'The Blind Side': How Michael Oher Made It

The incredible true story NFL star's journey from Memphis streets to pro career.

ByABC News
December 21, 2009, 10:14 AM

Dec. 23, 2009 — -- Michael Oher is easy to pick out on pro football highlights reels. He's the Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman who makes the biggest players on opposing teams look like overstuffed rag dolls. Oher, a rookie left tackle, is already being noticed for his brute force in the trenches.

For Oher, it's a childhood dream come true.

"I would have dreams all the time about me playing in the NFL," Oher said. "Every day I woke up, I said to myself, you know, I'm going to work hard, you know, this day to get to that next level."

If Oher's incredible journey weren't true, you'd never believe it. But it did happen, and it's inspired one of this year's biggest films, "The Blind Side." The movie is a heart wrenching story of amazing twists of fate -- and the ultimate gift of love.

Long before Oher made it to the NFL, he didn't have a family to speak of. He grew up in a rough part of Memphis, Tenn., the son of a crack-addict mother and an absent father. When he enrolled in high school, he didn't have a permanent home. Then the Tuohy family took him in.

"He thinks I birthed him," joked Leigh Anne Tuohy. "It's gotten to the point where I think I birthed him. He takes great offense if people don't think that he's a part of the family."

Sean Tuohy, Jr., became Oher's new little brother.

"It was just me and him all the time," said Sean Jr. "We didn't miss a beat. I always introduced him as my big brother."

Collins Tuohy became the new sister.

"It was just, he was Michael, and I was Collins, and we went about our everyday life, and he was my brother, and that was that," she said. "I mean, I cannot imagine life without Michael."

The Tuohys live just a short distance from Oher's old neighborhood -- but it is a world away. Like other young black men growing up poor in Memphis, Oher seemed destined for two possible outcomes. A life consumed by drugs and gangs -- or one of sports with a glimmer of hope. For Oher the journey began in a housing project called Hurt Village.

"You had robberies, murders, burglaries, assaults," said Jimmy Chambers, a gangs investigator for Shelby County, Tenn.At 15 years old, Oher was 350 pounds and 6 foot 5, making him an ideal recruit as a body guard for any one of the two dozen gangs in the project.

"Most gangs grab for him," said Chambers. You know, 6-foot-[5]. Whew. Yes."

Oher: 'I Didn't Want to Do It'

Oher said the early years were tough.

"It was extremely hard being around all the violence that -- you know, the drugs," he said.

Fortunately for Oher, he met Tony Henderson, who ran a neighborhood athletic program.

"He wasn't no trouble kid, nothing like that, you know?" said Henderson. "He was real quiet, you know, and just stayed to himself."

Oher's home life was unstable, so Henderson took him in.

"He had an extra room and, you know, [I began] living in there," said Oher.

Oher went absent 51 days from Westwood High School one year. He had been to 11 schools in nine years, and often cut class. His grades were a disaster. By the ninth grade, his grade point average was .06. He was on the road to dropping out.

"It was easy for me to say, you know, I want to hang out, you know, with these guys and, you know, do drugs and, you know, not go to school," said Oher. "But I decided I didn't want to do it. I wanted to, you know, be something in life."