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Fla. football player rises to stardom, falls hard

November 9, 2013
Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Very early in the usual debriefing, Spruce Creek High football coach Rocky Yocam remembers asking one of his assistants, "How'd Jermaine do?"

On a Wednesday in September, 16 years ago, the Hawks' JV football team had returned to Port Orange after a game in Deltona. Along for the trip was a 10th-grader, whose physical stature and foot speed demanded — at minimum — cursory attention.

Jermaine Green was very raw, but athletic beyond anything else Creek's JV team had in uniform. Yocam, the former dean of area coaches, had been running varsity practice back at the school and couldn't make the trip to Deltona. So, he asked, "How'd Jermaine do?"

"One of the coaches told me, 'Well, he carried the ball eight times. Scored four touchdowns and fumbled four times,' " Yocam recalled.

There you have it. Jermaine Green. The highest highs and the lowest lows.

About four years later, Green was the top rusher for a junior college team that played for the national title. A year after that, after moving on to major college football, he was his team's leading rusher in the regular season and the Rose Bowl.

Yes, the Rose Bowl.

And now, about 16 years after that JV debut, Green amazed another authority figure. But this time, he wasn't running or fumbling. He was on the floor, on his left side, conscious but perfectly still.

"Not once does he moan or groan. Unbelievable. Never makes a sound," Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood said after he viewed video from the early-morning hours of Sept. 25.

Jermaine Green had four bullets in his leg, another in his gut. Yet, Chitwood said, Green was perfectly still with a sense of calm that most definitely belied the scene moments earlier, when cops arrived to find Green slowly beginning to drive a large knife into his girlfriend's chest.

Speaking Thursday by phone from the Volusia County Branch Jail, where he's still recovering in the jail's infirmary, Green, 32, said he remembers nothing about that night. Nor can he explain how his post-football life went bad.

"I don't know," he said. "I guess . . . um . . . I don't look at it as going bad. Just not making the right decisions and keeping a level head."

This type of story has been told way too many times, with various degrees of bad endings. It's much too common. But that'll never make it less tragic.

The inner city produces many issues, often troublesome, sometimes triumphant. If you watch professional sports, you know the inner city can produce the types of gems that change lives, change sports franchises, change entire generations of family members.

But it also delivers too many Jermaine Greens, who approached adulthood as "a good kid," amazingly athletic, big, strong, fast, humble. But, in the end, as happens too often, vulnerable.

Vulnerable to the worst of his own instincts, vulnerable to the worst his world had to offer. Vulnerable, however briefly, to the belief that his sculpted body would someday be pedestal-bound.

Jermaine Green was discovered, athletically speaking, at Spruce Creek High School in Port Orange. At about 6-feet tall and pushing 200 pounds, you'd normally think linebacker or maybe even defensive line.

But combine that size template with an Atlas physique and a sprinter's speed, and you're looking at the type of generational athlete who makes coaches wake up early in the morning eager for work.

After nurturing Green through his sophomore year, Yocam made him a regular in the varsity backfield as a junior, but not the star runner. Yet, mostly as a blocking back, he still ran for more than 700 yards. Then, his senior year, he carried the team to a 10-win season while establishing himself, without question, as the star skill-position player in the area.

Playing at a big school against other big schools, and gaining more than 1,600 yards, Green would've had his pick of major schools from the major conferences — a lot of those schools came calling — if only his classroom work had kept pace, even slightly, with his legs.

He ended up at one of the nation's top junior college programs — Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kan. — and after two years of great play put himself back on the big-school radar.

The best players in junior college football are players who wouldn't be there if not for off-field issues — usually related to academics. Their hope is to maintain good academic standing and play well enough to move on to a four-year school for their junior and senior years.

Butler boasts one of the nation's best junior college programs, and Green did his part to elevate the program even further. He gained 646 yards rushing as a freshman, 1,010 (and 12 touchdowns) during his sophomore season in 2001, when Butler was the national junior college runner-up.

Meanwhile, in tiny Pullman, Wash., head coach Mike Price was turning the Washington State Cougars into a top-flight program. Needing some added depth at running back, Green was a prime candidate.

Green didn't disappoint in Pullman. As a junior in 2002, after he'd filled out to 220 pounds without losing any speed, he split much of Washington State's running duties with senior John Tippins. But by year's end, Green was the Cougars' biggest rushing threat — he finished with a team-high 829 yards while averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Washington State went 10-2 and won the Pac-10 championship to earn a spot in the Rose Bowl, where the Cougars lost to Oklahoma, 34-14.

