Part II "Becoming The Berlin Wall" Eastside High School Welcome To Football..
Football became relevant to me again as the end of my 8th grade year approached. I remember I couldn't wait. I’m finally going to get the opportunity to play with all my partners from school and all my homeboys from the neighborhood. Back then the high school football coaches would come out to the middle schools and talk to all the kids that would be incoming freshman the following year to encourage them to come out for the football program. So when Coach Adams came out to Lincoln Middle School to talk to us about participating in the football program I was excited to say the least. He brought one of my neighborhood partners (Big Horse) Larry Jones with him. After he spoke to everyone about the freshman football program he released us back to class but as I approached the door to walk out and back to my home room he put the arm bar up and held me back. He said “son I want you to play for me”. I said “oh yeah coach I’m ready I can’t wait”! He said “no I don’t think you understand “I want you to play on the varsity for me”. I’m looking at buddy like man “👀”. At a time when underclassmen would clamor to be noticed by the varsity staff I’m being told by the head coach site unseen of my playing ability I want you to be on the varsity. I swallowed that big lump in my throatbox scared as hell. I had NEVER played the game and now that I’m finally going to get the opportunity to play you are trying to put me on the varsity team. Now around this time my mom started getting random calls from EVERY high school coach in Gainesville. Ma’am we want Forrest to come play for us. They said they would personally transport me to and from school daily just so I could play for them. Problem was I was going to Eastside High School no matter what (RamForLife). Had ZERO interest in GHS! Had ZERO interest in Bucholz! I was going to be a Ram, so much to the chagrin of the other schools coaching staffs those conversations ended abruptly.
Back to Coach Adams you don’t put that kind of pressure on a kid but you also don’t have too many 14yr old kids that are 6-4 278lbs (don’t worry Forrest I’ll have special knee braces for you, I had knee issues in the past because I was growing too fast and my ligaments couldn’t keep up so that was always a concern). What Coach Adams didn’t understand though was that decision really wasn’t mine. You gotta talk to the BOSS (Ms. Conoly) about that. I was BIG but I was still a kid!
If you think I’m different my mom is a whole DIFFERENT beast (FAMU Bachelors degree/Duke University Masters degree). She asked the questions that most coaches weren’t ready/prepared to answer. She eventually agreed to let me play on the varsity as the coach promised he would take care of me, but her concern was moreso not about my potential to be a star player, she was more concerned about the transition to high school and her 14yr old child’s ability to adjust in an appropriate manner academically. If that meant playing varsity football was a commitment that affected my academics then NOPE I would not have been allowed to play on the varsity team.
My first day of practice I was TERRIFIED! I had never put on a helmet. I had never put on shoulder pads and I was out there with some GROWN ASS MEN!! I was brought along slowly. If you think about it before my first day of high school I had participated in 2 weeks of two a day football practices at Eastside. We didn’t have just any team either like I said we had some REAL DUDES on that squad. People often ask me who is the best linebacker I’ve ever played with. I ALWAYS say Marvin. Their response is “you thought Shade Tree was better than Brooks” and I say “NO! Not that Marvin I’m talking about Pope”!
When Walter Camp was in the lab and got to the linebacker position he and God could not have designed a MEANER more physically gifted EARTH STRONG individual to go out EVERY Friday night and hand people their asses on a plate than this guy! Marvin Pope was crafted to play the position of middle linebacker. Him along with Ken Singleton and Terrence Monroe were called the Crunch Bunch. Three old school downhill throwback hit you in yo mouth types! Them boys along with my OG homies from the neighborhood took care of me (D. Jones T. Reid D. Bailey S. Hayes ✊🏿). They didn’t baby me but they took care of me. They challenged me EVERYDAY to get better👊🏿!
The first time (it kind of happened) was probably day 5 of two a days. Up to that point I was engulfing contact I had never given out that pressure. Remember I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. This was my first time in pads playing organized football. Everything was elementary to me. I was not that good at all I was just BIGGER than EVERYBODY else. We were on the back end of practice that day doing one on ones and my number got called. There was a guy on the team named Rudy. Buddy was a senior maybe about 6-3 probably 240-250 he wasn’t a monster or anything like that but Rudy happened to be the opposing player and right as we are getting down in our stance to collide some of the players (boys from the neighborhood) started screaming “boy your momma out here (she had pulled up to watch practice with some of the other parents) you better do something”. It was like something took over the BigFella on the inside and it happened (HANDLEBARS). They came out for the first time! I brought the contact as opposed to engulfing it (EVERYBODY KNOW WHEN MOMMA SHOW UP YOU BETTER SHOW OUT)!
