From the moment he picked up a football, Adrian White knew he wanted to play. He dreamed of going to Florida State University and making it to the NFL someday.
But today, he's preparing to face the real world instead.
White plans to graduate from Chamberlain High School on Tuesday. After that, his goals are simply to get a job, save up money.
Maybe go to community college down the road and major in sports medicine.
Despite working hard on the field as a strong safety at Chamberlain High School, White, 19, didn't have the test scores to get into the college of his dreams. Now, as his friends get ready to graduate and pursue their goals, White holds onto his — with a lesson weaved in.
"Study, study, study," White said. "Don't worry about the sport you play. That's what you do, it's your passion. It's going to carry you. But your grades and test scores are really going to carry you to the next level."
That's the message White drills into the heads of his younger cousins and nephews and what he plans to tell his 7-month-old daughter when she gets older.
Brian Turner, who now works at Sickles High, was offensive coordinator at Chamberlain and handled most of the recruiting. He remembers White as a good football player with great speed.
"He can definitely get a scholarship. He can definitely play college football," Turner said. "He's a good kid. The trouble with him was always the grades and getting the test scores that he needed."
After graduation, White will live with his parents in West Tampa and try to find a job.
But with the economy in poor shape, he knows finding work will be tough. He plans to apply to Publix, Target and the Coca-Cola Co.
Raised by his parents, James Berry and Cassandra White, who are football fans, White always knew what he wanted in his life.
He would watch football every Saturday and Sunday during the season. The biggest game was always the match up between the Florida State Seminoles and the University of Florida Gators.
His father and uncle are big Seminole fans, and so is he. His mom likes the Gators. When these two schools go head to head, it makes for great family rivalry and memorable moments, he said.
White also shares a bond with his aunt and uncle. "When I make it as a professional, everybody is going to be taken care of," he would tell them.
But as serious as he was on the field, he didn't focus in the classroom. He didn't study for his SATs and couldn't pull in high enough scores to get into Florida State — his dream school — or the University of Alabama, his second choice.
Around his junior year, he realized that he needed to make some changes, "but it was too late," White said.
"I went out there and played my heart out," he said. "But I didn't keep up my grades."
He was heartbroken when he didn't get into Florida State.
"Just keep your head up," his aunt, Lasombil Laster, told him. "Keep God first. When you dream of something, you can always accomplish it."
Laster said her nephew may have to work a little harder, "but he's motivated."
He sees his friends moving on to colleges with good football programs, and it makes him feel good, he said.
"It's wonderful to see my friends that I grew up and played with going on to do bigger and better things," he said. "But I know that I can still accomplish great things."
Maybe he will apply to a community college and study sports medicine. Maybe a big university with a football program will see his talent on the field — and his hard work off the field — and give him a chance to walk on and join their team. And maybe he can be a pro football player one day.
He has learned his lesson.
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813)909-4613 or firstname.lastname@example.org.