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The determined Edison five

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GREAT Article by Greg



By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer

Published October 1, 2005

USF players Mompremier, Simpson, Clebert, Chambers and Dile are from Edison High School. "Those five guys are talked about every day here," said Jeffrey Johnson, an Edison grad and receivers coach. "It gives these kids a fresh light of hope that it can be done."


MIAMI - When Jim Leavitt first made the offer, they didn't believe him.

The five seniors at Edison High School, sitting in their football coach's classroom, had received scholarship offers, but those were spread all over the country, and their shared dream of playing in college together seemed to be just that, a dream.

"Coach Leavitt started talking that he would take all of us, and we were like, (raising eyebrows)?" running back Chad Simpson said. "First, I took it like a joke. "We'll take all y'all.' Afterward, I said, "He's not going to take all of us.' All five of us? When I calmed down, I was like, "Wow. He wants all of us."'

Even before they'd helped resurrect Edison's program, helping the Red Raiders back into the state playoffs, they'd decided the only thing better than playing college football had to be playing college football together. It has motivated them ever since.

"Since like ninth grade, we always wanted to go to the same college," offensive tackle Marc Dile said. "We were determined to do that, to get the grades and test scores to see that happen."

Leavitt signed those five Edison players - Simpson, Dile, receiver Jackie Chambers, defensive tackle Richard Clebert and linebacker Brouce Mompremier - in February 2004, and in their second year on campus, they're all contributors to USF's surprising 3-1 start.

They return home today as USF faces No. 9 Miami in the Orange Bowl, and the Edison five are still proud teammates, a testament to perseverance, to overcoming adversity, and the high school coach who taught them both.

* * *

"Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration. Accordingly, a "genius' is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework."

- Thomas Alva Edison, 1847-1931

The tall, black fence that surrounds Edison High School serves both to protect its students from the rough streets of Little Haiti outside, and to literally keep them on campus until they graduate.

A block east of Interstate 95, a tight spiral from the highway's northbound traffic, Edison is one of only two schools in Florida to receive four consecutive "F" grades from the state. It came dangerously close to being academically condemned this summer, when the local superintendent threatened to shutter the campus for a year.

In the middle of a campus of academic chaos is Corey Bell, a 33-year-old Edison graduate whose coaching resume, with its 39-50 record, seems unimpressive. In 1997, after four years as a defensive back at South Carolina and one winless season as an Edison assistant, he took over the Red Raiders, winning a total of six games in his first four seasons.

Edison had a rich football history, from playing rival Coral Gables in what is now the Orange Bowl in 1938 to winning a state championship in 1970. But after that, their only playoff wins in the next 30 years came in 1988.

Starting with the Edison five's sophomore season, Edison has made the playoffs four years in a row, reaching the state semifinals in 2003. For that turnaround alone, he'd be considered an outstanding coach, but what sets him apart is a three-ring binder he carries around campus, the key to tracking his players' academic future.

At a school where the FCAT is a mortal enemy, where graduation is an optimistic goal at best, Bell has consistently been able to keep his players focused enough to qualify academically for the scholarships they earn on the field.

* * *

When Simpson thinks of Bell, he thinks of his car keys.

Edison's student parking lot is locked up each morning to keep students from driving off in the middle of the day, but crafty students park their cars on side streets and sneak off early.

Bell caught on to this, and made a deal with several players, including Simpson: If they wanted to play football, they had to give him their car keys before school and couldn't get them back until after practice.

"You need to be in school if you want to get to the next level," Bell said, "but first and foremost, you won't play for me."

Bell has ironclad rules: Get a D in any class, even as a freshman on the JV, and retake the class, which helps raise a player's core GPA, a key college eligibility criterion. His players often go from afternoon practice to take night classes.

Want a sign of discipline? In 2002, Edison was 9-1, and in the first round of the playoffs, Terrell Walden, now a sophomore receiver at Miami, broke a team rule. Playoffs or not, Bell suspended him.

