THE BERLIN WALL
When the movie The Blindside came out a lot of people started calling me “Fo that’s your story” NO! That DEFINITELY IS NOT MY STORY! I thoroughly enjoyed the movie though and think that it’s AWESOME what that brother accomplished with the obstacles he faced as a young man but that is NOT MY STORY! This is.......
Becoming “The Berlin Wall”.... to understand how Fo became “The Berlin Wall” you must first understand my journey just to get on the football field because it almost NEVER happened. Unlike most BigFo didn’t get the opportunity to play little league football. In Lakeland I always wanted to be a lumberjack and dreamt of following the family tradition of being a Dreadnaught. That dream was short lived though when my mom and I relocated to the Gainesville FL (The Oak To Be Specific) Greentree Village. There was a lake in our community with a 50yd field (perfect for football). Around that lake with the homies Bill D, T Strap, Bernie, Shake, T-Hop, D Jones, J Bigham, Big Horse, Art Brown, R. Jamison, Dirty Rip, Rod Coar, G Kimbro ✊🏿that’s where my football journey truly began. Florida neighborhood football games are a passage to manhood you either become a guy or you get bent up and labeled a scrub that never gets picked to play so you end up drawing hop scotch lines with a white rock and playing jacks with the girls (AHAHAHAHAHAHA).
Throw up tackle was our game (a pine comb, tennis ball, nerf football, golf ball whatever we could find) whoever caught it out the air you better get low and dip or you would get those HANDLEBARS across your face. Reminiscing with the homie Bill D we still laugh because I was known to whistle when I was running the ball usually carrying two or three dudes down the field before I got tired and went down. So like every other kid in my neighborhood I looked forward to the opportunity to play organized football and compete against kids from the other communities in the city.
The first time I was going to get that opportunity the chance to play organized football was for Hughes Supply (I still remember those green jerseys with the white numbers) and it wasn’t as a lineman. I was actually a QB (2nd team behind the homie E. Duncan ✊🏿). I was the BIGGEST dude on the team but I could spin that thing. Who knows I may have been the first 300lb QB (AHAHAHAHAHAHA). WELP that whole experience was short lived.
When we went to weigh in to get our pads EVERYTHING went LEFT. The weight limit back then was 120lbs I weighed in at a robust 142. TOO BIG for the little league and 2 pounds too heavy for the junior league. It was crazy to all my coaches at the time because I didn’t look like I weighed that much. So I jogged and I jogged and I jogged everyday around the practice field at the T.B. McPherson Center in a garbage bag for about a week in an effort to make the weight but eventually I came to the conclusion it just wasn’t going to happen so I let it go. My Little league football Saturday’s were spent in the stands with all the parents watching my homeboys and neighborhood friends become peewee legends. I smiled and clapped as if I were really happy for them but on the inside I WASN’T. I was jealous envious and everything else a HATER is! I wanted to play bad and even looked into playing with the older kids (I was only 2 pounds over) but the rules back then prohibited that from happening. As the ANIMOSITY ran through me (AHAHAHAHA) I had to do something to harness what was to become. Full of unused energy I had to channel it somewhere. With that weight and now the height starting to show itself (grew 5 inches over the summer between 6th and 7th grade) I was slowly becoming something people outside of Shaq’s presence hadn’t seen before.
Becoming A Dancing Bear: probably the first real training that I did that began my sports journey was practicing the martial arts. Unbeknownst to many BigFo was a karate guy 😬 in the early 80’s. I learned a long time ago the adroit skillset of the judo chop. I practiced the art with that guy C.O. Brown (the homie will spit that Sundress take your girl and drop you with a kick to the THROATBOX at the same damn time) stay woke (sorry fam but for the purposes of this story had to tell them your secret 🤫 just in case people don’t believe me and need proof). Me and the HomeTeam use to put that work in as shorties in those karate tournaments at the O’Connell Center in the 80’s (was putting hands on folks on UF campus years earlier than when my team and I gave them body in Ben Hill in 93). I then started playing youth soccer. I know that’s pretty hard to imagine the BigFella as a soccer guy but I was and I was pretty damn good (had a three goal game once 😬). Maybe I was intimidating on the field because the goalies always seemed to suck when I had a free kick 🤷🏿♂️. All of this was occurring during the time of the aforementioned growth spurt. Little did I know the change of direction skill set the quick twitch skillset and the ability to explode off the ball was slowly being developed from soccer and karate that would make me (one of the coldest BIGS to ever do it on the outside on that island 👀)
I had ALWAYS loved the game of basketball partly because they didn’t have a weight limit (AHAHAHAHAHA) but also because I was pretty good. For a big guy Fo had a WATER jump shot. I couldn’t dunk though (back then the homie K. Dennison was the only dude dunking in middle school). I really thought basketball was going to be my sport though. I spent EVERY morning at Lincoln Middle school before the bell rung on those courts where either you did your thing or you got the business. So when I got picked for the National AAU team as the starting center traveling around competing in basketball tournaments I was all but certain that basketball was going to be it for me.
(“The Great” Bobby Griffin 👊🏿 Had To Okay The Big Guy To Be Able Play And Show Proof Of My Amateurism As There Were Questions Surrounding The Legitimacy Of My Age And If I Were Truly In Middle School)
I hadn’t ever gotten the chance to play football so it had started to become out of sight out of mind. Football became an afterthought. I was going to be a basketball star a Hoya and play for John Thompson at Georgetown University. Looking back playing basketball and soccer are definitely part of the catalyst that allowed me to eventually become “The Big Man With Dancers Grace” that I became! 👀
Part II: Eastside High School Welcome To Football ………………..