By BRIAN LESTER
It’s difficult to understand why someone would gun down an 18-year-old high school football player.
University of Findlay defensive back Feraris Golden still wonders the same thing.
Six years ago in South Florida, one of Golden’s Pahokee High School teammates went to a dance at a Boys & Girls Club in neighboring Belle Glade.
Norman Griffith, a talented athlete being recruited to play college football, was out having fun with his friends after a victory on a Friday night.
He wasn’t looking for trouble. When he sensed it was near, he left the dance with friends.
It still wasn’t enough. Later that night, Griffith was shot dead by Carl Lee Booth, a 17-year-old who was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
At least six shots were fired into the vehicle Griffith was in. It was an attempted robbery of a necklace that turned into a senseless act of violence.
“Some guys from Belle Glade wanted to rob him and take his chain, and he said no,” Golden said as he recalled the tragic ending of his friend’s life. “He was shot in the head. It was a tough pill to swallow when he died.”
Golden will honor his friend this year by wearing No. 7, which was Griffith’s number in high school. The senior captain of the Oilers is thankful he can do it in his final year at UF.
“It means a lot. I’ve put the number on my cleats and on the tape I wear on my wrists,” said Golden, one of 18 seniors on the UF roster. “It’s a blessing coach (Rob) Keys let me wear the jersey.”
Golden will get his first chance to honor his friend Saturday night as the curtain rises on the 2014 season.
The Oilers battle Hillsdale College in a 7 p.m. Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference game at Donnell Stadium.
Golden is coming off a year where he racked up 54 tackles. He also tallied three interceptions and earned honorable mention all-GLIAC honors.
After months of offseason workouts and a competitive preseason, Golden and the Oilers, 8-3 last year, are ready to go.
“We have one game to focus on and we are taking it one game at a time,” Golden said. “Hopefully we can start a domino effect and knock everyone of them down. We’re looking forward to having fun this season and seeing where it goes.”
The Oilers hope the season ends with a GLIAC championship and berth in the NCAA Division II playoffs.
The road begins with Hillsdale, which, despite being 5-6 a season ago, is typically one of the conference’s most fundamentally sound teams.
Keys expects his team to be tested. While he said he won’t know how good his team really is until it plays, he is pleased with the preparation.
“We’ve had a lot of good and a lot of bad. No practice is ever the way a coach wants it,” Keys said.
“But the one thing our guys have done is put in a lot of effort to prepare for the game. I like our competitive nature. At times, it goes overboard, but I’d rather say whoa than sick ’em.”
The Chargers have an experienced defense, led by sophomore defensive end Zach Swaffer (38 tackles, 8 sacks).
Senior defensive end Bryan Siegert made 24 tackles a year ago for the Chargers.
Hilldale is also experienced in the secondary, with defensive back Daniel Pittman (21 tackles) and free safety Tim Moinet (25 tackles) returning. Both players are seniors.
Mark LaPrarie is the starting quarterback but only played in one game last season. The offensive line features two freshmen and two sophomores. However, Keys refused to label the Chargers as inexperienced and expects them to be ready to play.
As for the Oilers, they have plenty of experience and come into the season on a four-game win streak.
Senior Verlon Reed will play at quarterback after throwing for nearly 1,800 yards (1,791) and junior Daiquone Ford, a regional finalist for the Harlon Hill last year, returns to anchor the backfield.
He rushed for 1,789 yards and 24 touchdowns before tearing his ACL in week 10.
Wide receiver Lloyd Henry (71 catches, 951 yards, 7 TDs) is coming off a breakout season and the offensive line features three seniors.
Senior Harold Jones-Quartey anchors the defense after making a team-best 92 tackles last season.
Senior Kevin Brewton (38 tackles, league-leading 11 sacks) is the leader of the defensive line while sophomore Brad Fenton (35 tackles) and senior Eric Palmore-Lett (21) are the top linebackers returning.
Golden is expected to make an impact as well. He is one of the more vocal players on the defense and brings intensity and energy to the field every day.
“I feel like I’m the heart,” Golden said.
“Our defense has watched a lot of film and we’ve worked hard to fix our mistakes from last year. We’re anxious to see what we can do.”
Keys said it’s impossible to measure Golden’s value to the team. What Golden has done off the field has impressed him the most.
“He has become the person a lot of people didn’t think he could be,” Keys said.
“He is a great guy. He came here a little rough around the edges, and while he hasn’t lost his identity, he has grown up as a man. He is prepared to be a success in life.”
Golden, who made the Dean’s List last spring with a 3.69 GPA, has big plans for his future. A criminal justice major, Golden is considering going into the Marines or becoming an undercover FBI agent.
The present is also bright. And while he will never be able to make sense of why one teen took the life of another, he plans to seize the opportunity to honor Griffith.
“I’m thankful to have one more season,” Golden said. “I want to honor him by playing my best every week.”
Coach: Keith Otterbein (13th season, 77-58)
Record: Season opener
Series: Hillsdale leads 16-7
Key Returning Players: WR Evan Bach (28 catches, 345 yards, 3 touchdowns); WR John Haley (26, 319, 2 TDs); DE Zach Swaffer (38 tackles, 8 sacks); FS Tim Moinet (25 tackles); DE Bryan Siegert (24 tackles, 2 sacks); CB Daniel Pittman (21 tackles); DT Tyler Jenks (21 tackles); DT Roger Stewart (19 tackles); LB Butch Herzog (17 tackles)
Noteworthy: UF and HC last met in 2011, with the Chargers winning 49-19. … Otterbein has 137 wins overall in his coaching career, which includes seven seasons at Ferris State. … Evan Bach led the Chargers in receiving last season. … HC is picked to finish fifth in the North Division. … The Chargers averaged 376.7 yards per game and allowed 413.7 per game last season.
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