He always sat in back, so maybe that's why no one seemed to miss the short, slim eighth-grader when he stopped coming to Dunbar Middle School. The teachers couldn't control the classroom, he wasn't learning anything, and his mother was too worried about battling her own demons to make him go.
He would hang out at the house on Brentwood Avenue, playing Nintendo. Or he would head to the Fair Lanes bowling alley with his buddies Shawn and Jasper. He enjoyed that game, particularly the neat, clean geometrical orders of the pins.
Maybe he would be like his older brother, who left school after the ninth grade and never went back.
"It seemed like even though I didn't go to school much, I didn't miss anything," he says now. "Nothing caught my attention."
That was four years ago. Tomorrow, Antuan Ross Scott, once identified by the school system as a "chronic nonattendee," will graduate from Southern High School -- with a class ranking in the top 10 percent.
After school, he does computer work for the Department of Parks and Recreation and serves as commander of Southern High's 130-member junior Reserve Officers Training Corps. "He is without a doubt the best commander we've had in the 12 years I've been here," says Maj. William Duncan, Antuan's adult supervisor.
Last month, the state presented Antuan with a special certificate for his school achievements. Armed with a $3,200 scholarship, Antuan plans to attend Baltimore City Community College, Morgan State or the University of Maryland Eastern Shore next year, with a military career after that.
"I think his getting turned around had a lot to do with ROTC, and everything to do with something special inside him, something nobody else in our family has," says his sister, Latonia Wright, 25. "To have a brother who is even thinking about college is amazing to me."
If cold, hard statistics guaranteed cold, hard lives, Antuan Scott would be just another icy failure.
He grew up fatherless in a household that moved between rowhouses and public housing projects. At 16, Antuan became a father himself. His brother is in prison for murder. And his mother says she has not been the same since the day when Antuan was in elementary school and a man held her hostage at gunpoint for several hours.
"She's not able to work," Antuan says.
But he has handled her, handled all of it. Not easily, but slowly, methodically and, above all, in an orderly way.
"I don't want my son to have the life that I've had," Antuan says. "I need to teach him more responsibility, to stay focused on school, to have a better life than his father."
Antuan, who turned 19 on Monday, was born at Sinai Hospital. His father, Anthony Ross Scott, died of a heart attack when Antuan was 3, leaving a fuzzy photograph in his mind's eye. "I always picture him as very nice," he says.
The family had lived on Violet Avenue, but after the death, his mother, Antuan and two older siblings (the three have different fathers) moved to Lafayette Courts. His mother would have three more children, and as the family grew it bounced around the city. Each time, Antuan would change schools. He had to repeat the third grade.
But his family seemed to recognize something special. Latonia Wright began calling her younger brother "Little McGyver" -- a reference to the television character who could make an airplane from twigs -- after Antuan, at 12, fixed the wiring of a stereo system. And when his older brother Carroll's pet python escaped and wrapped itself around the laundry machine, Antuan coaxed it away by lighting a fire in a nearby pot. "Snakes like heat," he said.
"Where did he learn all of this?" Latonia says. "I have no idea."
Still, he was missing school, and the future didn't look bright at Southern, where he was assigned in the fall of 1992. The high school was a "dumping ground" for the city's most difficult and violent students, who hung out in school stairwells that teachers were afraid to walk.
But he was lucky. As a truant who had repeated a grade, Antuan was eligible for the Futures Program, a city-state effort to keep at-risk students in school. The program assigned Antuan an advocate, a patient man named Phil Howard, who pushed him to go to class every day.
"It was clear that Antuan had potential," Howard says. "He would listen to you, really consider things."
Antuan says he wasn't much interested in high school until he noticed the members of the junior ROTC program during his freshman fall. Something clicked. He liked the uniforms, the discipline and the orderly movements of the members. The corps also had a mediocre drill team, and Antuan saw an opportunity. This was something he could fix.
So he signed up. Almost as soon as he put on the green uniform, the taunting began in the school hallways: "Pickle! Pickle! You little green pickle!" But the other ROTC members respected him. A natural leader, the ninth-grader read the drill manual closely and soon was ordering the corps around like a Marine gunnery sergeant. The nickname, "Gunny," stuck.