Alexander Snipes has been around for many of the tough times in Telly Lockette’s life.
He was there for him in middle school when Lockette’s mother was arrested in a drug-related incident and spent a few years in jail.
He was with him at a South Beach nightclub the night Lockette nearly died as a college freshman, his skull cracked open by a bottle during a barroom fight.
And he was with him five years ago when former Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Rudy Crew fired a total of 21 people, including everyone on Miami Northwestern’s football staff, and accused them of covering up a sex scandal involving former star running back Antwain Easterling and a 14-year-old girl.
“It didn’t run across the ESPN bottom-line ticker the day all of us were found innocent of all charges,” said Snipes, now an assistant coach under Lockette at Miami Central. “But it did the day they accused us and told us we might not ever coach again.”
The tough times never seem to end in Miami’s inner city. But now is certainly one of the better times — especially for Lockette.
The 37-year-old former star running back at Northwestern High and a Division I-AA All-American linebacker at Idaho State has succeeded where others have failed, building a powerhouse football program on 95th Street in West Little River that even the rival Bulls have not beaten since Oct. 8, 2009.
The fourth-ranked Rockets (11-2) will play in their third consecutive Class 6A state championship game Saturday afternoon when they take on No. 1-ranked Gainesville High (14-0) at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. Lockette, who took over at Central in 2008 and is 59-10 on the field (46-23 according to the FHSAA, which vacated the Rockets’ 13 wins in 2011 for having an ineligible player), is the first coach to take a Miami-Dade team to three consecutive title-game appearances.
Central has not lost to a team from Dade or Broward since falling to Miramar’s 2009 state championship team in the state semifinals.
College coaches from just about every big-name program in the country makes sure to stop by Central. In his first four years, Lockette said he has had roughly 70 players sign scholarships. As many as 13 seniors, he said, will sign in February — players such as linebacker Marquez Hidge (Syracuse), safety Da’Wan Hunte (N.C. State) and linebacker Ahmad Thomas (Oklahoma). But Central’s junior class — featuring star tailbacks Joseph Yearby (Florida State), Dalvin Cook (Clemson) and offensive tackle Trevor Darling (Miami) — figures to be even bigger with between 18 to 24 signees.
Nothing, Lockette said, makes him happier than National Signing Day.
“You get up every day and you have to look out for these kids,” said Lockette, who makes a $2,800 coaching supplement in addition to his base salary as a physical education teacher. “If you are in this for the pay, you’ll never get rich. You’re making damn near 10 cents an hour — and that’s not counting the kids who ask you for lunch money or bus fare home.
“College is a blessing, and it’s great to see it change the lives of these kids and their families. I ask them all the time: Do your parents have a quarter of a million dollars? I tell them when colleges want to invest in you, take that opportunity and don’t blow it.”