YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The story of Sherman Smith and Deland McCullough has captivated audiences across the country. Two former NFL players, both from the Youngstown area. After 28 years of knowing one another, they learned they have a family connection: McCullough is Smith’s biological son.

Tonight, the pair return to their roots by speaking with parents and students about their success at a Youngstown City Schools event. We spoke with them about what they say it takes to overcome and be successful.

“In the midst of a time when Youngstown has been portrayed in so many negative ways, one of the most positive stories in the nation right now is the story of Sherman Smith and Deland McCullough,” said event organizer Gary Frost.

Smith was working as a coach for the University of Miami, Ohio when he recruited McCullough to come play ball for him.

“Youngstown ties is what brought me and my dad together,” McCullough said.

McCullough went on to play for the NFL and won a Superbowl ring as a running backs coach for the Kansas City Chiefs.

“I use some of the negative things that I may have been around as ammunition to say, I want the opposite,” McCullough said.

Smith, his father and mentor, graduated from high school in Youngstown in 1972. He won a Superbowl with the Seahawks, also as a running backs coach.

Smith says mentors in his life helped him get to where he is.

“Racial issues that were going on. So I think my father and other men came into my life and just, man, told me not to be bitter about what was going on to allow these things to make me better,” Smith said.

Their message to the crowd? The key to being successful is working toward what you want and not letting where you’re from dictate who you become.

“They encouraged me to, you know, dream big and, you know, I can leave this area and do some things I never thought I could do,” Smith said.

“Don’t let anybody tell you what you can’t do, you know? And for me, the environment was very similar to what it is right now when I grew up, you know? But what I did is I seen something better for myself,” McCullough said.