Terps' Flores steers clear of hazards in escape from street

October 08, 1992|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland junior linebacker Jaime Flores has grown up in some of the worst neighborhoods on the East Coast. He was first arrested while in the fifth grade. When he was 11, he saw one man chop off another person's arm during an argument. Drug deals on the corner were as common as newspaper boxes.

"Everywhere we went on the coast, we lived in the projects or by the projects," said Flores, an All-Metro selection from Poly. "The peer pressure is enormous, and that makes it very, very hard to get out of that environment."

Flores isn't totally out yet, and never will be, because he wants to stay involved through community work. He also wants to be a doctor. He has declared a major in kinesiological sciences (3.3 average on a 4.0 scale), with plans to go to medical school.

And on Saturdays, the 6-foot-2, 229-pound Flores is one ornery linebacker. In the past three weeks, he has made several big plays for the Terps.

So big, in fact, he has been penciled into the starting lineup for the third straight week for Maryland's game Saturday with visiting Georgia Tech.

"He doesn't have a lot of great natural ability, but with his intelligence and desire to get better, he has become a pretty good football player," said Peter McCarty, Maryland's outside linebacker coach.

"Any kid that's a pre-med major and plays Division I football, I take my hat off to them," said McCarty. "And when you consider some of the situations that Jaime has been through, you've got to admire him."

Flores is the son of a Puerto Rican construction worker who brought his family of four to the United States in 1968. German Flores, Jaime's father, then bounced the family between the two countries, trying to find jobs.

Jaime Flores can't remember how many times his family hamoved. But he can recall stops in New York, Trenton, Miami and Baltimore.

"You know how construction jobs are -- sometimes they jusfold," said Flores. "I remember areas like the Bronx. You can't forget places like that."

Flores will never forget what he calls "upper" Fells Point, near Wolfe Street in East Baltimore.

It's been his home the past 10 years.

He got busted there in the fifth grade.

"These policemen come into the classroom of an elementarschool and arrest me for spray painting an orange wall black," said Flores. "I couldn't believe that, especially with some of the other crimes going on in the neighborhood."

Listen to the worst Flores witnessed:

"I was 11 and walking to the store," said Flores. "There is thiPuerto Rican guy arguing with this Cuban guy about drugs, and the Puerto Rican guy whips out a machete and slices his arm off down to the elbow.

"This was a typical happening in the neighborhood," Flores saiof the area near Wolfe Street. "Drug deals were always happening on the corners, and it was blatant. Everyone knew where the drug drop-offs were. And when arrests were made, those arrested were back on the corner within a week."

Flores was heading for similar trouble. He admits to smokinmarijuana and committing a lot of vandalism in the community.

That was before age 10.

Flores was in trouble so much that he was given the name "Chicken Feet" by a policeman for his ability to run away from officers.

Then it all started to change.

"I had 11 uncles who lived in the same community," said Flores"We used to play tackle football on the sidewalk and they thought I was pretty good. They noticed that I was pretty smart, too, so they kept me out of trouble. They physically forced me to make something out of myself. It's unbelieveable, but when people start telling you you can make something out of yourself, you start to believe it.

"I still hung out with my same friends, but it was cool then," saiFlores. "They stopped pressuring me about doing this or taking a hit of something because they saw I was trying to do something good."

Flores was accepted at Poly, where he was hit with culturshock at first. But within a year, he was on the dean's list. He also excelled at football, basketball and lacrosse. At the end of his senior season, Flores chose Maryland over Miami, Florida and Penn State because he wanted to stay close to his parents, who were going through a separation.

Flores redshirted his freshman season in 1989, and played mostly special teams during the past two seasons at Maryland.

But when Maryland hired coach Mark Duffner in January, Flores got

a second chance.

"I thought the old coaching staff played favorites," said Flores. "They didn't give a lot of players chances to prove themselves. When this staff came in, everybody started all over again."

Flores was No. 2 behind senior Darren Colvin when the season began, but started and had a good game against Penn State.

He started again last week against Pittsburgh, collecting one sack and intercepting a pass late in the third period. That interception, at the Pitt 35, later led to a touchdown that turned the game around for Maryland.

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