Gang Tackled

Football star Jarvis Hicks couldn't resist the undertow of gang violence

As just a sophomore in the fall of 2002, he won a starting job in the defensive backfield. On November 1 of that year, Jock had a life-changing game under the lights.

The Bucks were playing nationally ranked and undefeated Ely High School. Starring for Ely was phenomenal running back Tyrone Moss, Broward´s all-time leading rusher and a recent University of Miami Hurricane.

Big Shot watched in the stands as his son showed the drive and heart that would distinguish his play throughout high school. The boy always seemed to find the ball and had excellent speed for his six-foot-one, 190-pound frame. That night, he made a sack on the quarterback and tackled Moss for a loss during what was one of the great games of the year.

Hicks family friend Wayne Adams warned Jerome Hicks: ¨These Haitians are talking about shooting up your house.¨
Hicks family friend Wayne Adams warned Jerome Hicks: ¨These Haitians are talking about shooting up your house.¨

Deerfield handed Ely, the eventual state champion, its only loss of the season. ¨That was the day my son became Jarvis Hicks,¨ says his dad, the pride still there. ¨That was when he made a name for himself.¨

Soon after the Ely game, the University of Florida´s head coach, Ron Zook, took an interest. Recruiting letters, along with free tickets to games at the Swamp in Gainesville, began arriving at the Hicks house in central Deerfield. Auburn also wanted him, as did West Virginia, Indiana, the University of Connecticut, and a slew of other schools.

During his junior season, Hicks was integral to Deerfield´s post-season charge to the state semifinals, making honorable mention on the All-County team. Before his senior season began, the Sentinel named Hicks one of the county´s ¨Super Eleven¨ players and among the ¨Best in Broward.¨ He told the newspaper that his favorite food was baked chicken and that Lil Wayne songs were in his CD player.

Jarvis also named Ice Cube´s Friday After Next as his favorite movie. No wonder, as Fridays continued to be very good to him. Deerfield went undefeated that season, ending the regular season ranked number one in the state and 14th in the country. The team lost a last-minute heartbreaker in the playoffs in a game still remembered as one of the best in the school´s history. Jarvis was the class of the team, earning second-team All-State and first-team All-County honors.

But outside of the public eye, his life was a bit more complicated. He fathered three children with his girlfriend during his high school years. The children were cared for by the mother´s side of the family. Jarvis was a presence in their lives, but he was more football player than father, hoping his play would ultimately make it possible to support them financially.

As his star rose, central Deerfield, where he lived between two sets of railroad tracks, fell deeper into ethnic conflict. The long-simmering tensions between African-Americans and Haitians began boiling over. Fights disrupted the school. Friends like Brett Smith were expelled.

In the middle of that great senior season, his friend Jennings -- who once defiantly burned a Haitian flag in the Deerfield Beach parking lot on the anniversary of the island nation´s independence -- was shot dead in the street.

Around the same time, Jarvis suffered a serious blow to his football career. His dream of playing at Florida ended when Zook left the school and new coach Urban Meyer took him off the recruiting list. But he still had plenty of options. After visiting several schools, he decided to sign a letter of intent to play for UConn. Not only was he looking at receiving an education at the top public university in New England but professional scouts were dubbing him a future star. The NFL didn´t seem so far away.

There was a problem, though. His SAT scores didn´t meet Division 1A standards. While Deerfield High excelled at exploiting the kid´s football prowess, what about the mundane task of giving him a proper education?

Jessica Ramer, a math teacher at Deerfield High, knew in her gut something was very wrong. When she saw the scores on Jarvis Hicks´ standardized state test, the FCAT, she suspected the worst.

It was the fall of 2004, when Jarvis was a senior and already what she calls a ¨football god¨ at the school. Not that the 48-year-old Ramer had any grudges against star athletes. She was, in fact, especially fond of Jarvis and had developed a quiet bond with him. When he signed the letter of intent to attend UConn, she had a little party with doughnuts for him in her Algebra II classroom.

¨He was one of those students you feel pleased to see,¨ she recalls. ¨He was always very kind in a low-key way to me. There was never anything remiss with him. I never heard a single negative word about Jarvis Hicks, ever.¨

She wonders if he wasn´t in some way set up for failure at Deerfield High. During a recent phone conversation with Jarvis, she asked him, ¨Didn´t Deerfield prepare you for the university?¨

¨Something like that,¨ he said.

Ramer didn´t push the issue. ¨I didn´t want to pry into something that was so difficult,¨ she explains.

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