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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Teams want Rouse in the house
The Times' Blue Chip Prospect of the Year is Randy Moss-like.
By FRANK PASTOR
Published January 21, 2005
Fred Rouse doesn't like to get beat.
Not in a game, not in a practice, not on a play.
On the rare occasions he is beaten, the Tallahassee Lincoln senior makes sure it doesn't happen a second time.
When a receiver beat him on a route in practice, Rouse made it a point to line up opposite the player the rest of the day.
Rouse shut him down.
"He doesn't like anybody to get the best of him and makes sure that doesn't happen," Lincoln assistant Kyle Rice said. "If it ever does happen, then he elevates himself to the next level."
In Rouse's case, that level is Division I-A.
A 6-foot-4, 190-pound wide receiver/kick returner/defensive back with outstanding size, speed (4.4 in the 40) and playmaking ability, Rouse is among the most coveted recruits in the nation. He is the top player in the country, according to scout.com, and ranked first among receivers by rivals100.com and espn.com.
Personable and outgoing, in the opinion of those who know him best, the Times' Blue Chip Prospect of the Year most closely resembles Randy Moss without the attitude.
Or the hair.
"He's that one receiver, he's as good as they get in a nation that's filled with tremendous kids," said Larry Blustein, publisher of floridakids.us. "He's proven himself on every stage, and he's been an elite type of guy. People couldn't wait for him."
They'll have to wait a little longer.
Rouse will choose among Texas, Alabama, Florida State and Miami - "where I'm comfortable," he said - on Feb. 2, the first day high school seniors can sign national letters of intent.
Though he has not qualified academically for freshman eligibility, according to scout.com, Rouse will make his decision known on Fox Sports Net South's Countdown to Signing Day in Atlanta.
When he does, he will fulfill a dream that was hatched when he started watching football on television more than a decade ago and nurtured by Florida State's national championship run in 1993.
"From then on, I just loved the game," Rouse said. "To see how electrifying that was, to see Warrick Dunn and all those guys was wonderful. I thought one day I could play for whomever."
Surprisingly, "whomever" might not be Florida State, where former Lincoln players Antonio Cromartie, Craphonso Thorpe and Pat Watkins matriculated and Rouse has been a regular visitor.
Though his father is a Seminoles fan and his mother likes Miami, Rouse lists Texas as his current favorite, followed by Alabama, Florida State and Miami. Texas might have an edge because quarterback Ryan Perrilloux of Reserve, La., espn.com's top prospect, orally committed to the Longhorns.
Whichever school Rouse chooses will get a unique talent.
Capable of beating defenders deep or over the middle and running after the catch, Rouse caught 29 passes for 608 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior while helping Lincoln to the second round of the playoffs. He returned two punts, a kickoff and an interception for touchdowns.
Matched against top players from around the country, he had a team-high five receptions for 68 yards in the East's 35-3 loss to the West in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl Saturday in San Antonio, Texas.
"I think his ability to return punts and kickoffs is what sets him apart," Lincoln coach David Wilson said. "He's impressive as a wide receiver, but returning the kicks and the punts are what makes him very special."
Rouse has had so many spectacular returns, choosing among them is like deciding which of your children you like best, Wilson said. But Wilson can't forget the time Rouse broke five tackles while returning a punt late in the first half of a 49-0 victory over Leon in 2003.
"I thought he was tackled about five times, and he ended up returning it for a touchdown," Wilson said. "That was a huge play for us. There was a minute and a half left in the half. It was sort of the backbreaker."
Rouse's athletic ability was obvious from his first day of practice.
"A lot of big kids don't have the flexibility and the hips and that kind of stuff," Rice said. "He's so smooth running. It was evident he was going to be something special."
Rouse didn't see much playing time as a freshman on Lincoln's 2001 state championship squad, but he opened eyes as a sophomore, returning a couple of kickoffs and punts for touchdowns and making key plays at critical moments of playoff games.
Rouse's breakout season brought with it the burden of expectations from himself and others.
But he didn't just meet them, he surpassed them.
"I think he realized what he wanted to do and where he wanted to be and decided he was going to go after it," Rice said.
Though he always had athletic ability, Rouse had to learn to improve his route running and understanding of the game. A regular presence in the football office and weight room after school, he improved through film study and experience.
Instincts helped, too.
"Certain kids have a knack for it," Wilson said.
If there's a knock on Rouse, it's that defenses sometimes can tell by his body language when he's not getting the ball.
But even that will change, Blustein said.
"He wants to be the guy, a Randy Moss type of guy," Blustein said. "Whether he goes to Texas, Florida State or Miami or Alabama, he's an impact player, a kid who won't sit on the bench. You can't. You've got to put him in the game somewhere. He's a rare guy as a football talent."