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Former Leto High, Texas Tech football player stokes young dreams with Unsigned Preps

Ricky Sailor escorted nearly 40 high school football players into cavernous Neyland Stadium at the University of Tennessee on Monday.

Arm in arm, they rocked back and forth just as the Volunteers do before games. Then they sprinted onto the field, filling the air with hoots and hollers.

Sailor simply stepped aside as awe washed over the teens.

A former Leto High and Texas Tech football player, Sailor founded Unsigned Preps a year ago. He seeks to guide young prep standouts through the football recruiting process, preparing top stars for life in a big-time program and helping borderline players receive scholarships.

For the second consecutive summer, Sailor organized a tour for freshman, sophomore and junior prospects, taking them to a series of one-day football camps at some of the Southeast's top programs.

Mouths agape, they stared at the 100,000 empty seats and wondered about the possibilities of actually playing before a crowd that large. They soaked in the dreams and expressed an appreciation for simply getting the opportunity to see the landmarks.

"They may be 6-2, 220 pounds with a face full of hair, but they're still children," Sailor said. "When you see them on video being childlike, happy to be there, happy for the opportunity, that's the thing that gives me chills. That's the thing that makes me stay up late at night and continue to work hard. It's a huge thrill for those guys, and some of them may never go in there again in their lives."

On Sailor's road trip last year, 23 players visited North Carolina, South Carolina, North Carolina State and North Carolina Central.

This year, 37 players from Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and even Miami-Dade traveled to Auburn, Tennessee, Clemson and Georgia.

"I hope we have two buses next year," Sailor said.

Sailor could have had two buses this year, but some players made mistakes or ran into grade trouble and weren't allowed to make the trip and showcase their skills before dozens of college coaches. It's an earned trip, not a given.

Football, naturally, is at the core of the effort, but Sailor says it's more important to prepare the teens for life.

Players pay based on need, and Sailor, who operates Unsigned Preps as a nonprofit, insists he's charging just enough to cover expenses.

Sailor's model builds on the foundation created by Tyrone Keys and All Sports Community Service. Keys, a former Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Bucs player, started his efforts to help high school students 20 years ago. Sailor was one of those players.

Keys helped players draw scouts, only asking that in return they make good grades, stay out of trouble and speak to younger kids about staying on the right path. It's a pay-it-forward approach that continues to inspire Sailor.

"I always had coaches help me," Sailor said. "Mr. Keys has helped me with everything. He's a lifeline, and my father was always a giver.

"So I have an obligation, but now it's time to go to another level because you can see dreams come true for other people. I want to take that one kid who's a long shot and give him an opportunity. Let's see what he can do."

If the opportunity to play at the next level doesn't come, Sailor takes heart in knowing he has exposed these kids, some who have never traveled out of state, to a world of higher education, big stadiums and college dorms.

Nothing they do in the future can erase the thrill they got from running on that field.

That's all I'm saying.

Former Leto High, Texas Tech football player stokes young dreams with Unsigned Preps

06/14/12 [Last modified: Thursday, June 14, 2012 4:30am]
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