It was the summer of 1982 when I first met Derwin Jones, a larger than life athlete at Miami's Northwest Christian School. As he walked out to practice, it was hard to tell whether he was a coach or a player. He was huge, athletic looking and a very nice young man.
On the day I went to see Jones, 22 college coaches had settled in off N.W. 135th St. to get a look at a rare major college prospect at a school that had its share of talent, but nothing like this impressive student/athlete. He would go on to star at the University of Miami, proving that school size had little bearing in the state of Florida.
Over 20 years have gone by, and while Jones, who was a starter on the 1987 team that finished 12-0, has tragically passed on, his memory is still very much alive on this campus.
While the names and faces have changed, the objective is still the same. Those who remembered what Jones represented at this school, understand that while football is important, it's life and the lessons that you learn, that still takes center stage.
At a time when this program has hit a rocky road, losing 19 of the last 20 games (including 0-10 last year), things may be looking up for second year coach David Chase and the Eagles. While they will play an intrasquad game at the school this Friday (1:30 p.m.) to rekindle school spirit, Chase, who has been at the school for 19 years and serves as the Youth Minister, knows that turning this once proud program around will take work.
This time of year, you can take your pick where to watch spring practices around South Florida. I choose not only to see a St. Thomas, Pahokee, Vero Beach, Northwestern and Naples, but also stop and open everyone's eyes to schools like Northwest Christian.
On Wednesday, before watching Miami Central's explosive Rockets, I stopped by to see what the Eagles have for the 2008 season, and while the numbers are low, the optimism is certainly high.
It's a small senior class, with two-way lineman Rashaad Ferdinand (6-5, 310), linebacker Christopher Maignan, center Carlos Mareira, three-sport speedster Johnny Jean-Pierre, offensive guard Jose Pereda, and running back/linebacker Cory Perry expected to step up and lead this program back.
"We are excited about the players in this program and at the school," Chase said. "All the coaches are employed at the school, which also helps out so much in the overall development of the program."
If the Eagles are going to get back into mix as a 1B power, the underclassmen will have plenty to say. Class of 2010 players such as quarterback/running back Anthony Carson, offensive lineman/tight end Evel Cevere, speedy running back Paul Georges finished fourth in the state in the 100, and tight end/defensive end Isaac Therlonge will need to make a contribution as well.
The Eagles get younger with Class of 2011 receiver Alain Alexandre, lineman Nickcason Joseph, two-way lineman Jermel Stuart and rising star athlete Herve Swaby (6-2, 180), who will make a contribution.
Chase also expects 2012 standouts Gerven Georges, running back/safety Courtney Roberts, defensive back/receiver Anthony Therlonge and tight end Fritzroy Wilkes (6-3, 160) to add depth. Even 6-1, 210-pound lineman Samuel Rogers is being talked about as a player for the present and the future. By the way, he is in the Class of 2013!
While Northwest Christian may not light the world on fire over the next year, you can expect to find coaches, administration and students who care about bringing the school back to what it once was, and the memory of Derwin Jones, even for the youngster who had never heard of him, should provide enough light and positive energy to follow.