Football star making end run around trouble Achiever: Eastern Technical High School's Anthony Lawston has shown perseverance and humility in becoming a leading student-athlete.

November 03, 1997|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Along the asphalt roads of the Villages of Tall Trees apartment complex, young Anthony Lawston ran nightly wind sprints for football training -- past the drug dealers, prostitutes and crackles of gunfire.

For Anthony, the seediness of that Essex neighborhood was all too familiar. Born to a mother who was addicted to crack cocaine -- and was later imprisoned for drug dealing -- his football skills had helped him push forward, toward a goal of playing in the National Football League. So even on those crime-ridden streets, he kept running, despite the gunfire.

"I just blocked it out and hoped I wouldn't get hit," he recalls.

Now 17, Anthony is captain of the Eastern Technical High School team -- and one of the premier pass receivers in Maryland. At 6 feet, 4 inches, 210 pounds, he has the size that attracts major college coaches; the University of Michigan and the University of Pittsburgh are among the schools that have contacted him.

But it's the perseverance and humility of Anthony -- a member of the National Honor Society, architecture student and the junior class president -- that have won him even greater respect.

"Anthony is a man-child," said Eastern's athletic director, David Hock. "He's as strong as a bull, has assumed so much responsibility for his age, yet has this shy smile that reminds you he's still a teen-ager.

"Honestly, I wish my son had the human qualities of Anthony Lawston."

Anthony's talent and work ethic remind some of Calvin Hill, who spent his early years in Turners Station on Baltimore County's east side. Hill graduated from Yale University and was an All-Pro halfback with the Dallas Cowboys.

Others caution that Anthony still has a long way to go.

Drugs, crime and the lures of the street are never far away. Anthony moves from bed to bed, living with relatives, friends and his mother, who is recovering from her addiction. And football holds no guarantees.

Harsh memories

Anthony's qualities and tastes -- his favorite foods are yellow rice and neck bone -- were shaped early, in a treacherous section of Cocoa, Fla., where he lived with his mother, three brothers and sister. He rarely saw his father.

Four blocks away was a place called "Little Vietnam" because of its open drug markets and high body count. Anthony's memories of home life are just as harsh.

"I remember going into my mom's bedroom one day and they were all sitting around smoking crack, I guess," he says. "Remembering now, that was when I wanted to leave, get out. Other kids would kind of tease me, say my mother was an addict."

So at age 6, he took action.

One day, he gathered his siblings -- Nakaita, Carey, Cedric and Steven -- and led them across state Route 520, a busy four-lane highway, to his grandmother's house seven blocks away. She would raise the children until Anthony moved to Maryland at age 13.

"Those early years were real rough on Anthony, his mother had hit rock bottom," says grandmother Joann Smith of Cocoa. "But even at the age of 6, he made a major decision."

When the children came to her, Smith converted her carport into a bedroom for them. The boys had twin bunk beds; the girl her own bedroom.

It was a comfortable home, a far cry from Poinsett Apartments, the government housing project the children had left. Their new home was across the street from a Methodist church, with a large yard where Anthony practiced catching footballs.

Beginning in third grade, he played in organized city leagues, collecting many trophies, Smith says. "There was always something special with that boy, something you couldn't put your finger on, that while he had a rough life, people gravitated to him."

Still, when Anthony moved to the Baltimore area, where his mother hoped for a fresh start, he was hardly a happy-go-lucky teen-ager.

"Anthony was like a time bomb waiting to go off," recalls uncle Christopher Morris. He and his wife, Valerie, drove brothers Anthony and Steven from Florida to Maryland, and have helped raise them in an Essex apartment.

"The only thing that kept him in balance was that his grandmother had such a great impact on him and he has so many people who want to help him reach the top," Morris says. "And he had football."

In middle school, Anthony's size and talent attracted coaches from several private schools, including Towson Catholic and Calvert Hall. But Anthony, who wants to be an architect, turned down their scholarship offers and chose Eastern because of its demanding engineering program -- courses that are part of a school-wide turnaround by Principal Robert J. Kemmery.

At Eastern -- a sprawling, two-story brick complex that serves one of the county's poorest areas -- Kemmery had revamped the academic program, found corporate sponsors to add 100 new computers, and installed a civility course for ninth-graders. In 1992, not one senior passed the University of Maryland entrance exam; this year, more than 60 percent have.

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