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.
*I wish I could have directly worked Michael Knobloch into the story more. He gave me some great info — him looking at Jeremiah as competition at first and how Jeremiah fit right in at family functions, for example — but I didn't get a direct quote from him in the story.
He's a quiet guy, but when I asked him why he first reached out to help his teammate, he gave a pretty selfless and thoughtful answer.
“I think everybody should be treated the same,” he said. “I'll give anything I have to somebody that doesn't have anything. I'll do whatever I can for them to have equal to what I have, or even more.”
Two years ago, the Richland starting linebackers were Jeremiah, Michael and current Cowboy Nico Ornelas. Nico is a big reason why Jeremiah was familiar with and ultimately signed with OSU. Maybe Michael will join them after he finishes at Tyler Junior College.
*While Jeremiah was living with Michael and his mom and stepdad, Stacy and Richard Wade, they invited Jeremiah's mother over to their house a few times and also took Jeremiah to see her at a homeless shelter in Fort Worth. Richard provided a powerful image of what that environment was like.
“You hear gunshots just a block down the street,” Richard said. “It's a pretty scary place. I can't imagine kids living there. You wouldn't want to go out at night.”
*When asked about the financial sacrifices made to bring Jeremiah into their home, Stacy quickly mentioned the amount of food they had to buy. That makes sense for a 6-foot-3, 230-pound teenager, but she also noted that Jeremiah's brain has likely been programmed to eat as much as possible whenever food is available.
“He's serious about eating, because he's been without before,” she said. “So he's scared he's not going to eat again.”
*I asked Jeremiah about the hardest part about his past. He didn't mention anything he personally had to go through. He talked about not being able to watch his sisters grow up, his brother not being able to play football and his mother not being as involved in his life.
“The hardest moment was probably just thinking about not having certain people in my life that I wish could enjoy what I'm enjoying,” he said.
I appreciate the kind feedback that the story has already received. If you're on Twitter, be sure to thank Jeremiah (@OSU_Linebacker), as well. I wouldn't have been able to share with you unless he shared with me.