DeMarcus Oliver was in the fifth grade when he and his mother moved to Port Tampa, in the south part of town, to live with an aunt. Times were tough on the family, and there was little money to go around.
"I didn't have nothing," he said.
But he did have a friend.
Not long after arriving here, Oliver met Kwane Doster, who lived within walking distance.They meshed and soon formed a tight bond. Doster didn't want Oliver to go without, so he literally offered him the shirt off of his back.
"He just said, "If you need anything, take it,' " Oliver said. "He helped me out he's looked out for me since I moved here."
Friday afternoon at the First Baptist Church of Port Tampa, Oliver was one of hundreds on hand for Doster's funeral. Doster, a Vanderbilt football player, former Robinson star and Port Tampa native, died last weekend after being shot in Ybor City.
As family, friends and teammates mourned inside, Oliver stood outside underneath the overcast sky, his head filled with emotions, his eyes filled with water. Like so many at the services he didn't know exactly how to say goodbye, largely because Doster's death came as such a shock.
"I was at home when I got the call from a friend," Oliver said. "I was like, "Nah, Nah.' and I blew it off. But then somebody else called and I just thought, "This can't be true.' It really didn't hit me until (Thursday) when I saw the body."
Doster apparently touched many.
The Vanderbilt football team chartered a plane to make the trip. Men who coached Doster and against him attended. The young came. The old came. People from different zip codes and ethnicities. Some held back tears. Others tried, but without any luck.
Bob Weiner, the coach at rival Plant, arrived with a somber look on his face. "He was a great player," he said, "and a good kid."
Robbie Burney, a family friend, was "speechless" and "numb" over the death. He has known the Dosters for about 15 years. "We had really high hopes for this guy," he said before adding, "This has brought our whole community together."
Middleton coach Harry Hubbard, who onced coached Doster in a high school all-star game, called him a "self-motivator" and "an outstanding young man."
Ozzie Walker of West Tampa knew neither Doster nor the family, but after watching the original newscasts about Doster's death he began to cry. "I had no idea I'd be out here today," he said.
Doster's story is one of determination. He was the kid from Port Tampa who went off to Vanderbilt, one of the country's great schools. He was the undersized running back who became a big-time playmaker in the Southeastern Conference, which might be the best of all college leagues. It almost seemed like something made for Hollywood.
Few knew Doster as well as Oliver. He says his friend not only was generous but funny. He liked to make people laugh. He stayed out of trouble. He enjoyed proving his doubters wrong.
Doster's Port Tampa pals had nicknames for him. They called him things like Dot, K-D and Deucester. And, of course, they kidded him now and again.
"We always talked about his head," Oliver said. "Not the size, but the shape."
For a moment, a smile appeared on Oliver's face.
A bullet may have taken a life, but it can't touch the memories.
_ Keith Niebuhr can be reached online at niebuhrsptimes.com or by phone at (813) 226-3350.