Green said now he'd briefly considered leaving Washington State after his junior year and making himself eligible for the NFL draft. But, he said, he assumed his senior season would surely increase his visibility and draft status.

With Green's size, speed and the numbers he produced for a conference champ in 2002, Green entered his senior year on the national radar. That radar, however, has shown nothing from Green but sinking altitude ever since.

Mike Price left Washington State for an ill-fated tenure at Alabama (a mini-scandal cost him his job before he ever coached a game in Tuscaloosa). Price's top assistant, Bill Doba, took over at Washington State, and by midseason Doba's runner of choice was another senior tailback, Jonathan Smith.

Green finished with just 285 yards in a senior season that ended without him in uniform. He was suspended from the team for the final regular-season game as well as the Holiday Bowl matchup with Texas. In a subsequent interview with the News-Journal, Green said an alarm-clock mistake led to him oversleeping and missing a practice during the final week of the regular season, and that, he said, led to his suspension.

With all that baggage, it was no surprise Green wasn't picked in the following spring's 2004 NFL draft. But like many others who have physical skills worthy of a look, he landed a free-agent opportunity — the New York Giants signed him that May to a non-guaranteed contract and invited him to preseason camp.

"I have the speed, the size and the ability," he told the News-Journal upon becoming a New York Giants hopeful. "I have faith in the Lord, and I've kept my head up — He doesn't let His people fall."

After arriving in late July at the Giants' preseason camp, Green struggled (a bad back, he later told friends) and never even made it to the first preseason game in early August — the Giants listed him as injured/waived.

Never a good student, and with too many ill-leaning temptations awaiting him on the streets of his hometown, Green was a candidate for a fall from grace — and he took it.

Life after football stardom was trouble for Jermaine Green. The signs of that potential trouble were many and varied, with one coming just before Green's football stardom.

In the summer of 1999, weeks before his senior season at Creek, Green had been a passenger in a stolen car — he was with other kids — when cops stopped the car and eventually arrested those involved. Green, in the back seat of a patrol car, kicked out a rear window and unsuccessfully tried to get away.

The system gave him another chance, sentencing him to "community control and community service." The next several years were his best, but trouble returned.

According to Daytona Beach police, Green piled up 20 arrests as an adult between 2005-2013. The arrest charges varied from trespassing to battery, and he was later convicted of two felonies.

His latest arrest involved an ambulance, not a patrol car. Daytona Beach police were called to 822 Magnolia Ave. just before 3 a.m. on Sept. 25. In the rental home of Clinton Henry, the father of Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry and later described as a longtime mentor and "stepfather" to Jermaine Green (though Henry never married Green's mother), cops said they found Green in a bedroom holding a knife to the throat of Katrina Johnson.

According to detailed reports, as the cops entered the room, Green fell back onto the bed, pulling Johnson on top of him, with his left arm wrapped around her neck — she was facing up. As the two police officers — Richard J. Maher and Kevin F. Connelly — shouted for Green to let her go, Green instead lowered the point of a long knife, held in his right hand, toward Johnson's chest.

Apparently feeling the point of the knife, Johnson made a desperate effort to escape, slightly pushing away Green's right arm and lunging to her left just enough to expose the right side of Green's body. Police said the officers fired six shots — four into Green's right leg, one into his abdomen, and one accidentally into Johnson's arm.

Green was hospitalized in critical condition and, after sufficient recovery, transferred to the Volusia County Branch Jail infirmary. The official charges: Kidnapping and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon with intent to do bodily harm, with a possible maximum sentence, if convicted, of 30 years.

The unofficial charges: Not taking full advantage of the physical gifts he was given, and falling victim to a way of life he couldn't outrun. Jermaine Green was blessed with the talent to blossom into something special. Bullets, blood and a rap sheet longer than some touchdown runs weren't what he had planned.

Nearly 14 years ago, after earning the area's "Offensive Player of the Year" award as a senior at Spruce Creek, he talked of his desires and how football would allow him to become the first member of his family to attend college.

"I'll do whatever it takes," he said then. "I want to go to college, help my family and do everything I can to have a successful life."

___

Information from: Daytona Beach (Fla.) News-Journal, http://www.news-journalonline.com

 
 

 

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