The Maurice Jones-Drew effect: Why college stars changed their names

December 24, 2015, 7:27 PM

— -- College football players are taught to play for the name on the front of their jerseys. They teach us about themselves with the names on their backs.

Maybe you wondered why JuJu Smith, USC's No. 2 wide receiver in 2014, became JuJu Smith-Schuster this season. Or why Ohio State recruit Eli Woodard became Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple.

From hyphens to new last names, college football has witnessed a surge of name modifications in recent years. As players enter adulthood or approach graduation, more are choosing new names to honor those who have molded them. Some have legally changed their names. Others go back to their legal names for various reasons.

Former UCLA running back Maurice Jones-Drew was one of the first college stars to change his name. Although Jones-Drew was his legal name, he went just by Maurice Drew early in his Bruins career. During the 2005 season, he reinstalled Jones to honor his grandfather, Maurice, who died after suffering a heart attack while attending a UCLA game at the Rose Bowl. The younger Maurice had lived with his grandparents for much of his childhood, and his grandfather guided him toward football. "He was my world," Maurice said of his grandfather.

"That was a dude who opened the doorway for me," said USC linebacker Scott Felix, formerly Scott Starr. "I'd never really heard about people doing that before."

A name change is an inherently personal decision, but college football players recognize the public platform they're on each Saturday. Their name is their brand. Some will be announced by that name in the NFL, where Maurice Drew quickly became MJD.

Every name has a story. So, what's in a name? Find out in the players' own words.

Eli Apple

Ohio State | CB | Senior | Voorhees, New Jersey

Born Eli Woodard, changed his last name to Apple to honor his father, Tim Apple, who entered his life at age 2. He made the change in December 2012, weeks before signing to play for Ohio State.

It's something I always wanted to do, and when I finally reached the right age, I turned 17 and I was going on to college, it was something I wanted to do.

I changed it right when signing day happened. I was already committed, I already knew I was coming here. I didn't really care about the articles. Once I changed it, everybody else will have to figure it out on their own.

I don't remember my biological father, but my stepdad, he's been my real dad ever since I can remember. I didn't even know he wasn't my real dad until I got into middle school, and people were like, 'He looks different than you.' I'd never even thought about it. He's always been there, he's always taken care of me.

He's the one who really loved football. He used to wake me up in the middle of the night to go do drills. He's the main reason why I love football. If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't be playing. I wanted to like everything he liked.

It's not completely changed. My driver's license says Woodard right now, until I get a new one. That's something I'll have to do next time I go back home.

You always play for your last name, and that's something I want people to see when they look at me, see my jersey, see that 'Apple.' I want them to think, 'He's going hard for his parents, going hard for his family, trying to protect his last name.' It's something I just wanted to carry on.

Dravon Askew-Henry

West Virginia | S | Sophomore | Aliquippa, Pennsylvania

Was born as Dravon Askew (no middle name), but when his mom Shanell married Roland Henry, his name was changed to Dravon Henry. Askew-Henry went to meet his biological father when he was six years old, but he has chosen to not have any contact since.

I told my mom that I still wanted to represent Askew because that's where it all started. ... So I changed it to Dravon Askew-Henry to represent both of their names.

We're really close, I don't even call [Roland] my stepdad. To me, that's my real, biological father. We're really close. He's the one who put the football in my hands.

I always wanted to do it, going into college, but after my first season I went in to talk to the equipment managers to let them know I wanted "Askew-Henry" on my jersey. ... It felt so great. The excitement was crazy. I can't even tell you. I loved that I was doing it for both Askew and Henry.

I never really looked into any one else's hyphens or anything. I felt like this was something I wanted to do for myself and my family.

Tony Brooks-James

Oregon | RB | Redshirt freshman | Gainesville, Florida

Born Tony James but decided to add the Brooks so that his name would honor both his mother (Dorothy Brooks) and his father (Frederick James), before the Oregon spring game last year. He hasn't legally changed it but has considered doing so.

All through high school, people said Tony James and not my mom's name. I wanted to make a change and show that I'm a James and also a Brooks, representing my mom's and dad's families... show them both love.

Scott Felix

USC | LB | Junior | Norco, California

Born as Scott Starr, he went through high school and his first two seasons at USC with that name. Shortly before the 2014 season, he changed his last name to Felix, honoring his father, Jason.

I was born with my mother's last name because my parents had me in high school, so they didn't really understand where they were going to go. My parents divorced when I was like 4 and my dad kind of started preaching to me about changing my name when I was around 10. I was just like, 'Dad's nagging me.'

I lived with my mom basically my entire life until high school, and then I moved in with my dad in California. He was always a good father to me, but I didn't really know him. There was some bumps and bruises because me and him are really alike. We had some fights. But he helped grow me into a man. I'll always be appreciative of that.

My entire life, I heard, 'Starr sounds cool.' I loved having that name. But as I grew into a man, I knew this is my dad's name and that's part of being a man.

My family's big on heritage. We have a book, a big, leather book, with a bunch of information. We have the Felix family crest on there, and it gets into detail about where our name originated. It has deep roots in Roman times and in Austria. My dad's dad, he gave me the book. He's all about family.

My mom was a little hurt at first. But after a day or two, she was like, 'I know you're not changing as a person.' She was a little bummed out, but she got over it pretty fast.

I definitely have that Starr in me, but I'm proud to have Felix as my name now. I can represent my dad, represent my family, make them proud. That's the biggest thing, too, is I was going to make my grandpa happy. I heard he teared up a little bit just because it's been a long process, 20 years. I'm pretty sure my dad did, too. My dad's a tough guy. He didn't show that around me.

