TAMPA — The first diagnosis, during a mandatory physical before his senior season at Lakewood High, was overridden by second opinions. Turned out, no hole existed in Rodney Adams' heart.
"He had to go through all those specialists to tell him there was nothing wrong with him," Adams' maternal grandmother, Ruth Cooper, said. "He was just freaking out."
Fifteen months later, though, a hole did appear, and it was gaping. This time there was no mistake, nor was there medicine to fix it. In time he'd learn to function with it, but on Nov. 3, 2013, the hole rendered him helpless, disconsolate and angry.
That day, on Atlanta's outskirts, Adams' mother had been riding in a gray Dodge Charger that lost control, hit another vehicle from behind and wound up in a ditch. Michelle Conway Scott, single mom to Rodney and his younger brother, was killed.
The driver, Scott's first cousin, was arrested on a charges including DUI and first-degree vehicular homicide. Upon learning she had lost one of her three daughters, Cooper called the coaches at Toledo, where Adams was finishing his freshman season as a receiver. Adams remembers coach Matt Campbell tracking him down and leading him into a dormitory office.
"When the coach told me, honestly, I went to try breaking windows because I couldn't believe it," Adams said. "It was heartbreaking."
Nine months later, the hole in his heart remains. Always will. But a return to Tampa Bay has sure buoyed the long-term prognosis. Rodney Alan Adams Jr., former all-purpose Lakewood High dynamo with breakaway speed and elongated limbs, has found a new home at USF.
The NCAA, long accused of lacking a heart of its own, revealed an oversized one in this case by granting Adams a hardship waiver. He's eligible to play right now.
"That's all he talks about, that school over there (USF)," Cooper said from a living-room recliner in her central St. Petersburg house. "He done made so many friends, and during spring break, a lot of his friends came over here. … He says he loves Tampa."
The Bulls love him back. With Adams, an offense that possessed all the elasticity of fiberglass last season — when the 2-10 Bulls totaled 11 offensive touchdowns — now appears more capable of stretching a defense every now and again.
"He is as good as advertised, I promise you that," sophomore quarterback Mike White said.
"We had a two-minute drive the other day. I think we got into a third and long. I threw one up, and he went up and got it. I honestly thought it was going to go out of bounds. He came out of nowhere, jumped and caught it."
Everyone loved Michelle Conway Scott. The proof was in the pews.
They were clogged at St. Petersburg's Galilee Missionary Baptist Church for her funeral. Cooper, who couldn't bring herself to attend the previous night's wake, estimated the crowd at 500.
It gathered to honor an outgoing 37-year-old who adored her boys, loved CSI: Miami and could whip up a shepherd's pie variation — corn, mashed potatoes, ground beef — that buckled your knees. The younger of identical twins born 15 minutes apart, Scott was unemployed at the time of her death but had worked for years in Pinellas County's Head Start program.
She had traveled to Georgia to hang out with relatives.
"She was just an outgoing person," Adams said. "She got along with everybody. She was known around St. Pete, and everybody just loved her. I was proud to call her my mom."
They had last spoken only hours before her death. The previous night, Adams, who had earned limited playing time as a Toledo true freshman, had collected 23 all-purpose yards — and a hard lick or two in 46-degree weather — in a 55-16 home romp over Eastern Michigan.
"We just talked about the game and how she watched it, how I got hit really hard," he recalled.
Another haymaker followed.
Adams, who had guided Lakewood (10-2) to the Class 5A playoffs a year before by lining up at virtually every skill spot, was back home the day he got the news about Scott. He vowed not to return to Toledo.
"I had to sit down and really, really talk to him," said Cooper, a Tyrone Middle School teacher's assistant who turned 61 Friday. "I said, 'This is what your mother would want you to do, Rodney. You can't quit.' I didn't want to go back to work either, but I knew I had to go back to work in order to make him go."
Adams relented, persevering at Toledo until the semester's end. Upon his return home, the family expressed interest in USF, and it was reciprocated. Wheels for a transfer were set in motion. All the while, Cooper prayed.
She's convinced that her deity — and her daughter — were listening.
At roughly the same time Adams' transfer was being finalized, USF hired former Florida State standout Ron Dugans as receivers coach. In the fall of 2008, Dugans' 8-year-old daughter, Ronshay, was killed when the school bus in which she was riding collided with a cement truck in Tallahassee.
Adams' fresh career arrived with a kindred spirit.
"He knows that I've gone through the same thing that he's gone through, and the thing I try to tell him is to always look at things like, 'It could've been worse,' " Dugans said.
"And a lot of people may ask, 'How could it get worse?' Well, you could've lost your whole family. I know Momma's Momma, and I lost a daughter … but you could've lost your whole family. You always try to make something positive out of any situation."
On the occasion of his first college touchdown, Adams said, he'll take a knee and look skyward. By all accounts, he may not have to wait long.
Two weeks into training camp, raves have been affixed to him like a lockdown corner. In addition to stretching and laying out his body for tough catches, he has excelled in pass blocking, Dugans said. Coach Willie Taggart said he expects Adams to "be a big-time player for us."
Adams just wants to execute his most critical route with precision and perseverance: Forge a career, earn a degree, honor a matriarch.
"I just told him he's got an angel looking over him," Dugans said. "She's proud of what he's doing."
Contract Joey Knight at [email protected] or (813) 226-3350. Follow @ TBTimes_Bulls.