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Once Overlooked, Koroma Finds a Home

By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 25, 2005; 1:33 AM

For Salim Koroma, it always has been a matter of inches -- inches the Northwest High senior did not have. When you are 5 feet 6 and 145 pounds, every little bit counts on the football field.

"Back in the day, I thought I was going to be tall because I was the same height as everybody," Koroma said. That day, though, was in fifth grade. "In middle school, I didn't grow. I'm shorter than everybody now."

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As much as Northwest football coach Randy Trivers believed in Koroma's play-making ability, Koroma's lack of size always seemed to hold up college recruiters. Trivers could play the videotape as much as he wanted, showing touchdowns, interceptions and other terrific plays -- Koroma caught 37 passes for 495 yards and seven touchdowns, rushed for two touchdowns, returned a punt and kickoff for touchdowns and even threw a touchdown pass.

But the only numbers the colleges were interested in came from the measuring tape.

"That did get annoying," Koroma said, adding he regularly heard, " 'You're not the typical [wide receiver]. You don't have that prototype body, that 6-2 or whatever.' "

"I know I can ball with anybody. Just play football. Football is football."

Maryland wanted Koroma, an All-Met kick returner last season, to come to College Park as a walk-on. If things worked out for the best, perhaps Koroma could earn a scholarship. For the longest time, Trivers did his best sales job, trying to attract more interest in Koroma and find his player a scholarship.

The February signing period came and many top players finally signed their scholarship papers. Northwest quarterback Ike Whitaker signed with Virginia Tech, wide receiver Darren Brownlee with West Virginia and running back Tony Nelson -- after having an offer revoked by Clemson -- signed with Massachusetts.

Trivers kept selling and opposing coaches at the high school level were believers. But colleges weren't buying.

"I know from watching all the film that we did and seeing them play in person, they had some great skill players," said Lackey Coach Scott Chadwick, whose team lost to Northwest in the Maryland 3A title game. "But I thought he was the best of all of them and that he was the most dangerous one. He's one of those kids, if he has the ball in the open field, you just hold your breath because of his speed and quickness. He's one of those guys you could never get a clean shot on him."

But even as schools searched for late replacements to fill holes in their recruiting classes, no Division I-A or I-AA programs offered Koroma a scholarship.

"There were definitely some I-AA schools interested, but none that put forth a scholarship offer," Trivers said.

Koroma, though, said he was never bothered, even as schools passed on him to take other players.

"If you get a scholarship, that means you're good enough and you deserve it," he said. "I'm not going to put somebody down because I didn't get it.

"It was frustrating, but I knew my time would come. I just dealt with it. Just go on with my training for next year because I knew I would find a place and find a home. I knew my time would come."

And finally, at the beginning of the month, it did, when Villanova finally put something in writing. And after taking an official visit to the school's Main Line campus, Koroma signed a letter-of-intent and faxed it to Villanova this past Wednesday.

"Villanova was a good fit for a number of reasons," Trivers said. "Hopefully he'll go there and do really, really well and the folks that passed on him will be sorry.

"All along, I thought that was the type of level he should be playing in, at the very least."

If Koroma is successful playing for the Wildcats, it might stir memories of another Washington-area high schooler who received little recruiting attention: current Philadelphia Eagles standout Brian Westbrook, who measures a still rather small 5-10 in the NFL. After graduating from DeMatha High in 1997, Westbrook accepted a scholarship to play for Villanova, where he went on to gain an NCAA record 9,885 all-purpose yards, averaging nearly two touchdowns per game.

"I thought about" Westbrook's success at Villanova, Koroma said. "But everybody is their own person. You've got to do what you've got to do."

One other All-Met recently made his college choice. Chadwick said that offensive lineman Jeremy Hairston has signed with Shepherd.

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