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OSU football: More to tell about Jeremiah Tshimanga

Even though the story in Sunday's edition of The Oklahoma was more than 2,000 words, staff writer Gina Mizell still couldn't fit every detail into the powerful story of a young man who has persevered through homelessness and abuse.
BY GINA MIZELL, Staff Writer, Published: February 12, 2012

STILLWATER — I stopped by the OnCue at Perkins and McElroy on Sunday afternoon and bought four extra copies of The Oklahoman to send to family members back in my hometown of Phoenix.

It was the first time I've done that, even with the remarkable season the Cowboy football team put together in 2011 and the great stories that came from that historic run.

That's because it's especially rare to get the opportunity to tell a story as powerful as the one I wrote for Sunday's paper about OSU signee Jeremiah Tshimanga. His childhood was filled with homelessness and abuse, but the Richland High School community rallied to help raise him and push him toward a future as a college football player.

Yet even though the piece ended up being more than 2,000 words, I still couldn't fit every detail into the story. Here are some extra tidbits that I think are worth sharing, but ultimately got eliminated at some point during the writing or editing process.

*I actually wrote four different versions of this story, and the biggest obstacle we faced during the editing process was whether to lead with a strong image from Jeremiah's childhood — his mother praying on his bed before being beaten by his father, for instance — or the signing ceremony.

We ultimately decided to lead with the ceremony because I was there and immediately felt something special.

Signing ceremonies are honestly one of my least favorite things to cover. They remind me a lot of graduations. It's a key milestone in a young person's life that deserves to be celebrated, but they're all kind of the same. The coach talks, the athlete signs a piece of paper (which usually isn't even the real National Letter of Intent), the family takes a bunch of pictures and then everyone eats cake.

But I've never seen an athlete stand up and make a 12-minute speech and publicly thank virtually every single person in the room. As soon as Jeremiah started doing that, I hit the red button on my recorder to capture all the names and everything he said.

*Amy Ashkinazy, the booster club president, and I started visiting early on because she was the very first guest to arrive.

She shared the story about Jeremiah coming over to catch up during his weekend trip home, even though her son and Jeremiah's close friend, Kumani Armstead, was not around that night. Then she told me, “Wait ‘til you see how many people show up for him.”

I ran into her again as I was walking out to my car a good hour after the ceremony was over, and she continued to gush about what a great kid Jeremiah was. That's when I knew I'd have to give her a call to chat some more.

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