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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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Fullback wants to alter image
Rick Razzano hopes to be known more for his play on special teams than last season's suspension for using steroids.
By RICK STROUD
Published August 5, 2006
LAKE BUENA VISTA - Rick Razzano moved slowly down the line of fans straining against the mesh fence, signing hats, footballs and T-shirts - anything they wanted autographed.
Nobody said it, but Razzano knew what they were thinking.
"I have a lot to prove out here, especially with all that happened last year," Razzano said. "If there's steroid stuff, I know everybody was wondering: Is he going to just shrink to nothing?"
For the record, the Bucs' 6-foot muscular fullback still weighs 250 pounds, same as he did as a rookie.
If there is a difference in Razzano's appearance, it's that he shaved his head to cope with the heat during training camp.
In fact, the only time Razzano felt smaller is when he had to tell his wife, Leah, he was released by the Bucs - again. It happened four times in a span of about six weeks last season.
"She wondered where are we now and where are we going to be?" Razzano said. "And as a player, you wonder, 'Gosh, do I still have it? Can I still play?' "
In the depths of such doubt, a borderline player such as Razzano, a seventh-round pick from Ole Miss, might view performance-enhancing supplements as a lifesaver.
Razzano, 25, will say only that he used a steroid while training before the April draft. He was suspended four games Sept. 16 for violating the NFL's policy on anabolic steroids.
The penalty was actually more severe.
"First of all, whoever gave you that advice the first time, you don't need it," Bucs running backs coach Art Valero said. "There is no fast track. And you and your family just paid the consequences of it. Then when he was in and out, in and out, in and out, he realized he put himself in that situation, he needed to understand that."
Consider the carnival ride that was Razzano's rookie season. For four weeks, he wasn't allowed to be at the Bucs' training facility. So he watched the games on television and ran and lifted on his own.
He was activated Oct. 15 and played on special teams in a 27-13 win over Miami. Two days later, he was released. Two days after that, he was re-signed and remained with the team until Nov. 2, when he was waived again. He was signed to the practice squad a day later. On Nov. 16, the Bucs promoted him to the active roster. But over the next two weeks, he would be released twice and re-signed to the practice squad.
"He was like a yo-yo," Valero said. "He was up and down. He was in and out. He was signed. He was cut. That was just part of the whole maturation process of the NFL."
If not for Leah and daughter Swayze, Razzano might have quit football. But Leah was a basketball player at Ole Miss, and she never lost her patience.
"She's so supportive of me," Razzano said. "She's an athlete, so she knows what it's like. I can stay gone as long as I want working out or doing whatever I need to do because she knows this is how I'm going to make a living. We have an 11-month-old kid. I have another one on the way in April. You learn who to trust and who not to trust, and you definitely learn that when you make a mistake, you've got to battle back from it."
Razzano is in a fight to earn a roster spot this season. The Bucs have four fullbacks, including Mike Alstott and Jets free agent Jerald Sowell. But Tampa Bay lost Jameel Cook to Houston in free agency, so they are in need of a dominant special teams player.
That's where Razzano is earning his way. At Ole Miss, he played for Bucs special teams coach Richard Bisaccia and has a chance to play a significant role again. He is the personal protector on the punt team, a wedge buster on the kickoff team, a fullback on the kickoff return team, just to name a few jobs.
"That's where, if you've got a lot of fullbacks, or if it's close, special teams is where you really make your mark," Razzano said.
Valero felt so strongly about Razzano's contribution last season that he included him when presenting the running backs with a Christmas gift. He had pictures of each running back placed in a frame.
"I included Rick because he was part of us and was always bouncing in and out," Valero said. "I called them all in, and they each got one for Christmas. But I wanted them to autograph them for each other.
"At that time, Rick was cut. He was on the street. I called him up and said come on down here. He said, 'No, I can't come down there.' I said, 'Hey, get your a-- down here so you can sign this like everybody else because you're part of this group. And they all had their arms open for him."
Razzano signed his name. That day, no one judged him.