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Sirlee Monzey doesn’t have much time to live up to his own reputation.
“Five games,” he tells me. “I’ve got five games.”
Monzey made what was essentially his high school football debut last week, as a running back for Coolidge, where he had just enrolled as a 12th grader.
It’s his fourth high school.
And what an opening day he had, rushing for 175 yards and a touchdown in just three quarters during the Colts’ win over host Wilson. He broke tackle after tackle and scooted through holes in the defensive line that really weren’t there.
Pretty good for a kid so new to the team that his name didn’t even make the roster in the game program.
Dominating as the performance was, there was nothing about it that surprised those who knew Monzey from his days with the White Oak boys team in Silver Spring, where he played before he tried making the jump from so-called midget football to the high school level, landing in the where-are-they-now file.
“You’re back! Oh, yeah! You’re back!” yells Carletta Moore, a White Oak board member and one of several folks from the club who hung around the Wilson field after the game to celebrate Monzey’s return.
“When he scored, I didn’t know what to do,” says Moore. “I was about to fall out of the stands. We all watched him grow up, we’ve followed him all over, and now he’s back. He’s just so good!”
As a 12-year-old in 2002, Monzey led White Oak’s midgets to a national championship and had longtime youth football watchers calling him the best they’d ever seen. White Oak’s games drew thousands of fans, including local high school scouts and folks who’d travel great distances just to see if the kid known as the Nigerian Nightmare—despite the fact that Monzey is Liberian—was as good as everybody said he was.
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He never disappointed.
“White Oak has won a lot of national championships and had a lot of great players,” says Nichelle Scott, a White Oak board member among the club’s contingent that came to Wilson. “But Sirlee was the best we ever had. He was special.”
Every major private school in the area tried to get Monzey. At a White Oak practice I attended in 2003, Elliot Uzelac, then the football coach at St. John’s College High School, showed up and began aggressively lobbying the midgets’ coach, Mike Wills, to convince Monzey to enroll there. Wills told me after practice that Uzelac promised to provide scholarships “for Sirlee and any two [other White Oak players] I picked,” contingent on Monzey choosing St. John’s (Cheap Seats, “The Biggest Midget,” 10/31/2003). He starred again as White Oak won another Pop Warner national title in 2004.
But despite all the hype and hopes, Monzey all but disappeared from football after leaving White Oak. As a freshman, he went to Blake High School in Silver Spring but continued playing for the boys club rather than the school team.
For 10th grade, Monzey transferred to DeMatha, the Hyattsville outpost that has had the strongest football program in the area for years. He spent two seasons on the Stags’ bench with injuries. Monzey left DeMatha in early September, after being on the field for just two plays at the Stags’ opening game in Ohio.
“They have a great program at DeMatha,” Monzey says. “There’s so many great athletes, so many running backs, and I kept getting hurt. It was hard to get any playing time.”
Despite the long layoff,
football folks hadn’t forgotten about Monzey.
“Every coach knew about the kid Coolidge got,” says Eddie Saah, the athletic director at Wilson, standing on the sidelines while Monzey is in the process of getting almost every yard of the Colts’ 97-yard touchdown drive to open the second half.
The Coolidge coaches knew Monzey particularly well. Colts offensive coordinator Jay Ford had coached Marshall Heights, a D.C. youth club, when a Monzey-led White Oak squad knocked his midgets out of the regional playoffs.
“He’s a Pop Warner legend,” says Ford. “He’s a special talent and has the attitude to go with it.”
Even without the silly proposal to allow kids a fifth year to play high school sports, the D.C. public prep league has bizarre eligibility rules that actually encourage athletic recruiting. Monzey had enrolled at Kennedy High School in Silver Spring for his senior year, but he wasn’t on the football team. Kennedy Head Coach Gunnard Twyner says Monzey was in good academic standing but was declared athletically ineligible to play at that school by Montgomery County officials. He says he decided to transfer to his fourth school after the 2007 season kicked off because “coaches from Coolidge called me up” and said he’d be welcome to play for them.
Coolidge Head Coach Jason Lane says he’d known about Monzey for years. He’s been giddy since learning a few weeks ago that the former boys-club god would be a Colt.
“You know how you hit the jackpot, and you’re walking around with the winning ticket, just waiting to cash it? That’s how it was,” Lane says after the Wilson game. “Now I cashed it.”
Monzey says his new teammates, many of whom were friends from the White Oak days, have been supportive despite his being a mid-season addition. And that was before he showed flashes of his old self against Wilson.
But only flashes, says Ford.
“You know what?” Ford says after the 175-yard unveiling of his new back. “What you saw today was a rusty Sirlee. You haven’t seen the best of him. You will.”
Ford saw enough of Monzey, however, to predict that Coolidge will play for the city title in the annual Turkey Bowl.
“With him,” Ford says, “I like our chances of playing on Thanksgiving.”
Not surprisingly, given all of his academic and athletic vagabonding and his potential to change the D.C. prep-sports landscape, questions about Monzey’s eligibility at Coolidge are already being asked.
Monzey says he’ll take however many games he’s got.
“Football is my passion,” he says, beaming after his first-game heroics. “Man, it feels good to play again.”