Last mission to repair the Hubble telescope Hubble space telescope discoveries have enriched our understanding of the cosmos. In this special report, you will see facts about the Hubble space telescope, discoveries it has made and what the last mission's goals are.
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.
St. Petersburg Catholic's Mike Ross arrived at Southern Cal with NFL dreams. He will leave with a diploma.
By JOHN C. COTEY
Published January 31, 2006
The phone call scared Olivia Flemmings like few others could.
On one end, her grandson, telling her his football playing days were all but over, the result of two concussions that doctors said left him in danger.
On the other end, a grandmother who feared the worst.
"He was devastated," she said. "I thought at that point he was coming home."
Home, where a loving family waited.
For many, that is enough. To be pampered by friends and grandmothers who would relive your days as a great football player. To walk streets where people still remembered you, and always would, as a star. To show up at your alma mater's games, which would be the highlight of your now empty life.
For a few moments, that sounded real good to Mike Ross, a former all-state safety at St. Petersburg Catholic High.
And then, just like that, it didn't.
* * *
Ross will graduate in May with a degree in psychology from Southern Cal.
When he walks across the stage to get his diploma, no one will high-five him. There will be no standing ovation, and thousands of fans won't cheer his name.
Maybe they should.
Maybe this is the kind of story that people should care more about as hundreds of youngsters across the country sign football commitments on Wednesday.
They, like Ross, will go to school as football players. Eventually, many - a majority even - will succumb to the sport's version of Darwinism. They will stop fitting in. They will be outrun by newer players. They will fall down and off the depth charts.
Many will come home.
Two years ago, he had a choice to make, and he picked the hard one. He remained in Los Angeles even after the most precious thing in his life was taken away.
"The doctor called and said I was a liability and they didn't want to risk my health," Ross said. "I remember the exact word - liability."
Ross said he "begged and pleaded" to be let back on the field. Coach Pete Carroll told him he would see what he could do. But nothing could be done.
* * *
The first concussion came in spring drills before his sophomore season in 2003. Ross blames himself, for "dillydallying" while returning a football. But he had no idea a freshman would deliver such a blow to the side of his head.
He was a little blurry and asked to be removed from the field but never lost consciousness.
The second concussion came in a game that season against Arizona. Starting on special teams, Ross took on the wedge and was sideswiped by a Wildcat. He was drilled in the same spot on the side of his head.
He was dazed and held out for a few weeks. He said he still felt a little "slow" when he played in the UCLA game but at the time had no idea it would be his final appearance.
He was held out of the Rose Bowl that season but was fine with the decision even though he missed Southern Cal securing half of the national championship.
With the Trojans favored to repeat, he figured he'd spend the offseason bulking up and preparing to be the starter for championship No. 2. His junior season, he believed, would signal his arrival.
That spring, he was told by team doctors he couldn't play anymore. Ross believes the team lumped him in with other players whose careers ended due to multiple concussions. He still insists he can play, and at the time, "I was furious with the decision."
His high school coach, Dan Mancuso, believes Ross' desire to play led to him downplaying the concussions.
"They told me he had a bruise the size of a quarter on his brain," Mancuso said. "Mike, he was a devastating hitter, and he just wanted back out there."
Flemmings and Willie Davis, Ross' godfather, pored over medical records. They found no evidence of a bruise. And despite doctors saying he had five previous concussions dating to high school, they believed he should have been allowed back on the field.
* * *
His friends told him he should transfer.
"Everyone thinks it's so easy, but it's not," he said.
Besides, he would have to inform schools of the concussions, and the ones he did tell were quick to back off.
Ross was told he still could be part of the team, but the thought of standing on the sideline watching made his stomach curdle. He interned in the sports information office, but that, too, proved painful.
"He would call me sometimes in the middle of the night, saying "I can't do it. I can't do it,"' said Flemmings, who raised her grandson. "It was so hard for him."
But Ross realized he was carrying the expectations of his family. He is one of the first men in the family to attend college, and no one has attended a more prestigious university.
"I wasn't going to let them down," he said.
"I don't want to be one of those washed-up former high school players working at Wal-Mart."
With signing day approaching, Ross is reminded of his day before television cameras and newspaper reporters. That day, the world was his. He would go to college, start at Southern Cal and fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL.
Academics? Wasn't even on his mind.
"Make no mistake, I went to USC to play football, bottom line," Ross said. "I was a football player. I had high expectations. Then something just happened.
"I would tell anyone going to college, you are going to play sports, but don't forget that education. It's important. Don't put all your eggs in one basket."
* * *
Ross still harbors hopes of playing football. Darnell Bing, who was in his recruiting class, likely will be drafted this spring. As a freshman, he was ineligible while Ross played and earned the team's Spirit Award.
That's hard for Ross to swallow.
He is 6 feet, 205 pounds and stronger and faster than when he played. He plans to attend Southern Cal's Pro Day in April, hoping to impress scouts.
Davis sees it in his eyes when they visit Tallahassee to see his son, Chris - Ross' best friend and teammate at St. Petersburg Catholic - play receiver for the Seminoles. The pain. The longing.
"I think it's something he will always carry with him," Willie Davis said. "Think about that. You are at USC and ready to start and as good as any of those players, and you don't get your chance. It's got to hurt. It's even tough for Mike to watch a football game."
Ross said he is ready for whatever decision the NFL makes.
"It's a slim chance," he said. "Right now, I'm just praying. But if it doesn't work out, it's not the end of the world."
And that is the beauty of the Ross story.
"He really fought the odds," Davis said. "They took away football, but he still did four years of college and will graduate."
Ross says he was luckier than most. He knows many who have left for college and come home empty-handed. He was lucky his grandmother and Davis were there, lucky that when it got tough for him, there was someone he could lean on, someone to make proud. In four years, he was lucky enough to mature and see the bigger picture.
"In the end, I'm getting what the university promised me," Ross said. "They promised me four years of college and that if I worked hard, I would graduate. And I took advantage of that."