox High School, where Maulet helped coach his peers. It fueled his drive, seeing other athletes practicing while he was unable to play.
After six months of taxing workouts, studies and sitting on the sidelines, Maulet and Cox’s plan worked. He earned his G.E.D. and was headed to Copiah-Lincoln for a tryout.
Copiah-Lincoln Junior College
It hasn’t been easy at any stage of Maulet’s life and the JuCo tryout wasn’t any different. As Maulet stepped onto the grass, rain began to pour in Wesson, Mississippi.
“What the hell,” Maulet asked to the sky above. “One more thing, right?”
But weather hadn’t stopped Maulet before. It damn sure wasn’t going to stop him now.
Maulet battled in his tryout, proving he was worthy of one of the few spots remaining on the team. But it wasn’t as simple. He was an out-of-state player, which teams could only add four of on offense and four on defense, meaning he wasn’t competing against the full depth chart. He was competing for one of four spots the defense could have from out-of-state players. Maulet relished the challenge, especially when he realized one of the cornerbacks he was up against was the current holder of a coveted one-in-four spot.
Maulet noticed in the locker room as they were putting on their gear that the incumbent was getting new pads. Meanwhile, Maulet was tightening frayed straps and worn plastic shells on his shoulders. It pissed him off and poured more jet fuel onto Maulet’s fiery spirit.
Tryouts concluded days later, and Maulet was informed he made the team. He overcame being a player with no senior film and hadn’t suited up in over a year.
Maulet didn’t play much in his freshman season. Instead he honed his craft with a full season of practicing and developing. The year of being on a team and granted access to coaches developed into a dominant sophomore year.
In 11 games, Maulet racked up 30 tackles and five interceptions and a pick-six at cornerback. It translated into more than 20 offers from colleges, where Maulet selected the University of Memphis. But like everything else in Maulet’s journey, it wasn’t so simple.
University of Memphis
Maulet didn’t have enough credits to be allowed to play football in the Spring when he accepted the offer from Memphis. He couldn’t get housing, either. Maulet’s only option was to stay at his friend ‘Smacks’ house on the couch while he toiled away gaining college credits for all of Spring and Summer.
Maulet was back to solo workouts, keeping his body fresh for what was to come. Something he was not prepared for.
Speed of play is often talked about when players go from the college level to the pro game. One of the most challenging positions in which it’s different is at cornerback, where defending receivers is measured by fractions of a second. Maulet was overmatched in Fall camp and his first season at Memphis.
“It was the worst,” Maulet said, shaking his head.
Maulet was, well, bad in his first year at Memphis. As a junior, Maulet remembers seeing his PFF grade plummet each week. He allowed the second-most receiving yards (866) among all FBS cornerbacks in 2015. He allowed the second-most touchdowns (8) of any FBS cornerback.
Maulet maintains he’s a realist. When he’s good, he allows himself to know he was good. But when he’s bad, he doesn’t shy from his own critique.
“You fucking suck ass,” Maulet told himself at season’s end. “You got to get it together or you will not be doing nothing, man. You won’t be going to the league.”
The self-flagellation spurred his Spring and Summer workouts. He was a man possessed to improve. Self-imposed two-a-day workouts all year long proved bountiful when Maulet returned for his senior year.
Maulet became a force in his senior season. He finished as the No. 10 cornerback by PFF’s coverage grade, narrowly beaten out by first-round cornerbacks Tre’Davious White, Marshon Lattimore by a fraction of a point. Maulet stuffed the stat sheet with 59 tackles, 32 stops, five sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions. He slashed his yards allowed by more than half, allowing only 418 yards. He allowed only two touchdowns all season. He was ready for the NFL. All that stood before him was the NFL Scouting Combine.
Maulet had the football numbers to show he was worth a Day 1 draft pick. And if not a Day 1, surely, he was Day 2 worthy. But the game film isn’t everything for the NFL, hence the arguably antiquated NFL Scouting Combine, where sprinting in shorts can make-or-break a young man’s future.
Maulet did everything he could to avoid his career collapsing before it had started. He saved enough money to pay for training by specific trainer who specialized in shaving down 40-yard dash times. After weeks of training, he never got the trainer he paid for. Maulet grew frustrated and got on the phone with another respected trainer to avoid disaster. After getting confirmation he’d receive help, he flew out to San Diego for training. Again, Maulet never received the help he paid for.
Time had run out for Maulet to gain any more workouts. He was headed to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in Carson, California. Six days later, early in the morning, Maulet gets a phone call asking if he wants to be a late addition to the Reese’s Senior Bowl. Maulet accepts and scrambles to find a flight from California to Mobile, Alabama, and get his pads from Memphis to the game. He arrived on a red-eye flight; they didn’t.
The cross-country late-night flight with little sleep hindered Maulet’s play. He was in loaner pads and wearing kicker Jake Elliott’s helmet for the Bowl game. Players were laughing at Maulet when he put on the two-bar helmet and stepped onto the field, only to line up against Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp and East Carolina wide receiver Zay Jones.
On Maulet’s first play, Kupp runs a double-move and Maulet’s sticky coverage breaks up the play. His performance was adequate heading into the fourth quarter. Then, the North team mounted a fourth-quarter drive down seven that ended with Jones catching a six-yard slant for the touchdown against Maulet. The two-point attempt was unsuccessful, but the damage was done.
Fortunately, Maulet still received an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine in mid-February. It all came down to the 40-time for the Memphis Tiger.
“Just run a 4.5, bro,” Maulet remembers everyone telling him. “Just run a 4.5 and you’ll get drafted.”
Maulet lined up on the blocks and gave it everything he could. As he flew past the 40-yard line, he looked at the clock.
He returns to the blocks.
Second chances are familiar to Maulet. Each time he’s been given one, he’s run with it and overcome adversity. Now, to literally do it again. Run with it.
He sprints another 40 yards and looks up at the clock. He can’t believe it.
“My journey was just so much. I feel as though I could have run faster, but I just was going through so much, bro,” Maulet said. “My heart’s broken. That’s it for me. Priority free agent.”
Call it hope or optimism. Call it being a glutton for punishment and denial. Either way, Maulet still held a draft party in hopes of experiencing the happiest day of his life with his friends and loved ones.
They all sat down at Ubee’s in Memphis in hopes of watching one of the best FBS cornerbacks find his NFL home. But what followed was heartache as he watched 253 players be called, none being him.
Maulet watched his teammate, Elliott, get drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the fifth round. He knew it was over for him when University of Houston cornerback Brandon Wilson, a player from his conference, was drafted by Cincinnati.
After the draft, Maulet’s phone began to ring, including a familiar 504 area code. The New Orleans Saints, his hometown team, wanted him.
Maulet’s NFL experience is parallel to his life’s journey. He’s played for five teams, traveling from New Orleans to Indianapolis, New York, Pittsburgh and now Baltimore. He’s still searching for his long-term home. But through it all, Maulet has a furrowed brow and a smile, ready for the next challenge but feeling happy and blessed.
“I feel as though I have more work to do,” Maulet said. “Obviously, I’m blessed to be where I’m at. I don’t really tell my story a lot. I don’t want the excuses. I don’t look at my faults or look at anything to pin my mishaps on. I look at it as learning lessons and keep moving.”