Eli Apple changed name to honor stepfather

Giants first-round pick Eli Apple with his stepdad Tim Apple...

Giants first-round pick Eli Apple with his stepdad Tim Apple shortly after Eli was selected by the Giants on Thursday, April 28, 2016. Credit: New York Giants / Mike Malarkey

Tim Apple would have been just as proud if the Giants had selected Eli Woodard in the first round of the draft Thursday night. The hugs would have been just as tight, the celebration would have been just as joyous, and the excitement would have bubbled just as effervescently.

But the fact that the Giants did not draft Eli Woodard, that they selected Eli Apple, well, for Tim, that was just another reminder of what a special young man the Giants are getting and the role he helped play in making Eli so.

Eli Woodard and Eli Apple are the same person. At least they were. The newest Giants cornerback grew up with the first surname, but after he turned 18 as a senior in high school, he legally changed it to Apple to honor his stepfather, Tim.

“It’s really hard to describe,” Tim told Newsday by phone this weekend when asked about the name change, which was Eli’s decision. “It’s humbling, it’s an honor, it’s all of those types of things. As a parent, you do your best to be the best parent you can be, and it’s not easy. I think the relationship I have with Eli has been special ever since I can remember, and we’ve always worked really well together. I took it as an incredible compliment for having had an impact on my son’s life.”

So when the cornerback from Ohio State had his name announced on stage in Chicago on Thursday night, it was Tim Apple’s name.

“Eli’s life so far is a testament that if you just keep going and keep believing and you are dedicated and hard-working, you never know where it will end up,” Tim Apple said of his stepson, a first-generation American who spent two years with family in Ghana while his mother, Annie, went to college in the United States after a first marriage that resulted in three children. “That’s what the symbolism of our name real ly means. Eli has never been handed anything, ever. Not in his own household and certainly not in anything related to football. He’s earned everything. He’s had to do it all. That’s where the symbolism of our name means even more to me.”

Eli Apple was born so tiny that his mother wanted to give him a first name that would not be too big for him. Thus the three-letter handle. But it’s his last name that probably best illustrates the man he has become.

“From the time I was 2 years old, my dad, Timothy Apple, has been my father,” Eli wrote in a statement announcing his name change in 2012. “He’s nurtured, provided and protected our family. I am the man I am today because of his tireless love and commitment to our family. So it is with great pride and honor I carry his last name. I am truly blessed to be Eli Apple.”

Eli won’t turn 21 until August, but Tim says he is a bit of an old soul, especially when it comes to football. At the NFL Combine, he met with more than two dozen teams, and often there were former players in the room who had become members of the teams’ coaching staffs or front offices. “He knew everything about them,” Tim said.

Just last month, Eli Apple appeared at a memorabilia show in Ohio. He unexpectedly was joined there by Dave Robinson, the former Packers linebacker from the Lombardi era.

“Eli sat there and broke down his whole secondary in Super Bowl I,” Tim Apple said. “I was like, ‘Wow!’ To me, that gives you an idea of the respect he has for this game. He has a lot of maturity in how he approaches life.”

That should translate well to how he approaches the Giants, too. As a first-round pick — one whom few thought the Giants would take — he’ll be subject to plenty of criticism and scrutiny.

“Bring it on! He’s ready to go!” Tim Apple said. “He is the Jedi master of even-keeledness.”

And, it turns out, a pretty good predictor of his future. Not only does he share a first name with the franchise quarterback, but his last name seems to be a natural for his new environment.

“I guess it fit,” Eli Apple said shortly after being drafted. “Changing my name coming out of high school and now being drafted by the New York Giants, going to the Big Apple, it’s definitely going to mean a lot.”

To him and to Tim Apple, who over the years has changed not his name but his title.

“Even the term stepdad, we don’t ,” Tim said. “There’s no step to it.”

Notes & quotes: The Giants have agreed to terms with the following undrafted free agents, according to various sources, reports and social media postings: DBs Donte Deavon (Boise State), Andrew Adams (Connecticut) and Michael Hunter (Oklahoma State); WRs Roger Lewis (Bowling Green), K.J. Maye (Minnesota) and Darius Powe (California); DL Greg Milhouse (Campbell), Romeo Okwara (Notre Dame), Mike Rose (N.C. State), Melvin Lewis (Kentucky); TEs Ryan Malleck (Virginia Tech) and Cedrick Lang (UTEP), and QB Josh Woodrum (Liberty). The Giants will not officially announce the names until the players report for rookie minicamp later this week . . . Former Giants defensive captain Antrel Rolle was released by the Bears on Sunday. Rolle, 33, played only seven games in his first season in Chicago because of injuries after not missing a single game with the Giants in six seasons. The Bears selected safeties in the fourth and sixth rounds Saturday.

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