The sight of Eric Hayes and T.J. Lewis left an indelible impression on Tyrone Keys when he arrived at Jerry Ulm Dodge 20 years ago.
Keys walked into the dealership on Dale Mabry Highway a week after helping Hayes and Lewis land summer jobs. The former NFL player needed to make sure Hayes and Lewis hadn't disappointed Jerry Ulm Sr., a man who extended a chance to the kids even though he knew nothing of them and very little about Keys.
The ex-Buccaneer and Chicago Bear looked to start a foundation that would help high school athletes overlooked by scouts earn scholarships and transition into college, but he needed support. He met with Ulm, sharing his vision and inspiration, and Ulm was sold.
Grateful for the opportunity Ulm extended to him, Keys tabbed Hayes and Lewis and hoped that the two would take advantage. But he knew that if the two disappointed the managers, failed to show up on time or showed lackluster effort, the grand experiment might fail, Ulm might lose lost faith and his vision might never materialize.
So he arrived that day to make sure Hayes and Lewis were working out, and discovered they definitely were working.
"The first person I saw was Eric, and he was covered in oil," said Keys, laughing at the memory 20 years later.
Hayes had spent his week working with mechanics, and it appeared the mechanics had worked him over. Lewis didn't look much better after a long day of washing cars at the dealership. But the sweat, dirt and grime couldn't hide their smiles. Or their determination.
"The way my parents raised me, I knew I had to do well," Hayes said. "They told me, 'Tyrone helped you get this job, you better not go up there and mess up.' "
Lewis brought much of the same attitude, but understand that while they may have come in wanting to earn money as they prepared to go to college, they gained so much more. The workers at Jerry Ulm Dodge shared wisdom while showing them how to handle menial tasks.
"While we were washing cars, we were talking about life," Lewis said. "They were giving me advice about the front end and the back end. I remember all those conversations."
And Ulm remembered how the young men delivered on the vision Keys sold. He fell ill that summer and passed away in September 1993, but the Ulm family asked mourners to give to Keys' upstart nonprofit, All Sports Community Service.
"I will never forget attending and sitting in the back of First Baptist Church for Mr. Ulm's service," Keys said. "Jerry Ulm Jr. read a letter to his dad from ASCS and I was, simply, overtaken."
From those early beginnings, Keys has gone on to help thousands of kids obtain higher education opportunities. And Lewis and Hayes were among the firsts. Hayes went on to play basketball at University of Maryland-Baltimore County and is now the head basketball coach at Jefferson High School.
Lewis, a basketball star at Queens College in Charlotte, N.C., became a vice president with Bank of America and has returned to Tampa to work for Urban Lending Solutions. Along the way, they've paid it forward over and over again.
In the years that followed, other All Sports students worked at Jerry Ulm Dodge, including Jerrell Mack, who now owns his own business, and Jasmine Trammel, now an assistant principal at Strawberry Crest High School.
Their experiences are a lesson for every young person. When an opportunity arises, you have a responsibility not just to take advantage of it, but to hold that figurative door open so others can walk through.
You can never underestimate the impact one individual's success can have on a person, a leader and an organization. Because Hayes and Lewis were willing to get down and dirty, they helped lift up a person, a nonprofit and a family business.
That's all I'm saying.