The Berlin Wall Part IV
Selfie King 1988
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention and acknowledged some of sociological issues I had to endure during the process of becoming “The Berlin Wall”. One of the things about being “The Berlin Wall” is there were things that I had to be weary of most of all being my surroundings. There were things I couldn’t react to like would have liked (Thank you Alice Mitchell for those MANY convos in your office at that little round table you saved a lot of people from the Peoples Elbow). There were many times I was the ONLY black person. Almost EVERYBODY loved Forrest though. I’m a swell guy people like me; but that didn’t change the fact that I was DIFFERENT!! I was one of the BIGGEST human beings on planet earth in this small Connecticut town. I was mature enough to do what would have been extremely DIFFICULT for my classmates to ever imagine (I can guarantee you if I asked any of my Berlin High School classmates about a role reversal they would be like “Hell No” I’m cool) AHAHAHAHAHAHA!!
For my Berlin high school classmates reading this imagine going to a school in Florida that you were one of 5 Caucasian students when you get there and when your senior year rolls around you become one of two Caucasian students 👀. And you in this improbable situation are an EXTREMELY LARGE human being. My senior year it was me and the homie Don Wilson ✊🏿.
My first school dance I was in full DISARRAY!! The music BANGED me out! I’m from Florida I’m used to Planet Rock,Clear, Give The DJ A Break, Jam Pony. That was a mere memory as I had to adjust quickly. Not until they went through their 3 song soulful set (Rob Base) “It Takes Two” “I Got The Power” (the Chill Rob G version) I’ll House You (The Jungle Brothers which still is one of my jams) did I enjoy the moment which included people doing my dance (teen wolf moment 👀). You have to remember I was a different brother. No disrespect to the brothers that preceded me but I was from Florida. I wore a gold ring the shape of Africa (always got asked about that from reporters). My old man wore a full length fur coat to my high school football games. During the off-season I might be in NY with my sister and the homie D-Luv aka Stella’s African Cuisine auditioning at the Apollo rocking the mic with my exquisite beatbox skills “Troop Crew For Life 😬” I introduced the black cleats to the program! 98% of my games I was the lone brother representation on my team. It was different challenging at times but it was FUN!
Probably should have made the all state team my sophomore year. We had one of the best running backs in state (Delgrosso) and one of the best QBs in the state (Wenzel) somebody off of our line should have made it but CT was a little DIFFERENT back then 👀
The Legend of BigFoot I mean BigFo.............(AHAHAHAHAHAHA ) we know he’s out there we just don’t know where and we really don’t know how big he is 🤷🏿♂️ 6-5 280 in Florida. 6-7 305 in Connecticut. BigFo sightings everywhere 👀. Where is he? How big is he? Somebody knew by now I was a guy or getting ready to be A GUY 🤷🏿♂️ The magazines had projected what they thought I could become. They just couldn’t find me 👀 but they knew something BIG might be happening.
I think the first time I heard “The Berlin Wall” was during my sophomore season. It was one of the high school writers maybe Bob Mayer I can’t remember 🤷🏿♂️. I ran with it. It was perfect. When opposing coaches were asked to describe playing against me. I was “The Wall” that you couldn’t penetrate. You can run down in the valleys you can run over the hills but you couldn’t run through the Forrest 👀
Summer of 89
First time I stepped on the yard of my future home and the first time FSU put eyes on me was 1989. I was 16 yrs old heading into my junior year and “The Berlin Wall” was already BIGGER than any lineman they had at FSU. I was still learning the game but the potential was beginning to show itself. I was starting to really PUSH PEOPLE AROUND!
There are two types of players. People on the team and GUYS! As I said earlier toward the end of my sophomore year I began to have aspirations of being SPECIAL. I wanted to be a GUY. I WANTED TO BE THE GUY!!
It was going to be an uphill climb. Nobody had ever done what I was attempting to do. We weren’t a football powerhouse. Now baseball the Redcoats would put HANDLEBARS on you (state champions 1989 and 1990) Wrestling the Redcoats would put HANDLEBARS on you state champions 89 and 91 (RIP Jim Day 🐐). Softball the Redcoats would put HANDLEBARS on you (Monica Earley🐐)! Track Me and the homie Jake would put HANDLEBARS on you (we will talk about that later). Football we were a good team ALWAYS CONTENDERS but we weren’t a powerhouse.
