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Devard chooses Florida State. Tears fill the twins' eyes when they sign their letters of intent. All their 1 a.m. plans are coming true. Why, then? Why, in the still of night when Devaughn falls asleep, does Devard keep staring at his twin's face and feeling desperation in his gut, rushing in like the wave that sucked Devaughn out to sea when they were seven and nearly drowned him? Devard lies there, crying and telling himself how ridiculous this feeling is, that his twin won't the until they're old, and then, somehow, they'll do it like they do everything else: together. Have you ever done that? Loved someone so much that you mourned his death as he slept?
The last bedroom they shared. Devard kept sneaking back into it: How could NO TRESPASSING apply to a ghost? He'd slip away from the apartment he'd moved into with his brother Dennis—who had come to see him through the school year and the grief—and drift back to Burt Reynolds Hall, where Florida State's freshman and sophomore players lived. He'd pull out the key he hadn't turned in, enter the silence and sag onto one of their old beds, waiting...listening...watching.
There they are, the two of them coming back from study hall on a winter Sunday night and ordering a pizza. It's seven weeks after their freshman season ended. It's their last night together. Their dream's on track. They've learned that they belong in the big time, with Devaughn pegged to start as a sophomore and Devard to be one of four receivers in the Seminoles' rotation. Their coaches call both of them a coach's dream.
They've learned something else after their freshman physicals: They both have the sickle-cell trait. But so what? So do 8% of all blacks in America, including plenty of gifted athletes. It's a generally benign hereditary condition marked by one abnormal gene for hemoglobin that causes the production of some red blood cells with a sickle shape, instead of the smooth-flowing spherical one, and thus potentially reducing the blood's oxygen-carrying capacity. The NCAA medical handbook warns that the trait might be linked to exercise-associated sudden death—in military training, not in sports—but so rarely that no specific restrictions should be placed on an athlete who carries the trait. Only that he, like all athletes, should avoid dehydration during workouts and get into condition gradually over several weeks before engaging in exhaustive exercise regimens, and that team doctors and trainers should familiarize themselves with the medical literature. The only caution flag waved at the twins is this: Be careful making babies. If their partners have the same trait, they run a high risk of conceiving a child with sickle-cell anemia, an often fatal disease in which the sickle-shaped blood cells are rampant.
The twins are not thinking about multiplying as they polish off the pizza—just about surviving. Just a few more mat drills remain to be completed. To a man, ex-Seminoles who've gone on to NFL two-a-days in July or to Marine Corps boot camp agree: Nothing compares to Florida State's off-season mat drills. Former Seminoles tailback John Merna, a Marine, called the drills "a true test of a man's physical and moral courage." Former Seminoles defensive lineman James Roberson said they were like "stepping into a gas chamber." Players who had finished four years of them came back and thanked Coach Bobby Bowden for the rewards they reaped from them and for the lessons they learned about themselves and about life.
The drills are a battery of noncontact running, jumping, crouching, diving and rolling exercises that Bowden borrowed from Bear Bryant nearly five decades ago. "We want to push you to the breaking point," is how Bowden explained them to players. "Not over it, but to it."
Trash cans are placed within staggering distance of the three stations through which the players rotate. Both twins have already vomited into them. Ten Seminoles vomited on the first day of mat drills the previous year, some so intimidated that they puked before the drills even began. Former FSU offensive lineman Eric Luallen, a Tallahassee sports-talk-show host, wrote a column about mat drills on a website just a week and a half before. "It was always chilling to hear [former Seminoles assistant] Chuck Amato address the team the first day of mat drills," Luallen wrote. "While he would point out the trash cans and what they were to be used for, he would always throw in this confidence-building quote: 'Just remember, gentlemen, the body is a wonderful machine. You will pass out before you die. If you pass out, the trainers will take care of you.' "
It's 11:30 p.m. Devaughn's got a head cold that he caught from Devard, and mat drills begin in six hours and 15 minutes. Devaughn pops a couple of nighttime cold and flu pills. The twins reread the New Year's goals on their wall posters. Devaughn has dared to write All-America first team on his and keeps urging Devard to take the dare too. They say their prayers, asking God to be there at dawn when they need him, and they fall asleep.