Back in control
Published: Wednesday, September 14, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 14, 2005 at 12:00 a.m.
Jarvis Herring will always remember his night in jail.
"Horrible," he said. "I never want to do that again. If they told me I had to spend a month in jail, I might try to kill myself."
That one night wearing an orange jumpsuit behind bars in the summer of 2004 obviously made a powerful impression on the Florida safety. But it wasn't strong enough to change him or scare him off the path of self-destruction he was careening down.
It took a mother's tears.
"Her tears are what made me change," Herring said. "She started crying (after the arrest). She's a real emotional lady, especially about me. She thinks I'm the world. All my life, she thought I was perfect. She still thinks I am.
"I let her down big time. My mom woke me up. I embarrassed her. I love her to death. I never want to see her embarrassed again, having to walk around and answer questions (about me) everywhere she goes. I'm hers, and I respect her more than anybody in the world."
Wanda Owens did what a night in jail could not. She turned her son around and got him headed back down the right path.
About one year after the tearful plea from his mom, Herring's teammates voted him a team captain this summer for the 2005 season. That vote says a great deal about Herring and how far he has come in a relatively short time.
"If I were a real emotional guy, I would have cried that day," Herring said. "It meant that much to me, especially after all I went through. How could a new coach come in and trust somebody who's been through so much? I could have easily let him down. But everything turned out right."
When Urban Meyer took over as the head coach in January, he told his players at the first team meeting that what had happened before he got here didn't matter; that this was going to be a fresh start for everybody and no one would be judged on what happened in the past.
That was a good thing for Herring, who had already started doing the right thing. Meyer's new discipline only accelerated the process.
"I was changing a little, but it was going real slow," said Herring, a senior from Live Oak. "He picked that pace up. He made me grow up fast because he demanded so much out of you. The way he talks to you and calls you and text messages you, you feel like you don't want to let him down.
"Everything turned out right."
Herring has not let Meyer down. He's only impressed him. Over the past eight-plus months, Herring has been the consummate team player and leader and he's been exemplary in the way he's lived his life off the field.
"He's terrific," Meyer said. "I don't know the old Jarvis. I keep hearing this stuff, but the Jarvis Herring I've known since I've been here has been phenomenal. I've read some of the stuff about him, and I have to look at him sometimes and shake my head. He's as good a person as I've been around."
Meyer would not recognize - or probably like - the old Jarvis Herring. Herring wasn't too impressed with him, either.
"I was getting out of control," he said.
Herring said his personal decline began in the spring of 2004, when he started hitting the clubs at night. At first, it was one or two nights a week. Then, it escalated into four or five nights, sometimes more.
Late nights and morning classes don't mix, and Herring started missing classes.
"I wasn't really hanging with a bad crowd. I was just getting out at the clubs, getting out too much," he said. "It's not bad to go out every now and then. Going out four and five times a week, that's when it got bad.
"You get used to partying, and you want to do something else to keep the excitement up. That's what got me in a big hole."
Part of his excitement included having to make a court appearance after being cited for public urination.
Word of Herring's off-the-field behavior was getting back to the UF administration. And, because he was missing classes, his grades also started slipping.
"All the things I was going through, if they had continued, (UF) would have had no choice but to kick me off the team," Herring said. "I would have been detrimental to the team. I would have been a lot of trouble for the team. It's a decision they would have had to make if I didn't straighten up."
Owens also was hearing bad things about her son, prompting her to show up at his dorm room one night and confront him in front of several of his teammates.
"Sometimes, that's what it takes," Herring said.
He listened to his mom, but apparently didn't hear what she was saying.
Later that summer, Herring was arrested for resisting arrest without violence during an incident downtown involving UF linebacker Channing Crowder. Both were arrested. Herring spent a night in jail and later accepted a deferred prosecution deal with the state attorney's office.
The arrest brought the wrath of Andra Davis, a second cousin of Herring's and a former standout UF linebacker now with the Cleveland Browns.
"He finally told me I'd better grow up or I'm going to have a sad life," Herring said. "I was scared because I was going to miss what I love most - football - if I didn't change."
The arrest reduced his mother to tears - which is what really motivated him to change.
"I stayed on him," Owens said. "I told him, 'Do you know how many people would love to be in your shoes?' If it weren't for his scholarship, he wouldn't be in school. I told him he had everything, and he was about to have it taken away."
Herring didn't lose anything. He changed and gained a new respect from his teammates, especially some of the younger players, who now look up to him as a role model.
"He was so close to getting thrown off the team that he wasn't really talking to anyone at one point," true sophomore safety Kyle Jackson said. "He has come a long way. He's been through a lot, and he's come around. He'll call all the defensive backs up and say we're going to have dinner together.
"He doesn't talk to us about the problems he had. But if someone is having a problem with academics, he'll say, 'You need to get on it.' He kind of talks to me like I'm his son. He's like a father to me."
The troubled kid has been transformed into a team captain. Credit it to the power of a mother's tears.
"After letting her down, I try my best to do the right things now," Herring said. "Every once in a while, she'll come up and stay the night with me just to make sure."
Robbie Andreu can be reached at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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