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Orlando foster youth to go from independent living to full academic scholarship playing Division I football

While growing up, Davonnie Coard admits he was a very difficult child and was no stranger to the delinquency system. At 14, Davonnie got into a violent fight with his brother—ultimately leading to his arrest. His mother, unable to handle the situation and fearing for her and the family’s safety, requested assistance from the State of Florida.

So Davonnie entered foster care. He bounced from group home to group home, mostly due to requests for removal due to bad behavior. At 16, he arrived at a facility in Pine Hills, Florida, and enrolled at Evans High School. Greg Thompson, head football coach at Evans, immediately recognized Davonnie’s large stature, standing at 6 foot 4 inches tall and weighing 305 pounds, and asked Davonnie to play for the Evans High School football team.

Davonnie credits Coach Thompson with teaching him how to refocus his anger onto the football field. Davonnie’s demeanor at the group home began to change for the better shortly after starting football, and for once in his life, Davonnie found stability.

By age 17, Davonnie remained stable in his group home in Pine Hills and demonstrated no negative behaviors. And, for the first time in a long time, he had committed individuals in his life, including Coach Thompson, and new mentor, Bill Rodriguez.

With his new found success on the football field and entering into his senior year of high school, Davonnie was looking for and wanted more in his home life. During this time, Stephen Ryan, independent living coordinator with One Hope United, worked with Davonnie on transferring to the Laurel Hill Independence Center, an independent living group home facility that allows older, responsible children in foster care to have more self-sufficiency, while teaching them essential skills to prepare them for the real world.

“I did a lot of work with Davonnie in preparing him for his 18th birthday,” said Stephen. “When the children I’m working with turn 18, I give each of them a way to contact me, whether it’s by phone or e-mail, so they do not lose that extra support while they transition to adulthood. Even though One Hope United is no longer officially involved in these cases, I still work with them to help point them in the right direction.”

Stephen says that Davonnie is thriving and learning so much from his stay at Laurel Hill Independence Center, including how to lead an independent life after 18. He is also learning about collegiate football from the center’s Program Manager Calvin Windham, who was a former player of Louisiana State University.

Unfortunately, during the first preseason scrimmage of Davonnie’s senior year, he broke his left foot. Even with such a short amount of playtime due to the injury, Davonnie’s confidence on the field and passion for football showed through, making an impact on football scouts from across the nation.

On Feb. 3, 2010, National Signing Day for college football, Davonnie signed his Letter of Intent to play Division I football at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida. Florida A&M University even offered Davonnie a full academic scholarship!

Davonnie still calls Stephen to ask for life advice or help with filling out forms. Just the other day, Davonnie asked Stephen to accompany him to a parent/teacher conference at school.

“While I had no legal standpoint because Davonnie was 18 years old, I believe that he just wanted to see a friendly face and have someone he can turn to with questions,” said Stephen. “I’m so excited to see Davonnie off when he moves to Tallahassee in the fall!”