Making academics a fantasy sport

"Look around the country, especially here in Richmond. The school boards and government are lowering the standards to help these kids pass, but what are we really doing? Is the goal to get them out of school? Well then, yeah, you're accomplishing that. Or is the goal to arm them with the tools to make them successful in life? We're not doing that."

Message gets through

A young man named Antonio Moore came in on Wednesdays and got an earful from his teammates. Seems he was missing class, although Moore insists he was just late. Because attendance counts as part of the score, he was bringing his team down.

Moore, a talented linebacker, appeared headed for trouble when he entered the spring semester at Varina High. His mother, Bonnie, worried about his grades, his attitude and the five-word sentence he kept repeating over and over: "I'm going to the NFL."

School? Antonio didn't really think about that because he was convinced he was going to make a career playing football.

When someone from Team Excel called and asked whether they wanted to participate in the reverse fantasy football pilot, Bonnie Moore quickly said yes. Her son had struggled for much of his academic career. When he was in first grade, she insisted on holding him back because he was having trouble with speech and reading. Now he was a teenager with a deep voice and a 1.5 GPA.

"You're talking about somebody walking around who literally looked depressed," said Brown, the football coach. "Somebody who's struggling in life. Somebody who, at [16] years old, which we see a lot around here, we've already lost."

One Wednesday morning, Robinson noticed Moore's teammates coming down hard on him. They told him they were in first place but would have a bigger lead if he'd just show up for class. Robinson pulled him aside.

He asked Moore what he wanted to accomplish in life. He told him not to believe that he had to wind up on the street, or that he couldn't go to a prominent college. He told him he could be whatever he wanted.

Moore says he listened to Robinson because, "That's where I want to be in life." Moore focused on his studies and improved his GPA to 2.8 by the end of the semester.

"It felt really good," Moore said. "I surprised my mom a lot. I even surprised myself.

"I knew I was smart. I really didn't try until this year."

Bonnie Moore says she's noticed a huge difference in her son's attitude. She says he looks up to Robinson. For years, she's been telling him that dreams are great but he can't put all of his hopes into being a professional football player. But he didn't seem to listen until Robinson told him that.

Antonio, she says, came home one day and said, "Mom, you were right."

She looked at him and said, "Good, baby."

More rewarding than football

Months passed this offseason, teams didn't call, and Robinson settled into the idea of retirement. There isn't much of a market for a 31-year-old who can't take anti-inflammatory medicine, which is practically a necessity for players who take the beating of the fullback position. So football is probably over, and Robinson is at peace with it.

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