Five years after Durell Eskridge, Devonta Freeman, and Rakeem Cato led the Miami Central High Rockets to their first state title and made the cover of Miami New Times, the former teammates have fulfilled their dream of playing in the pros.
Freeman, who also won a college football national title as a Florida State Seminole, is entering his second season in the NFL. He has locked up the starter's job with the Atlanta Falcons.
Eskridge, after three years starting at safety for the Syracuse University Orangemen, signed a contract as an undrafted free agent with the New York Jets. He'll scrap his way onto the final 53-man roster. And earlier this month, Cato threw for 241 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions in his first start for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League. He led his new squad to a 29-11 win over the defending Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders.
But these three haven't forgotten their Liberty City roots.
On June 28, the Devonta Freeman Foundation held its inaugural youth football and cheerleading camp free of charge for 400 kids from Miami. Twenty current NFL players, including Eskridge and all-time Miami Hurricanes running backs Duke Johnson and Edgerrin James, showed up to lend a hand. Johnson, drafted by the Cleveland Browns, has also started a foundation, which held a bowling fundraiser July 7 for a nonprofit group that mentors young girls.
They wouldn't have come this far if a number of things hadn't fallen into place.
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Had the late Sam Johnson and I not founded the Liberty City Optimist Club, Eskridge and Freeman might not have ended up playing on the same youth football squad that made them lifelong friends. Had Miami Central High Principal Jerry Clay not hired Telly Lockette to coach the football team and then hired me based on his recommendation, I might've never had the opportunity to continue mentoring these three young men. Clay signed off on Lockette's decision to bring me on as a volunteer coach even though some of the alumni members did not want us there.
It cost Clay his job — he was forced out. Yet Central went on to become a football dynasty because of the work put in by Lockette and his coaching staff.
Follow Luke on Twitter: @unclelukereal1.