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Nigel Harris smiled for the cameras and signed his letter of intent while Jordan Sherit made an exaggerated gator chomp for the audience. Next to them, Jeremiah Green cheerfully mugged for his raucous cheering section in the front row.
All three were pledging their futures to major-college programs – Harris (USF), Sherit (Florida) and Green (Alabama), setting off wild applause throughout the auditorium of Hillsborough High.
At the far – and much quieter – left end of the table was Trevor Steinke, by far the least-heralded of the four players at Hillsborough who signed letters of intent Wednesday.
There was a reason for that, Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia explained to the crowd.
“Trevor has the worst luck of any guy I’ve met in the last few years,” Garcia said.
Steinke accepted a scholarship offer with Webber International University in Babson, an unexpected turn of fortune for someone who played in only five games in the past two seasons.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound running back has struggled through eligibility issues and injuries since transferring from Freedom before his junior year, shelving his promising talent and frustrating his efforts to prove his worthiness of a college scholarship.
“Sometimes I got down on myself,” Steinke said. “But I never thought about giving up.”
In the summer of 2011, Steinke filed the paperwork to transfer to Hillsborough and then quickly joined the Terriers’ summer 7-on-7 team for a tournament. But because of an administrative mix-up, the transfer request didn’t get filed until after he played with Hillsborough.
The FHSAA subsequently ruled he was ineligible.
Steinke was forced to miss all but the final regular-season game, rushing for 137 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Chamberlain.
“He really showed some flashes of brilliance,” Garcia said.
Garcia and the Terriers fully expected Steinke to move into the starting lineup as a senior. But once again, Steinke was struck by misfortune during the summer.
During the USF Sling and Shoot touch football tournament in July, Steinke suffered a broken leg that forced him to miss much of preseason workouts. His loss forced Harris, who played full-time at linebacker and occasionally at fullback, to move to running back.
Steinke returned later in the season but was hampered by the injury and finished with only 119 yards and a touchdown.
Despite that meager resume, Steinke still managed to drum up some interest from the coaching staff at Webber International, which competes in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
Steinke, who has a 3.8 GPA, said he plans to make the most of his next opportunity to play.
“I think I have something to prove,” he said. “I want the whole state and the whole nation to know who I am.”