Rough Diamonds by Tommy Reamon, Ron Whitenack, and Michael Vick - Read Online
Rough Diamonds
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Summary

Football coach Tommy Reamon has crafted a unique ability among high school coaches, the ability to hone in on natural talent on the football field and to forge a personal connection with the young athletes themselves. His stories and memories of coaching the promising, would-be professional players as well as those just there for the love of the game, are shared in this heartfelt memoir. During his many years of coaching at schools such as in Newport News, Virginia, Coach Reamon has helped guide students to the National Football League, including Kwamie Lassiter, Aaron Brooks, and Michael Vick. His inspiring relationship with the students and the struggles that come with bringing out the best in another person will remind readers of the heart behind the physical challenges of football.

Published: Triumph Books an imprint of Independent Publishers Group on
ISBN: 9781623681593
List price: $13.99
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Rough Diamonds - Tommy Reamon

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Dedication

I wish to dedicate this book to my mother, Nettie Elizabeth Watkins Reamon Pierce—you have always been my best friend.

To my son, Tommy Jr., who truly is my second heartbeat and the ultimate diamond in my life.

To all the players I have enjoyed coaching over the years and shared a special relationship with . . . you know who you are.

My special thanks to La Verne Katherine Jackson Warthen.

Contents

Foreword by Michael Vick

Foreword by Nikki Giovanni

Introduction by Oliver W. Spencer Jr., Ph.D.

Prologue

1. Early Years

2. Junior College

3. University of Missouri

4. Early Pro Years

5. My Football Career Ends. Hollywood, Here I Come.

6. The Return Home, Beginning My Coaching Years

7. Kwamie Lassiter

8. Aaron Brooks

9. Michael Vick

10. The Chain of Diamonds Continues

11. Today’s Journey

Foreword by Michael Vick

If you are a high school football fanatic like I was, you will need a coach like Tommy Reamon to help you realize your dream of becoming a top professional like me. Coach Reamon was like a father to me in high school. He kind of took me under his wing and molded me. He taught me a lot of things about life as well as football, and we were always talking about my responsibilities as a player and a person. When I look back on our relationship, Coach poured his soul into me to make sure that I didn’t make some of the mistakes that he made in his college and professional years. He made sure that I kept the proper perspective and developed the necessary tools to cope with the enormous attention I would get both on and off the field.

When I first met Coach Reamon, I told him that I wanted him to help me get a football scholarship to college just like he did for my cousin Aaron Brooks. He promised he would if I did everything he asked of me. Well, I tried, and he had input about everything, even where he thought I should go to school. He knew I could be good in the Syracuse system, but he knew I’d be better at Virginia Tech. He told me that about twenty times, and it began to sink in.

Coach Reamon had a sixth sense about my future and the things that would happen to me, and the confidence he worked so hard to instill in me became very clear one evening as he and my mother sat in room 2501 of New York City’s Downtown Athletic Club. Two hours earlier I had become only the third freshman ever to finish in the top three in the Heisman Trophy balloting. As we happily shared the moment, I told them that I was just overwhelmed by all of this. My mother said, Michael, when I watch you play ball, I’m like, ‘Who is that? This is all a dream.’ Then suddenly, Coach says, It’s a dream, but it was also planned. Decisions were made a long time ago that made this night possible. Michael, this is just the beginning. After Coach Reamon’s statement, it became clear to me that he was living his dreams through me, so it became important to me to dream and strive for the success of both of us. I’m proud to say that I wouldn’t be where I am without the help of Coach Reamon. Therefore, every aspiring high school football player should read this book so that he will know what ingredients go into the making of a top-quality coach. Good luck, and enjoy the journey.

Michael Vick

Quarterback, Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta, Georgia

Foreword by Nikki Giovanni

Diamonds in the Rough: Hold On

This is for the men . . . the men with hopes and dreams and talents . . . that sometimes other men find ways to use and use and use up . . . and when the men are used up they are discarded . . . like so many Christmas toys that don’t work or maybe like Easter eggs that have teeny tiny cracks . . . not enough cracks so that the Easter Bunny and his crew refuse to dye them . . . they . . . after all . . . look so lovely when scattered across the lawn in all their many colors but . . . well . . . that teeny tiny crack is just enough to sort of say sure you can find this pretty egg and maybe put it in your basket for a while but don’t you know that little crack means one day it will stink . . . that one day whatever it is that makes eggs break open . . . whatever it is that snuggles inside . . . whatever it is that wants . . . needs . . . has . . . to get out . . . will break this shell causing a stink . . . this is for the men

This is for the men . . . the men who knew the difference between cutting bait . . . and fishing . . . and who having been carted away from all known waters . . . found a way to fish . . . anyway . . . like the women found a way . . . to quilt . . . like we all found a way . . . to maintain integrity . . . this is for the men who were sent back . . . for a reason . . . or no reason . . . this is for the men who ran . . . and tackled . . . and threw their bodies . . . to block the way . . . and no body ever really said Thank You . . . no everybody assumed . . . this made them happy . . . never ever knowing what makes men happy . . . other men claimed some kind of right . . . some kind of contracts . . . some kind of waivers . . . on the dreams of the men who dreamed

