Dunbar's elite eight
It was warm inside Dunbar High School this morning. Warm both physically, escaping the snow and cold outside, and emotionally, as parents, teammates and the senior class assembled to celebrate the signing of letters of intent by eight of Dunbar's football players to Division I scholarships.
"This is a great day for our school," Dunbar principal Stephen Colbert said.
"What we've accomplished on the field of play is nothing compared to what we've accomplished today," said Dunbar coach Lawrence Smith. "These players are going on to college where they will each receive a free education.
"It hasn't been easy," continued Smith, whose last act last night was to drive to Philadelphia with his wife to buy Temple University baseball caps so linebacker Gary Onuekwuski would have the hat of his new team to wear, just as his seven teammates had from each of their new teams at today's signings. "But it has been achieved because there is a staff here that talks to kids all day long about what they need to do. And a coaching staff that covers a lot more than football ... It takes away from your time and your family, but it is worth it. To see these eight young men here and another 12 young men sitting over there, who will eventually sign and be going to Division II and III schools, makes it all worth it."
"Dunbar High School is going through a renaissance," said Baltimore City Schools CEO Andres Alonzo, pointing out that Dunbar has been named to a list of outstanding high schools in the United States by U.S. News and World Report before turning to the eight students. "You now represent Baltimore City, like you represent your families at school. ... It's important to us that you succeed."
Sitting in the audience, Sandra Eaton, whose late husband Ben had nurtured this group of senior achievers until his death a year-and-a-half ago, said the late coach had always talked about how much this group of students would achieve.
"From the moment this group came in as freshmen all he talked about was how smart they were and how, if they did the right things, this would be the largest group to go on to college in Dunbar history. He wanted them to use their talents and abilities to get a free college education and that's what they've done."
Dunbar athletic director Barbara Allen then read off the name of each player, who he was signing with and the value of each four-year scholarship:
Anthony Watters, Howard, $189,000; Onuekwuski, Temple, $160,760; Davon Muse, Central Michigan, $162,904; Sean Farr, Louisville, $251,696; Antonio Brown, Morgan State, $151,400; Horace Miller, Louisville, $251,696; Courtney Bridget, UNLV, $189,000; Tavon Austin, West Virginia, $165,164.
Nearly every one of the eight had more than one school making an offer. Austin, the team's star running back, who earned three Offensive Player of the Year awards from The Baltimore Sun, had the most, with 16 schools making offers totaling $3.5 million.
"It's been a long four years," said Austin's mother, Cathy Green. "I'm basically excited that it's over and that he feels he has picked a school where he will be able to excel. The coaches there have promised that they'll put their hands on him, in the sense that they'll make sure he keeps going in the right direction in order to meet his goal -- which is education first."
Austin will report to West Virginia June 6 for summer school, where he will get a head start on completing classes in order to make his workload during the season easier. Dunbar coach Smith said he has been told that Austin and Farr, who will also do early course work at Louisville, are expected to be starting for their respective teams in September.
"I'm feeling pretty wonderful," Austin said. "I know I'm going to school for free and that my family is happy and that I'm happy. I'm going to a school where I will be able to do well."
As the assembly came to a close, Colbert sent the students in the audience back to class with these words.
"These young men are setting standards for those who aspire to greatness," he said. "We want to celebrate them and their teammates who will be receiving scholarships at a later time. And we want them to remember that wherever you go to play and study, do it with all you have. That's the key to success.
"Now, the rest of you go back to class and work on your scholarships."