By Keith Mills
By 5:30 Saturday afternoon Victor Abiamiri was surrounded by a group of family and friends at Padonia Station in Cockeysville. The NFL Draft was on every screen in the restaurant and the mood was festive.
The Eagles picked Victor Abiamiri with the 57th pick of the NFL Draft.
A few hours later, the mood turned from festive to raucous as Abiamiri was on the phone with Andy Reid, coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles picked Abiamiri 25th in the second round of the draft, 57th overall.
"You sit there and you wait and wait," Abiamiri said, "and you finally hear your name called. It's a great feeling."
For Abiamiri, the long road to Philadelphia began when he was a skinny ninth-grader at Gilman.
"He had never played football before," said Gilman assistant coach Keith Kormanik.
He learned quickly. At Gilman, Abiamiri played defensive end for head coach Biff Poggi, whose defensive staff includes former Baltimore Colts Joe Ehrmann and Stan White. White's son, Stan Jr., played linebacker for the Greyhounds and teamed with Abiamiri and cornerback Ambrose Wooden to lead a defensive unit that shut down everyone from DeMatha to Urbana on its way to a perfect 10-0 season and the nation's No. 14 ranking in USA Today.
White Jr. played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in 2002, along with Vince Young and Ravens No. 1 draft pick Haloti Ngata.
Abiamiri and Wooden played in the game the following year, along with quarterback Brady Quinn from Coffman High School in Dublin, Ohio. Abiamiri had two sacks and Wooden an interception.
A few months later, all three arrived at South Bend, Ind., as freshmen for Ty Willingham's Notre Dame squad. Wooden is returning to South Bend for his fifth year with coach Charlie Weis and the Fighting Irish, while Quinn and Abiamiri will begin their professional careers this weekend. Abiamiri will go to Eagles' mini-camp in Philadelphia and Quinn will head to the Cleveland Browns’ rookie camp, after an agonizing first round in which the Notre Dame quarterback fell to the 22nd pick.
"I texted him a few times just to offer my support," Abiamiri said. "He showed what kind of a person he is, how he handled things with class. I'm glad things worked out for him in Cleveland."
It appears things also worked out for Abiamiri with the Eagles. He comes to a team that features a talented defensive line that includes Trent Cole and nine-year veteran Jevon Kearse.
"To be able to come in and learn from the guys above me, guys that have been in the league and have a wealth of experience, is a great thing," Abiamiri said.
At Gilman, Abiamiri matured into one of the nation's premier recruits with 16 sacks his senior year and two more in the All-American Bowl in San Antonio.
"When I first saw him, I thought it was his father,” Stan White Sr. said. “He was a lot like Greg Oden of Ohio State. He looked a lot older than he really was."
Abimiari first announced he was going to Maryland, but the Terps were eventually placed on probation when it was revealed that assistant coach Rod Sharpless had given Abiamiri money. Sharpless was fired and Abiamiri chose to go with Wooden to Notre Dame instead.
Abiamiri's older brother, Rob, played at Mount St. Joseph and went to Maryland and spent last year on the Ravens’ practice squad.
At Notre Dame, Victor Abiamiri developed into one of the nation's most complete pass rushers. He finished his four-year career with 126 tackles and 21.5 sacks. He heads to Philadelphia a 6-foot-4, 270-pound, lightning quick end who enjoyed a strong second half of the season and an even stronger NFL Combine, though he really wasn't sure where he'd end up.
"I went into the draft with an open mind, thinking anything can happen," Abiamiri said. "I just wanted to get drafted. Now, it means I can get ready and play football. I ended up in a situation where I'm very close to home with a great organization. It's a great situation."
NORTON JOINS 500 CLUB
Dave Norton has been the Mount St. Joe baseball coach for the last 25 years. He has watched Bernie Walter of Arundel, Al Frank of Archbishop Curley and others pass the 500-mark in wins and now the veteran Gaels coach is also a member of that exclusive club. Mount St. Joe beat Gilman, 5-4, last Saturday to giveNorton his 500th win.
A former student at Mount St. Joe, Norton is now the Director of Studies. His teams have won MSA or MIAA A Conference titles in 1986, ’87, '96 and '04.
