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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.
Many talented football stars are looked over depending on where they attend high school.
By JOEY KNIGHT
Published January 22, 2008
The unlikely college careers of Andy Leavine and DuJuan Harris took vastly different trajectories - to south Florida and south Alabama, respectively.
But both were launched from the same site - Brooksville's Central High - and propelled by the same petroleum. In the most fuel-efficient terms, it's called rejection.
Want a local poster child for the woefully inexact science that is college football recruiting? Here are two, spawned by the same school, no less. Leavine, who finished his career with the Bears in 2005, has started 22 of 24 games at left tackle since arriving at Florida International as a true freshman in 2006.
Harris, who graduated from Central in May, was the third-leading rusher 82 carries, 372 yards and second-best kick returner (six returns, 144 yards) for Troy University last fall.
But before blazing their respective depth charts, both languished on recruiters' charts. Neither could get a sniff of a scholarship offer.
"I didn't have no Division II (offers), no Division I-AA, nothing," recalled Leavine, an agile behemoth (6 feet 5, 290 pounds) at Central. "I was told it was just the area I come from; recruiters really don't look at the area too much and I'm under the radar. That's what people told me."
Harris, a state long jump and triple jump champion who ran for nearly 1,700 yards as a Bears senior, concurred.
"I honestly thought it was the area I was in," he said, "because there was nobody really being looked at."
Exporting their talent didn't help. With few recruiters coming into Hernando County, Leavine and Harris went to them.
Leavine said he and his father, Andy II, sent homemade game tapes - filmed on the elder Leavine's camcorder - to each of the "70 or 80" schools that sent him a preliminary letter of interest. Nothing.
Harris, with the assistance of Central coaches, did the same - and got the same result. Florida, he said, sent him a letter essentially saying it wasn't interested. Bethune-Cookman informed him of the same thing - by text message.
"During the season, I was big on USF," added Harris, who speculates his size (5-71/2, 170 pounds) worked against him. "They were sending me stuff every day in the mail. I went to practices and everything and talked to Coach (Jim) Leavitt. But when it came down to signing day, they never came around."
In hindsight, Leavine suspects FIU is the only school that bothered watching his tape. He says only a couple of days after he sent it to the school, then-Golden Panthers coach Don Strock called him.
Similarly, Harris said he was phoned by Troy offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, who informed him Trojan coaches had looked at his film and wanted to offer a scholarship.
Today, the two stand as glaring indictments of the accuracy of the recruiting process and the cottage industries - recruiting rankings, services, etc. - it has spawned. Understandably, both could hold a grudge.
Instead, they're holding their own, at the Division I level.
"It's sometimes all about politics," Harris said. "It's about where you're from and where you went to school at."
Said Leavine: "I'm sure (recruiters) know their stuff, but with all the high schools in the United States that play football, you're gonna miss quite a few kids, in my opinion. You're not going to get everybody.
A look at three other locals mostly ignored by the big-time schools who went on to flourish at the college level.
Jason Teague, RB, Osceola (Class of '02)
School: Michigan State
Prologue: Deemed too undersized for big-time college football, Teague seemed destined for junior college when Michigan State made an offer just before his high school graduation.
Epilogue: Teague appeared in all 12 games, mostly on special teams, as a true freshman. Two years later, he ranked third on the team with 716 rushing yards. As a senior, he scored the winning touchdown in overtime to beat Notre Dame.
Greg Lee, WR, Chamberlain (Class of '03)
Prologue: A 6-foot-2 all-state pick for the Chiefs as a senior, Lee was courted by out-of-state schools. But according to Chamberlain coach Billy Turner, he couldn't get a sniff from the major in-state programs. USF "didn't even look at me," Lee once told the Times.
Epilogue: Lee finished his three-year career at Pitt with 127 receptions for 2,470 yards, earning first-team all-Big East honors as a junior. In consecutive wins against USF (2004 and '05), he totaled 11 catches for 259 yards and four TDs. He went unselected in the 2006 NFL draft, signed with Arizona as a free agent and was cut in the preseason.
Nate Toole, FB/LB, Hudson (Class of '05)
School: Quincy (Ill.)
Prologue: An absolute bull in the backfield, Toole ran for 1,025 yards and 16 TDs in 2004, when Hudson posted its first winning season (7-3) in 18 years. But because he played in what had been a football wasteland, few noticed, and Toole wound up at Division II Quincy (Ill.).
Epilogue: This one may warrant an asterisk. A second devastating knee injury recently ended Toole's career. But in only four games in '07, Toole had 14 solo tackles, including 2.5 sacks. "They were concerned that Nate would transfer to a bigger school, so they had already talked about a campaign to get him an NFL tryout," Cobras coach Mark Nash said. "They were talking about that after his freshman year."