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In August 1988, Fenner enrolled at Gardner-Webb College, a Baptist NAIA school in Boiling Springs, N.C., that offered him a football scholarship. Fenner passed his classes, got along well with his teammates, spoke at churches and walked; coach Woody Fish had ordered him to leave the BMW at home. But Fenner was never allowed to suit up for a game. The South Atlantic Conference eligibility committee blocked him on a technicality. "I think the conference was concerned with Derrick's image," Fish says.
Fenner lost interest in school, and Fish lost interest in Fenner after an incident at 4 a.m. last Christmas Day. Outside RSVP, a club in southwest Washington, Fenner's chest was grazed by a bullet. Police said Fenner had had an argument with several men inside the club a half hour earlier. Fenner says he was an innocent bystander when a fight broke out. No charges were filed.
The NFL says it conducted a security check on Fenner before declaring him eligible for this year's college draft. Before the RSVP shooting, Kelly says, Fenner might have gone in the fifth or sixth round. One scout, Kelly says, compared him with Bo Jackson.
Now, for once, Fenner may be in the right place. Although the Seahawks have some other young backs, they seem to be disenchanted with 28-year-old Curt Warner. Fenner reported to Seattle's minicamp a week early and stayed two weeks late. "If I told him to be in my office at eight o'clock in the morning, he'd be there early with his book open and a number of intelligent questions," says running-back coach Chick Harris. But he faces a steep slope. "How much of the competitive edge has he lost?" asks Flores. "We'll find out."
At a fitness center near Oxon Hill, Fenner bench-presses under the stern eye of 38-year-old powerlifter Melvin (Bear) Colbert. Fenner plays a lot of racquetball, shops a lot in Georgetown and hits a lot of clubs. "I know I can't go out and get rowdy and throw some guy through a window," he says. "But I go out to have a good time. I don't see any reason to lock myself in a room."
He dreams of starring in the NFL, of acting, modeling, opening his own boutique. Some who know Fenner believe he will do what it takes in the short term to be a success. When he needed the 3.0 average in high school, when he needed to toe the line at Gardner-Webb, when he needed to be diligent at minicamp, Fenner came through. It is when he achieves success that things seem to go wrong—a gifted child who will somehow prove that he was never truly worthy of his mother's love. Still, like all returning players, he dreams his dream.
"I'm really ready now," he says. "It's not too late."