A quarterback that has average footwork, average arm strength, average knowledge of defenses, but above average size and speed, gets you noticed by college coaches. The attention is doubled when you are just 16 years old.
The quarterback, Bennie Coney, is a Plant City native. He is 18 now, and has progressed to beyond average in all of those measurables. His talent made the Plant City Raiders the darkhorse pick to do some damage in the 2010 FHSAA playoffs. After all, he had been the starting QB since the end of his freshman year. He has filled out to almost 6’3” and 210 lbs. He has been the darling of recruiting circles. He has made college coaches’ jaws drop with his combination of size and speed. He was fulfilling his destiny as the Raiders broke from the gate 2-0. Then, Bennie started to let it slip away. Some recruiters slashed through his name. His bright future started to flicker.
What happened? First, there was the initial loss of the 2010 season to Brandon where Coney ended up on the sideline for a few series while his offense was on the field. He was then suspended by head coach Wayne Ward for the following contest at Newsome because of a verbal altercation that just kept escalating. The Raiders were game with sophomore Nick Rodriguez under center but still bowed to the Wolves 24-21. Coach Ward prescribed the oldest football discipline: he made Coney run and run.
“Once you get in trouble at school, you see the coaches after practice and they just run you to death. I ran a lot,” Coney said.
It got worse. Coney had a dismal performance at Gaither on October 15 in which he turned the ball over five times in a humbling 20-7 defeat. The first practice after that game his emotions and mouth once again put him in a troubling situation. This time, Coach Ward had no recourse but to dismiss him from the team. “Coach, he didn’t like what happened, …the way it ended up [and] it led [to] me getting kicked off the team, …but, I respect his call.”
Coming into his first season at the helm in September, Ward had his priorities. Clearly Coney was not ready for this style of coaching. Coach Ward insists “that our jobs as coaches is to not just win games but instill morals and character in these young men we teach and coach.”
As for the moment when he was informed he was no longer a part of the football team by Coach Ward, Coney said, “when he told me, I was hurt, like I walked out the room and, …I still had the same bone with him, …after two days I got over it and I just started talkin to him again. That’s all I could do…can’t hold a grudge.”
Indeed, Coney indicated that he actually appreciates Ward’s discipline. “I liked it, but I didn’t like it,” he said referring to the centuries old adage that we don’t enjoy being disciplined, but later, those who learn from that discipline have peace that comes from doing what is right because of it.
Changes were demanded if Coney was to be granted a shot at redemption.
So what is Coney doing to implement changes that could reap the opportunities that his hard work over the last four years provides? He knew he had to win back the trust of his coaches and teammates. He told me he did not miss attending any of the Raiders remaining games, even helping Rodriguez as he could.
He sought advice from his coaches. In fact he grew closer to Ward, the very man who dismissed him from the team. But now Bennie deems the coach “a father figure to me” and said that he talks to him “every day.”
Ward informed me that, “Bennie is taking anger management classes and has made tremendous strides within. [He is] …becoming the student-athlete we know he is capable of being.”
The head coach welcomed Coney back as an official member of the team again on December 6. Coney can complete a cautionary tale of redemption in his final campaign as Raiders QB next fall.
He wants to seize the opportunity he nearly lost. Of course, the race is not over yet. Already the final chance has begun. He acknowledges that he must “work harder” this off-season and needs to “keep his head together” if he is to succeed.
The college recruiters took notice of his troubles. However, according to both Ward and Coney, none rescinded their offers. Coney said that Florida State, Notre Dame, LSU, and Michigan are still among the two dozen or so offers.
There are various factors that are keeping the interest of the recruiters. One is his commitment to completing his anger management course, which Ward says is on schedule. Another is Coney’s sterling 3.0 grade point average. Also, because he is on track to graduate in December of 2011, prospective universities will be able to assess their recruiting class more clearly if he enrolls with them before signing day. If he enrolls in a university in January according to NCAA rules, he wouldn’t even count towards the 2012 signing period, but this year’s.
He wants to make his mother, Zakia Morris, proud and says of her, “she keeps me on the right track, keeps me out of trouble.” Jimbo Fisher will be happy to know that mom is a FSU fan. “From knee-high, she [put] the Florida State in me.”
Bennie Coney can yet still fly or crash. A purposeful life is in front of him. Applying life’s lessons he has learned from this past season’s tumultuous failures can have him soaring to any destination he chooses.
A sixth generation Floridian, the author fell for football watching the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers break his little heart repeatedly before finally winning: first a single game in 1977 and then the Super Bowl in 2003.
Follow Mark Chisholm on twitter.com – @MarkSharkBCP His most recent tweets are found in a box to the right of this column. E-mail: email@example.com