Game Changer: Ridge's Shykeem Pitts Overcomes Obstacles Off the Field
Fri. November 23, 2012 at 2:43 a.m. | By Solange Reyner
Ridge Community's Shykeem Pitts has drawn interest from Tennessee, Marshall, Western Kentucky, Georgia and FSU. (Photo by PAUL CRATE | LEDGER MEDIA GROUP)
By SOLANGE REYNER
DAVENPORT | He's a dynamic football player, a game-changer whom defenders have trouble taking down because he's as slippery as a fish in water.
He's a free spirit with an infectious personality who lights up a room with his big, cheesy smile.
He likes showing off under the bright lights on Friday nights.
He likes the attention that comes with the star-like status and likes to Tweet about those accomplishments.
Shykeem Pitts says he was born to play this game, and many don't disagree with that notion.
He's carried Ridge deep into the playoffs and will try to lead the team the furthest in school history when it takes on Kissimmee Osceola in a second-round playoff game tonight.
"We go as Shykeem goes. We have all season," Ridge coach Richard Tate said.
Pitts, a senior, is one of the most dynamic players to step on a football field in Polk County in recent years, and he's likely the best to come out of Ridge Community, where Miami's Mike James and FSU's Karlos and Vince Williams once played.
There's pressure to be better and match what those guys are doing now: playing the sport at a Division I program.
"That's the plan," said Pitts, who starts at quarterback and safety.
There's interest in his abilities. Tennessee has offered him an athletic scholarship, and so has Marshall and Western Kentucky. Georgia and FSU are interested, too.
But there are obstacles that he can't run around as easily as he would on the field.
"He's juggling a lot for his age," his grandmother JoAnn Pierce-Thigpen said.
Pierce-Thigpen raised Pitts. She's had him since he was in the second grade, a short time after her son and Shykeem's father, Eric Davis, was killed in Haines City.
There's been close dances with death for Shykeem, too.
In late April, he was at a party in Lake Wales with his close friend Tibious Peterman. The two parted ways, taking off in separate vehicles to go home. Hours later, Peterman was gunned down shortly after, about 3 a.m. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Pitts has a white T-Shirt with Peterman's image hanging from his blue locker.
A year earlier, Pitts was at another party in Lake Wales. A shooting happened while he was there.
Maybe it's bad timing. Maybe it's Pitts putting himself in bad situations.
Those close to him say that's not the case.
"A lot of the guys that went to school with him are hanging on the streets and up to no good," Pierce-Thigpen said. "Sometimes peer pressure will get to you, but I told him to stay away from that and walk away from it, and he understands it."
But there's so much pressure to do well.
Pitts' story is one of struggle: the struggle to separate his life from the bad seeds; the struggle to boost his ACT score and pass the FCAT so he can go to college, the struggle to also help care for his two young children.
But you wouldn't know about those struggles if you watched him work, at football and in school.
"He's nonchalant, such a free spirit," Tate said. "He carries this burden deep inside and never has any type of attitude, never shows frustration. It's tremendous how he just comes to work every day, smile on his face."
Pitts, 18, is close to getting his academics in order.
He has a tutor at school and spends extra time at home studying. He doesn't want to stay in Polk County for a number of reasons, but mostly because because he wants to make something of himself.
He knows the naysayers are counting him out, even local high school athletes who say he's got all this talent and that it will just go to waste.
"Mark my words," Pitts said. "I will be playing college football, and I will shine."
It's hard to say he won't stick to his statement.
Early in the season, after a win over Fort Meade, he said Ridge would beat Lakeland and make history.
He made the winning play against the Dreadnaughts when he returned an interception, one he snagged with one hand and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown.
"I always stick to my word," Pitts said.