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November 22, 2004

Category five about to hit Houston

A potential hurricane has blown in from the Bahamas to the Texas Gulf Coast under the recruiting radar. But by the time that he's walking across the stage in graduation next year, it's likely to be a category five-star hurricane that's hit the city of Houston.

Houston St. Pius offensive lineman Ian Symonette moved from the Bahamas last spring, played two games this year as a junior, suffered two injuries and still has received offers from Houston and Miami.

Symonette, who stands 6-9, 330-pounds, is being sponsored in America by fellow Bahamian Frank Rutherford - the country's only Olympic medalist. Rutherford, who runs a non-profit foundation that enables talented Bahamians realize the American sports dream, was given a tip about a 6-9, 15-year-old tearing up the amateur football leagues in his home country.

"I had to see it to believe it, so I went down to the Bahamas and secretly watched him practice," Rutherford, a legend in his home country said.

"I was ready to see a fat, sloppy kid, but I was shocked. I snuck onto the practice field, and I saw this mammoth man from a distance. He was playing defensive back and backpedaling down the field covering the team's best receiver.

"I couldn't believe my eyes. How could this kid be so big with the hip movement, agility and athletic ability of a receiver? I was sold on him before I even saw him play offensive line."

Rutherford contacted Symonette's parents, who were receptive about the idea of their son going to America to pursue his dream of playing football.

Rutherford has had some experience in mentoring Bahamian athletes. He is the uncle and mentor of the Darling twins, DeVaughn and Devard, who both signed with Florida State after playing their high school ball at Fort Bend Austin in Houston. DeVaughn passed away during his time in Tallahassee, while Devard was taken in the second round by the Baltimore Ravens in 2004 after transferring to Washington State.

"Football is not an institution in the Bahamas like it is here," Rutherford explains.

"The country's favorite sport is track. They don't play high school football there, so they have amateur leagues made up of 20-40-year-olds. They made an exception for Iann."

Symonette and his family traveled to Houston with Rutherford to select a school last winter. He was going to go to Strake Jesuit, but UIL rules nixed that idea. The second option was St. Pius, which plays in the private school leagues.

"We were referred to St. Pius and Coach (Robin) Kirk looked at me like I was crazy when I told him I had a 6-9 offensive tackle for him," Rutherford said. "He hasn't stopped thanking me since."

And Rutherford isn't exaggerating.

"Frank sent me pictures over email last year and I was shocked," Kirk said. "It was pie in the sky for him getting here, but it all worked out and we got him in the spring.

"His parents are smart people and wanted to get him here to give him an opportunity to play football and get a great education. We got him early in the spring and tried to teach him everything we could without pads. On the first play of our first game his leg got rolled up and he suffered a partial MCL tear."

Symonette sat our four weeks before returning for a game against Reagan High School.

"He was destroying people in practice, but he got rolled up again and broke his growth plate during the game," Kirk said. "The surgeons who performed the operation pulled me aside and told me his plate wasn't filled out and had more room to grow.

"For many kids they would have thrown in the towel after that second injury. He started working harder and the doctors called him the fastest healer they have every seen. He is totally healed and if he can work out some scar tissue this week, he could play in the next round of the playoffs."

And look out if he does.

"I've coached football for over 30 years in Texas and I can tell you he will be one of the top 10 prospects in the country next season," Kirk said. "He is a can't miss kid."

Under the guidance of Rutherford, who has worked with athletes from Michael Barrow and Aaron Glenn to Hakeen Olajuwon, Symonette's diet and work out capabilities are second to none.

"When he got over here he had to get used to the way American football players train," Rutherford said. "He came over here weighing 380-pounds, and now he's down to 330-pounds. He is hitting the weights and working on his speed. His body is getting stronger and we want him up to 350-pounds by next season and running a 4.7 in the 40-yard dash. He has the natural gifts that only God can bless you with and he has a serious desire to play in the NFL.

Symonette also plays basketball for St. Pius but knows that football is his passion.

"He's trying to pattern himself after Jonathan Ogden and wants to be the first Bohemian to be drafted in the first round of the NFL draft," Rutherford said. "He's that serious of a prospect."

While not trying to get ahead of himself, Symonette is currently being recruited by Miami, Houston, Texas, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech - virtually everyone that has seen him.

Rutherford was a four-time NCAA champion hurdler for the University of Houston, but says that one team has a leg up.

"Miami's chances on a scale from one to 10 is above an eight," Rutherford said.

"He wants to go through the recruiting process, but he has family in Miami and the Bahamas is a 40-minute flight from there. At the end of the day, it's really tough not to want to go to Miami."

Symonette will be on the college camp circuit during the spring and summer, which should turn into a three-ring circus to see the first ever 6-10, 300-pound defensive back on display.

Just don't say you weren't warned. You still have plenty of advance notice to take cover from the approaching hurricane from the Bahamas.


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