- Jared Shanker, ESPN Staff Writer
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CINCINNATI -- Minutes after Taft Information Technology High School came up yards short of upsetting Friendship Collegiate Academy on Sunday, Taft teammates Dwayne Stanford II and Adolphus Washington were still out on the field. The rest of the Taft and Collegiate players were in the locker room. The only players on the field other than Stanford and Washington were the ones who were set to play in the second game 45 minutes later.
But there were Taft seniors Stanford and Washington, hanging around an extra 25 minutes to ensure every reporter and every television crew got time for a one-on-one interview despite each reporter asking the same questions as the last, the same questions the two have been asked since before their junior year started a year ago.
Last week, the two hung around after a scrimmage to sign autographs and take pictures with Cincinnati children who watched in awe as the two four-star athletes made highlight-reel plays.
Stanford and Washington are the perfect people to help represent the new Taft.
"It feels good knowing people look up to you and that you're doing the right thing," Washington said. "When we were younger, we wanted to be like us nowadays."
Taft athletic director Anthony Booker knows what it means for Taft to have two great role models in Stanford and Washington.
"What they've done for the school is they raised the bar in a lot of different areas," Booker said. "Every once in a while you run across a kid to be considered by some to be a star, and I've seen some kids who have been stars -- bad stars.
"They're good stars. They wear the title well. They're a model for everybody. They make you want to be a better teacher, a better athletic director, a better coach. A lot of kids have elevated not just their game but their character because of them."
A little less than a decade ago, Stanford and Washington would have been an anomaly at Taft, one of the worst schools in Ohio that was riddled with crime and poor conditions and graduated 18 percent of its student body.
When Mike Martin came in as head football coach 10 years ago, the school was coming off a canceled football season because of a severe lack of student-athletes. "It wasn't cool to be a football player at Taft" back then, Martin said.
Taft had six players the year before Martin's first season, he said. "[The administration] saw six kids out there and said, 'This is ridiculous.' Taft was everyone's homecoming game.
"The school was a pretty old building. But," Martin paused, "wait, there's no 'but' at all. It wasn't great at all. The locker room was terrible, field was a dust bowl, school was lacking a lot and wasn't suitable to do anything."
So Martin went on an exhaustive mission to generate excitement into the Taft program. As a former Cincinnati Bengals receiver, Martin was known throughout the community and by members of the media and communications departments. He used those connections, along with some old-fashioned house calls, to create a buzz around Taft football.
As a result, 80 students signed up for football during the spring of Martin's first year with the program. The problem was that only a quarter of those students were eligible, and fewer knew even the basics of football.
"Out of the 80, 22 were eligible," Martin said. "I met with my AD and my staff and said, 'We have to figure how to get them eligible.'"
Martin made his players have their teachers fill out progress reports every two weeks so Martin could review how they were doing academically. Fifty players became eligible by the fall, and 30 to 35 would play on the team that year.
Taft has since had a winning record under Martin, who just began his 10th season as coach of the Senators.
The school was improving, too. Under the direction of former principal Anthony Smith, who left for a Cincinnati Public Schools assistant superintendent job this summer, Taft was named a 2010 Blue Ribbon School, an award given to schools that are "either high performing or have improved student achievement to high levels, especially among disadvantaged students," according to a U.S. Department of Education website. Furthermore, this school year, Taft opened the doors to its new $18.8 million building.
"It's like moving from an apartment into a beautiful mansion," Booker said. "It's immaculate."
Booker said he sees students carrying themselves differently when he walks through the new hallways. But Taft is still fighting to repair its reputation on the outside.
"Some people still think we're a bunch of black kids that don't do nothing and only get attention because of Coach Martin," Washington said. "That we're a bunch of thugs. But it's not like that."
Stanford and Washington didn't necessarily look at Taft that way, but they remember the raised eyebrows they would see when mentioning to people that they were thinking about transferring to Taft after their freshman year at Roger Bacon.
"Taft to everybody on the outside is the bad school," Stanford said. "It's not in the best neighborhood, and when you tell someone you go to Taft, they kind of jump back.
"But you talk to the people on the inside, and they said it's not like that; it's just what people think on the outside. I shadowed down there, and it was completely different. It was a family atmosphere, and that's what made me want to come."
There was just one problem, though. Stanford still had to convince his mother.
"I was totally against Taft," Yvette Stanford says. "Its reputation was not good."
Asked what worried her most about her son's attending Taft, Yvette simply said: "Safety!"
