Kanesha Stokes never got a chance to live out her dreams.
But every Friday night she heads out to watch younger brother, Deerfield Beach quarterback Danarious Graham, chase his aspirations and to cheer him on.
“When people tell me life is hard, the first thing I ask them is ‘Are your parents still alive?’” said Stokes, 23, the eldest of six children. “If they are, life isn't so hard. I tell them, ‘Cherish your parents.’ Our mother is gone, and for the last seven years we all feel like a whole part of us went with her.”
On Feb. 16, 2006, Graham and Stokes lost their mother to the complications related to HIV, a battle she quietly hid from her children while working two jobs to pay all the bills as a single mother. It wasn't until three days before she passed, Stokes said, that her kids learned she had been sick, and the family has been struggling to pick up the pieces ever since.
Five of the six children, ages 24 through 8, now live with their grandparents. Genard Graham, Danarious' older brother, is in jail. The 21-year-old won't be released until March, Stokes said.
“We really weren't prepared for her death,” said Stokes, who has been working two and three jobs to help take care of her siblings since she was 16 and hasn't had time to go to college to become a dental assistant, the career of her dreams.
“She used to break her back to give us everything we needed. Nothing has really been the same since she's been gone. That's why I push Denarious. These streets out here are no good. To see him get a football scholarship would be the biggest blessing. He's been through a lot.”
Three years ago, it looked like Graham was destined to become one of the most coveted quarterback prospects in the country. But after a stellar freshman season at Blanche Ely in which he led the team to a 9-3 season and threw for 1,549 yards and 14 touchdowns, academic struggles kept Graham off the field for two years.
After transferring to Deerfield Beach and sitting out last season as he attended night and summer school to bring up his grades, he has led the Bucks (11-0) to only the second undefeated regular season in school history. Last week, he threw a touchdown and pass and then scrambled 14 yards for the game winner in overtime to beat Flanagan.
This week, the stakes are bigger. Miramar (11-0) is ranked three spots ahead of the Bucks (19th) in the USA Today National Top 25 poll. If Graham can get the Bucks past the Patriots he will be two wins from a trip to Orlando for the Class 8A state title game.
“Denarious saved our season last week, hands down,” said coach Allen Jackson, who in his first season at Deerfield in 2011 went 3-6.
“We knew we had the pieces in the backfield [with Brandon Powell and Aeron McNeal]. But he's the key. I knew once we got him at quarterback things would start to flow. He's the driving force, the one that makes things go."
Deerfield, averaging 39.4 points per game, will face a Patriots defense that shut out five opponents and has allowed only 77 points total on the season. Graham (65 of 119, 1,206 yards, 10 TDs, three INTs; 170 yards rushing, five TDs) could ultimately be the difference in keeping the Patriots defense honest.
“We put our trust in Danarious,” said McNeal who has run for 1,001 yards, 14 TDs alongside Powell, a University of Miami recruit, who has run for 1,302 yards, 20 TDs.
“Having him in our offense opens a lot of doors. Any defense we play doesn't know if we're going to pass it or run it and Danarious makes it hard for them when he scrambles.”
Graham, 19, has scholarship offers to Temple and Marshall. But he knows a big game against Miramar could draw other programs in; so would a continued focus on raising his GPA (2.3) and a good test score when he takes the SAT next month.
Graham said he talks to his mother every Thursday about his journey back to football and his future when he visits her at her grave. Stokes said if her mother had not died she's sure her brothers would have avoided trouble.
“I know if my mom was still here she would be at every game,” Graham said. “The lesson I learned without her was to never give up, never play around and know it's never too late for a second chance.
"For me, I've got to make it. I've got to get my family out the hood.”