Baltimore prospects explore options

BALTIMORE -- The sign says "Throw contraband away before entering."

In other words, there's no question the contraband exists just outside of the thick, windowless metal doors of the school. Just please get rid of it before coming into the building.

Inside Friendship Collegiate High School, three security guards are at their posts even though it's summer and the school is nowhere near capacity.

Albert Reid and Eddie Goldman have seen those doors for three years and will continue to see them until May. They've seen enough.

Most youths in Baltimore have seen enough, maybe too much. From 1997-2006, the formative years for Reid and Goldman, the city's dropout rate held steady at around a whopping 10 percent. In 2006, about 3,000 students had dropped out. That year -- 2006 -- also saw more than 10,000 youth arrests, according to the Baltimore Sun. The newspaper also reported that the city had double-digit numbers of juvenile homicides and nonfatal shootings that year.

In 2007 Baltimore got a new CEO of city schools, a new police commissioner and a new head of juvenile services. Their unprecedented cooperation has helped trim the dropout rate to 4 percent, according to the Sun. The paper reports that since 2006, the number of children killed in the city has plunged by 80 percent, and the number of juveniles suspected in killings has dropped by about the same percentage.

Despite the recent changes, Reid and Goldman have explored options that will take them far away from the rough streets on which they grew up.

Reid, who could play tailback or safety in college, recently committed to West Virginia. Goldman seems intent on heading far away. Most believe he'll end up in the SEC. Goldman isn't sure.

Goldman is the top defensive tackle in the nation and the second-highest rated player in the class of 2012. He said he's down to 15 schools, but has trouble remembering all of them. He has visited Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina State and Virginia.

With so many suitors, the 6-foot-4, 310-pounder will be one of those elite prospects that can wait until signing day or later to announce his college decision. Most think he's understandably enjoying the process.

Why shouldn't he? He finally has a chance to leave this rough neighborhood behind and perhaps prepare himself for future football fortunes.

"That's a big motivation," Goldman said. "I just want something better, to get to do what I love and get myself and my mother in a better situation. I just want the opportunity. I have to make responsible decisions, work hard and I'll get there."

That should be easier elsewhere. Friendship head coach Aazar Rahim has done everything he can to provide the area's youth with an option, football, to keep them out of trouble. Still, he's fighting an uphill battle.

"My goal was to build more than just an athletic program, to build an outlet for kids," Rahim said. "The delinquency rate between 3 and 8 p.m. in D.C. is just off the charts. The majority of crime, the majority of negativity from youth happens during that period so at the end of the day you have to give these kids an outlet, something constructive to do."

That has worked for Goldman and Reid, who recently committed to the Mountaineers.

Getting away from the tough streets of the DMV (D.C., Maryland and Virginia) was one of the reasons Reid selected Morgantown.

"It was kind of quiet, not too much going on," Reid said. "That's what I like. I don't want to go to parties and all that."

Sure, there was the opportunity for early playing time at West Virginia and a strong engineering and business management school that appealed to Reid, but getting away from the DMV and cities like it were always going to be a factor in his decision.

"If you go to a big city you can be doing stuff that's not education-wise or football-wise," Reid said. "You may get in more trouble than going to a quiet place."

So how easy is it to get to trouble in the DMV?

"Very easy," Reid said. "If you're not doing football, like I'm doing, a lot of kids get in trouble because they have nothing to do. Kids get bored and do stuff just because. The football program here, we have fun and it keeps me involved in something."

Just a few miles down the road from Friendship Collegiate is an oasis for kids wanting to improve themselves. DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md., is a gated, private school offering those who can afford it a top-notch education and a competitive athletic program.

"If I wasn't at DeMatha I don't know what I'd be doing, [probably] in public school getting caught up in things I'm not supposed to be doing," linebacker prospect Sam Lebbie said. "I'm so glad my mother could put me in this environment so I could succeed, go to college and make something of myself. I know a lot of my friends are taking the wrong path."

DeMatha's schedule helps. Students often go to summer school and are expected to work out with their team throughout summer "break."

"This is a year-round thing," Lebbie said. "I don't have a lot of time to be chillin' and going out all the time like they might have to do. Sometimes they get in trouble."

Lebbie said he is close to committing to West Virginia because it stood by him as he has tried to overcome some earlier academic shortcomings. Yet, he's not the only one from the DMV that might be Mountaineer bound.

Athlete Deontay Davis from Baltimore Dunbar and Da'Quan Davis from Baltimore Calvert Hall have already committed. Lebbie said he's heard athlete Josh McPherson and receiver Trevor Williams, who are also from Calvert Hall, are very interested in West Virginia.

"They recruit heavy here," Lebbie said. "I just think it's the fact that we might not have the best grades but we can play. Why not give us a chance in college? They do a good job of sticking with us."

Back at Friendship, there's a train station across the street, a constant reminder that escape is possible. However, it's football that can provide the ticket.