Different level of comfort going into my junior year. My cousin transferred in to Berlin High School. We had a really good time 👀. McGee was a 6-4 lefty point/shooting guard. Nothing like FAMILY plus it was good to have another brother at the school. I will admit something to family 30 yrs later 😏😏. He got a piece of school history in 1990 I wanted. We had never had a Berlin High School basketball player dunk in a game. Picture that 👀. We got dunked on all the time though (AHAHAHAHAHAHA)! I wanted to be the first one to do it. By this time I was able to dunk but only off the drop step vert (on a good day). Wasn’t no BigFo/Berlin Wall flying through the air to dunk going on! McGee could dunk off the vert and the break so it was always more likely he was going to get one before me.
My guy MeGee beat me to the punch he was the first in school history to dunk in a game ❤️! Game ball will be at the school forever “PUT MY GUY IN THE HALL”! We did our thing and left our legacy! Still don’t understand why that team wasn’t better. We had height. We had matchup problems for most teams. We had scrappy players. We had utility players. We had shooters. We had talent. Coaching maybe 🤐🤐
All Conference basketball team with family. “The Berlin Wall” had a water jumper. Pat Kennedy approached me about playing on the FSU basketball team but offensive line coach Brad Scott wasn’t having it 😡😡 (SELFISH LIVING)!
My Junior Year I Was At The Height Of My Super Powers: I wanted to BODY everybody we played and I felt like my mental approach to the game and physicality were at a level to DOMINATE. I didn’t care who it was I ran people over. I wanted to hurt people at this point! We called it “The Meat Wagon” load Em up! AHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!
I set BIG goals. I had aspirations to be the best lineman EVER! To accomplish that goal I had to be DOMINANT EVERY PLAY and that started in the weight room. Only problem we didn’t have the typical high school weight room at Berlin High School. We had a weight apparatus 👀 in a small room down by the locker room. “The Berlin Wall” was built on this machine the 1980’s version 👀! That’s okay though. I made due with what we had and made it work. Just ask anybody we played against 🤣🤣
I played ARROGANT. I felt like I knew what I was doing now. I was in my third year of organized play. I felt like I was the best, but I also knew in order to be a recognized nationally as the BEST I had to be SPECIAL. There weren’t an abundance of coaches outside of the Northeast racing all the way up to Berlin, CT to find football talent so I had to give out REASONS! That’s what I did. Every Saturday morning I handed out REASONS for college coaches to make that trek up to the Northeast to see who the Big Guy is EVERYBODY is talking about. I didn’t give a damn about the opponents feelings. I was in my happy place between the hash marks and I absolutely loved the counter plays. Time To Get Dirty!
The Change In Mindset “The Evolution Of Big Nimble”
As physical as I played the game it was the cerebral approach that fascinated me the most. I realized early in the process if I wanted to play at the highest level I had to become an elite pass blocker. As much as I loved running people over my JOY became pass protection. People often want to associate my size with being a road grader but pass blocking was is and always will be my first love as an offensive tackle. To go along with the physicality that comes with playing on the offensive line the thought process that went into pass blocking especially against the talent I would face later intrigued the hell out of me. I also saw that pass blockers were getting that REAL MONEY at the professional level so that became my quest.
I wanted to be the Deion Sanders of offensive tackles! I wanted to shutdown the corner. I loved the idea of playing on an island. I always considered myself an awkward BIG! I discovered early in childhood I was cross-dominant (right handed and left-footed). I learned quickly how to utilize those skill sets affectively to dominate my opponents. With the blockade my size presented and the athleticism I possessed I was good enough to get beaten off the snap but still recover to dominate the play, which would come in handy in college (I NEVER got beat off the ball in high school).