Mark Teixeira and Mike O'Connor played for the '97 championship team. Teixeira is now an All-Star performer with the Texas Rangers while O'Connor is on the 60-day disabled list for the Washington Nationals.
Gavin Floyd graduated from Mount St. Joe as well and was the No. 4 pick in the 2001 free agent draft. He was traded last December from the Phillies to the Chicago White Sox.
Add to that list Dave Tripp, who went on to Clemson; Steve Matcuk, drafted in the fourth round by the Colorado Rockies in 1996; and Steve Clevenger, now in the Chicago Cubs’ farm system. Under Norton's watch, the Mount St. Joe program obviously has produced some of the area's premier players.
"Dave's a great guy, the ultimate in regards to high school coaching, because he has his priorities in order,” said Orioles scout Dean Albany. “It's education first with Dave. He makes sure his kids are ready when they go to college."
"I love coaching because of the relationships," Norton said last summer when O'Connor made his debut with the Nationals. "Just being a positive influence on the kids, watching them mature and develop. That's what it's all about to me."
CENTROWITZ SETS PENN RELAYS RECORD
Matt Centrowitz of Broadneck High in Cape St. Claire will end his high school running career in just a few weeks at the region and state outdoor track and field meets, but it will be almost impossible for him to top what he did last weekend in Philadelphia.
Centrowitz smashed a 35-year-old record at the 113th Penn Relays, winning the boys' high school mile in 4:08.38. The time broke Gordon Oliver's time of 4:08.7 set in 1972. Ironically, Oliver, like Centrowitz, ran for a Maryland public high school, Bethesda-Chevy Chase in Montgomery County.
"I don't think I could have gone much faster," Centrowitz told the crowd at Franklin Field after the race. "The conditions were perfect."
Centrowitz is headed to the University of Oregon, the alma mater of his dad, Matt Sr., the track coach at American University and a member the 1976 and '80 U.S. Olympic Teams.
Matt's sister, Lauren, is now a junior at Stanford and a member of the Cardinal national cross country champs. At Broadneck, she won eight indoor and outdoor track state titles and two cross country state championships.
Andrew Revelle of Atholton has turned in the fastest 1,600-meter time among area high school boys this spring. Revelle ran a 4:20.83 mile, seven seconds faster than Ryan Stasiowski of Loyola. Stasiowski also ran a 9:37 3,200 meters, fourth only to Malik Safar of Meade (9:27.99), J.P. Allera of Wilde Lake (9:33.97) and Rob Wetzel of Archbishop Spalding (9:35).
Liz McCarter of Mount Hebron ran the fastest 1,600-meter in girls' track (5:07) while Kristen Malloy of Hereford had the fastest 3,200 meter time (10:51.03), 24 seconds faster than McCarter.
Erin Brooks of Seton-Keough also had a Saturday to remember in Philadelphia. The junior finished second in the girls' high school triple jump, leaping 39 feet and 5 inches, a personal best.
NINE JOIN HALL OF FAME
Three Super Bowl rings, one World Series title, a national basketball championship.
That's just a part of the impressive credentials from the nine new members of the the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame, which will holds its induction ceremony Tuesday night at Michael's 8th Avenue in Glen Burnie.
Steve Farr, Antonio "Buttons" Freeman, Tony Greene, Vaughn Hebron, Denny Neagle, Greg Schaum, Joe Speca, Dave Smalley and Tubby Smith form this year's class, a class rich in national notoriety.
Antonio "Buttons" Freeman: Freeman played football for Augie Waibel at Poly and basketball for Bucky Kimmett. He left Poly for Virginia Tech in 1990 where he played wide receiver and still holds the Hokies single game record for most yards receiving, 194 yards vs. Temple in 1993. In '95 the Green Bay Packers picked him in the 3rd round of the NFL draft. His 10-year NFL career including 477 catches and 64 touchdowns and a Super Bowl championship in 1997.
Freeman helped the Packers beat New England, 35-21, in Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans, catching an 81-yard touchdown pass from Brett Favre and nearly earning the game's MVP Award.
Vaughn Hebron: Super Bowl XXXII was played in San Diego one year later as Freeman's Packers lost to John Elway and the Denver Broncos, 31-24. Vaughn Hebron was a kick-returner and backup running back on that team and was a teammate of Freeman at Virginia Tech.