"I got calls from parents, saying "Coach, he's our best player,"' Bell said. "Well, he should have done the right thing. I told him he wasn't getting on my bus. He had to get a ride to the game to watch. We ended up losing by one point, so you add in Terrell, maybe we make the next round of the playoffs. But you have to set the standards."

Bell integrates discipline into football practice, making players lug a 45-pound weight from the weight room and carry it around the field during drills. Clebert grimaces remembering "Elbows and Toes," a punitive drill that called for a player to move across the field on his elbows and toes.

* * *

It isn't what you expect high school football to be, but Edison isn't your normal high school. Eleven guards patrol campus wearing green "School Security" shirts, armed with walkie-talkies, some driving around in golf carts. Little Haiti is one of the poorest areas of north Miami, with more than 50 percent of its residents in poverty in some areas.

Because a large majority of the student body is Haitian-American, school handouts are printed in both English and Haitian Creole; "academically challenging" translates to defi akademik , "required" is obligatwa. The neighborhood, the poverty and the burden of being an "F" school create an atmosphere where students need to be reminded of their potential.

"The majority of them come from broken homes, where college isn't in their futures and parents don't save up for college, not because they don't want to but because they can't afford it," said Harry Germeus, a first-year assistant principal who played at Edison and took a football scholarship to Wyoming.

The Edison five beat the odds just by graduating. The state's average graduation rate in 2003-04 was 69 percent, according to Department of Education statistics; in Miami-Dade County, the average was 60 percent. At Edison, the graduation rate was 24 percent: three out of four freshmen didn't graduate in four years.

Dade County has a College Assistance Program to help encourage more students to extend their education beyond high school, and Shi-Mei Everette, Edison's CAP adviser, said Bell has a major role in his players' academic success.

"He's in my office the first week of school, or before that," she said. "Did we get the ACT packets in yet? Where are the college applications? He's in here early in the year, and his kids are taking the tests the first time they're offered in October. It means a lot to him."

The Edison five have been resilient in a USF recruiting class that hasn't been. Half of the 20 other players who signed with USF in February 2004 already have left the program; eight never made it into a game for the Bulls.

Mompremier was nearly one of the losses, as one of three players who were suspended from school last fall for his alleged role in the theft of a teammate's dorm room. Prosecutors declined to press charges, and Mompremier returned in January, having learned a lesson.

"Brouce is such an all-around good kid, and that's so unlike him," Bell said. "For me to get a call like that, it just baffled me. He called me. Before I could say anything, he said, "Coach, I already know. I've got to make better decisions."'

Edison's current players already are motivated by the five Red Raiders at USF. Jasper Howard, a junior receiver at Edison, wears Chambers' old No.2 jersey, is called "Little Jackie" by his teammates and has pictures of him taped to the outside of his locker.

"They inspire those guys," Bell said. "And they sent the message down when we were 0-2, saying they'd have to come down and straighten the kids out."

Today, they return home for a different reason, to face the same Hurricanes they grew up watching. Clebert and Mompremier were offered scholarships to Miami but opted to go to USF with their friends, in part because they saw in USF some of the same things they loved about Edison.

"I could have went there, I just decided to come here, do my own thing," Clebert said. "We wanted to start a new tradition, just like we did at Edison."

That any one high school would send five players to one college program in the same class is rare in itself, but when that school has as much adversity as Edison, it's an inspiration.

"You can find a school that has five guys," Leavitt said. "But how often do you get all of them? How often do you want to get all of them? Never. It doesn't usually happen."

There will be a strong Edison presence at the Orange Bowl today, on the field and in the stands. Those five players have a lasting impact on their old school, said Jeffrey Johnson, an Edison grad who coaches the team's receivers and is Chambers' godfather.

"Those five guys are talked about every day here," he said. "It gives these kids a fresh light of hope that it can be done. A lot of odds were against them in this area. To send five to school, that's hard, but to send five to the same school? That's almost unheard of. It's amazing that it happened for them."

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