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A triumph for the whole family

By DAVID MURPHY
Published February 8, 2007


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photo
[Times photo: Keri Wiginton]
DuJuan Harris, front, waits with his brother, LaDorrian Jones, 19, and mother, Rose Jones, before signing a letter of intent to play football at Troy University in Alabama.

She was going to take a second job as a construction worker.

Let that sentence sink in.

Rose Jones, the lady with the soft skin and the bright smile and the two school-age daughters, was prepared to put on a hard hat and go to work so her son could go to college.

Forget the recruiters that disappeared after DuJuan Harris' senior season. Forget the text message the Central running back received from a Bethune-Cookman coach informing him the school was no longer interested. Forget the stress, the hassle, the nights spent wondering where he would land.

"We would have found a way," Jones said moments after watching her youngest son, the one they nicknamed Foxx, sign his letter of intent to play at Troy University in southern Alabama.

Revelations like these zap away the mundaneness of signing day and launch us back into the sobering reality of it all: For Harris and many kids like him, today represents the ultimate opportunity. For every John Brantley, or Torrey Davis, or Noel Devine - players who have spent the past two years playing recruiters like fiddles and marinating in the spotlight - there is a fringe player praying for a simple chance.

A top-rated defensive lineman like Armwood's Davis might fetch more than 100 scholarship offers before he makes his decision. Harris received two, the first less than a month ago.

He did everything he needed to as a high school senior: rushed for more than 1,600 yards, scored 19 rushing touchdowns, torched a top 10 team in the playoffs for more than 200 yards. He qualified academically. He stayed out of trouble. He ran a purported 4.32 40-yard dash at a Florida State camp over the summer.

Yet he didn't get a sniff.

"After all the calls he was getting before," Jones said, shaking her head.

Harris and Central coach Cliff Lohrey sent out tapes. Upwards of 40, the coach says. They thought USF, which had showed some interest in Harris earlier in the year, might be an option. But after Harris paid a visit to a Bulls' practice in November, it was apparent the school wasn't going to offer.

They thought Florida International, which snagged Central offensive lineman Andy Leavine late last season, might have interest. The Golden Panthers fired their coach. Lohrey didn't hear a peep.

By December, Division I-AA schools Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M were the only ones showing interest. Then came the cruelest blow.

A Bethune-Cookman coach sent a text message saying the school was no longer interested.

Not a phone call. Or a visit.

A text message.

Harris contemplated walking on. Jones, meanwhile, started thinking about a second job.

In mid-January, FAMU eliminated that possibility. Harris toured the Rattlers' Tallahassee campus. They offered him a scholarship. He wasn't thrilled. The facilities were old. The competition was subpar. Still, it was a scholarship, and he accepted.

"That was the only time I saw him stressed," Jones said.

With one signature, however, it all became moot. Troy swooped in late, drove him to its campus and offered him the chance to open his freshman season against Heisman finalist Darren McFadden and the Arkansas Razorbacks.

The kid who played his cards right, who made it 18 years without succumbing to a neighborhood that drags so many people down to its level, signed his ticket out.

"Growing up, he never went outside," said Harris' 19-year-old brother, LaDorrian Jones, "unless he was playing football."

Now, he'll be playing it in college. And, he'll be doing it for free. It's a blessing. That's what it is."

David Murphy can be reached at dmurphy@sptimes.com or 352 848-1407.

[Last modified February 7, 2007, 21:35:48]


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