After she and her son researched Taft and compared notes, though, Yvette liked the grades Taft received on Ohio standardized testing and its tutoring program. She finally relented and let Stanford go to Taft.
Stanford and Washington have taken Taft to new heights on the football field. The two helped lead Taft to its first playoff appearance last season as juniors.
On Sunday, whenever something went right for Taft, most of the time Stanford or Washington, who was named co-MVP of the game, was making the play.
Washington, ranked No. 95 in the ESPNU 150, has a nonstop motor and spends more time in the opposing backfield than he does on his own side of the line of scrimmage. When opposing players do get past him, Washington is still likely to track the ball carrier down from behind, something he did multiple times on Sunday, often as far as 30 yards downfield.
"My biggest thing was last year I didn't pursue the ball, so that's one of the big things I worked on for this year," Washington said.
Taft was playing with its backup quarterback, and Stanford might have been able to haul in a lot of the deeper throws if they had been a little more accurate. Stanford refused to use that as an excuse, even blaming himself for an interception in the end zone.
"They are the type of guys that if your daughter brought them home, you'd feel good for yourself. And I'm protective of my girls," Booker said.
Stanford and Washington are also accountable in the classroom, as both have GPAs above 3.0.
"I could go on and on about them. It's been a pleasure to have them around. If they weren't athletes, I'd say the same thing about both guys as students."
Both should bring that same mentality and work ethic to college on and off the field wherever each chooses to play. But for now, they are helping define the new Taft.
We must protect this house
Colerain (Cincinnati) still hasn't lost at home this millennium.
With Sunday's win over three-time defending state champion Cocoa (Fla.), Colerain extended its home winning streak to 60 games.
The Cardinals have not lost since the 1999 season finale.
Colerain athletic director Dan Bolden joked that if the Cardinals lost to Cocoa, which was riding a 38-game winning streak, he would count the game as a neutral-site loss, as technically the Cardinals weren't the home team, just the host team.
Ohio playing for pride
Colerain's win against Cocoa won't erase the memory of Florida drubbing Ohio State in the 2006 college football national title game, but state pride was definitely on the line when Colerain and the Cardinals met.
After the Cardinals' win, coach Tom Bolden gathered his team around him. The first thing out of his mouth: "How 'bout that Colerain football!"
The second: "How 'bout that Ohio football!"
Friendship Collegiate Academy defensive lineman Eddie Goldman, rated No. 2 in the ESPNU 150, spent nearly the entire second quarter in Taft's backfield. Goldman had two sacks in the quarter and applied pressure on a few other plays where a teammate beat him to the punch.
Goldman started slowly but was dominant in the second quarter. He didn't have much time to carry that momentum into the second half, though. Goldman was suffering from cramps and played only a handful of snaps in the final 20 minutes of the game.
Goldman should be fine for next week's game.
The real standout for Collegiate Academy was sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor. Named co-MVP along with Taft's Washington, Tabor had two interceptions in the end zone and added seven tackles.
He also shut down Taft's game plan early, which was to just chuck it up to Stanford. Tabor consistently got a hand on the ball to break up passes intended for Stanford.
Class of 2013 prospects star in Dublin
Dublin Jerome's Cam Wilson is committed to Iowa, but his little brother Donovan and his receiver counterpart at Reynoldsburg stole the show in Dublin, Ohio, on Friday.
Jerome's Donovan Wilson rushed for 154 yards and had a 75-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
Reynoldsburg receiver Mykel Traylor-Bennett just couldn't be stopped, as the Raiders' coaches would often just draw up a fly route for Traylor-Bennett and he would just run underneath the pass. He scored two touchdowns and consistently beat Jerome's cornerbacks deep.
Traylor-Bennett, playing in his first game at receiver after switching from running back, dropped the first two passes he saw on Friday. Both could have been long touchdowns. After the drops, he walked back to the sideline and told his coaches he would make up for it.
He kept his word.
Dieter a one-man 'Murderers' Row'
One assumed that Washington (South Bend, Ind.) receiver Gehrig Dieter wouldn't be able to top his Week 1 record-breaking performance of 374 receiving yards and five touchdowns when he took on Michigan City on Saturday.
Well, he didn't better those numbers, but he sure came close. Dieter, a senior, caught 11 passes for 346 yards and three scores Saturday to help Washington improve to 2-0. All of Dieter's touchdowns were at least 50 yards.
Dieter's 374 yards last weekend set the Indiana state record.
Jared Shanker, a New Jersey native who now lives in Columbus, Ohio, covers Midwest recruiting for ESPN Recruiting. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.