When Jon Voroshilin's father died during the last school year, the Morgan State kicker seriously considered quitting school and returning to Texas instead of playing his senior season.
"I planned on going back home and helping out my mother," Voroshilin said. "But my grades were all right and it was getting so close to graduation, I changed my mind. My mom's working through it now."
So is Voroshilin, who handles all of the kicking duties for the Bears (1-3) and then some. Though the team's offense is struggling to locate consistency, Voroshilin is having a stellar season and clearly demonstrating why he was chosen to the All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference preseason first team.
In last weekend's 24-21 overtime loss to Hampton at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., the 5-foot-11, 180-pound kicker rushed for a two-point conversion off a fake placement - bulling his way just inside the left pylon at the goal line - boomed a 71-yard punt that Hampton fumbled away, then booted a 42-yard field goal after an apparent Morgan touchdown pass was ruled incomplete because receiver Tommy Manus was out of bounds.
That field goal gave the Bears an 18-10 lead with 4:34 remaining, but the Pirates rallied to tie and then won in overtime despite another field goal from Voroshilin.
"He has definitely come through in some clutch situations," said Morgan coach Donald Hill-Eley. "That 71-yard punt came at a crucial time. Our kicking game is definitely in the right place."
Hill-Eley is likely to call anything when Voroshilin lines up for a punt or placement. A part-time quarterback in high school, Voroshilin might loft a pass or take off running out of punt or extra-point formation. He also recovered his own onside kickoff on one occasion.
But for what he admitted was a slovenly approach to schoolwork, Voroshilin might have wound up at Texas A&M out of Madison High near San Antonio.
"I committed to A&M," he said. "But I had academic problems. My study habits were horrible, and I probably would have flunked out. At a place like that, where there are five or six kickers, you are expendable. But I still think about what might have happened if I had gotten in."
Instead, he enrolled at Blinn Junior College near Houston, a school known for its football team. Somehow, he landed in Baltimore from there, a white kicker at a predominantly black institution.
"This was actually the last place I thought I'd go," he said. "It was so far away. But when I came for a visit, Coach Hill did a hell of a sales job. He told me it was my job while I was here."
The Morgan community has made him feel right at home.
"To be honest, I was kind of apprehensive at first. I had never been in surroundings like this," he said. "But it wasn't any different from anyplace else. Everybody tried to help me fit in right away."
When the Morgan team visited a middle school in Paterson, N.J., on its trip last weekend, Voroshilin received a welcome as big as Bears quarterback and New Jersey native Lejominick Washington.
Voroshilin might have pursued soccer, but the lure of Texas high school football was too much to resist.
"I played soccer for a year, but, honestly, there was too much running for me," he said. "I kind of got sick of it. And high school football in Texas is huge. I wanted to be part of that."
Like everyone else at Morgan, Voroshilin has been frustrated by the Bears' narrow losses to South Carolina State and Hampton, two of the better MEAC teams. The road doesn't get smoother tomorrow when Morgan visits unbeaten Bethune-Cookman, No. 1 in the Black College football poll and the MEAC's team to beat. Only a win will keep Morgan's title hopes alive.
"We haven't even poured concrete on the basement floor yet and we're competing with the conference's elite," said Hill-Eley. "Our morale is still there because we've been in both games in the last quarter."
Still, there is no margin for error now.
"This team was built to win now," said Voroshilin. "But when we went to Tallahassee [a loss to Florida A&M] it took the wind out of our sails. This one is huge because we've dug ourselves quite a hole. We really need a conference win to get the ball rolling. There would be no place better to do it than there [at Bethune-Cookman]."
Next for Morgan
Matchup: Morgan State (1-3, 0-3) vs. Bethune-Cookman (4-0, 1-0)
Site: Municipal Stadium, Daytona Beach, Fla.
When: Tomorrow, 2 p.m.
Radio: WEAA (88.9 FM)