And this is definitely for the good men . . . the good men who when knocked down . . . got up again . . . to go just one more round . . . or show somebody else how to do it . . . this is for the good men who planted their dreams in the hearts of other young men . . . this is for the good men who went back home with their heads held high . . . who look for ways to bend the light . . . and shine it on the young men . . . the new dreamers . . . the talented . . . hopeful . . . strong young men . . . who reap the dreams . . . and plant some dreams . . . because the best of the good men . . . are the dreams of all men . . . so this is for Coach Reamon . . . who talked that talk . . . and walked that walk . . . and dreamed of change . . . this is for Coach Reamon who knows Diamonds in the Rough are still diamonds . . . still unusual . . . very rare . . . but always precious . . . This is definitely for holding on . . . Yeah . . . for holding on

Nikki Giovanni

University Distinguished Professor

Virginia Tech

Blacksburg, Virginia

Introduction by Oliver W. Spencer Jr., Ph.D.

This powerful, compelling, and inspiring book is simply a story about a coach who refused to give up on youths who had potential but, like rough diamonds, possessed many jagged edges and needed to be cut and shaped. Furthermore, it tells the story of young men who, because of their circumstances, could have been strapped and trapped in their environment and led to believe they could not reach their dreams.

It is a true account of a caring and compassionate coach who grew up in a small rural town in Virginia. Early on in his life, he also had hopes of becoming a diamond himself, and worked toward that goal. He encountered many challenges early on in his life, and is now determined to pass on the lessons he has learned. Due to the absences of his biological father, his mother raised him and became his pillar of strength, motivation, and inspiration. These qualities would temper his desire and affect his approach to developing the lives of many young men in similar circumstances. Some of these youths have grown to be men who are now playing professional football and are providing leadership to their teams.

Noted educator Dr. Allen R. Sullivan has stated that sports have a preeminent place in the fabric of American popular culture, especially football, and it appears that most youths growing up in today’s society hold professional football players in high esteem. Professional athletes can play a very significant role serving as mentors to those youths who look up to them, motivating, inspiring, and encouraging them to succeed in carrying both the ball and the books. My experience as an educator and as founder of the First and Ten Mentoring Program (having mentored more than 5,000 students nationwide), discussed in the last chapter of this book, gives me unique insight into these issues, and I commend this book to all educational institutions, social service agencies, libraries, coaches, and individuals who are serious about harnessing resources to provide supportive guidance and assistance to our youth. These organizations’ and individuals’ primary goal must be to develop rough diamonds who will shine brightly and stand out above all others.

Oliver W. Spencer Jr., Ph.D.

Educator/Consultant

Newport News, Virginia

Prologue

Atlanta Falcons Versus the New Orleans Saints,

November 16, 2001: The Apex of My Coaching Career

The Falcons lost to the Saints that day.

Michael Vick of the Falcons paced the sidelines, hoping for an opportunity to play, but Coach Dan Reeves had chosen not to use him just yet. Vick experienced the same feeling as when he was a redshirt freshman at Virginia Tech, only this time as a professional quarterback. I wondered about his thoughts as he watched his opponent and cousin, Aaron Brooks of the Saints, put on a show for all of us in the Atlanta crowd. Both Vick and Brooks had to know how I beamed with pride as my most polished diamonds dazzled. Just yesterday, or so it seemed, they had spent evenings in my kitchen talking over football strategies and dreaming about the careers they were now beginning as top professionals in the National Football League.

Michael thought of Aaron as his big brother, but Aaron could be a little reserved around Michael. I thought it understandable if Aaron seemed ambivalent toward Michael; so much was happening so fast for Michael. Sure, Aaron was proud of his cousin’s accomplishments, but Aaron also knew how hard he himself had worked at UVA, and often without receiving the respect he thought proper. And now that Michael was a professional, the numbers in his contract dwarfed Aaron’s. I knew that had to sting just a little.

Yes, I thought, they always got along like brothers. I just hoped there wouldn’t be any hard feelings on Aaron’s part because of Michael’s instant fame. After all, there would be a lot of pressure on Michael to live up to everyone’s expectations, including his own. Aaron was luckier in a way. He had the opportunity to rise at a steadier pace. As I watched Aaron shine that afternoon, I thought about how I might explain his advantage to him, if he hadn’t already thought of it himself.

I imagined Michael’s thoughts as Aaron completed passes and made big plays. I was sure admiration and envy fought for Vick’s mind while Brooks seized the opportunity to show his cousin what being a professional quarterback was all about. The three-year veteran and the novice professional, together. I chuckled, shaking my head over and over in disbelief as my mind wandered back over their dream seasons with me in high school and later at the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech.

A tear ran down my cheek, but I sniffled and wiped it away, hoping no one would notice. Years before, I had thought my own football career was over when my professional career ended. As all these thoughts and emotions raced through my mind, Brooks dropped back and fired a perfect spiral to an anxious, wide-open receiver downfield. He let the ball roll on his fingertips, then hauled it in underneath his right armpit and raced toward the end zone, and I momentarily relived my own runs, touchdowns, and ultimate rejection in that same NFL.

