MIAMI — Florida State wide receiver Corey Surrency doesn't shy away from telling you about the reckless and senseless route he once ran and what it cost him.
It wasn't a first down or touchdown.
It was his freedom and, perhaps, his future.
The Miami native, a high school dropout who had been arrested several times, violated the terms of his probation in January 2005 and served nearly three months in the Metro West Detention Center.
"The 90 days felt like 90 years," Surrency said. "Walls. Bars. Not moving. It gave me a lifetime to think."
In those sobering moments as he lay awake curled up in a bunk bed or forced to talk to family through a thick pane of glass, he realized he had to find a new course.
After his release, he did just that. He changed his associations and showed his earnestness, his resoluteness, to become a positive force for his family and others in his neighborhood.
"Tough, tough, tough (background)," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said shaking his head in disbelief at the junior's story to date. "For him to get where he is right now, I don't know how he got there."
While the annual FSU-Miami showdown is always emotional for the players, coaches and fans involved regardless of records and rankings, today's game at Dolphin Stadium is especially meaningful for Surrency. Back home, he desperately wants to show the folks who know him how far he has come.
"I just hope I can go out there and perform for my city," said Surrency, who after a strong start against Division I-AA Western Carolina and Chattanooga (five catches, 101 yards and three touchdowns combined) hasn't had a reception in the past two games.
"I've got a whole neighborhood supporting me. I've got the whole of South Florida supporting me. People hear my story and where I've come from and they can't believe it. People drop to the floor. They literally drop to the floor."
'Stuff I had no business doing'
Surrency, now 24, lived a short walk from Southridge High, maybe "200 steps" he estimates, not that he measured it often. He went another way, dropping out as a ninth grader and hitting the streets.
"I was like put into a grown-man duty at a young age, and I started doing stuff I had no business doing," he said.
The stuff? Mainly arrests on grand theft and burglary charges that began in 2000, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records, that Surrency said helped pay the bills and put clothes on his back.
Ultimately, he wound up in the detention center. There came his epiphany and once out, he turned to his lifelong passion, football, to avoid the unsavory influences and the shortcuts he had taken.
It was through football that he happened to meet a new influence, David Silveira, who spotted him at a game Surrency wasn't even going to attend. Surrency calls his last-minute decision to go a "blessing from God."
Silveira, who runs a speed camp and has helped place countless players in universities and junior colleges, instantly was amazed at Surrency's ability (4.4 speed), size and sure hands. He was even more taken aback when he talked to him.
"Most guys will try to hide it (a past) because they think it may scare you off and then you find out and it comes off like the guy was trying to act slick," he said. "But that wasn't his case. He said, 'Listen. I've done this and I've done that, but I don't want to (do those things) any more.' It was a cry for help.''
'Worth the chance'
El Camino (Calif.) College coach John Featherstone, who has built a perennial power in his 23 seasons at the junior college, gets inundated with calls in the spring and summer from prospects. He asks for a tape and a call from the player's prep coach.
Surrency, who had earned his GED, could provide neither.
"We knew we were rolling the dice a little bit, but David raved about him, and we thought Corey was worth the chance," Featherstone said.
The 6-foot-5, 210-pound Surrency developed as a receiver in 2006 and 2007, earning All-America honors, stayed out of trouble and completed his associate's degree.
"He really grew up," Featherstone said.
FSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher made his own judgment as he recruited Surrency and his junior college teammate, running back Tavares Pressley.
"People fool you; they fool you all the time," Fisher said. "When I met him and the first time I ever talked to him, that honesty, that genuineness, that, 'Coach-please-give-me-a-chance,' came through and I believed in him."
"If a guy has done wrong and doesn't know he's done wrong, you've got problems," echoed Bowden, who has been criticized for giving players multiple strikes. "If a guy's done wrong and he knows he's done wrong and admits it, now you've got a chance with him."
Surrency's resolve to stay the course was tested almost as soon as he showed up in Tallahassee this past summer. First, his mother, Yvonne Cason, died after a long battle with cancer. She had been his inspiration and, while he was in California, she hid just how sick she was so he wouldn't quit and come back home.
"His mom would say, "You stay there. You need to finish your education. You've got a chance to do something,' " Featherstone said.
Surrency dedicated the season to her, a season he nearly didn't have. In August, the NCAA said his time playing flag football before he attended junior college counted as organized competition and cost him a year. Also, his time in an adult league in South Florida, the NCAA said, counted as a year, leaving him ineligible. FSU argued that flag football shouldn't count and he regained a year. (The school likely will appeal to regain another year.)
"I thought it was over for me," he said, fighting back tears. "I don't know what I would have done. … I just didn't want to go back to where I came from, back to stuff I was doing before. I'm not like that any more. I'm trying to keep on this path right here. …This is the place my mom wanted me to be. This is my dream."
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347.