Douglas wants to go to college in a big city, and if he could, he would go far from home. Temple, Boston College, Rutgers and Wake Forest have expressed interest, and he’s on the radar of several Ivy League schools.
His parents emphasized the importance of academics from a young age, Rafiq said
“His parents really taught him — almost like, I want to prepare you for the world type of thing,” Peterson said. “They did what they needed to do to get him ready for the next level.”
Crounse recalls one of Rafiq’s first questions during his visit to Rutgers was not about the girls or the food or the dorms but the school’s masters programs.
The brothers’ maternal grandparents initially pushed for the boys to live with them and their older sister in Fort Washington. Peterson had just began her first year as a math teacher at Patuxent when the boys moved in with her and her two children.
It took some time for both parties to get used to the crowded house. The transition was eased with a call in early 2011 from Charlie Russell, general manager at Quality Built Homes and a former soccer coach of Peterson’s son. Russell, an electrician and several of the company’s contractors offered to finish Peterson’s basement with two bedrooms and a bathroom for Raphael and Rafiq — at no cost.
Russell had heard the brothers’ story and knew Peterson as an integral part of the community. He wanted to give the family a hand in adjusting to the shared space. Russell, a Huntingtown fan, has heard about the brothers’ recent football accomplishments.
“It’s great to be part of a project where you can help someone who is helping others, and Peterson embodies that,” Russell said. “Taking those two boys in was a lot for her, given the circumstances. We like to be able to give back and see them be successful.”
Meanwhile on the field, Crounse pulled Douglas up to varsity shortly after his mother died to keep him closer to the coaches and his brother.
Practice became something of a sanctuary.
“Football played a big part of dealing because it occupied my mind a lot,” Douglas said. “That’s really what I think helped the most, having something to occupy your mind so you don’t think about it too much. You can’t just sit and think.”
Douglas’s ability to cope with tragedy has had a profound effect on his coach.
“At times when life started to bury him, he had to dig his way out, and he always did,” Crounse said. “He’s a 17-year-old who really inspires me in life, and I hope I inspire him half as much as he inspires me.
“It’s going to be very emotional the last time he plays football here.”