Again, I was quickly distracted from these memories by the expression of awe on Michael’s face as Aaron’s Saints celebrated the ensuing touchdown, dancing around their hero. As I cheered wildly amid tears of joy in the present and nostalgia for days gone by, I reminded myself that I hadn’t been defeated easily. After the NFL, I had a brief Hollywood career in the television show Kojak and the celebrated motion picture North Dallas Forty, and didn’t let it end there—even when my own movie project failed.

My emotions were on a roller coaster that afternoon. The pride I felt in my accomplishments as a coach seemed to do battle with the old feelings of inadequacy I experienced in my youth. In my eyes, I had been a failure in my NFL and Hollywood endeavors. I just couldn’t get a firm grasp on all the opportunities that came my way. I was naïve and often trusted the judgment of others without completely forming my own.

What a strange twist of fate that I should end up here, all these years later, experiencing perfect exhilaration as a high school football coach. Why a coach? Sure, I was desperate when I came back home from Hollywood, but I remember thinking how giving something back would be a positive way to account for my failures. After all, what better way to turn failure into success than to teach others how to avoid my mistakes?

So I found, cut, and polished these diamonds, and they were on display that November day in Atlanta as fine jewelry. How did I do it? my colleagues ask. I’ve pondered long and hard over that question, and the only answer I can come up with is, "I let my dreams live on in the lives of my players." I tell them how I build personal relationships. Aaron, Michael, and all my players have become like sons. And with some modesty, I think I can say that most of them see me as a father figure. Playing that role takes a lot out of me emotionally, but look where it’s gotten me.

The feelings in my heart were warm all week leading up to my trip to Atlanta. I had waited all season to see my children play against each other. I was interviewed by numerous television sports shows and newspapers. I rehearsed in my mind exactly how I would respond to watching my former stars play. Yet, I was nervous about every detail. This game in the Georgia Dome gave me a sense of culmination. I was finally watching them as NFL players.

That weekend in November 2001, I stayed at the Marriott Peachtree hotel near the stadium—the same hotel that Aaron Brooks stayed in when he played in the Peach Bowl for UVA. I remember sending Aaron a telegram there with good wishes in his last college football game. This was the same hotel where Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer stayed while Michael Vick was contemplating the decision to turn pro after having played only two years of college football. On the day of the game, as I saw the CNN Network building, I thought of the two visits their sports news crew made to Warwick High School, my school, for interviews with me about Aaron and Michael. All these memories came flooding back, reminding me of how far I’d come.

1. Early Years

I was born in my grandmother’s house in Halifax County, Virginia, in a country town on the Virginia/North Carolina border called Virgilinia. Virgilina is not known for much except its tobacco and corn fields. My grandmother’s house was a happy place for me, and some of my earliest memories are of those days: the smell of tobacco, running in the woods, and playing with my cousins. I learned about how tobacco was grown and processed. I also learned that I hated snakes. It was a time of freedom. I reflect on those times today as my son has similar experiences when he visits with his mother in the country every other weekend. He is full of joy and fun as he plays in the woods and with the animals. Much as I did as a child, my son is able to experience both the city and country life.

I spent my early childhood years in the country, but my mother moved my family to New York City when I was five. My mother worked and went to cosmetology school. For most of my childhood, my summers would be split between New York and Halifax County as the 1960s rolled by. I have fond and sad memories of those times.

It was so crowded in New York that we played in the streets. I would see other kids hit by cars regularly. In the summertime we would play in the water that sprayed out of fire hydrants all over the streets; there wasn’t a pool close to where we lived. My journeys to Yankee stadium and my dreams of playing there one day contrasted with watching the big country boys of Halifax play baseball on those country fields. Those players were so large in my eyes, and I wanted to be like them. A cousin of mine, Arthur Lee Pierce, played catcher on his baseball team.

I was so thrilled to watch Arthur throw out base runners who were attempting to steal from first to second base. He had such a strong arm, and he looked like he was having so much fun. Despite the obvious differences, the city and country athletes had one thing in common. They enjoyed life and loved what they were doing.

When I was seven, my mother, sister, brother, and I moved to Newport News, Virginia. We lived in the Newsome Park Housing Development, in the east end section of the city. It was an all-black community that consisted of low-income families. Like my mom, there were a lot of single mothers struggling to bring up fatherless children. Mom worked with a housecleaning service and had a second job as a self-employed beautician. She didn’t have much of a formal education, but she had great communication skills and a personality that made everyone love her.

Tommy at age 12 playing in the Newsome Park apartment complex.

When I reached the age of nine, sports began to be my main focus and passion. I searched the neighborhood trying to find someone to play with. When I could, I would hang out at the playgrounds. There were not a lot of recreation facilities back in those days, and to get to the nearest school playground, I had a mile walk to the Newsome Park Elementary School. It often served as my home away from home because my mother worked long hours into the evening. My sister Willie was the baby-sitter, and watched my brother, Charles, known as C. W., and me until our mother came home from work. During these years, it seems like I was never in