In an instance EVERYTHING changed! AP and I had talked about what we wanted to accomplish going into my junior year as far as recruiting. He had never had an athlete to be recruited by a division one school (kind of crazy because we had an abundance of talent to come through the program before I got there). He and I were not prepared for the WHIRLWIND that was about to occur. Coaches started visiting the school like their lives depended on it. I probably had 50 offers by the midpoint of my junior year. There was that time the Duke and Cornell recruiters offered me scholarships during my gym class. I had already taken the SAT and was fully qualified; the athleticism was on display; had a drop step dunk (one of those good days) on my gym coach (sorry Frank 😂). Then there was that time AP had 10 (what’s now called Power 5) coaches show up at the school at the same damn time. He was a science teacher and had a class that period so he took all of the coaches to the football office and put one of our game films on for them to watch. He advised the coaches he needed to go get his class started and he’d be back. Ten minutes later as he is walking back to meet with the coaches to his dismay they were all packing up to leave. He looked confused and asked if there was something wrong they all laughed and said no coach this guy can do things we have been trying to teach our guys to do for years. His footwork as a pass blocker is exceptional. We’ve seen all that we need to see. Tell Forrest we want him. And like that I was A GUY. “The Berlin Wall” was a wanted man. The Berlin Wall was THE MOST WANTED MAN IN THE NORTHEAST AND ONE OF THE MOST WANTED MEN IN THE COUNTRY! Some of my closest buddies didn’t believe what was going on (let the hate run through them 😂🤣😂🤣) as it quickly got out of control.
As far as competitive challenges (don’t sleep on CT high school football) during that time a couple of dudes tried it, but it ALWAYS WENT LEFT FOR THEM! There was one brother from St Paul. The Big Homie had game and came to play! I got some good work with him, but like he said in an interview when asked about facing The Berlin Wall “I’m a really NICE guy but when I got into you it was a wrap nothing you could do but accept them Handlebars”! AHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! After I graduated he was able to realize his dominance! The Big Homie Ed Green did his thing winning the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Connecticut.
My biggest problem was in practice. My BIG GUY made me better. My lil bro Josh Clifford 6-4 300lbs. For you to understand the difficulty in the trenches with this dude is to understand who he was. Josh was the three-time Northwest Conference WRESTLING Champion, a three-time Class M Wrestling State Champion, a State Open Champion and a three-time qualifier for the New England Championships. He was also a member of the Junior National Team, Wrestling with Team USA vs. Cuba as an Olympic hopeful. EXTREMELY LOW center of gravity and endurance strength. I couldn’t just over power him. We got some “Good Work” EVERYDAY in practice! We were true bookend tackles. BIGGER than the starting tackles at UCONN. RIP my dude✊🏿
As an athlete you get to a point where in you start smelling yourself. You realize you are the man. You realize nobody can beat you. I got to that point my junior year. I was feeling myself and rightfully so. Pass blocking was EASY. There were many times after a BIG BLOCK my team would be celebrating a TD and I would be in the middle of the field holding up skull bones staring at the other teams sideline and their fans talking; I was in my special place.
THEN THEY TRIED TO TEAR THE WALL DOWN! THE POST GAME ALMOST MELEE!
As far as big games EVERYBODY knew what game that was; Middletown! Always The BIGGEST Game Of The Year. Always For The Northwest conference Championship. Always the last game of the year.
Every team has that so-called "Big Brother" that team that owns you. For us it was Middletown. I will never forget the first time we played them my sophomore year. My teammates had talked so much about them and how good they were leading up to that game, I was like who in the hell are these guys supposed to be. I had heard all the rumors about how fast they were and how they had constantly ran through us over and over and over. I’m like “Man Whatever” let’s get it. Yeah that didn’t go very well. My sophomore year they put MAJOR HANDLEBARS on us. It was BAD 😡😡😡😡 real bad! Spellman and Highsmith gave us BODY ALL DAY LONG! Truth be told there were times our team was INTIMIDATED by them. Hell my team had me a little shook that first year with all the rhetoric 😂🤣😂!
Fast forward to 1989 my junior year Northwest Conference Championship Game at their place. Middletown had more brothers on their team than any other team we played. They had a sense of invincibility against us. It was probably the closest thing to playing against a team from Florida when you look at the talent they possessed. They had more athletes than we had. They were BIGGER than we were (NOT ME OF COURSE) they were faster, but we had more heart than they did that day and we wanted it more! “Handlebars”!!
FREEZING cold WET muddy afternoon late November in Middletown Connecticut definitely not ideal conditions for a football game. Records out the door. This was a dogfight. Nobody could do ANYTHING. It was coming down to who is going to make the last play! As the end of the game approached and we were clinging to a 2-0 lead then my guy went up and got that! BIGGEST PLAY OF THE GAME!
