When not working his way up the depth chart, FIU redshirt sophomore wide receiver Fred Porter worked at the campus recreation center. Meanwhile, Porter’s student loan debt rose about as steadily as his playing time.
All that came to a stop two weeks ago. Saturday’s home game against Louisiana Tech will be the second since Porter began getting paid.
Not in straight cash but via scholarship, which is quite good enough for the now-former walk-on.
“A lot of people go through the walk-on process. That’s what it is, a process,” Porter said. “I went through two and a half years of seeing other people get their stuff paid for — their books, classes, meals. My mom, who’s 100 percent disabled, hasn’t worked since I was in middle school, and my dad having to struggle to help me pay for my education. … It’s a huge blessing for me to not having any more bills on my account.”
FIU coach Ron Turner said, “He’s earned it on the field with his attitude and the way he’s playing and contributing. He’s earned it off the field with his academics, the way he carries himself and represents FIU.”
Mother Sabrina Porter displayed a predictably happy reaction in an unpredictable way.
“I called her, she was on her way to the mall, I think. I said, ‘Mom, I got some news.’ She’s always expects the worse. She always thinks something’s wrong. I told her, ‘I just got off the phone with Coach Turner, and he decided to put me on scholarship.’ She started yelling at the top of her lungs. Then, she got really quiet. I asked, ‘What’s wrong?’
“She said, ‘Man, I got so excited, you made me pee myself.’ She was mad at me because she had to turn around and go back home,” he laughed. “My dad [Fred Porter] is my No. 1 fan. He’s here at every game. He tries to make every away game. He’s been that way since high school, middle school. He just told me to stay humble because this is just the first step. My first goal, when I came here wasn’t to play, it was obviously to get good grades, but it was to get on scholarship. That’s the first goal. Now, it’s just an uphill battle. I’m very happy, but I can’t be satisfied.”
Fred Porter, the son, would be happy if his mother could attend just one FIU game in the 2 1/2 seasons that remain for him. She suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines it as “a painful disorder that usually follows a localized injury, that is marked by burning pain, swelling, and motor and sensory disturbances especially of an extremity.”
Porter explained, “She’s very irritable a lot. She has to take a lot of shots to help her muscles relax. She watches on TV as much as she can, she listens on the radio.
“In a big atmosphere like this” — he threw his eyes up the FIU Stadium south stands — “it’s hard for her. She likes to be in her own environment. A lot of things will trigger her nervous system, and she’ll just be miserable.”
Porter came to FIU out of Tampa-area Ruskin Lennard High School as a quarterback in 2011 and redshirted his freshman season. With a continued quarterback glut, Porter traveled the well-worn path to wide receiver many high school quarterbacks walked in college.
“I just wanted to play,” Porter said. “I thought my athletic ability was good enough to transition to different positions.”
His only catch last season came in garbage time of the 46-26 season-opening loss to Duke, yet was as spectacular as it was inconsequential — a 31-yard touchdown leaping grab at the back of the end zone.
“Solid player, not great speed, but I’ve seen a lot of good receivers not have great speed,” Turner said. “Good route runner, good hands, you could tell he was a former quarterback the way he handled himself and what he knew about the game.”
After a hamstring injury limited him in the spring, Porter took advantage of a void at the wide receiver spot. He provided FIU’s offensive bright spot in the season-opening loss to Maryland with another air climb — did we mention basketball actually is his first love? — for a 36-yard gain. He started the losses to Bethune-Cookman and Louisville.
Now, he can finish his degree in business management by next fall (he has a 3.4 grade-point average) and get a year of his master’s done under scholarship.
“I love kids,” Porter said. “I really want to be a teacher and some kind of coach. I’m a sports guy. I love basketball, I love football. I would really love to be a coach [of] high school football.”