Friendship Collegiate Academy doesn’t have a home football field, so every game is a road game. Its practice field, affectionately known to the team as “the beach,” is two adjoining former baseball fields behind the public charter school on Minnesota Avenue in Northeast Washington and is more dirt, dust and broken glass than grass. The team’s locker room is two cream-colored trailers that sit on one end of the practice field and lack two essential elements: lockers and room.
On Sunday morning, however, the Knights will be in Cincinnati for their season opener thanks to an all-expenses paid trip to play one of the city’s top high school football teams, Taft, on national television. How did this happen to a school that only started playing football eight years ago?
At 17 years old, Goldman is one of the nation’s prize recruits, a mammoth 6-foot-4, 307-pound defensive lineman with quick feet and powerful hands — attributes that make him a prime target of millionaire college football coaches and rabid fan bases.
He has become his school’s greatest form of advertising. He is his teammates’ hope for a chance at playing college football. He is the reason they will be on television and why some have ever heard of Friendship Collegiate. Quite simply, the often shy and quiet Goldman has the weight of his 1,200-student school on his broad shoulders.
“I tell him, ‘The spoils come with the riches,’ ” Friendship Coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim said. “He’s got a lot on his shoulders. For him to be the way he is is a testament to his folks and what kind of person he is. Regardless of what we’ve done in the past, if he goes out and flops then it’s like our program flops. . . . That’s a lot of pressure for someone that’s only 17. I think he’s handled it well.”
Throughout his recruiting process, Goldman has targeted Feb. 1, the first day players are allowed to officially sign with a school, as the day to announce his commitment — enough time to sort out a difficult decision. In doing so, Goldman has prolonged the exposure his school will receive. His every visit to a college campus is documented in recruiting publications and discussed among eager fan bases.
Bringing attention to his high school was once a childhood dream of Goldman’s. When he was a big, raw eighth-grader at Blow Pierce Junior Academy, a preparatory school in the Friendship public charter school group, he considered attending Dunbar because of its football tradition. It was also his father’s alma mater.
“But I was like, ‘Nah, I want to go to Friendship because I want to bring some attention to that school,’ ” Goldman said. “I didn’t really think that I was actually going to do it.”
As he grew and developed, Goldman turned into a budding star. The summer of his sophomore season he received a scholarship offer from Maryland, his first. The offers began pouring in, more than 50 in all now — though he recently pared his list to seven (it still includes the Terrapins, as well as Auburn and Alabama, the past two NCAA champions).
After a stellar junior season, ESPN called early this year inquiring about FCA’s 2011 schedule. Television executives love star power and people wanted to see Goldman, so they invited Friendship Collegiate to the ESPN High School Football Kickoff, an invitational featuring 26 top-ranked or talent-rich high school teams from 13 states. (FCA’s buses, hotel and food will be covered by ESPN, Abdul-Rahim said.)
Any other year, FCA wouldn’t receive this much national attention. The school’s inaugural team went winless in 2003 under Abdul-Rahim. Since then, Abdul-Rahim has succeeded in building the team’s talent with recruiting, then developing the players, helping them earn college scholarships and garnering attention. But Goldman stands to bring more attention to the school in the few hours the Knights are on ESPNU on Sunday than anything Abdul-Rahim has done in his eight years.
“Without a doubt,” the coach said. “It comes with the territory. It’s progress. This is good that the program is growing. I want to get to a level were we got a field locker room, where we’re not practicing on dirt.”
Goldman said he tries to mention his teammates’ names to college coaches. And already this year, Abdul-Rahim brought the team’s 20 seniors with Goldman on some unofficial visits, such as Clemson, North Carolina and North Carolina State. At Clemson, Goldman and his teammates were allowed to grab jerseys from the locker room and perform the school’s traditional run down the Hill, as players do, in an empty Memorial Stadium. They were all experiences that senior Antonio Huff admits he would never have been through had it not been for Goldman. “I, for sure, wouldn’t have,” Huff said, laughing.
Huff and another teammate, senior Douglas Moore, are the type of players who will benefit from playing before a televised audience. Moore received his first scholarship offer from Virginia Military Institute three weeks ago and has received interest from schools such as Delaware, Villanova and William & Mary. But the schools have all asked to see the 5-9, 175-pound defensive back play.
“It’s going to put the school on the map,” Moore said. “Basically, it’s going to bring us more success from a lot of different colleges that want to come over and help the up-and-coming seniors next year.”
At 8 a.m. on Saturday, Friendship Collegiate’s 52 varsity players and coaches will board buses for a nine-hour ride to Cincinnati. The school will host a viewing party on Sunday in its auditorium.
Goldman said the long ride would give his teammates a chance to focus on their upcoming opportunity. If he can help one of his teammates garner more attention, Goldman said he has done his job.
“I just hope and pray that one of them, just one of them, has just a beast game,” he said.