Born to run
Jermie Calhoun has traveled a tough road to stardom
Posted: Friday February 8, 2008 11:58AM; Updated: Friday February 8, 2008 3:12PM
VAN, Texas -- Standing to the left of the quarterback in the shotgun, Van High running back Jermie Calhoun receives the handoff at the Lindale 12-yard line. The play is designed to go off-tackle right, only Calhoun immediately recognizes Lindale's over-pursuit toward the rapidly shrinking hole. He pivots, and before the defense can adjust to Calhoun's change of direction, he's cruising into the left corner of the end zone, crossing the finish line of a foot race no one else was quick enough to start.
It was an easy touchdown for Calhoun -- one of the 36 he scored or threw for last season -- and an example of the talent that made the 6-foot, 210-pound Oklahoma-bound senior the No. 10-ranked player in the SI/TAKKLE.com Top 100.
It wasn't the first time Calhoun has sped past change.
Calhoun had a rambunctious streak as a child in Tyler, a diverse East Texas city of more than 90,000 that's nicknamed the "Rose Capital of America" for its role in the rose industry. When Calhoun was 2, a favored pastime was jumping off the couch and landing on his knees. His mother, Annett, would sometimes tie a string around her toddler's waist to keep him from running too far ahead. And heaven help her when she tried to corral him for a bath.
"He'd be racing against us when we'd be trying to chase him down for a bath," says Annett. "We'd hit the wall because he'd dodge and duck and dive under stuff. Everywhere he went, he had to run. He was always in a hurry."
Calhoun's motor hasn't stopped. From an early age Calhoun would construct his own agility tests with barrels, rope and even trees. "I'd put a barrel [down] and try to change direction real quick and get to it," says Calhoun. "When I was little, I used to run through [the forest], cut off trees and everything. I think that helped my feet. I had real good balance."
Calhoun was nearly knocked off his feet by a revelation a decade ago. Annett Calhoun was 13 when she gave birth to Jermie, so her mother, Ernestine Buchanan, raised him as her own and Jermie was told that Annett was his older sister.
"He was wondering why I kept doing everything for him," says Annett. "He'd say, 'Usually sisters get mad and beat up on their little brothers, but you always do stuff for me. You're always nice to me.'"
When Jermie was 8, Annett decided it was time to tell her son the truth, so she sat him down and said, "Jermie, I'm your mother."
"He started crying and I hugged him," says Annett.
Jermie remembers being startled by the news and adjusting quickly. "I was just shocked," he says. "But I was a little kid, so then I was like, Can I go play now?"
Helped by the small gap in ages, Jermie and Annett are close friends; Ernestine, who has since moved to Kansas, is like a second mother. "I'm real close to my mom," Jermie says. "And my grandma raised me up. I still call her mom. I call both of them my mom."
A few years later, Annett married a man from Ben Wheeler, which is in the Van school district, before Jermie started fourth grade. The center of all activity in the area and the high school is in Van (pop: 2,362), a one-stoplight town 70 miles east of Dallas and 30 miles west of Tyler. Though athletic, Calhoun took time to adjust to small-town living and didn't play Pop Warner football right away.
"I wasn't used to the environment," says Calhoun. "The more I got into it, I had teachers telling me, 'You should play football. You'd be good.' On the playground, that's where the skills came out."
Calhoun started played football in the seventh grade, and as he began excelling in football, basketball and baseball, he forged a close friendship with Peyton Neill. By his freshman year there were some family problems in Calhoun's life, and he began staying with the Neill family occasionally. In early September of this year, Calhoun and his younger brother, Emanuel Hayes, moved in fulltime with the Neills.
"I'm blessed they took me in," says Calhoun. "I'm not their biological son but they treat me like their own kid. They're great people. They're there for me no matter what. My real mom is still part of me. She's there for me. It's just one big family."