CATONSVILLE, Md. — On the morning his dreams came true, DeAndre’ Lane awoke at 6. He got dressed, earlier than usual, and rubbed his eyes, right on cue. Wearing a black University of Maryland windbreaker, a red University of Maryland T-shirt and a yellow University of Maryland flat-brimmed hat with the sticker still attached, Lane popped two frozen waffles into the toaster and plopped down at the dining room table, facing six sheets of paper and a single blue pen.
Nineteen players signed their national letters-of-intent to become Maryland football players on Wednesday morning, joining three who already had enrolled for the spring semester. Among those 22, Lane is one of the smallest and least heralded. Two stars, the recruiting Web sites say. Lane’s statistics at Catonsville High School in Baltimore County rivaled most in the region. But he’s 5 feet 8, average by human standards yet small according to stereotypical football measurements. So scouts initially penciled him in for Division II or Division III.
Last June, Lane came to Maryland’s football camp with a bum hamstring. Still, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds. Thirty minutes into the session, the Terps coaches began dropping hints. “Don’t leave afterwards,” they said. “Coach Edsall wants to talk.” When Lane and his mother walked into Gossett Team House, they were greeted by a scholarship offer. Lane committed on the spot.
So here he was Wednesday before his mother, sister and grandmother, each snapping pictures on their respective cameras. Lane grabbed the papers and tapped the sheets together, lining up the edges. Then at 7:01 a.m., he uncapped the pen and inked his name in cursive.
“How many times you going to do this in your life,” his mother asked, wondering if he would savor the moment.
“I don’t know,” Lane deadpanned. “Five?”
Outside their one-story Catonsville, Md., apartment, scrawled onto the brick wall in white sidewalk chalk is the message, “SPEEDBOY YEAH BUDDY 3.” Lane’s longtime nickname and number, as well as his Twitter handle. When Maryland Coach Randy Edsall came for his official visit, he located the door by the insignia.
But why “Speedboy” exactly?
“He has speed, and he’s a boy,” his 10-year-old sister Angelina declared, because the explanation is just that simple.
Sharon Cains welcomed her only son into the world on March 4, 1995, in a Baltimore hospital room high above the street. She was 17 years old when she became pregnant and 18 years old when she had DeAndre’, who weighed just less than seven pounds after a C-section. Abortion was always off the table. Neither could she bear to give him up for adoption. As she says today, “It would have haunted me.”
Cains was a good student who earned acceptance letters to Penn State and Miami, but partied and sensed herself veering down the wrong path. Becoming a mother changed her life. It forced her to grow up. She raised her son as a single mother with no child support and moved frequently. Good thing DeAndre’ was quiet and behaved, a goofy kid you could sit in front of the television for “Scooby Doo” reruns without worry.
She always said DeAndre’ had strong legs, too. By December, he could walk past the Christmas tree. And at 7 years old, he arrived home from school clutching a youth league flyer. He’s played football ever since.
The Catonsville varsity team called up Lane for its regular season finale during his sophomore season, and he touched the ball three times in his debut. First, Lane returned a punt 12 yards, tripped up only by a muddy field. Then he rushed for a 39-yard touchdown. Finally, when the coaches inserted him to burn time on a kickoff, he returned it 86 yards to the end zone.
Even so, Lane never realized his speed until the following fall, when he snagged an interception during the opener against Boys’ Latin and outran the entire defense. Lane wound up breaking the program’s all-time scoring record, rushing for 2,774 yards and 32 touchdowns over his junior and senior years. At Maryland, he will become a slot receiver, just like the player he wrote about in a high school report: West Virginia’s Tavon Austin.
Along the way, Lane won plenty of trophies and medals for both football and track, awards now resting in a cabinet that reaches the living room ceiling. Beside that “Hall of Fame,” as Cains calls it, hangs a plaque from the Crab Bowl and Edsall’s official offer letter, dated Aug. 1, 2012. Soon, Cains will frame his letter of intent nearby. For now, they had one final obligation left.
Before dropping Lane off for school, Cains stopped at the FedEx store, a Hail Mary away from home in a local strip mall. She scanned the directions at the self-service fax station, tucked her son’s paperwork into the machine punched in the number for the Maryland football office. At 7:18 a.m., she hit send, tapping pictures on her phone as the sheets fed through. Of all the Terps recruits who faxed in their letters of intent, DeAndre’ “Speedboy” Lane finished first.
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