One of the weird/coolest things for me as a freshman on the varsity team was on Wednesday the freshman would wear their jerseys to class because they had a game that day, not me. On Thursday the JV would wear their jerseys because they had a game that day, not me. On Friday the varsity would wear their jerseys, me too. Nobody really knew I was on the varsity team. Once again I’m just trying to blend I’m a freshman so when I didn’t wear a jersey until Friday my classmates were like WTH. I didn’t want the attention because I was not that good. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing yet. I’m just here although it was kind of cool being on the court during the pep rally with the varsity team.
That Time BigFo Got Humbled On The Football Field 👀
One thing about Florida high school football “YOU GONE LEARN”! It’s always somebody out there that’s gonna get you. For me that moment occurred on Citizens Field from the unlikeliest of opponents. My middle parts still remember that play. Between Jacksonville Florida and Lake City Florida there is this little town called Middleburg it’s in the middle of no damn where on I-10! It’s like a team full of Wes Welkers (little dudes with HEART)! Tough little critters AHAHAHAHAHAHA!!
Consequences and repercussions of being too cocky arrogant and overconfident. I don’t remember the exact play, what I do remember is I ran out to block the linebacker and this lil dude came downhill full speed. The BigFella found out that there is a price to pay when you are not the low man on a collision at the second level of a defense. Buddy not only knocked the wind out of me he knocked the football life out of me for a play or two. It happens to everybody. I couldn’t breathe while we were in the huddle for the next play. I couldn’t chump up and go out the game I had to suck it up (Coach Diezel gave me the business when I got to sideline). I guess you could say I had my first football come to jesus meeting. I was able to regroup but it wasn’t a pleasant evening. After that game I got my first football letter and a one on one face to face convo with a college coach (not telling it was against the rules back then) it was an ACC school though 👀 (Not FSU).
Things I remember about that time in my football life at Eastside. DELICIOUS Winn Dixie Fried Chicken green beans and dinner rolls was our pregame meal. We put those HANDLEBARS on Palatka but had to run to the bus and get low on the way out of there because they rocked our bus! When we played Perry Taylor County the WHOLE DAMN TOWN SHUT DOWN for the football game. Pope used to go on those pre-game walks. I was the tallest and biggest player on the team at 14yrs old 6-4 278lbs 👀. My first ever start was at Jacksonville Terry Parker. Started a game at center. Started a game at guard. Started a game at tackle as a true freshman. Toughest 2 losses were to Ocala Forest (eliminated us from playoff contention) and to GHS which would have qualified us for a bowl game in Lakeland (damn). Played a game at Florida Field against Bucholz. We won but Lamar Thomas gave us BODY! We wore the UF football teams practice cleats in that game because we didn’t have turf shoes back then (the only other time I had been in that ratchet facility 👀 was selling cokes at UF games as a kid now I’m playing on this RAGGEDY field) Go Noles And NOBODY Else!!! Our band was 1-800-That-FUNK! We were Orange and Green like FAMU and we were a high school version of the Marching 100 (they would have you dancing in the damn huddle). There was this one song I think it’s called “The Jam” it used to go SO HARD! The homie Winston Thomas aka Big Daddy in the Caddy used to tote that mail. The homie Alton McKinney used to have that “Give My DJ A Break” banging out during track meets! Marvin Pope is the absolute GREATEST football player I’ve ever shared the field with 1-800-Whole Beast. The homie D. Bailey was known for bragging about how fast he was and we used to laugh then we had a county track meet and he got the baton on the last leg of that 4x100 and bent that corner on EVERYBODY!! You couldn’t tell the homie NOTHING after that! Fun Times!!!!
Part III: The Decision To Move Was A Tough One! Nobody Knew I Was Leaving! Forrest Meet Berlin Connecticut. Berlin Connecticut Meet Forrest!