Geno Matias-Smith

Alabama | S | Senior | Atlanta

He came to Alabama as Geno Smith and kept his name unchanged until this past summer, when he added Matias to honor his mother, Gina Matias, and grandmother, Jacqueline Matias.

It's something I wanted to do since I came to college. This was my last year, so I definitely wanted to get it done before I graduated so I could wear it on my jersey.

My mother doesn't have any brothers or sisters, she was never married, so I wanted her name to live on. I thought the best way of doing that was to be to hyphenate Matias. I didn't want my mother's and grandmother's name to die out.

My mother was able to go to the courthouse and got the paperwork for a name change, and I filled it out. I was actually in Tuscaloosa for summer school. It's a process. I had to pay like $300 to make the change and obtain the documents and all that.

Every time I wake up, I just can see Matias, and it makes me think about my mother and grandma. They can see I'm doing a good job for them. I know it makes my mom happy, and I know it makes my grandma super happy.

I grew up with my mother. When things are bad, [or] things are good, she was always there for me. My dad also, but me living in the same house, it's different. My mom and my grandma, I tell them everything. I love them dearly. They're the two most important people in my life.

Dwayne Orso-Bacchus

Oklahoma | DT | Redshirt freshman | Birmingham, Alabama

He was born Dwayne Orso Jr. but changed it legally a few months after he turned 18 in order to honor his stepfather, Darrin Bacchus. In high school he tried to change it, but his biological father wouldn't sign off on it and a minor can't legally change his or her name without consent from both parents.

I added it because it was my stepdad's last name and he raised me since before I was born. That's who I've always known to be my father. ... It was something I had been wanting to do for a while.

[My stepfather] and the entire family with the Bacchus last name, they were all pretty excited. They started making up Facebook posts and stuff like that. When I talked to him, he felt honored for me to do such a thing. Especially me doing it on my own made him feel like more of a father than he already was.

When I got here my first year, Dorial Green-Beckham was here and I asked him why his name was so long, and he told me it was because he had changed his name.

Having the Bacchus on the back, it definitely feels different. Not because it makes me play differently but just emotionally and mentally to know it's there and I'm playing for something that I feel like is much bigger than just myself, it definitely makes me play harder.

Michael Rose-Ivey

Nebraska | LB | Junior | Kansas City, Missouri

Given name is Michael Rose-Ivey, but he removed the Ivey after his mother, Melishe Ivey, was married while he was in high school. He went through the recruiting process as Michael Rose and kept the name through his first two seasons at Nebraska.

My birth certificate was always Rose-Ivey. I didn't legally change it. My ID says Rose-Ivey. I just went by Rose after my mom got married. When she got divorced, I added it back.

Mom has been a big inspiration to me. She had me at 15 years old, her and my dad, in high school. They did what they had to do. They raised me. They both continued going to school and whatnot. Just seeing her grow into the woman she is makes me appreciate my opportunities and the things she's sacrificed for me. So has my dad. I'm just fortunate enough to be in this position because of the things they've done for me.

That's what it's all about, really, to honor people. It's a different name, but it does mean a lot to have that on your back.

I have seven siblings, but I'm the only child between my dad and my mom. It's pretty cool just being a good representation of the people who helped you get to where you are. That's what I do off the field, try to continue on that legacy that they helped me begin as a child.

JuJu Smith-Schuster

USC | WR | Sophomore | Long Beach, California

Came to USC as JuJu Smith (given name is John). He changed to JuJu Smith-Schuster this summer to recognize his stepfather, Lawrence Schuster.

I've been thinking about doing it since my sophomore year in high school. Growing up, you always want to represent your father's last name, the person who stepped into my life when I was 4 years old. He's the one who brought me to football.

You have to do paperwork and do lawyers and then more paperwork. And you have to pay for it. It takes a while to process. The hardest part about it was just waiting.

The actual date, it was an awesome day. Missed school, changed my name, got some donuts from the judge. It was awesome.

He was probably the happiest dad. He wouldn't cry in front of me, but my mom told me he started crying when I went up in front of the judge.

Every time I hear Schuster, I'm like, 'It's really going on.' The [TV] announcer once said, 'JuJu Smith Shoeless,' when my shoe came off. A lot of people say Shoes-ter, like shoes.

Another question I've been asked a lot is why keep the Smith? I'm still close to my dad's side of the family, the Smith side, and having both is awesome.

I'm definitely trying to brand myself. That's why I wanted to do it early, because I could get people to know me as Smith-Schuster instead of just Smith. I don't want to go into the draft like, 'Who is this Smith-Schuster kid?'

The only thing is the signature is too long, to put JuJu Smith-Schuster. So I just put JuJu #9.

Nyeem Wartman-White

Penn State | LB | Junior | Philadelphia

Came to Penn State as Nyeem Wartman. Decided to add the White to his last name to honor his mom for mother's day last May. Wartman-White hasn't legally changed his name yet but said he plans to do so.

"This year I decided not to get my mom anything tangible for Mother's Day. I decided to go to another extent of showing my appreciation that I will be changing my last name to Wartman-White for her, making my name Nyeem Wartman-White," he said in a Facebook post. "Since she was the one who raised me my whole life I feel she has the right to see her last name on the child she has raised and provided for. I want her to feel appreciated every time the announcers say my name and when the journalists write articles about me."

I did it for my mom. She raised me for 23 years of my life. I felt like she deserved every right to her own last name represented by her son. ... For the most part she was a single mother.

She provided for me and gave me a home with love. I felt like whenever she heard my name on TV, she didn't hear her own last name.

We're basically the same person. Just different ages.