The whistle sounds and Carl Elie spasms off the start. He runs the 40 in 4.4 seconds. As he crosses the finish line first, Elie immediately turns around to run it again. It’s a Tuesday afternoon in late July — two weeks before the official start of football practice.
The humid Southwest Florida air feels like you’re breathing soup, and a dozen kids are doubled over in exhaustion. They have voluntarily subjected themselves to an informal workout on the athletic field behind the Immokalee Recreation Center. Amidst the gasping, sweat and spit, they toss out harmless insults about each other’s mothers. But Carl Elie pays no mind to the chatter. The 5-foot, 9-inch, 195-pound, God-fearing tailback from Immokalee High School keeps his feet moving. Heel to toe. Heel to toe.
The opening kickoff is coming — 7:30 p.m. August 24 at Labelle High School. Elie is well aware of the legends who have perforated this backfield with their cleats: Walter James, Javarris James and Edgerrin James, to name a few. He has wanted a turn at this coveted position since he was 6 years old and saw his first Immokalee High School football game: hence the two weight-training sessions a day and impulsive cardio workouts in the middle of the night.
Elie has the best work ethic on the team, says Reggie Townsend, a quick-to-laugh senior lineman who stands 6-foot-2, weighs 305 pounds and sheepishly admits that he’s scared of frogs.
“When we’re tired, we all rally around him,” Townsend says.
“Pick yourself up. Don’t think about the running,” Elie tells them during the workouts. “Think about the results. During the season it’s all going to pay off. They look into my eyes and they know I’m serious.”
Elie says he owes this to Homer Belacourt, his former football coach and current youth pastor who he, along with a handful of his teammates, now spends many afternoons and weekends with for Christian fellowship.
“Homer said: ‘Don’t ever let anybody outwork you,’ ” Elie says. “Coach could tell me to run 100 miles, and I’d run 110. And every time I run, I know I’m getting faster.”
Despite the fact that he signed his first autograph the other day, Elie doesn’t linger on talk of the college football scouts who are interested in recruiting him. He’d rather tell you about how good his teammates are, his ability to eat more food than his offensive linemen or the 300-plus text messages he sends out every Sunday encouraging people to come to church. And as he leaves the Family Prayer Center of Immokalee just after 9 p.m. Sunday, Elie turns his cell phone on to confirm an appointment. He’s supposed to meet several of his teammates at his home in Farmworker’s Village. It’s after dark, and they plan on running 60-yard sprints for a nightcap.
“I don’t believe in the word ‘quit’,” Elie says.
Reach Tristan Spinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.