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MONACA, Pa. -- Colleges know all about Robert Foster.
They know the speedy Monaca (Pa.) Central Valley senior is the No. 2 receiver in the ESPN 150 and will participate in the Under Armour All-America Game in January. They see the highlights of Foster returning kicks, one of which landed him on "SportsCenter's" Top 10 Plays. And they even know Foster, the No. 28 prospect in the ESPN 150, could be an FBS-level punter if he wanted.
In reality they know DRob, one of the most dynamic football players in the country.
|ESPN 150 wide receiver Robert Foster accepted his Under Armour All-America Game invite in his hometown of Monaca, Pa.|
But they don't know that Foster calls himself a daddy's and a momma's boy. That he plays drums every Sunday as part of the church choir.
Even some of the schools who've recruited Foster the hardest aren't familiar with what he's really like off the field.
On Friday, Foster committed to Alabama.
"I told Alabama they don't know my child," said Foster's mother, Sherrice Clements. "You know him as a football player but not as a whole."
It is hard to blame the Crimson Tide staff -- no one really knows a lot about Foster.
In an era in which almost nothing seems private, little is known about the 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior with the talent to completely silence a crowd one second and collectively cause it to drop its jaw moments later.
Foster gives the public such little insight that it grasps at straws -- some have called him a head case.
But his teachers, principal, coaches, athletic director and parents talk about the Foster they know, the one with the infectious smile who is everybody's friend and who will give the shirt off his back to a stranger.
He also is a person who values his family above all else. And one of the most important people in his life, his mom, said she is behind whichever school he chooses.
Robin Chryst, wife of Pitt coach Paul Chryst, was amazed at what Robert Foster did on his official visit to Pitt. But it had nothing to do with football.
Before going off with the Pitt players, Foster gave his mother something most teenagers wouldn't dare do in private, let alone in the company of complete strangers.
"Robbie was leaving to go with the boys and he gave me a kiss and a hug, and [Robin] said, 'My son hasn't given me a hug and kiss since the seventh grade,'" recalled Clements. "My oldest is 22 and we still kiss and hug in public."
Her sons love her back.
"A lot of credit needs to be given to her," said Andrew Monteiro, Foster's pastor at Greater Faith Family Worship Center. "He loves his mother."
While Foster has two loving parents, Clements and his father, Robert Foster II, separated while Foster was young. For years, he lived with his mom in Monaca while his father lived 20 minutes away. Foster II was always in the picture, but Clements raised the four boys while working two jobs.
"Doing everything she could possibly do for her children to have the best," said Foster. "She always made sure we were dressed properly and had food on the table and clothes on our back."
Clements is a strong woman, but the memories of those years raising her children as a single mother are enough to cause her tough exterior to crack just a little.
"If you're a mother, there are certain things you desire for your children and you're going to make sure they are always clean and look the part and you keep the gas on and keep food in the fridge," Clements said.
Foster II was forced to make his own sacrifices to stay connected with his sons.
He and Foster have a special relationship because Foster is the youngest. While his older brothers left the house to go meet friends, Foster stayed home, often with his dad.
However, in December of 2008, Clements moved to Philadelphia, a six-hour drive from Monaca, to be with her current husband. When she moved, her sons went with her because she did not want them living in Midland.
He does not like using the expression because he says words can't truly describe the feeling, but Foster II said the move "tore the heart right out of my chest."
If Foster II moved to Monaca, Clements would allow their sons to return home.
Foster II did not have a car and worked extensive overtime and wasn't sure how he'd get to work from Monaca. He had also lived in Midland his entire life.
But after a few months of his sons being in Philadelphia, Foster II decided to get an apartment in Monaca. And he was able to find someone in Monaca who could drive him to and from work.
"He got out of an area he thought he would never leave to bring us back home," Foster said.
Before Foster's freshman year of high school, he was back in Monaca, and his mother still comes to see her sons twice a month for a lengthy period of time.
But both Clements and Foster II would almost lose their youngest son two years later.
Carla Copple has since had two different phones, but she holds on to her old cranberry flip phone -- a modern-day mobile dinosaur. She looks at her texts, which sometimes bring a smile, other times giving her a renewed sense of purpose.
Foster likes to randomly text those closest to him. Copple, the athletic secretary at Central Valley, scrolls through a few messages from Foster. One tells her he loves her. Another calls Copple his second mother. A third lets her know he appreciates her guidance.
There is one text Copple doesn't need to see to be reminded of. It's dated June 24, 2011.
":(..im so hurt right now miss no one no how hurt i am its killin me he die n front of my face :(..."
On June 23, Darrell Turner was shot and killed in Durham, N.C. Foster was with Turner and some teammates from their 7-on-7 travel football team that was making its way to Florida. The group was grabbing a bite to eat when an argument ensued with a stranger. The man then pulled out a gun and killed Turner. Foster was next to him and said a bullet narrowly missed his head. Foster's mom was initially told he was shot.
Foster knows he got a second chance at life that night
"I felt like I was covered ... through the blessing of God," Foster said. "It could have been anyone."
Neither of his parents was with him the night of the shooting. Foster II got a call from his cousin just as work ended to tell him "Baby Rob" was in trouble. The cousin said a member of Foster's team was killed. He didn't have a name.
"I dropped the phone," Foster II said. "It was like someone had paused my whole body."
Those closest to Foster marveled at how well he handled it.
"That would have knocked most men for a loop," Monteiro said. "He went through that better than most adults."
But there was still the aftermath of dealing with his friend's death, still a memorial service, still a funeral.
"He was down for a while," Copple said. "What kept him going was the conditioning for football."
Foster often worked out several times a day, and by the fall he was a national prospect.
But he was a legend at start-up school Central Valley much earlier.
A berth in the 2010 WPIAL Class AAA final at Heinz Field was on the line when WPIAL powerhouse Jefferson Hills (Pa.) Thomas Jefferson, making its 13th straight semifinal appearance, faced Central Valley, which had just opened that year.
|Robert Foster burst onto the scene as a sophomore with a four-touchdown effort in the WPIAL semifinals.|
While the matchup seemed to favor Thomas Jefferson, the Jaguars didn't have Foster, who scored four touchdowns within the first 15 plays to lead the Warriors to a 42-24 win.
Foster talks briefly about the plays. He doesn't like talking about himself. He nervously picks at the rubber casing of his iPhone, pushing the praise to coaches and teammates.
They push it back, not just for eventually leading Central Valley to a WPIAL title, but for also helping to unite a community.
Earlier that summer, Monaca High School closed and merged with Center High School to form Central Valley.
"I didn't want to become a Warrior," Foster said.
But the students adapted quickly, Foster included.
Now says Foster: "If Central Valley was a college I'd go to that school."
Whenever Carla Copple reads about red flags surrounding Foster, she gets the urge to respond.
She knows it is not her Robert, the one who never calls her Carla or even Mrs. Copple.
"I've never had anybody call me Miss, and he calls me that all the time," Copple said.
Foster knows he is not perfect.
And he doesn't read nor care what others say about him.
When his visit to Ohio State in the spring didn't go well -- a visit that was not supposed to even take place -- bloggers and fans called him a head case, a bad apple and a class clown.
"I can tell you this: 90 percent of the blogs are not true," said Central Valley coach Mark Lyons.
Those around Foster know him for his smile, for uniting a community, for harboring no ill will toward anyone.
"He's one of the most sweetest, caring people I've ever known," Foster II said.
"DRob? To me he's just Robert."