Hard work helps Varner get back on positive road

Football: Three years ago, Randallstown's Christian Varner was expelled. Now, he's looking ahead to the Class 3A North title game and to college ball at Maryland.

High Schools

November 20, 2003|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Christian Varner never will forget the look in Dona Rawlings-Varner's tear-filled eyes three years ago, when his behavior earned him expulsion from Randallstown High.

"She just cried and cried and couldn't stop. She kept saying, over and over, `You told me that you were going to do well, go to college,' " said Varner, recalling that his mother had to face a principal, an athletic director and a football coach. All told her that her son, found with a concealed weapon -- box cutters -- could no longer attend school, much less play football for the Rams.

"My coaches were upset with me because I had just gotten promoted to varsity. My grandmother was upset with me because I had promised to be the first from her side to go to college," Varner said. "But most of all, I will never forget the look in my mother's face. There was so much hurt in her eyes -- but she's so proud of me now."

Today, Varner is back at Randallstown, where he's considered a model student.

His daily routine involves taking four courses at school, driving his 1991 Acura into Baltimore to help his grandfather, Larry Rawlings, at the family's auto shop as part of Randallstown's work-study program, and returning for football practice.

"I came back from seven months at an alternative school with my mind right and said, `Never will I do wrong by my mother again,' " said Varner.

However, his grandmother, Rosa Rawlings, died of heart failure before hearing his oral commitment in June for a football scholarship to the University of Maryland.

"She never knew about it," Varner said, "but I'm the first one to go to college, so I know she's smiling."

Varner's redoubled efforts, including a summer school English course, have earned him enough credits to leave high school in January, enroll in classes at Maryland and join the Terps' spring football practice. He'll take part in high school graduation in May.

"Christian's put himself in a position, academically, to leave school early, and I can't say that I've ever had an athlete do that before," said Randallstown guidance chairperson Deborah Gibson. "His grades and his SAT are great. In the future, I tell him he's going to have to come back and speak to other student-athletes to let them know about how hard work can put you in this position."

Tomorrow night, the versatile senior back leads the seventh-ranked Rams (9-2) against Bel Air (7-3) in the Class 3A North region title game.

Varner, 5 feet 11, 170 pounds, has amassed 1,280 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns as quarterback, receiver, running back and kick returner.

Ranked as high as eighth nationally as a defensive back by some recruiting services, Varner always is assigned the opposition's best receiver and has returned two of six interceptions for touchdowns.

"Blazing speed," said recruiting expert Sheldon Shealor, editor of Maryland/D.C. Varsity Football Magazine, who watched Varner clock at 4.41-second 40-yard dash -- best out of nearly 300 players -- at the Nike Camp at Penn State last spring.

"Questions loomed about his size and strength, but you can always get him to hit the weights and strengthen his upper body," Shealor said. "But there was no doubting his athleticism. And from a recruiting standpoint, you can't teach 4.4 speed in the 40."

"Christian was always a willing learner who made his own choices," said Rawlings-Varner, 43. "When he was 2, and when every other kid at this birthday party wanted cake, he wanted collard greens."

But as Varner grew older, he got tired of being "the nice guy" and began to lead a double life.

Rawlings-Varner, who has two other children, Marcus, 9, and Erika, 15, saw in her oldest "the boy I loved who made me want to have more children. He went to church, was respectful and never spoke to me in a negative way."

But there was another side to Christian Varner, she said, that "by middle school, had his girlfriends forging my name on doctor's notes so he could play hooky."

Varner's grades suffered. He repeated eighth grade. The behavior carried into his first year at Randallstown.

"I was speechless -- couldn't talk to him anymore -- when he was suspended," Rawlings-Varner said. "I felt I couldn't reach him anymore."

But Varner credits his seven months at the Catonsville Center for Alternative Studies, his father-son-like relationship with Rams assistant Evan Murray and the memory the pain he caused his mother as the reasons for his change in attitude upon returning to Randallstown in April of his freshman year.

Judy Edgar, the Catonsville Center's principal, said: "One of the things we do is show boys how to save face when they're under peer pressure. He was a nice kid but a typical kid. He was very receptive, open and absorbed things well. A kid like that is really going to be successful."

And he has been. So much so that first-year Randallstown coach Albert Howard, a Minnesota native, never has seen Varner's negative side.

"Christian was one of the first kids I met when I came here, and his calm demeanor and natural leadership made the transition easier," Howard said.

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