Hebron grew up in the Arbutus area, was an All-Metro running back at Cardinal Gibbons and was a teammate of Freeman at Virginia Tech. Hebron was not drafted and signed with the Eagles in 1993 and then with Denver in 1996. One year later he helped the Broncos win the first of two straight Super Bowls, the win over Green Bay in January of 1998 and a 34-19 win over Atlanta in Miami one year later.
His two best years were 1994 with the Eagles when he rushed for 325 ydards and caught 18 passes and 1998 when he gained over 1,200 yards and returned a kick for a touchdown.
Denny Neagle: Denny Neagle helped Arundel High School win one of its record 10 state championships under head coach Bernie Walter. He was an All-Big 10 pitcher at Minnesota in 1987 and a third round pick of the Twins in the 1989 amateur draft.
Neagle won 124 games in a 13-year big league career that included stops in Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Cincinnati, New York and Colorado. He made the All Star team twice, in 1995 with Pittsburgh and in '97 in Atlanta when he won 20 games. A year earlier he was traded from Pittsburgh to Atlanta, helping the Braves get back to the World Series where they lost to the Yankees in six games. In game four of that series Denny Neagle, Mike Bielecki of Dundalk High School and Jeff Nelson of Catonsville all pitched in the same World Series, a game Neagle started.
Four years later Neagle was helping the Yankees beat the Mets to win the 2000 Subway World Series. In he pleaded guilty to patronizing a prostitute though local baseball fans remember his magical year of 1996 when he joined Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz as part of Leo Mazzone's lights-out pitching staff.
Greg Schaum: Like Buttons Freeman, Schaum played football for Augie Waibel at Poly, one of the finest two-way players and versatile athletes ever produced in Baltimore. Schaum also wrestled and played lacrosse at Poly though he went to play football for coach Duffy Daugherty at Michigan State.
Schaum was All-Big 10 and the Defensive Player of the Year in 1975 and in 1976 a 7th round draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys. Injuries played havoc with Schaum's pro career, eventually ending it after one year with the New England Patriots in 1978.
Joe Speca: A member of the Maryland Soccer Hall of Fame, Speca is a soccer icon in East Baltimore. He played at both Mt. St. Joe and Patterson High Schools and was one of the first local players to achieve national success. Speca was one of the few American players to play in the National Professional Soccer League when it made its debut in the United States in 1967 and coached the Baltimore Bays, the city's first professional soccer team. He represented the United States in the Pan American Games and played in qualifying games for the World Cup and the Olympics.
Tony Greene: In 1973 O.J. Simpson of the Buffalo Bills broke the NFL's single-season rushing record with 2003 yards. Tony Greene, a 1966 graduate of Gaithersburg High School in Montgomery County was a teammate. After a three-year career at Maryland (1968-70) Greene played nine years with the Bills, earning All Pro honors in 1977 with nine interceptions. He finished with 34 interceptions in his career.
Steve Farr: Farr went to Dematha and then American University before signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1976. After an eight-year minor league career he was traded to Cleveland in 1983 and picked up by Kansas City in 1985 as a free agent. Farr saved 38 games for the Royals in 1989 and '89 and 78 from 1993 to '95 with the Yankees.
Tubby Smith: Orlando "Tubby" Smith was born in St. Mary's County. One of 17 children to Guffrie and Parthenia Smith, he first played and then coached at Great Mills High School, finishing with a 46-36. In 1979 he was assistant to J.D. Barnett at Virginia Commonwealth. One of his fellow assistants, former University of Baltimore and Bryn Mawr coach Jim "Snuffy" Smith.
He became the head coach at Tulsa in 1991, Georgia in 1995 and Kentucky in 1997. He coached the Wildcats for 11 years, winning a national championship in his first year before leaving Lexington at the end of the 2006-'07 season for Minnesota. In 15 years as a head coach he's won 387 games with 13, 20-win seasons.
Dave Smalley: Smith is one of two winners of the John Steadman Lifetime Achievement Award, the other is Smalley, an institution at the U.S. Naval Academy. A basketball and baseball standout, he was coached the women's basketball team at Navy and is the academy's senior associate athletic director for NCAA compliance.
Issue 2.18: May 3, 2007