CLEARWATER — If it weren't for football, they probably wouldn't have been comfortable with one another.
It's nothing personal, says Diomi Roberts. It's just that he and quarterback Gray Crow are very different.
But Roberts, one of Pinellas County's most prolific running backs, and Crow, a top quarterback who's heading to the University of Miami, say the sport has led them to forge a friendship beyond the gridiron.
"Without football, I wouldn't have met Gray," Roberts said. "We are just two different people. He probably wouldn't be the first person I would have tried to hang out with."
"That's spot on," Crow said of Roberts' assessment. "There are some friends that I have met through other football players that I would not have spoken with in my life."
Crow's father is a former state legislator from Palm Harbor. Roberts spent a lot of time in Clearwater's North Greenwood neighborhood. Crow is quiet, while Roberts is outgoing.
On the field, the two 17-year-olds provide a balanced offensive attack for the Countryside Cougars, who are 4-0 as they head into tonight's match-up with Palm Harbor University High. Crow has thrown for 529 yards and four touchdowns, while Roberts is the county's second-leading rusher with 565 yards and eight touchdowns.
Pinellas schools athletic director Nick Grasso says sports builds communities because young players and families from different backgrounds interact with one another while focusing on a common goal.
"Athletics is where we have a real good mix of children," Grasso said. "In youth sports, as they grow up they come across people with diverse backgrounds and cultures."
Roberts grew up playing youth football with the North Greenwood Panthers. His first name was created by taking the first two letters of his father's name, Diallo, and the last three letters of his mother's name, Naomi. Though his parents are separated, he has a good relationship with them.
"They both are in the stands at every game," he said.
He's proud of his roots: "I didn't grow up in the best neighborhood and best circumstances, but we made the best of it. I'm not ashamed of it. My mother has done whatever she can for me and the family."
A senior, Roberts said he has taken the SAT and intends to go to college and play football.
Crow's first name is the maiden name of his mother's grandmother. Hazel Gray happened to love the University of Miami, though that had nothing to do with Crow's decision to attend UM.
Currently taking online classes in addition to his other schoolwork, Crow plans to finish high school at the end of this semester. In January, he'll be a freshman at UM and will start working out with the football team. After every game, Crow has a conversation with UM's quarterbacks coach to break down that game's performance.
Crow previously attended a Central Florida private school. Last season was his first as quarterback of Countryside's team. While the team ran up a 10-0 record, he said there was more pressure on him as an individual.
"There was more pressure to be accepted by the guys because I had just transferred back," Crow said. "This year, I think they have embraced me more and accepted me as the field general."
Every morning before Crow leaves for school, he puts a different Bible verse on his Facebook page. He hardly ever misses a Sunday at church.
Now that they know one another, Crow and Roberts hang out from time to time outside of football. After Friday night games, they go to the Varsity Club on Sunset Point Road for food. During the summer, Roberts chilled at Crow's house.
"He's a good guy, a firm believer in God, a good leader and keeps the team motivated," Roberts said of Crow. "We both love the game of football. We both are passionate about it and have the will to win."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at email@example.com and (727) 445-4174.