The 'Second-Chance Guys'
Friday, December 2, 2005
Sterling Green still has the tape, which is now more than four years old. When Green was a sophomore linebacker at Georgia Tech in 2001, he received the most extensive time of his Division I career in a midseason game against N.C. State. The numbers weren't amazing -- three tackles -- but the performance was strong enough that Green still watches the tape from time to time.
There haven't been many high-profile games since, although tomorrow will bring another. Green is now a linebacker and strong safety for Division II Bowie State (8-3), which will play Tuskegee (10-1) in the Pioneer Bowl tomorrow at 2 p.m.
It's not a major bowl, like the one in which Georgia Tech will likely play later this month. The Pioneer Bowl won't be held in a massive stadium; after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the game was moved from Mobile, Ala. to Charlotte's Memorial Stadium. Still, the game will be shown live on ESPN Classic, and Green said he is happy for the exposure, happy to show people how Bowie State put together Division II's top-ranked defense.
"I couldn't be happier how things turned out for me," he said. "I realized you can't look at the past. You've got to move on to the future and deal with the decisions you've made."
Green's story is typical at Bowie State, and indeed at many Division II programs. He was an all-county linebacker as a senior at Northwestern High in Hyattsville. Colleges were interested, and his coaches adored him.
"If you had 10 more kids like him, you'd probably win the state championship every year," Northwestern assistant coach Victor Roy said.
Green committed early to Georgia Tech, before his senior year even began. During his first season in Atlanta, he practiced as a safety and mostly played on special teams. During his second season, he was moved to linebacker, again played sparingly and started to grow concerned.
Chan Gailey was hired as the Yellow Jackets' head coach shortly after Green's sophomore season. Some assistant coaches told Green he might want to look elsewhere. He felt depressed, and his grades suffered. He redshirted the 2002 season, and then did not have the grades to return to school.
He improved his grade-point average by taking Internet courses through Central Texas College, and by the fall of 2004 he was enrolled at Bowie State.
"We got him on the football field and he could play, no doubt about it," Bowie State Coach Mike Lynn said. "He's legit. I don't know what else to tell people; he can just play the game."
Last year, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Green led the Bulldogs with seven sacks and was third with 60 tackles. This year, he led the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association with 10 sacks and 21 tackles for losses and earned all-league honors.
And his path to Bowie was hardly unique. The Bulldogs' roster includes 11 players with Division I-A or I-AA experience. Several other players came from community colleges.
"A lot of our guys are second-chance guys; we're open about that," Lynn said. "They had opportunities the first time around and fell short one way or another: academically, athletically or even socially. They loved the game enough and loved the opportunity to get an education enough that they wanted to go back to school."
Wide receiver Glenn Thomas is another case in point. Thomas was an All-Met kick returner at Potomac High. He went to Norfolk State and was named the Spartans' rookie of the year. He, too, was an academic casualty after just one season. Before landing at Bowie State he worked as a waiter for two years while living at home with his mother and younger sister.
"That was the longest two years of my life right there," said the 6-foot-3, 185-pound Thomas. "After two years of nothing, I didn't care where it was as long as I was back in school."
Thomas is now Bowie State's career leader in touchdowns (20) and receiving yards (1,472). He caught 14 touchdowns this year, 12 more than any other Bulldog, setting another school record. He led the CIAA with 906 receiving yards, nearly 60 percent of Bowie State's total. And he calls his current school "a blessing."
"There's a lot of people here with a whole lot of talent," he said. "Just to be able to get a second chance to play football, I wouldn't give it up for nothing."
Bulldogs Note: As part of their arrangement with the Pioneer Bowl, Bowie State officials committed to sell 1,500 tickets. The school is appealing to "proxy" ticket buyers who cannot attend the game but will donate their tickets to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte. Adult tickets cost $15.