When Deshaun Fenwick was visiting his old neighborhood in Louisville, Ky., last December, he couldn’t walk across the street to his cousin’s house without getting a reminder of what life would be like without a relocation to Florida’s Suncoast.
There were often the loud, popping sounds of gun shots in the distance.
Growing up in Newburg, located on Louisville’s southeastern side, Fenwick said he saw a pizza delivery guy robbed and knew some of the guys that once robbed a taxi driver at 2 a.m.
That latter case, which saw the taxi driver killed, was brought to trial with a verdict in January 2017, where two people were found guilty of first-degree robbery but cleared of the murder charges.
For Fenwick, a Braden River High senior running back committed to South Carolina, football and a strict curfew became his focus away from the world around him.
“Football is my way out from all that stuff,” Fenwick said.
But before Fenwick morphed himself into a Division-I college football recruit who’s expected to graduate in December and early enroll at South Carolina, he received help.
His grandfather, Jay Greer, and his mother, Trishia Greer, raised him. His grandfather got him started in football at the age of 3.
“My granddad was always my father figure,” said Fenwick, who has four siblings. “My granddad would have been a better role model than my dad ever would have been. No one walks out on their child. You have to take care of your responsibilities.”
By the time he reached the third grade, Fenwick first met John Ferritto, and the impact Ferritto had on Fenwick’s life is how the running back eventually left Louisville for Bradenton.
“He was the first person to give me a chance to run the ball,” Fenwick said. “I remember the first game. He gave me the ball almost every play and I fumbled at least six times and I ended up scoring the game-winning touchdown, because he believed in me and knew I could do it.”
It was more than just giving him a chance to play running back.
Ferritto ran a non-profit youth football organization, the East End Warriors, for players 5 to 14 years old, and he tried helping as many as he could.
“In third grade, you have no idea he’s going to get a full ride to South Carolina,” Ferritto said. “You just do it, because that’s what your heart calls you to do. That’s what God tells you to do.”
Ferritto started coaching Fenwick in youth league football before losing contact briefly after Ferritto moved to Florida in 2013.
At the time, Fenwick played his freshman year of high school football at Louisville’s Southern High. After a visit to see Ferritto, Fenwick returned to Louisville in the summer of his sophomore year. Fenwick contemplated moving to Florida permanently before deciding that was the best option to further his potential career in football.
For Fenwick to get situated in Florida, Ferritto had to gain custody in the Kentucky courts from Fenwick’s grandfather.
Ferritto said Fenwick’s grandfather was helpful in relinquishing custody to him and having the trust in Ferritto to do that.
Ferritto’s girlfriend, Jill Toohey, also helped once Fenwick arrived.
“She had zero vested interest in this whole thing and I told her early on, ‘You don’t have to stay with me, because he’s coming anyways,’ ” Ferritto said. “I said, ‘If you want to leave, that’s up to you.’ She said, ‘No, I’m with you 100 percent and I’m going to see it through.’ ”
Fenwick had to adjust to Florida football — the heat and better talent — as well as Ferritto’s structured parenting.
Ferritto said it was a shock to Fenwick because there were a lot of changes to what Fenwick was used to.
Namely, Fenwick wasn’t in Florida football shape, and he was going to be held accountable in the classroom.
One thing, though, that Fenwick thrived on was film study. Using that and seeing how former Braden River running back Raymond Thomas performed enhanced Fenwick’s game.
“I wanted to make a name for myself and do something with my life,” Fenwick said.
Fenwick’s name gets bigger each season, with last year becoming a breakout campaign to show just what he could do with elusiveness from the slot and power running from the backfield. That led to college offers after his junior season. Eventually, he verbally committed to South Carolina and immediately made an impression in his senior campaign.
In the regular-season opener against Chatfield (Colo.) High, Fenwick played in front of family that visited Lake Buena Vista’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, where the game was played. Chatfield head coach Bret McGatlin was impressed, too.
On Thursday night, he scored twice in a 41-35 loss to district rival Venice.
It’s far removed from where he’s come from.
“He could have made a lot of decisions early on in life that really affected his future in a negative light,” Braden River head football coach Curt Bradley said. “And a testament to him and how he was raised to always steer himself in the right direction.”