Ryan Eppes read the high school blogs and the writers were not nice. In fact, some of the postings were downright cruel. They chided Eppes, a quarterback, for transferring from Countryside High School to Largo High. But Eppes, 18, said there's more to the story than a high school athlete transferring the second semester of his junior year to take the starting snaps at Largo. "For the last two and half years, I was driving two hours a day, everyday, for school," said Eppes, who lives in Seminole. "It was consuming so much of my time. I was up at 5:15 a.m. and not getting home until after 7 p.m. and getting up and doing it all over again." Yes, football is nearly always on the front of Eppes' mind, but having to start over off the field during your senior year can be intimidating. There's learning new teammates. There's learning new homeroom teachers and how to get from one class to the next without getting lost or being late. There's learning the natural rhythm of a new environment. And there were the high school senior moments that occur beyond the gridiron that Eppes had to consider.
"I was a little nervous at first," said Eppes, Largo's starting quarterback who, on the surface, can come off as being shy. "But after the first couple days, I started making friends."
Right before Eppes' freshman year, with Pinellas County's school choice, he had to decide on which school he would like to attend. Seminole, his neighborhood school, was the first. The second was Countryside High School.
"Our friends told us to put down the farthest school from were we lived," said Roy Eppes, Ryan's father. "We didn't think the school system would want to send him up there."
But the school system did. And it was not a bad choice for Eppes, considering Countryside's storied football program.
For three years, Eppes made the 44-mile round-trip to Countryside. While he made friends, Eppes didn't get to hang out after school often. The drive was too far away and he needed to get home to do homework.
"I'd let him go on a date or something but it was just so far away," said Roy Eppes, a Clemson University defensive back who was drafted to the NFL in 1978 by the New York Jets.
While he continued to attend Countryside, his father said he requested a school change again. Again, they selected Seminole and they added the much closer Largo.
Largo came through.
"It cut my drive in half," said Ryan Eppes, who was likely listening to his favorite artist, Lil' Wayne, during the drive. "I enjoyed Countryside but my life is so different now. I'm not in my car for hours a day. And I love Largo High School. We're a family."
Eppes, who cuts grass on the weekends to ensure that he has enough dough for his favorite Subway steak and cheese sub, has no regrets about attending Countryside. In fact, he has used football to carve out a network of friends at Countryside, Seminole and Largo high schools.
"Ryan's got a good way about him," said Joe Soifer, 17, a senior at Seminole High School who has been friends with Eppes since middle school. "He's got a good way of making friends. There are people like Mike Douglas. I would know of him, but I really wouldn't know him if we both weren't friends with Ryan."
Mike Douglas, 16, a junior defensive end at Largo, agrees.
"Eppes is real and he's a great guy," Douglas said. "He's funny. He loves football and that makes it easy. He's dedicated to winning and he feels like a silent captain for the team. We are definitely friends for life."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or firstname.lastname@example.org