In “Berlin Wall” fashion while my team on the sideline and our fans in the stands are celebrating the big catch I wasn’t there I was at the 50yd line with one of the Middletown players me and buddy got problems. I got my set up we are squared up and I'm ready to give buddy these PAWS in the middle of the field during the BIGGEST game of the year. That’s just what it was at that point! All of the officials were down at the other end of the field because there was a question about the legitimacy of the catch (they both seemed to have possession of the ball). With all the drama going on about the catch; AP always observant noticed what was going on at the 50yd line with me and buddy and was able to get my attention. No penalties needed at this point we FINALLY got em! Ball game! I think they had beaten us 10 or 12 in a row whatever it was it was outlandish! After the game I had no interest in shaking hands, we were too busy celebrating on their field. We had finally gotten that monkey off of our backs. Little did I know it wasn’t over yet!
After the game and the big win for the conference title I was interviewed by some reporters. The team had already gone to the parking lot and were loading up the buses to head back home. After my interviews as I’m walking around the field towards the parking lot where our buses were parked carrying my shoulder pads McGee and I were talking trying to figure out what the move was going to be that night then something crazy happened. As we bent that last corner of the field we noticed there was a group of Middletown players huddled up (pads still on) by the field entrance. As we got closer my spidey senses started to go LEFT and they began talking “yeah what you gonna do now”. It was at that moment McGee and I realized what was potentially about to go down. I dropped my pads put my helmet on and as we got closer he and I began to plot who we were going to get first. While this is beginning to unfold Big Jim saw what was going down from across the way and dropped EVERYTHING. He got into a full sprint as he got closer the coat came off in the mud and he put his set up. We might be in CT but we are still Florida dudes and will give out that “Southern Gentlemen” when needed 😂🤣😂🤣! Luckily an intervention took place and nothing happened. Now while all of this is going down my whole team on the bus looking 👀🤐😡! When I got to the team bus I gave them a mouthful (NOBODY GOT OFF THE BUS TO HELP)! The anger didn’t last too long though because when we got back to campus AP did that mud dive slide! Fun Times
The Recruitment of “The Berlin Wall”
The Arrogance Of Berlin Wall Going Into My Senior Year. I Was The Number 4 Rated Tackle In The Country.They Had Some Guys In Florida Rated Higher Than Me. I Knew I Was Better Than All Of Them!
Most recently going through some old tapes I found a feature they did on me as a high school junior at the FSU Football Camp (the footwork was on display 😬) on the local news by one of my ESPN Colleagues during his early days at the local television station in Tallahassee.
“The Berlin Wall” At FSU Football Camp Prior To My Senior Year. The T-Shirt Although Scratched Out Now Was A Penn State Football T-Shirt (I scratched the name out when that HORRIBLE scandal broke at Penn State)
Who Wears A Penn State Football Shirt To An FSU Football Camp? “The Berlin Wall” Did Because At That Point I Wasn’t Wanting Them To Like Me. They Were All Wanting Me To Like Them. Then I Ran A 4.95 40 At 327lbs On Mike Long Track. I Spent Most Of That Football Camp In Coach Bowdens Office Talking To Him About Why It Was In My Best Interest To Be A Florida State Seminole. At Night The Coaches Would Come By My Dorm Room At Cash Hall And Show Me The Scholarship Paperwork With My Name On It Like Look Whenever You Are Ready To Commit You Have A Home Here! It Was Humbling But Also Earned! It Made Me More Arrogant Though.
There was that time in 1990 my uncle and I were a part of FHSAA investigation into illegal high school recruiting 👀. After I ran that forty the head coach from North Fla Christian offered my uncle whatever he wanted for me to move to Tallahassee for my senior year to play for him. I’m in Connecticut trying to get ready for my senior year but I’m being questioned about a high school in Florida 👀 👎🏿
My senior year was supposed to be the culmination of all the hard work. I was looking to totally dominate and destroy EVERYBODY! I wanted 🐐 status. 7 minutes in it ALL WENT LEFT! DAMN!
Coach P/The Injury/The Accolades/The Apology From The Hartford Courant/Recruiting Chaos/The Big Decision Where Will The Berlin Wall Take His Talents In The Fall! The BIG Shoutout From The GOAT!