By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Wesley Crosby gave up football five years ago, after his girlfriend had a baby. "It was time to grow up and be an adult, time to stop playing games," he says. At age 27, Crosby works as a hospital lab technician, but he saw the Miami Storm as a chance to get back to a position he really loved, defensive lineman. "I just want to bust heads," he says.
Calvin Gray, 21 years old, just wanted to prove his own worth. Gray's vision is so bad that he cannot legally drive a car. Cataracts and glaucoma severely blur his sight and cause him to see double. In high school he was segregated into classes for handicapped children, which angered him. But on the football field he was given no special consideration. "My vision is bad," he allows, "but I play center. All I have to do is hit the biggest guy in front of me. I can see a big person."
Like his teammate Leroy Edmonds, Gray played well at Southridge, and when he graduated in 1989, he had both the grades and the offers to play college ball. His SAT scores, however, which totaled 420 out of a possible 1600, were nearly 300 points shy of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's requirement for eligibility. Gray has been studying part time at Miami-Dade Community College, and searching for work without much luck. In Jim Chambers he saw a chance to show he could succeed. "I've been criticized all my life," he explains. "But when I play football, I'm proving to people that you can have a vision problem and still be an athlete."
Kicker Shawn Hale has lived more football lives than most. When he walked onto the practice field and banged 40- and 50-yard field goals as if they were extra points, he easily guaranteed himself a place on his sixth semipro team in the past thirteen years. "You're not a failure until you give up. As long as there is a league, I'm going to play," vows the 31-year-old ballplayer, who came to Chambers's league after stints with the Florida Suns, the Miami Cowboys, the Miami Legend, and the Buctown Buccaneers. When he was the place kicker for the Florida Renegades, a team that folded in 1989, Hale commuted between Homestead and West Palm Beach, 100 miles up and 100 miles back, five nights every week, to attend practice. He's still hoping for another shot at the pros. "Hopefully I can get on somewhere," says Hale, a construction supervisor with a wife and two small children. "You never know." His longest field goal, a 62-yarder for the Buccaneers in 1986, falls only one yard short of the NFL record set in 1970 by Tom Dempsey.
Hale has tried out in four pro camps - Redskins, Dolphins, Falcons, and the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL - but has so far never been able to make the final cut. His wife Micki says he doesn't let it show, but she knows he's disappointed. "Sometimes I really do wish he would give it up and spend more time at home," she asserts. "But if I made him do that or it wasn't his own choice, he'd be miserable."
Free safety Dez Jackson was miserable a few years ago when he broke his hand in a fight and lost his shot at going to the University of West Virginia on a scholarship. "My parents didn't have the money for me to finish school," says the 22-year-old Jackson, who grew up in Liberty City and still lives there with his aunt. The area was a good training ground for a football player, he says - you learned to play hard, stay tough, and, most important, move fast. "You run from dogs in the street a lot," Jackson explains. "You'll be walking down the street and a dog would break out of a yard and you've got to run."
What Jackson wants is an opportunity to have a pro scout see him play. "All I need is a look," he insists. "Canadian League, World League, NFL, it doesn't matter, as long as it pays. The only person who hits harder than me is [All-Pro safety] Ronnie Lott. If my mama was running the ball, I'd hit her hard, too."
Randy Seymour spent four years behind bars after being convicted of robbery when he was fifteen. "I was bad. I was using drugs and I was out there stealing to support my habit. And I went to prison; that's why I missed my high school days," says the 21-year-old wide receiver. Now, he says simply, "I just want to move forward. Here's my chance."
"These are guys that if you see them on the street, you would go, `Oh, let me get away from them,'" says 22-year-old Tony Rodriguez, who works in his family's freight-shipping business. "But here you get to know them on a different level. You suffer with them, you cry with them, you go through the pains of practice with them, and it unifies people."
Rodriguez gave up football when he dropped out of Southwest High to get married after his junior year. The marriage never materialized, and he eventually went back to high school to earn his diploma. But by that time, he says, he was no longer eligible to play high school sports and had missed his chance for a college football scholarship. "I'm sure I would have had a shot at some school," says the six-foot-one, 300-pound lineman. "Probably not a big school, but a small school at least. It would have meant an education, which my family couldn't afford. It would have meant a different life."