By Pat Graham, AP Sports Writer
BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — On the inside of his right biceps, Colorado wide receiver Bryce Bobo has “Antonio” tattooed in cursive lettering. In the same spot on the left, “Louis.”
Those are tributes to his father, Antonio Louis Bobo Sr., who was shot and killed by Bryce Bobo’s half-brother when Bryce was 4 years old.
Another tribute: The Buffaloes junior has made two dazzling one-handed grabs this season — one with the “Antonio” arm, the other with the “Louis” side.
His father keeps lending a helping hand.
“I’m always thinking about my dad,” said Bobo, who will return home to Los Angeles this weekend when No. 21 Colorado visits Southern California.
“From what I hear, he was the best possible human being on earth.”
Over the years, his mom kept the memory of his father fresh by constantly sharing stories. Like how Bryce’s father couldn’t stand to see him upset, so when Bryce screamed during his first haircut, his father picked him up and took him out of the barbershop. Never mind that one side of his hair had yet to be trimmed.
Or how he and his father used to play football. He’d hike it and go out for a pass — his dad throwing him a perfect spiral. After his father died, Bryce would still hike the ball — to himself and throw it to himself.
“Growing up, I just kept reiterating to Bryce just how much his dad loved him,” his mom, Sonji, said in a phone interview from Covina, California. “I know that if his dad was still here, he would be in those stands, cheering Bryce on like no other.”
Jan. 3, 2000.
Sonji can recall every detail of that day. How they couldn’t locate Bryce’s half-brother, Antonio Bobo Jr., who was wrapped up in gang life. How they searched and searched.
Hearing that Antonio Jr. may be at a certain location, Antonio Sr. loaded up the family — including Bryce, his sister, Taylor, and Sonji — and went to bring him home.
They found Antonio Jr. and when his father shouted, he ran away. Antonio Sr. chased after him before someone yelled that Antonio Jr. had a gun. Antonio Sr. was shot on a street near the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. He was rushed to the hospital, but it was too late.
At Antonio Jr.’s trial, Sonji testified. So did Taylor. The jury convicted Antonio Jr. of manslaughter and he was given a 21-year sentence that he’s serving at a California state prison. He’s due to be released in two years.
“Those two were best friends,” Sonji said of her stepson and husband. “I still just can’t believe it.”
Antonio Jr. sent letters to the family asking for forgiveness, but Sonji wasn’t ready to respond. Too much anger.
A few years ago, she let go of her fury. She wrote her stepson a note and they talked. And talked.
“I was holding onto this grudge for so long and I just couldn’t do it anymore,” she explained. “I felt like I was dying inside. I had to release it.”
For Bryce, it took a little while longer to forgive.
“I felt like my mom wanted him in my life, but I wasn’t ready,” Bryce said. “Over time, and seeing my mom forgive, I changed my mindset. I allowed him back in my life. We formed a pretty good relationship.”
So much so that Bryce visited Antonio Jr. in prison last winter. Now, they talk quite a bit — about life and football. Antonio Jr., 33, even watches his younger brother’s football games from prison.
“For him to become to the person that he’s become today, that’s awesome,” Antonio Jr. said in a phone interview. “I really applaud him. I’m thankful for them to forgive me and to allow me to still be a part of their lives. That’s really touched my heart. I just wish him the best. I can’t wait to be there and go to his games, support him and see him play.
“Because the catches he makes, they’re amazing.”
Bryce has always had a knack for catching anything in his vicinity.
His nickname in high school was “Mickey Mouse,” because he used to wear white gloves and his hands were so huge. He was also called “Prime Time,” for his big-play ability.
Coming into this season, he had 47 catches for 422 yards and three TDs. But this year, with the Buffaloes back on the national scene, he’s turned it up another level, making two did-he-just-do-that receptions.
The first one was against rival Colorado State in the season opener when he reached out his left hand to bring in a 46-yard reception .
Just a warmup act for this: A 31-yard TD pass in which he held off an Oregon defender , spun around, and plucked the ball out of the air with his right hand. Oh, and somehow managed to keep one foot in bounds, too. It gave Colorado the lead with 8:43 remaining in a 41-38 win over Oregon.
“That should be nominated for catch of the year,” Antonio Jr. proudly said. “I’m glad he’s able to forgive me for what I’ve done and move forward with a strong bond.”
Bryce holds tight to the memories of his father.
In addition to his tattoos, he has a portrait of his dad in his room. He also goes by the nickname, “Lil’ ToneBone,” since his father was known as “ToneBone.”
“When I’m off by myself, I’m always talking to him. I ask him, ‘How am I doing? What should I be doing?'” Bryce said. “Questions I can answer myself. But it always helps to talk to him.
“I know he would be really proud.”