Rashad Fenton is coming home. It's been more than four years since the Miami Gardens native was picking off passes at Carol City Senior High and even longer since his days playing peewee football at tiny Optimist Park. He left town a promising college prospect and returns a rookie cornerback for the AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs.
The remarkable nature of his journey isn't lost on Fenton. He went from being a Carol City Chief to a Kansas City Chief, from selling concessions at Hard Rock Stadium (then Sun Life Stadium) to preparing to face the San Francisco 49ers this Sunday, February 2, in Super Bowl LIV.
"It's too surreal. I don't think I would've ever imagined it happening like this," Fenton tells New Times. "It's crazy because I'm still trying to get my head around it. I'm still trying to normalize everything."
Fenton is the son of immigrants — his mother is Bahamian and his father is Jamaican — who moved to Miami-Dade County, where he and his brother were born. He owes a lot to his parents, but the one thing he didn't inherit from them was his love of football, which he discovered growing up in Miami Gardens. He learned to play the game with neighbors and classmates at Norwood Elementary and then later at Norwood Middle School, where he would meet future college teammate Keir Thomas.
Hard Rock Stadium was a fixture of Fenton's formative years. It towered over his youth and his childhood home, located just five minutes down the road. Before it was Hard Rock Stadium, it was New Miami Stadium. Before that, it was Sun Life Stadium, then LandShark Stadium, and, going back to the turn of the millennium, Pro Player Stadium. Fenton remembers it all, though he still refers to it fondly by its original moniker, Joe Robbie Stadium, named for the Dolphins' founder.
The stadium became an extension of Fenton's backyard and a playground for his aspirations. He recalls walking there with friends and family to watch countless Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes games. It was there that he became acquainted with the bright lights of the NFL, while playing on the field with his youth league team, the Miami Gardens Bulldogs, during halftime at a Dolphins game. A few years later, as a varsity player at Carol City Senior High, Fenton volunteered with his teammates to work a concession stand in the stadium, where they made pizzas and nachos for fans while the Dolphins took a routine beating. (Fenton admits he has a "love-hate relationship" with his hometown team after many lackluster seasons.)
Despite drawing interest from nearby schools including University of Florida, Florida State University, and University of Miami, Fenton opted to go out of state for college, committing in 2015 to University of South Carolina. A standout at cornerback and on special teams, he was drafted by the Chiefs in the sixth round last year.
As a rookie, Fenton ranks third on the Chiefs' depth chart at cornerback. But he impressed enough to earn playing time in 12 regular-season games, where he notched 12 tackles, one interception, and one forced fumble. In the AFC championship game, he played on a defensive unit that reined in a Tennessee Titans offense led by quarterback Ryan Tannehill, a former Miami Dolphin.
As he stands on the brink of making Super Bowl history — the Chiefs haven't won a title in 50 years — Fenton recalls his own cherished memories of football's biggest game. One gem stands out in particular: During Super Bowl XLI, which was played in Miami in 2007, Devin Hester — another rookie from South Florida — gave the Chicago Bears an early lead over the Indianapolis Colts when he returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Fenton was watching the game at home and says he could hear the roar from the stadium through his window. At that moment, he decided he would play in a Super Bowl himself one day.
Although most players in Fenton's position would probably be struggling to beat back nerves right now, Fenton says he has the home-field advantage to keep him level. Plenty has changed in his life since his days as a Carol City Chief, but just as much has stayed the same. His friends and family still live in Miami Gardens, and he says they'll be cheering from the stands this Sunday.
"My team is the reason the crowd will be there; my team is the reason I'm going back home to Miami. This is the Super Bowl we're talking about," Fenton says. "I'm still in my dream. To be honest, I still haven't woken up."