Fabian Washington, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Mike Jenkins have been stealing quarterbacks blind for years, which is one reason they were all first-round NFL draft picks.
The cornerback trio have helped put Bradenton on the map, making it the only city in America to produce three first-round picks at the same position and giving it the reputation as Superman’s real home.
They can stop an offense dead in its tracks, but the lifelong buddies have a different target in mind these days. They see their hometown erupting in a sea of violence and want to plug up the holes before the dam bursts.
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The goal is simple, but reaching it is complex. These three stalwarts don’t want to see the birthplace of cornerbacks turn into a graveyard of promising youths.
There are youngsters sitting in jail cells right now in Manatee County who showed athletic skills good enough to at least take them to college.
Their beliefs led to the creation of the “Cornerback Connection,” and on Saturday evening at the Manatee Convention Center, the organization put on the inaugural Cornerback Connection Celebration Slam Jam basketball game.
Arena officials estimate about 1,500 people showed up for the event, which featured current and former NFL players along with local athletes who played college sports.
It was all about giving back to the community. Washington and Jenkins have also formed the Franchise Kids Foundation while Dominique has his DRC Foundation
Life has not been easy for Washington and Jenkins, who came up in single-parent homes where money was scarce and food and stability were always issues.
They escaped the pitfalls that might have kept a lesser person down, but the two have not forgotten their roots and want to clear a path for others.
“There is a need for the youth around here to have something to do, and we are trying to help Bradenton get better because we are really in need,” Washington says. “I feel if they’ve got something to do, they don’t have time to commit crimes. We support under-privileged youths and do food drives and backpack give-aways and next year will be the first year of the Fabian Washington Scholarship that I am going to start.”
Rodgers-Cromartie says his goal is to make sure kids in his community have a fair shot at life and grow up knowing they have a chance to be successful.
He did not face the obstacles that confronted Jenkins and Washington, but that doesn’t mean he is insensitive to what is happening.
“There was violence when I was growing up here, but not to the extent that it is today. Part of it is kids not having the support they need and then going in the wrong direction. We hope to get them turned right,” he says.
Jenkins knows all about troubled times. He grew up with a diabetic mother who was left to run the household on her own while his father was in out and of jail.
He was a candidate to become a crime statistic, but never did. He figured things out, but knows not everyone is capable of navigating through the minefields that life can put in your path.
The 25-year-old would like to make things easier for others, especially those not blessed with his talent, which is nearly everybody on the planet.
“There is a lot of crime going on right now, and we are trying to get the community to come together,” Jenkins said. “We want to raise money to build our franchise stronger so we can do a lot of things to help the kids and do this game every year. We are going to branch off to different groups to help different people as things along.”