A second had served six years in prison for stabbing someone else. A third had the words "Better luck next time" tattooed on his back between two knife puncture wounds.
They were among 27 unemployed Glaswegians selected for a new TV series in which their lives would be turned around by a potent social-inclusion combination of rugby union, fitness training and expert mentoring.
And it has succeeded to a remarkable degree, says Paul Boross, the London-based Team Psychologist for School of Hard Knocks, the Sky Sports series.
The recruits, from underprivileged backgrounds in Glasgow's Possilpark, Springburn, Maryhill, Dennistoun, Govan and Royston areas, ended up playing rugby against Cartha Queen's Park RFC and Allan Glens Rugby Club, as well as a match against an English prison team.
Under the watchful gaze of Mr Boross, World Cup 2003 winner Will Greenwood and Welsh rugby legend Scott Quinnell, they also trained with the Scottish national team during this year's Six Nations Tournament, were prepared for job interviews, and also attended a jobs fair.
More than half of them have now found jobs, and many have turned their lives around after their involvement in the course, which was based at the home of Ashfield Juniors AFC.
Mr Boross, known as The Pitch Doctor on the show, said: "We have been to a lot deprived or difficult areas in previous series of the show but we were taken aback [by knife crime in Glasgow].
"It seemed as if everybody in the area had at least been a witness to knife crime if not an actual victim.
"My mother is from Glasgow and I spent much of my childhood there, so I was aware [of the extent of the problem] but it seemed to have got even worse over the years rather than better. It is shocking, and very sad.
"They were all from what might be called in other countries different barrios but they were told early on that they had to come together as a team on the pitch and to fight for each other. They were very smart guys, and they got it straightaway. Make no mistake, these guys were very street smart."
He said that prior to the programme, the closest many of the participants had ever come to the sport was watching TV coverage of Scotland matches from Murrayfield.
Mr Boross said: "Initially they felt it wasn't as tough as football but they came to respect it. They found there's a place for everybody in a rugby team, which isn't necessarily always the case in football.
"Rugby is also about respect. Scott Quinnell often told the guys that their job was to knock seven bells out of your opponent but after the game to shake hands with him over a beer.
"The Cartha and Allan Glens players were unbelievably respectful of how far the Glasgow guys had come in just a few weeks. Afterwards, they would put their arm around them and invite them to train with them. The guys seemed to have created a new family."
Many of the 27 who took part are still playing rugby, and Mr Boross added: "This was the most determined team we've ever had in the series. They wanted to continue playing. They've played in a sevens tournament and are training with Allan Glens and other teams."
More than 60% of those who took part found work following their involvement with the show. "They were really great, interesting guys, and it was a pleasure to work with them," Mr Boross added.
School of Hard Knocks begins on September 5 on Sky Sports 2 HD at 10pm