Magee Overcomes Life's Obstacles

SAN ANTONIO — It's the first day of the spring evaluation period, and coaches from some of the nation's most successful programs are packing into San Antonio Sam Houston High School.

In the corner resides Texas assistant Duane Akina, and assistants from Alabama and Texas Christian aren't standing far off. The object of their affections is Javonte Magee, a defensive lineman with an uncommon blend of size and athleticism, who lays on his back, throwing up mass quantities of weight on the hang clean.

But that's not all that's uncommon about Magee. The most impressive quality about the prospect, who will wind up earning nearly 50 scholarship offers, is that he was able to make it to the workout. That he wasn't tripped up when he was abandoned by a mother addicted to drugs, or when Hurricane Katrina forced Magee from family and home.

"I guess you could say that I'm lucky to be alive," Magee said, shrugging.


Three months to live

If the doctors were right, Magee wouldn't have made it to his first birthday. Born to a mother addicted to crack-cocaine, the doctors gave the infant three months to live. His mother elected not to cope with the situation, and abandoned Magee at a local crackhouse.

He was five weeks old.

And there, in the face of despair, Magee received his first blessing. Mary Griffin was a friend of Magee's biological father, and asked if she could adopt Magee, as his mother was unable to care for him. The rest, as they say, was history.

"You could say I was adopted, but she's had me since I was little, like a newborn baby," Magee said. "My real mom, she's not even my real mom. She's just some lady, on that crack and stuff. She left me on a porch in a box."

Sam Houston coach Gary Green said he often states that Griffin was one of the best things ever to happen to Magee.

"She lets him be a big kid," Green said. "They're so close. I think he really feels blessed that (Griffin) is his mother. He's a momma's boy. I think he knows that his life would be quite different if not for her."


Katrina hits

When Magee was 11, his New Orleans home was hit by Hurricane Katrina. The storm didn't come as a surprise, Magee said, but his family didn't have a car, so they were unable to leave.

"We were walking in the rain going to the school down the street," Magee said. "We stayed in there for at least five days. We were up on the roof, holding up an SOS sign, all of that stuff."

For five days, Magee hoped that they would be found, watching alligators swimming in the water and eating the corpses of those who didn't make it.

And Magee later confided in Green that he didn't know if he and his family would ever make it out. But they did. They made their way to the Jefferson Parish, before a bus came and ushered the family to the Astrodome. The Red Cross came, found Magee and his younger brother, and sent them off to Gardner, Kan. for a year.

It was then that Magee said his next blessing came. Along the way, he was separated from his oldest brother. But they were able to reconnect, and Magee and his younger brother moved down to San Antonio. The family was reunited.

"We came down here because he was down here," Magee said. "That's when I started playing football."


New home

Magee was in middle school when he moved down to San Antonio, and he said he was surprised by the level of emphasis put on football.

"I hadn't ever played organized football before," Magee said. "I didn't even know what two-a-days were. In New Orleans, we didn't really do all that football stuff. But I played street ball, and I always dreamed of being a big football player.

"I dreamed of being Ray Lewis," Magee said. "I try to get his intensity before the games. He's going crazy, and I like that. His little dancing and stuff, it's tight."

Magee started at an opposing middle school to several of Sam Houston's other players, but came to the high school as a freshman.

"When I was a freshman, I wasn't really serious about this whole weights thing," Magee said. "I didn't know I was going to get all these colleges liking me."


Big ability

One of the most gifted of athletes, Randy Moss, once said of his ability: "The way I see it, God has a magic wand, and he taps just a few on the head."

Magee was another tapped by that same wand. Standing a shade over 6-foot-6 tall, Magee weighed in at almost 275 pounds in the spring, with what college coaches would call a "perfect" frame: muscular, but plenty of room to add good weight without losing speed or quickness. He's since dropped down to 260 pounds to increase his explosiveness, but the explanation still holds. He's an excellent athlete — clocked in the 4.7-second range in the 40-yard dash — with extreme size potential.

