The white Cutlass Supreme parked in Quintaz Struble's driveway hasn't moved in years. Dents and a tattered red-vinyl top are the least of its problems. It's going to need a new motor, a new transmission and lots of work to be drivable.
Quintaz says he'll own that 1986 Cutlass til the day he dies, if only for who it belonged to — an Oklahoma high school football legend named Mandrell Dean.
An old Polaroid print that Quintaz counts among his prized possessions ties them all together: a year-old boy perched on his father's arm, a familiar Cutlass parked behind them.
“Whenever I walk outside, and see it every day, I think about seeing my daddy in that picture,” Quintaz said.
Quintaz remembers the rare days his dad would pick him up in the Cutlass and take him to hang out. He imagines what Mandrell Dean might think about what he'll do this week.
Three sons of former football stars will gather at Heritage Hall on Wednesday to sign national letters of intent. Two you probably know. The Pro Football Hall of Famer's namesake who is headed to Stanford. The son of a Sooner, committed to becoming a University of Oklahoma receiver, just like his dad.
But only those who best know Heritage Hall defensive end Quintaz Struble have any idea he is the son of a Millwood High School legend who some argue is the greatest high school athlete in state history.
The athletic freak who shattered a backboard ... in an eighth-grade basketball game.
The superstar whose 85 career touchdowns had college football programs like Oklahoma, Miami, Florida State and USC in pursuit.
The tragic figure whose funeral five years ago this week was covered by The New York Times.
But this is a story of triumph, not tragedy. This is the story of the son who inherited some of his father's gifts, and the mother who did her best to make sure he carried few of the burdens.
As a senior at Heritage Hall, he was an All-State selection just like his father was 19 years ago, when Mandrell Dean was unquestionably talented enough to sign with an NCAA Division I football program, but unable to qualify academically.
As Wednesday's National Signing Day approaches, Quintaz's hurdles are just the opposite.
His best scholarship offer disappeared when Mike Stoops was fired from Arizona in October, but the dream that alluded his father, although somewhat smaller, is still within reach.
“Quintaz didn't really know much about his lifestyle until he passed away,” said LaTisha Struble, Quintaz's mother. “He knew bits and pieces of it, but Quintaz did always know that there were some decisions that his dad made that contributed to him not being able to go to the next level.
“He has never judged his dad or looked down upon him. But he has used that as motivation to make sure he didn't go down that path.”
‘SOMETHING TO BEHOLD'
Twenty years ago, Josh Henson was a Tuttle High School defensive lineman trying to tackle a guy in a Millwood No. 82 jersey. Tuttle's district title hopes and a 13-point fourth-quarter lead slipped away one Friday night at Millwood, and it was largely Mandrell's doing.
Today, Josh Henson is a Missouri assistant coach who recruited Quintaz Struble.
“He said my dad was just ridiculous,” Quintaz said.
Twenty years ago Andy Bogert was a John Marshall assistant coach who got his fill of Mandrell Dean every year in the preseason All-City Preview. Today, Bogert is Quintaz's coach at Heritage Hall.
“I remember what a stud he was,” Bogert said.
Millwood's first football coach, Leodies Robinson, died a few years ago, and with him a little of Dean's legend. But it lives on with Varryl Franklin, who has trained generations of Falcons state champions as a line coach and longtime basketball coach. Millwood old-timers debate who was better, Mandrell Dean or Joe Carter, a guy whose ninth-inning home run ended the 1993 World Series.
Says Franklin, “Some say (Mandrell's) the best athlete to ever come through the state.”
Supporting evidence hangs on Quintaz's bedroom wall in black and white. It's a time-lapsed photograph of a 14-year-old dunking in a junior high game that has been framed and posterized and titled simply “MANDRELL!”
Then there are the touchdowns, including 28 on kick returns. That's seven per season.
“There were times when they didn't kick it to him, and he would just run and go get it and still break one on them,” Franklin said. “Watching him operate on a football field was just something to behold.”
As Dean's accolades multiplied — he was the first four-time member of The Oklahoman's Little All-City team and an All-State first-teamer twice — NCAA Division I coaches flocked to eastern Oklahoma City to pitch their schools to Dean.
He listed Oklahoma, Florida State, Miami and USC as his top choices.
But all the while, he struggled to become academically qualified.
“He couldn't get his ACT score high enough,” said LaTisha Struble, who began dating Dean around that time.
“I don't know if it was some type of learning disability, but just knowing the person that he was then, it wasn't a lack of effort.”
FROM CRIMSON TO BLOODS
Quintaz Struble was born in 1993, the year Mandrell Dean committed to OU.
Dean never signed with the Sooners.
Thus began a vagabond life; he signed with Arkansas-Pine Bluff, but instead went to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in Miami.
He was kicked off the team for missing a practice.
Dean spent the 1990s playing for arena and semipro teams like the Oklahoma City Strike Force and the Tulsa Twisters.
The Madison Mad Dogs and the Iowa Barnstormers.
The Florida Bobcats and the Peoria Pirates.
By 1999 he was playing for the Canadian Football League's Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Dean came home in March 2000 to sign with the Oklahoma City Wranglers of the Arena Football League.
“If he couldn't outrun you, he could bust through you,” said Bob Cortese, the Wranglers coach.
Dean showed up at the 6:30 a.m. practices. He stayed after workouts to watch film. To Cortese, Dean seemed genuinely enthusiastic about playing in front of his hometown. But after two preseason games, Cortese decided the raw Dean clearly needed time to develop.
Cortese told Dean that he'd be on the practice squad for his first year with the Wranglers, with the goal to develop him into a future star. Dean said no and left.
Quintaz was 6 and about to play his first little league football season for the Oklahoma City Rockets, when his father joined the Indoor Football League's Green Bay Bombers for their last four regular-season games. Mandrell Dean told a reporter he was there because he needed a fresh highlight tape.
The Bombers played their home games at the Brown County Arena — right across Oneida Street from Lambeau Field. Dean's speed and flash made him a quick Bombers fan favorite. One day, a couple Green Bay Packers scouts ventured across the street and immediately noticed No. 80, who was faster than anyone else on the field.
Three and a half years removed from winning a Super Bowl with Desmond Howard as their MVP, the Packers were looking for another explosive return man. Dean's four-touchdown performance in the Bombers' first playoff game earned him a Packers' tryout.
During a pre-signing workout — 26 years old and eight years removed from his glory days at Millwood — Dean ran a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash.
The NFL team quickly signed him.
“The odds aren't in his favor, but you have to like the way he's taking on this challenge,” Packers special team coach Frank Novak said. “He's not scared of the guys here.”
The Packers cut him after one week.
His final shot was dashed when the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz, another arena team, cut him in March 2004.
When his football days ended, Mandrell Dean caught on with another outfit. He became active with the Bloods, a gang founded in Los Angeles but with branches all over the country. Between 1990 and his death in 2007, it has been reported that Dean was arrested 13 times, and had contact with police 51 times.