WASHINGTON -- To the outside world, Eddie Goldman was the star. At five minutes past 10 o'clock on National Signing Day, a nationwide audience watching on ESPNU was patched through just in time to hear the 6'4", 300-pound defensive tackle at Friendship Collegiate Academy announce that he would be attending Florida State this coming fall.
"It was where I wanted to be," Goldman told America. "If I went anywhere else, I wouldn't have been happy."
"My feeling is relief," Goldman's mother, Sharon Davis, said. "Ultimately, it came down to who he could trust."
Yes, Goldman got most of the attention. But those who gathered in the Donald L. Hense Gymnasium and bothered to stay longer than the first 10 minutes saw an event that wasn't just about Goldman (whose announcement was but the first small part), but was also about his 18 teammates who had received scholarship offers to play college football.
Long after the ESPN cameras had been broken down and a technician had removed Goldman's earpiece and battery pack, his teammates were walking to the lectern one by one to announce their decision to attend places like Bowie State, Morgan State, Virginia State, Glenville State, Richmond and Cheyney University.
This sort of group recognition is part of the ethos of a program that has been made from scratch by Aazaar Abdul-Rahim, a graduate of Dunbar High School who also has two degrees from San Diego State and started the football program at Friendship in 2003.
"I was brought up to treat ordinary people special and to treat special people ordinary," Rahim said Wednesday after the ceremony. "And Eddie's the same way. He was asking Clemson and Alabama to take a look at his teammates."
Friendship Academy doesn't quite fit the profile of a rising football power. It has a perfectly respectable enrollment of around 1,300 students, more than the area's traditional athletic powerhouse, Dematha. But the school's densely packed urban location on Minnesota Avenue across from an Orange Line Metro station leaves no room for any athletic facilities beyond a gym. The football team practices on a small piece of land next to the school and plays most of its games on the road, occasionally renting out various facilities in the city.
"Honestly, at this point, a road game's just like a home game for us," Rahim said. "Between the rental costs, the security costs, and cleaning up afterwards, it's just easier for us to play games on the road."
In 2011, Friendship Academy went 9-1 against an eccentric schedule that featured schools from Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Ohio. Because the school is a public school, it is ineligible to compete in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference. Nor is Friendship eligible to compete in the season-ending Turkey Bowl, which traditionally determines the championship of the city's public schools, because it is not a member of the District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association.
On Wednesday, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray vowed to have Friendship play an all-local schedule by the fall of 2012, inevitably tying the issue to his larger, unending quest to achieve D.C. statehood. "If we want to be a state, we have to run our school sports like a state, and be as inclusive as possible," Gray said as part of his remarks Wednesday.
But that is for the future of Friendship Academy's football program. Wednesday's event was about the future of the 18 young men who announced their college choices to a room full of family and friends. In addition to Goldman, there was running back Albert Reid, who cited the University of Maryland's engineering program as his primary reason for choosing that school. Reid, defensive back Keith Davis (Bowie State), defensive back Douglas Moore (VMI), linebacker Selton Hodge (Richmond) and lineman Quincy Dickens (Morgan State) imitated their blue-chip peers by pulling on their school's baseball cap. The only one who spoke specifically about playing in the NFL was two-way player Ahja Frazier-Lancaster, who will be playing at the football factory that is West Virginia's Shepherd University. If he does make the NFL, Frazier-Lancaster would be only the third person in the 91-year history of Shepherd to play professional football.
"All we can do is preach," Rahim said Wednesday. "All we can do is point out some of the pitfalls and try to give them guidance."
But there's not long for Rahim to linger, even on this successful class. He claims that another one of his offensive linemen from next year's class has received 20 scholarship offers already and three more underclassmen have drawn national interest. They might want to start planning another ceremony at Friendship next year.
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