From football to boxing – a Flint man’s journey to the Olympic boxing trials

DeAndre Savage makes his way to the 2020 Olympic qualifier

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Flint native DeAndre Savage was getting ready for his daily workout in Las Vegas when a phone call came in. The 29-year-old boxer was preparing for his last opportunity to earn an invitation to participate in the boxing trials for one of the world’s most recognized sporting events – the Olympics.

On October 25th, the news came in that DeAndre qualified and he would be heading to attend the Olympic qualifier in Lake Charles, La. December 8 – 14.

“I had just walked into the gym and was about to get started training,” DeAndre said of that morning. “I was getting ready for the last chance tournament and I got a call from USA Boxing, letting me know that I qualified for the Olympic Trials.”

DeAndre Savage stands left and his brother Dionte Savage on the right in a photograph taken during a visit with their father Dion Savage Sr. (Courtesy Photo)

This invitation was improbable provided all that he has encountered in life but his constant persistence has put him right where he planned to be.

Well sort of.

In 1997 DeAndre’s father, who fancies himself as a pretty good boxer in his heyday, was sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy to deliver drug charge. DeAndre insists that this was unjust. Since they were kids, Savage and his brothers have strived to put themselves on platforms that would allow them to bring their dad, Dion Savage Sr. home. They saw sports as a way to earn money to pay a lawyer to continue to fight to overturn their dad’s conviction.

Currently, Dion Sr. is awaiting a decision on a motion he filed to benefit from prison reform bills. The First Step Act was signed into law by President Donald Trump in 2018 and retroactively applies the Fair Sentencing Act, which was signed by former President Barack Obama. The Fair Sentencing Act is a law that reduces mandatory minimum sentences for drug charges.

From Football to Boxing – DeAndre Savage’s Journey

Originally, DeAndre planned to make a name for himself as a professional football player. He touts the size and the passion that typically translates well in football.

East Arizona College, where DeAndre would eventually play football for two years, listed him at 6-foot-2 and 289 pounds. Despite his favorable attributes, DeAndre’s college football career was a journey. He failed to qualify academically to play Division I football and was unable to accept an offer to play for Michigan State University.

“I just didn’t know the opportunity,” DeAndre said. “I was being told but I was just so young. I wasn’t listening. I was just doing bad in school. I wish I could go back now and change it but you can’t.” Savage enrolled in Butler Community College in Kansas after graduating from Southwestern Academy in 2008 but things still didn’t work out.

He left without playing in a game and eventually transferred to Grand Rapids Community College before deciding to drop out of school altogether. But in typical DeAndre fashion, he shrugged off the embarrassment he felt from returning home and enrolled at Mott Community College to bolster his academic resume. The next year he transferred to Eastern Arizona.

The junior college route is a proven way for players that were unable to play Division I sports right out of high school to garner a second chance. And it appeared DeAndre was on the right path. He played two years at the Thatcher, Arizona college before moving on to Texas Southern, a Division I Championship Subdivision school.

Then he encountered another roadblock.

In 2010 DeAndre played in the spring game at Texas Southern but eventually left and did not play during the regular season. Instead, he transferred to Division II Texas A&M Kingsville. After sitting out a season, he played a season. Following that season, a clear path to a professional football career still was not there.

 “I was just mentally hurt. I was lost. I didn’t know what I was going to do. (I was thinking) what am I going to do now. I’ve been working hard for football all of my life.” – DeAndre Savage

“I was kind of down and kind of hurt because I thought I would have made it in football with me going to Division II it kind of slowed my chances,” Savage admitted. “I was just mentally hurt. I was lost. I didn’t know what I was going to do. (I was thinking) what am I going to do now? I’ve been working hard for football all of my life.”

The Savage Brothers

Then DeAndre found himself in Las Vegas working in the corner of his older brother Shujaa El-Amin, formerly known as Dion Savage Jr. 

El-Amin, 32, was on his own crusade to bring his father home. Before DeAndre ever put on his gloves, El-Amin saw boxing as a way to earn enough money to continue Dion Sr.’s legal battle. He made enough buzz to be signed by Floyd Mayweather’s promotional team, Mayweather Promotions.

DeAndre began training alongside El-Amin who insisted on DeAndre being in his corner. From there, DeAndre began sparing and had some success against more seasoned fighters. 

Fueled by his dreams of earning enough money to bankroll his father’s appeal DeAndre has fought hard to scale the boxing ranks quickly.

His first official fight was in 2016. Three years later, DeAndre is ranked 4th in the 201 lbs + weight class by USA Boxing.

“I’ve only been boxing three years,” DeAndre explained. “I really honestly didn’t think I would go this far. I [was] just a competitor. When I got into this sport, I was just trying it out.”

DeAndre Savage (Raymond Planas | www.purposedbackgrounds.org)

Confidence resonates from DeAndre’s calm tone masking the adversary he has had to overcome. Instead of some masterful plan coming to fruition DeAndre’s story is actually one of resiliency. With the incarceration of his father, the odds stated that DeAndre and his brothers immediately became a risk to engage in unhealthy activities as a youth that could have sent him down the wrong path.

The Savage brothers turned to sports rather than the streets. 

El-Amin invested his life to boxing. Locally, he trained at Berston Fieldhouse as a youth and with Leon Lawson, grandfather of local boxers Andre and Anthony Dirrell. DeAndre was developing himself as a football player. DeAndre’s brother Dionte Savage, 27, excelled at basketball and football, played for Oklahoma University and received try-outs for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts. He now serves as the offensive line coach for the Washington Valor of the Arena Football League.

Poriot Dye, a former coach for Flint Community Schools, identified DeAndre’s potential early on. The two first met when DeAndre was playing at Longfellow Junior High School and Dye was a football coach at Flint Northern High School. Dye worked with Barbara Savage, DeAndre’s mom to keep him on the straight and narrow. 

Barbara welcomed the extra support as she was often working when the boys got out of school for the day. She was forced to move her family —  DeAndre, his two brothers and his sister from their home in an outlying community to the north side of Flint. This period was marred by economic woes which saw a mom struggling to provide for her family.

“He would always listen to me,” Dye recalls. “We would have conversations where I would talk to him about setting goals and achieving those goals and doing the things he needs to do to be successful. If he would not be in school, I’d call. Me and his momma would get on him about his grades.”

DeAndre attributes his current success to those that stepped in to form his proverbial village. They encouraged DeAndre, who was just four when his father went to prison, to maintain a relationship with Dion Sr. 

To this day DeAndre and Dion Sr. communicate regularly through phone calls and email. 

“I looked at him as my son. However, I did encourage them to always reach out to their father, Dye said.  “That was one thing I felt was important that they needed, that connection with (their father). Even though they were a little frustrated about the situation I made sure he reached out to his father.”

 

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