The sad reality of growing up

Back in 1994, I was 13 and enamored with high school football.

When you’re young, athletic role models can be very influential in a child’s life. Growing up as a big fan of sports, local athletes were all the rage in Bradenton.

I grew up watching the state champion teams that Manatee High School consistently put on the field. The cross-town rivalries were as fierce as anything seen today. Anyone from that area knows that Manatee vs. Southeast is the place to be on Friday night. That particular year the Seminoles had a young man named Peter Warrick on their team.

Warrick, one of the most successful athletes to play at Florida State, had done his damage through the air and ground as quarterback for the Southeast Seminoles. As the game wound down, Manatee clung to a small lead in the fourth quarter. Our coach stalked the sidelines as Manatee’s punt team came out to give the ball back to Southeast. He bellowed out frequently, “Don’t punt it to Warrick!”

The crowd sat nervously as the punt sailed through the air and landed, much to the dismay of Hurricane fans, in the hands of Warrick. More than 70 yards of acrobatic jukes and spins later, Warrick had given Southeast the winning touchdown.

From that moment on, I followed Warrick’s career through college and the NFL. He led FSU to a national championship in 1999, but his illustrious career at FSU was marred by a department store scandal that likely cost him the Heisman Trophy.

He was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals following the ’99 season and never lived up to his potential. His career in Ohio was tarnished by a series of nagging injuries and a LASIK operation to correct his vision.

Today, our role models have become expendable. Free agency in the NFL makes room for a series of journeymen to jump from team to team, either hoping to gain a roster spot or simply make the practice squad. Warrick will land somewhere else no doubt, but nothing can match that defying aura that encompassed Warrick in his high school and college days.

The same cannot be said for hometown hero and former Bull DeAndrew Rubin.

Rubin is struggling to gain the starting punt return job for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and survived the first series of cuts by NFL teams needing to trim their rosters down to 65 players. Rubin, a Dixie Hollins graduate who ranks in the top 5 in nearly every receiving record at USF, has a good chance of making the squad after spending last season on the practice team.

Ultimately, it’s good to see athletes from my school and town succeeding where many fail in pro sports.

Rubin likely represents the same aura that Warrick represented to me as a child. So, for Rubin and his fans, enjoy the ride till its over.

The nostalgic luster never stays.