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King High grad Donovan Celerin to play football at Harvard

Donovan Celerin, who just graduated from the King High School International Baccalaureate program, turned down Princeton and Yale to play football at Harvard.

SKIP O\u2019ROURKE | Times

Donovan Celerin, who just graduated from the King High School International Baccalaureate program, turned down Princeton and Yale to play football at Harvard.


The word Harvard evokes visions of ivy-covered bricks, long nights at the library and no-nonsense professors.

But to 18-year-old Donovan Celerin, it also means football.

The Brandon teen turned down Princeton and Yale to play football at Harvard University while taking pre-med classes. He'll move out of his parents' Brentwood Hills home in August to attend the world-renowned school.

"My friends and I used to joke about going to Harvard when we were younger," he said. "Now it's happening."

Celerin's accomplishments read like an entry in Who's Who Among American High School Students.

Star football player at King High School.

African-American Youth Leadership Program participant.

6.74 grade point average.

National Merit finalist.

The list goes on.

He attributes it all to hard work — not sheer talent. Celerin hopes to inspire other young athletes to study hard and work toward their goals.

"Everything you do, just do it the best," he said.

When he was in the classroom, Celerin put school first. Biology was his favorite subject.

When he was on the field, he focused on the game. He'd pump up his teammates, even during losing seasons.

And when he tutored younger football players, he put everything else aside, said King's head coach, Alvin Davis.

"He's the type of football player that kids look up to," Davis said. "They look out on the field and say 'I want to be like him.'"

Celerin just graduated from the rigorous International Baccalaureate program at King in east Tampa. He always had Harvard in the back of his mind, so he spent nights studying at the kitchen table. His transcript shows rows of A's. He can count the B's on one hand.

He was raised by parents who taught him about limitless possibilities. His mom, Wendi Goodson-Celerin, grew up in Progress Village and is a nurse manager in Tampa General Hospital's special surgery unit. His father, Chaplain Celerin, is a Haitian immigrant and attorney with Bay Area Legal Services. He is fluent in five languages.

"I always said, 'Don't let somebody tell you what your abilities are,'" Goodson-Celerin said. "They don't know the drive you have inside."

Donovan Celerin played many positions on King's football team and started on both the offensive and defensive lines. At Harvard, he'll most likely play cornerback, a defensive position. But he'd prefer to be a running back.

This summer, he plans to hit the weight room hard. Monday through Friday, he spends his days at Valrico's Lifestyle Family Fitness gym. But he avoids the treadmill. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound teen wants to gain 10 pounds by August.

The oldest of two children, Celerin says he's excited to move into his dorm in Cambridge, Mass.

"The cold weather is the only thing I'm not looking forward to," said Celerin, who has lived in Brandon his whole life.

His parents are extremely proud of him. His father readily pulls out a file with papers commending his son, signed by Gov. Charlie Crist; U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.; and State Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow.

The football player's face becomes stoic. He slouches over in the family's plush maroon leather couches.

"He's humble," Chaplain Celerin said. "He doesn't like it when I brag."

Donovan Celerin knows what he'll be doing for the next four years, but after that, he's flexible.

He'd love to attend Harvard Medical School, but he's not sure if he wants to be a medical researcher or a doctor. And if he receives offers from the National Football League, he'll consider that path.

"I'll make that decision when the time comes," he said.

His father chimes in. "Anything's possible."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at or (813) 661-2443.

King High grad Donovan Celerin to play football at Harvard 06/18/09 [Last modified: Thursday, June 18, 2009 4:30am]
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