TAMPA — A decade after his graduation from Lakewood High, Jevaris Little has carved a unique niche in the beverage industry, teaming with fellow Spartans alumnus Jarred Carter to form his own brand of rum punch.
“We partner up,” said Little, whose 40-proof product (The Red Lady) began hitting stores in 2018. “He started it, I helped him kind of escalate it to where it is now in the state of Florida, Georgia, Illinois.”
Yet years before he turned 21, Little’s existence was littered with intoxicants of another sort. They arrived at his south St. Petersburg doorstep in the form of college recruiting pitches. A Lakewood defensive back who earned Tampa Bay Times first-team All-Pinellas County honors as a senior, his smorgasbord of suitors included Indiana, San Diego State, Toledo, Kansas and Illinois.
But something about Alex Golesh’s overtures resonated a bit deeper than the other recruiting spiels. Perhaps it was the 27-year-old’s boundless energy, or seemingly sincere warmth. Most likely, it was the backstory to which Little could relate.
The son of Russian immigrants, Golesh arrived in Brooklyn, New York, with his family as a preadolescent, his parents possessing little more than an indefatigable work ethic. Little’s single mother raised two sons while logging grueling shifts as a UPS driver.
“And just having that conversation with him, back when I was 18, it was very close to what I was dealing with,” Little recalled. “He always talked about, ‘If you’re going to get it, you’re going to work for it.’ He kind of told me what the college process was going to be about. No sugarcoating it.”
Little opted for that sugar-free future. Though Golesh was Toledo’s recruiting coordinator when he first began courting Little, he had moved to Illinois by the end of the process. Little signed with the Illini.
“He was probably one of the reasons why I went to Illinois, because he was kind of like that family guy,” said Little, who spent four seasons in the Illini program and graduated with a sociology degree. “He was just like a good mentor, somebody that I felt like would be beneficial for me going throughout my college process and things like that.”
For those who heard Golesh’s vow Monday to outwork everyone on the collegiate landscape in his quest to resuscitate USF football, or who listened to Bulls athletic director Michael Kelly hail Golesh’s inner drive — don’t just take their word for it.
Listen to the locals who actually were recruited and mentored by the sixth coach in USF football history.
“I think his energy was something that was different,” said former Tampa Catholic standout Tre Watson, who was recruited to Illinois by Golesh and spent his first four college seasons in Champaign.
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“And when you hear about guys who are great recruiters all over the country, that’s a large part of it. You have to be able to relate to guys in different ways. For some recruiters, they were former players at a high level, they know the game. For some it’s, ‘Hey, I’m from this area. I know all about it. I know what you’ve been through, what you see every day,’ and that’s what they bring to the table.
“But I think a large part of it for Golesh is his energy, and he makes that work.”
It clearly worked for Golesh in the bay area, where he had no prior history as a player or coach before recruiting it. During his stints as a recruiting coordinator at Toledo (2009-2011), Illinois (2012-2014) and Iowa State (2016-2019), he also helped land future NFL receivers Bernard Reedy (Lakewood, Toledo) and Geronimo Allison (Spoto, Illinois).
Armwood receiver Ezeriah Anderson (Iowa State, Campbell University) was recruited by Golesh. So was St. Petersburg defensive back Anthony Johnson (Iowa State).
“He’s the real deal,” said retiring Hollins High coach Dale Caparaso, Allison’s coach at Spoto. “I felt that way from the day I met him. When he was gone and the rest of the coaches were gone, me, Geronimo, Anne (Caparaso’s wife) and Lisa — Geronimo’s mom — we all sat down and I told Lisa, ‘That’s the kind of guy in whose hands you want to put your son.’”
What sold Caparaso was how Golesh seemed to take a vested interest in Allison’s academic progress. Academically ineligible at Spoto as a sophomore and junior, he improved his grades through Anne Caparaso’s intense summer tutoring program, starred as a Spartans senior, and earned an opportunity at Iowa Western Community College.
From there, Golesh recruited him to Illinois, where Allison graduated.
“When he was at the junior college, Geronimo had one more math class that he had to take, and it was a really difficult math class that my wife and him communicated on, because Anne always did the academic stuff with our kids,” Caparaso recalled. “(Golesh) just continually kept on communication with Geronimo, with myself and especially with Anne.
“I just think the No. 1 thing that rubbed off on the family, rubbed off on Anne and I, was his genuineness.”
Such testimonials matriculated to Kelly, whose vetting process of Golesh included talks with some of the coach’s former players. The recruiting trait cited most regularly in those discussions: “work ethic,” Kelly said.
“As I said and joked in the press conference, I’ve been with him for the last three days, and he’s been on the phone for all but two of them, I think, for the two hours he’s slept,” he added. “Just an intense worker and ... just relationship skills of being real, authentic, getting at the core of what the young men are looking for and then delivering on that.”
For a guy who has helped oversee one of college football’s most sleek, souped-up offenses the last two years at Tennessee, the recruiting approach oozes cloud-of-dust straightforwardness. Nothing frilly or fancy; just sincere, relatable and rooted in hard work.
“I think you’ve got to be honest with young people,” Golesh said.
“They see through whatever, they see through the BS in a lot of ways. But I think you just keep working, keep finding reasons, keep finding ways that a young man and his family can fall in love with your place. We’ve got an incredible place here to sell: palm trees, water, an incredible place. I think we’ll be able to outwork some people and get the right pieces here.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls
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