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Graduate with a plan

After turning down schools where he could play football, Harold Pryor Jr. sets his eyes on becoming a prosecutor.

Published May 22, 2005

DADE CITY - At first glance, Harold Pryor Jr.'s claim to fame might be that he shares the same birth date - Jan. 17 - as the one known as "the greatest." But look beyond the Muhammad Ali T-shirt he's sporting, and it's easy to see why Pryor was chosen as the Outstanding Senior of the Year for all of Pasco County.

What's not to like?

Pryor, who graduated Friday from Pasco High School, is the "Yes ma'am," "No ma'am" kind of kid who holds the door for whoever is behind him and values the wisdom that has been passed on to him by his elders.

"Don't try to please the crowd; if you do that, you'll end up lagging behind" and "Get over the lazy thing; honor roll doesn't make you brilliant - it's all in the work factor" is the kind sage advice he has gathered and now passes on to others.

Pryor is popular among his peers, who voted for him as senior class president and nominated him along with 10 of his classmates for the Outstanding Senior award. Teachers and administrators chimed in as well, when they selected Pryor as the school winner before he went on to win on the county level.

"There's not enough I can say about him," said Pasco High principal Patrick Reedy, recalling watching Pryor take the reins during a schoolwide mural painting project that helped unify the school's student body. "Harold is just a natural-born leader. What you see is what you get.

"People enjoy being around him. He's pleasant. He has a good work ethic. He has good communication skills. He knows how to work with people."

Last week, during senior checkout day, an affable Pryor was savoring the last moments of high school - hanging around the front office, chatting it up with whoever passed by and stopping to give helpful driving instructions to a classmate trying to make her way out of a parallel parking space.

"I really like it here," said Pryor, as he sat on the school's front steps directing traffic. "I'm going to miss it. I like going to school. I like making friends."

It wasn't always that way.

"My education started out rough," said Pryor, noting that his mom used to call him "a holy terror."

"All these accolades weren't in my mind during elementary school. I wasn't always this nice kid trying to do the right thing."

Still, the support of his parents, Antionette and Harold Pryor Sr., saw him through. And there was the guidance of a special teacher, Eunice Pennix.

Now Pryor, who was a member of the National Honor Society and made the All-Sunshine Athletic Conference First Team as a lineman for the Pirates football team, is headed for the University of Florida in Gainesville.

"The only people that believed in me back then were my mom, my dad and Miss Pennix," said Pryor. "She set me straight, and I just turned around."

That kind of support was clearly in Pryor's mind when he told the panel of judges that if he were superintendent of Pasco schools, he would create a program to get minority parents more involved in the schools.

"Kids need that kind of support to succeed," he said.

That support also was clear when he made his choice to go to the University of Florida even though he wasn't offered a scholarship to play for the Gators.

"I love football. I love football. But my dad always told me, "You have to have something to fall back on,"' said Pryor, adding that he'll give tryouts another shot in the fall. But the 6-foot-3, 285-pounder won't be disheartened if he doesn't make it. "I'm going to UF for the academics. I turned down three Division II schools where I could have played (football)."

"I'd say that less than 1 percent (of high school athletes) will make it playing (pro) sports," he said. "That's the problem with my generation - we look up to sports stars. Everybody wants to be a sports star. But you have to have a plan."

So what's Pryor's plan?

"I want to be a lawyer, a prosecutor," he said forcefully. "One day I want to come back to Dade City and get the bad people off the streets - the people I see every day. That's something I can do for my community."

[Last modified May 25, 2005, 00:53:37]

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