Posted: 2:49 pm Wednesday, January 26th, 2011
By Jeff Greer
The following is a profile of Glades Central’s new football coach Roosevelt Blackmon, whose amazing story saw him rise from an assistant equipment manager at small Morris Brown College to an NFL player. It was written by Palm Beach Post columnist Ethan J. Skolnick, who at the time was a staff writer for the Post, on April 15, 1998.
By Ethan J. Skolnick
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
There’s supposedly this great story about Roosevelt Blackmon. Seems he wasn’t recruited out of Glades Central High School. Seems he walked on at Morris Brown College, starting as the assistant equipment manager, making ends meet by bagging groceries, and digging cemetery plots, and doing anything Johnny Davis asked on the used car lot.
Seems the cornerback was so impressive at the post-season Senior Bowl that he is now projected as a secondor third-round pick in Saturday’s NFL Draft.
And yet, no one out here seems to know who Roosevelt Blackmon is.
“Oh, you mean Tadpole.”
Tadpole. That’s what Betty Guy, Glades Central teacher, calls Blackmon. That’s what everybody calls Blackmon, who was so wild when he entered the school in 9th grade that he was put in a special program. “So hyper, a Tadpole that always wants to move, that never sits still, always running his hands in the air, reaching for a higher height,” Guy remembers.
Yet that’s not why Blackmon was called Tadpole. (Tadpoles don’t have arms, of course.) No. He was Tadpole because his father was Frog, a moniker Roosevelt Blackmon Sr. earned by chasing amphibians around the neighborhood as a child. “No doubt he is the son of Frog,” says Lavoise Smith, a Glades Central counselor, of their striking similarities.
No doubt the Tadpole name fits. Blackmon, you see, is a work in progress. Still developing.
When his classmates – friends like Fred Taylor and Reidel Anthony – were getting letters from colleges, Tadpole (wearing No. 13) would get them too. Sure he would. “Mine were applications for admission, but I didn’t tell anyone that,” he says.
He was set to attend Bethune Cookman, then former Dolphins great Larry Little was fired as football coach. He went as a student for a semester, then came home to train, running the hills.
Train, and save. He went to work at AD Used Cars for Davis, who had become one of his mentors after their relationship got off to a not-so-great start four years earlier. Blackmon had been a student in Davis’ personal fitness class … and lost the book. “He came to class playing around,” Davis recalls, “so I flunked him. He thought I was kidding. I told him he had to earn it.”
Of course he thought Davis was kidding; Tadpole himself was always kidding about something. “When Tadpole graduated, I thought to myself, we don’t have any comedians left,” Smith says.
This comedian would become Davis’ employee. “I asked him if we were working on Martin Luther King’s birthday,” Blackmon says. “And he said `we are working on your birthday, and my birthday, and his birthday.”‘
“Everybody here liked him,” Davis says, though “he didn’t sell a damned thing.” But he did wash and clean, and help out as a mechanic. “I’m not B.F. Goodwrench,” Blackmon admits, meaning Mister.
“We have a lot of athletes who played ball on the muck with ability, but fell by the wayside,” Davis said. “Tadpole could have been one of those cases, but he has more determination than that.”
He had a cousin at Morris Brown. “I thought I could get in on who you know,” Blackmon says. Now he knew better. “I can’t go back to Belle Glade,” he thought. So he took a job at Winn Dixie, bagging from 11 to 7 and sometimes later, and he begged to be the assistant equipment manager. Water, towels, balls. Nothing new. Blackmon had held a similar position in high school. “Did an excellent job,” Smith avows.
He enrolled in January 1994, and in spring practice the former receiver was grouped with the defensive backs. “I can pick things up quick and easy,” he says. By summer, he was a starter.
And he was picking up something else. A shovel. He dug graves with the sons of another mentor, Rev. Leon Camel. “Sometimes you do what you don’t want to do to get what you want,” Blackmon said.
What he wanted was a scholarship. He got one, also starring on the track squad. Then he overcame a scare – hairline fracture of a vertebra early in his senior year – to overwhelm observers at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. The toughest competition he encountered came from his roommate, Taylor, during their evening pillow fights. On the field, “when they lined up against me, their shirt said Senior Bowl just like mine,” Blackmon says.
When he returned to Glades Central on Tuesday, everyone asked about what he was doing on draft day. He’s having a party. Everyone is invited. Tadpole doesn’t exclude anyone. “A favorite of everyone,” Smith says. He is back in the weight room often, pushing kids as Davis pushed him.
Now everyone wants a situation just like his … or perhaps, just an Expedition like his. He and Taylor switched trucks the other day, just for kicks. He also liked his ride in a limousine to Detroit Lions camp last month – the first time he had ever been in one for a reason worth celebrating.
But Blackmon is most excited about his gold 1986 Chevy Spectra that Davis has fixed up for him, so long as he paid for some of it. The old car serves as a keepsake.
“Stuff like that lets me know where I came from,” said Blackmon, whose other reminders include a scar from cutting his palm on a Winn-Dixie box. “I’m one decision away from being right back there.”
Now, he is “dancing inside.”
“He always said good things would happen for him,” Guy says. “I told him to show me. Oh, what a great Tadpole. He showed me.”
The Green Bay Packers selected Blackmon in the fourth round (121st overall) of the 1998 NFL Draft. He played three games for the Packers that year before the Cincinnati Bengals picked him up off waivers. Blackmon played 17 games for the Bengals over two seasons, tallying an interception and 13 tackles. He was officially announced as Glades Central’s coach on Wednesday.