Mark Lee always wanted a turf field when he was the football coach at Weeki Wachee High School. So when he came to Hernando as an assistant athletic director before the start of this school year, he made it one of his goals at his new schools.
First, he helped start the Jerome Brown Project, named after the most famous athletic alum to ever come from the school. Brown went on to play football at the University of Miami and with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.
Brown, along with his 12-year-old nephew, were killed in a 1992 car accident in Brooksville. He was 27.
The project took its first step toward the goal of raising $1.4 million on Monday, garnering a $10,000 donation from local chiropractor Chris LaRocca.
“I’ve known Mark for several years and he reached out to me about this project,” said LaRocca, who played football at Springstead in the mid 1990s and has offices in Spring Hill and Brooksville. “I just think it is the right thing to do. I love the Brooksville area and being involved with the local athletics. Hopefully this will get things started and there is a trickle-down effect.”
Lee has been in touch with some of Brown’s former teammates as well. And he has started other fundraisers, including a golf tournament July 20 at Brooksville Country Club.
If everything goes right, Lee said the field could be ready in just over a year.
“The best-case scenario would be the 2020 season,” Lee said. “The worst-case scenario would be five or six years. Hopefully that doesn’t happen. I would think that with all the people that want this to happen it would be sooner.”
And it won’t look like just any old field. It will be purple and yellow with “Hernando” in one end zone and ”Leopards” in the other. The field also will be renamed “Jerome Brown Field,” which will be emblazoned on the sideline.
A statue of Brown will be erected outside the stadium. The weight room, which is already named after Brown, will be refurbished.
“Everything I’ve heard about Jerome, he wanted things done right,” Lee said. “He was into the style. We want to make it unique, to where there’s nobody around here who can relate.”
Brown was an unforgettable player in his time at Hernando. He was a Parade All-American and considered one of the best defensive linemen in the country as a senior. He excelled at Miami and was a first-round pick in the 1987 NFL draft.
In his final two years in Philadelphia, he made the Pro Bowl. His No. 99 jersey was retired by the Eagles.
In Brooksville, there is a Jerome Brown Community Center, which opened in May of 2000. There has always been talk of naming the high school field after Brown. Now it looks as if that may become a reality.
Hernando would be the first high school on the North Suncoast to have a turf field, joining Jesuit, Clearwater Central Catholic, Plant, Calvary Christian and Carrollwood Day in Tampa Bay. St. Petersburg is in the process of installing one.
Lee believes the turf field makes sense for many reasons.
“When I was at Weeki Wachee, I wanted a turf field then,” Lee said. “To me it doesn’t make any sense why you would build a new school and not put in a turf field. Don’t tell me it’s cost because it’s cheaper in the long run.
“There was a time earlier this year where there was band practice after school, then the football team had a walk-through, then the middle school went on after us. And there are other times where there are four different things going on when you add in soccer.
“It gets a lot of use.”
Jerome Brown Project Golf Tournament
When/where: Saturday, July 20, Brooksville Country Club
Cost: $300 per foursome
Contact: Mark Lee (352) 797-7015 or [email protected]