Scout.com has Magee rated as the No. 2 defensive end in the state of Texas and the No. 84 player nationally; a four-star prospect.

"Javonte will play on Sundays," Green said. "I have no doubt in my mind that he will play and excel on Sundays."

Green's speaking from his own experience. A former first-round draft choice, Green played nine years in the NFL. He also knows what big-time college prospects look like, after coaching Texas signee and U.S. Army All-American Quincy Russell a year ago.

"Javonte's a step above just about anyone I've seen," Green said. "He's so explosive. And this is something he's just starting to figure out. He's trying things and coming back, saying 'I had no idea I could do that.' The sky is really the limit. He's a humble kid, and I don't think he ever stops and looks at himself as being good. He's too busy getting better."

Magee said the light clicked his sophomore year, when he made the varsity, and colleges began sending him two letters a day.

"Things started happening for me," Magee said. "I got on varsity, and nobody could hold me. I knew I had to start working hard, and I haven't ever stopped."

That includes in the classroom, where Magee has risen from being "way behind" according to Green, to totally caught up. And Magee said that the No. 1 factor he's looking for in a school is "a good education."


Elevating the program

One of the amazing things about Magee's ascension is that it has occurred at the same time as the elevation of the Sam Houston program. Before Green arrived the school's districting area produced plenty of talent, only to see much of it fizzle out or transfer before making it to the varsity level.

Every other school in the district had a legitimate, working weight room. Sam Houston's weight room was a disaster, with cotton coming out of the benches on the pulley machines. Green said it was a breeding ground for staph infection.

But the school board came together and made a $40,000 donation. The effect that it had on Sam Houston was palpable. The offensive line boasts three FBS prospects in Ralphael Green, Prince Eshan and Melvin Ross, with Magee lining up at tight end on offense. Defensive back Leo Thomas was committed to Arizona before coach Mike Stoops was fired. And players like cornerback Gary Reed IV and running back JeQuan McBride have received FBS attention as well. All are seniors.

"We went from being pushed around to now, when people don't push us around," Coach Green said of the change."

"I feel like we have the best offensive line in the state," Magee said. "We want to prove that every time we go out."

Those same players also serve as the Hurricanes' defensive linemen. And Sam Houston has ridden those lines to a 6-2 start, with the state playoffs squarely within the Hurricanes' sights.

Most of those players, like Magee, have come from rough backgrounds. Eshan said that he considers football his way to escape a bad neighborhood. And Raphael Green said he wants to go into nursing to help people with drug addiction problems. Magee is quiet by nature, but he said he feels free to open up around his teammates. In what has been, at times, an unstable life, they lend him stability.

"They're great kids, all of them," Coach Green said. "They're all hard working, just great kids. A lot come from bad places, but they're going to be able to get past that. And that's exciting."

"Those guys are my brothers," Magee said. "I love all of them."


What's next

Magee won't fill anyone in on his college selection process, which has left plenty of people guessing. Everyone from Texas to LSU to Missouri to Baylor has been rumored to lead in his recruitment, all for any number of reasons.

"I'm wide open to everybody," Magee said. "I won't start making decisions on recruitment until after the season. Right now, I'm focused on this season. We want to win state. I can't get too big-headed about this stuff. I just need to keep on doing what I'm doing. I can't get crossed up or anything."

It's that level of focus that Coach Green thinks will help Magee to reach his sizable potential.

"He's a great kid, with a capital G," Green said. "Everything he's gone through, he's just come out on the other side. He's the type of kid you wouldn't mind having your daughter bring home.

"Barring major injuries, with his attitude, his work ethic and his tremendous natural ability, I think in five or so years, he'll be off in the National Football League," Green said. "I would even venture to bet that he'll be one of the ones featured (in the Green Room) on ESPN on Draft Day. He could be a very high draft pick.

And that's not a bad place to be for someone who wasn't expected to live past the three-month mark.

"I just kept on living," Magee said. "I'm blessed. I know that I'm here for a purpose. Now I just have to go get it."

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