Felicia Harrison stood in the middle of the Imhotep Institute Charter High School gymnasium early Wednesday morning holding the flowers her son had just given her.
There, she was surrounded by an air of pride and accomplishment.
An event at which her son Najee Goode was one of four seniors to sign letters of intent to play football in college on scholarship next year had just come to an end.
Harrison, who also signed papers that mean her son will attend the University of Maine, said she was “still in a cloud.”
“There was a lot of sweat and tears to get this going,” she said of her son’s football development as a cornerback, punt returner and one of 19 football-team seniors pursuing higher education after graduation. “The next goal is graduating college, and it’s about when he graduates.”
She recounted a tumultuous trip north when she and Najee recently made an official recruiting visit to the Orono, Maine campus that sealed the commitment deal.
Frigid local temperatures made it impossible to fly into Bangor, a short drive away from campus. That led to hours upon hours of delays, a flight into a different airport and two hours of “driving in the pitch dark” past, among other things, “Moose Crossing” signs.
The trek, she said, was a blessing.
“It gave us a chance to bond. Normally, teenage boys don’t like talking to their parents, but this gave us a chance to talk, a chance to connect,” she said. “I think it was God’s plan.”
A festive occasion
Just after 7:30 a.m., Imhotep athletic director and head basketball coach Andre Noble and school founder M. Christine “Mama Chris” Wiggins greeted dozens of family members and friends at the East Germantown school before 11 of 19 college-bound football players were introduced. (The others were unable to attend because of internships.)
“At a time when our country is talking about young men being shot, being on drugs, being on the streets, look at these scholar athletes,” Wiggins said. “These young men have been working hard all year long. I just really want you to understand the power of what you’re seeing.
“There’s a state rep. who called us ‘the Miracle on 21st Street’ because a lot of people just don’t know what’s going on here,” she continued. “I hope you’ll pass the word about a school that is making it happen, that is taking any child we put our hands on and having success, and especially about this awesome, awesome football team that worked their hearts out and brought us so much pride this year.”
Part of the pride Wiggins spoke about, head football coach Albie Crosby said, came from the Public League championship and state-semifinals run. Those results helped bring about the day when Goode signed with Maine, running back/wide receiver Eerin Young committed to the University of Rhode Island, cornerback Armond Piedra committed to West Chester University and nationally touted running back David Williams formally signed with the University of South Carolina.
“[We had] the most wins ever in the Public League, but this right here is our greatest achievement. We have 19 young men that have been accepted to universities,” Crosby said. “All these young men are the best, and they’re the greatest.”
Then, he likened celebrating so many seniors from the team moving on to “a championship-type day. … The guys always ask me why I’m not smiling after football games. Well, I’m smiling now.”
Added Troy Gore, a Philadelphia Fire Department battalion chief, “you must be great in everything you do. Be the first to class, and sit right up front in that professor’s face. Be enthusiastic. Be involved. Represent Imhotep well when you get to the next level.”
The star running back
Much of the attention which was drawn to an Imhotep squad that practices on a nondescript patch of land off East Chelten Avenue centered on Williams, who transfered in amid worries that West Catholic High School was closing.
Williams, who almost knocked the 2012 Public League Championship plaque off the table when he sat down, went on to rush for more than 1,900 yards and 23 touchdowns during his senior season.
That earned him recognition as one of the top 20 running backs in the country. He announced that he planned to attend South Carolina while in California, where he was playing in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl in January.
On Wednesday, as he donned the hat signifying his choice, Williams said he made the decision shortly after the season ended with a semifinal loss to the eventual state champions. Recruited by many, he narrowed the list to South Carolina and Arizona State. The former ultimately prevailed when Arizona State’s running-backs coach left the program.
“It feels good to get rid of all the stress,” he said of calls from coaches hoping to win him over. “It feels really good to have all of that behind me.”
He’ll report to Columbia, SC on June 2.
For her part, Williams’ mom Tamara Bunch said she’s extremely proud of a son, who’s “a great kid who knows what he wants to do and how to do it well.”
Offering a little more insight, she noted that the recruiting field was whittled down to the two schools from which coaches made a point of coming to visit her.
“That told me,” she explained, “that they have his best interest at heart.”
The full list
Head Coach Albie Crosby provided NewsWorks with a full list of the 19 seniors going on to college. They are:
– Brandon Chatmon (Indiana University of Pennsylvania or Central Connecticut State)
– Shahyodd Chavis (IUP)
– Jonathan Darty (Bethune or St. Augustine)
– Tevin Gadson (Benedict or Wesley)
– Najee Goode (Maine)
– Jared Jackson (Tuskegee or Virginia State)
– Kadmiel Kelome (Virginia Union or Clark Atlanta)
– James Keith (Wesley)
– Quinzell Lassiter (East Stroudsburg, IUP or Millersville)
– Armond Piedra (West Chester)
– Brandon Smith (Wesley)
– Khalil Steward (Ursinus, Virginia Union or other)
– Eli Toney (Lock Haven)
– David Williams (South Carolina)
– Jarrett Williams (Stevens)
– Legend Winfield (Lock Haven)
– Jelani Tate (Clark or Cheney)
– Yusef Tribble (Clarion, Delaware Valley or Albright)
– Eerin Young (Rhode Island)