On a warm August evening, D’Vante Mosby removes his shoulder pads and unstraps his helmet, revealing a long, thin face marked by defined cheekbones.
He has striking facial features, particularly his bloodshot eyes, and presents the look of a rugged, worn-down teenager.
Mosby will walk onto a football field tonight with his Osage“>Fort Osage High School teammates, dressed in a football uniform for the first time in nearly two years when the Indians travel to Park Hill South for their 2012 season opener. His football coach believes he is a Division I talent, as long as basketball coaches don’t gobble him up first.
It will be an emotional night for a 17-year-old high school senior who has been tested often in life, most recently by his mother’s bout with breast cancer.
If he’s bitter, if he’s resentful, he hides it well.
“He’s the kindest, most compassionate kid I’ve ever known,” says Ryan Schartz, Mosby’s football coach at Fort Osage.
Schartz pauses and quiets his speaking voice before finishing his sentence.
“… when there were lots of opportunities in his life to go the other way.”
Mosby has a kind, welcoming smile, but he’s seemingly afraid to use it. He calls himself goofy, but few of his friends agree with that assessment.
He grew up in the core of Kansas City — at the intersection of 36th Street and Brooklyn Avenue. He recalls the way the ivy trickled through the sidewalks during his daily walks to the playground.
It was part of the neighborhood’s culture, and it bothered him not at all. After getting a basketball when he was 5 years old — though he doesn’t remember how it landed in his hands — nothing could stop his trips to the elementary-school basketball hoop.
“I remember the way he constantly bounced that ball — it never left his sight,” says Menime Mosby, D’Vante’s mother. “I had to holler at him every night to stop bouncing that ball and come home.”
A potential Division I talent was born on that Richard Elementary School playground. But as a child growing up in less-than-ideal circumstances, basketball was simply an outlet from his life at home.
Menime recalls days she struggled to provide meals for her three kids — two boys and a girl. D’Vante is the youngest of the three, and he believes it showed in his effort to fight for the spotlight.
Menime was a strict mother with uncompromising rules. Still is. There are dinner regulations and curfews and a quite a few restrictions.
D’Vante wasn’t always close to his mother, he says, but she was all he had. He saw his father only occasionally, and that was in a good year. He currently hasn’t seen him in more than a year.
D’Vante hasn’t played a football game in nearly two years. He will still be the first player to catch fans’ eyes tonight.
He’s a 6-foot-5 senior tight end who effortlessly glides downfield and has the ability to catch just about anything thrown his way — just as he has in life. After D’Vante’s sophomore season, major-college coaches, including a recruiting coordinator from Nebraska, were calling Schartz for information on his athletic tight end with soft hands.
“The No. 1 thing that sticks out to me when I have to cover him in practice is that he’s absolutely huge, but he still has great hands and concentration,” teammate D’Eric Fields says. “His jumping ability is out of this world. He can jump to the sky.”
A wrist injury, coupled with a desire to focus on basketball, his first love, forced D’Vante to miss his entire junior season of football.
He’s back for his senior season.
He’s playing for Mom.
A little more than a year ago, Menime was diagnosed with breast cancer. She concealed the diagnosis from D’Vante, but he became suspicious when she spent hours in the bathroom throwing up after a round of chemotherapy.
He eventually learned of the news when he overheard a phone conversation Menime had with a friend. He cried. So did she.
“Thoughts of all the things I’ve done start going through my head,” D’Vante said. “You start thinking about all the times you were rebellious and you wonder why.
“You never really appreciate someone until you find something like that out.”
Menime says she’s now in remission after going through chemotherapy and radiation. Her relationship with her son has grown closer. On Father’s Day this year, D’Vante gave his mom a card and wrote, “Happy Motherly Father’s Day!”
When he walks onto the football field tonight, D’Vante promises he will be thinking of his mother. Although Schartz expects college offers will await D’Vante after his senior season, Menime is the primary reason he’s playing.
Teammates bombarded D’Vante’s Twitter account over the summer, begging him to join the Indians. They knew his talent. D’Vante says he was overwhelmed by their support, but it wasn’t until he prayed with his mother that he decided to join the team.
“That’s my girl right there,” Mosby says about his mom. “I think now about how strong she was for me growing up. That motivates me to be that person for other people.
“My teammates need me. That’s one of the reasons I’m playing. I want to be just like her with all the strength she has for other people.”
D’Vante learned more about resilience during his volunteer work, in which he assists special needs children.
But he first obtained this strength as a child, dribbling a basketball at the playground until it was too dark to see. Playing street ball added a certain grittiness and hustle to his game.
And to his life.
“If you take sports and tie (them) into your life, you can learn a lot about yourself,” D’Vante said. “I never let anyone take that basketball away from me. And if you think about it, that goes for anything. No one can take anything away from me without having to pry it from my hands.”
D’Vante Mosby struts across the Fort Osage football field, eventually planting his long, tree-trunk legs over two rows of the metal bleachers. The sun settles on his skin, and he wipes corresponding beads of sweat from his brow.
“Thanks for coming to learn my story,” he says.
Thirty minutes later, D’Vante extends his arm for a handshake.
“I’m here. I’m still standing,” he says. “I’ve been through a lot, but I’m still a positive person. I’m encouraging to everyone.”
“Put that in your story.”
He finally lets loose with that welcoming smile for the first time. Perhaps he isn’t afraid to show it, after all.
Perhaps he isn’t afraid of anything life may throw his way.
To reach Sam McDowell, send email to email@example.com.