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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.
By JOEY KNIGHT, Times Staff Writer
Published January 31, 2008
I sat at my keyboard a few nights back ready to rail against the free agency epidemic that has siphoned the remaining droplets of purity from prep football.
In the previous three weeks, we had received confirmation that eight prominent players in Hillsborough County alone - eight - had opted to transfer schools, and those were only the ones we knew of.
Frankly, I assumed the column would write itself. I've always believed there's something misguided and pretentious about 15- and 16-year-olds using the offseason to shop around for a new program with which they feel more compatible. Pros do that, not pubescents.
But the collection of counterarguments I had heard began to chip away at my conviction.
Why, I had been asked rhetorically, can't a promising linebacker move to a stronger football program if he thinks it will fortify his chances of getting a scholarship? Don't math whizzes and musical prodigies do the same when they switch to the crosstown magnet school?
And what of the wideout toiling in a wing-T offense? Shouldn't he be allowed to seek out a system that will better showcase his skills?
These points were valid, and I was stymied. Minutes passed, and my screen remained as blank as a Bill Belichick stare. If I was going to press onward, I needed a strong philosophical ally to save my argument.
Urban Meyer, of all people, did just that.
I came across a Times story reporting how the Gators coach stopped at Wesley Chapel High this month to visit junior lineman Kamran Joyer. Coincidentally or not, Joyer recently had been profiled by Flavarsity.com.
That's when it struck me, in blissful simplicity.
Not every school has a magnet or International Baccalaureate program, but darned near every one has a football team. And if you're good, colleges will find you.
Joyer is a prime example. A 320-pound interior lineman whose potential and girth could be described with the same adjective, he plays for a .500 team in a county that has collected one state title. Yet the coach of the state's premier college program knew about him.
We could fill a hard drive with Joyer-type examples. Seminole's D'Qwell Jackson (Maryland), Gulf's Jim Watson (Florida), Ridgewood's Adamm Oliver (Georgia Tech) - all emerged from prep football outposts to earn Division I scholarships.
The Internet is just too expansive, and modern coaches far too meticulous, for any player of even borderline college potential to be overlooked. That includes players who may not fit ideally into their college system.
Chamberlain receiver Fred Sykes averaged fewer than two catches last season in an offense that threw less than 30 percent of the time. Sykes is headed to Illinois.
I only wish other kids would take notice. Face it, the vast majority of kids who transfer are doing so to improve their respective lot among recruiters. Now, more than ever, I find that line of thinking delusional, ill-advised and impulsive.