Teen has a (foot)ball in his new land
Quake victim deals with loss of dad through playing sports
At 6’2, 297 pounds, Carl Pierre-Louis is practicing to become a “Blind Side’’ offensive left tackle at Felix Varela Senior High School in West Kendall.
In just his first year in organized football, the 17-year-old junior is already being scouted by colleges for a football scholarship.
There’s little hint of the unimaginable hurt and trauma that Pierre-Louis endures as a survivor of the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti that killed nearly 300,000. Pierre-Louis was in a taxi in Port-au-Prince when 35 seconds of violent tremors began, crumbling buildings around him.
His father was crushed in a building collapse. An aunt and some cousins perished. He is separated from his mother, still in Haiti, as the two try to rebuild their lives 700 miles apart.
Football helps Pierre-Louis take it one day at a time.
So does his older brother Herold Jean-Pierre, whom he lives with in West Kendall. His brother, 30, helps support him, working at a restaurant in Little Haiti called Papillion (Creole for “butterfly”).
In the taxi in January, Pierre-Louis was coming back from basketball practice with his school friends. They were talking and laughing, enjoying themselves after a solid practice.
Pierre-Louis was talking about going on a diet so he could better play basketball. It was only later when he realized his bulk is better suited for football.
Then the ground began to shake. The taxi started bouncing side-to-side. A giant boulder came close to landing on the taxi. Pierre-Louis and his friends jumped out. Windows shattered.
“God help me,” was all that Pierre-Louis could think.
In the melee, people were yelling and screaming. Dust enveloped the streets. People were running frantically to find their families. Absolutely nothing could be seen outside of five feet.
Many survivors “had blood all over them,’’ Pierre-Louis said. “It was a painful sight to witness.
“They thought it was the end of the world. Most of them began to get down on their knees and pray, and then people were running to go see their family.”
Pierre-Louis had to walk some 20 miles to look for his mom.
“It was very far. Like from here [West Kendall] to downtown Miami,” Pierre-Louis said.
His mom and dad are separated.
“He (dad) lived way too far from me, so I couldn’t go see him,’’ Pierre-Louis said.
“When the earthquake happened, the first person I tried to call was my dad. I kept on calling, but I still couldn’t hear from my father.”
That day, Pierre-Louis’s father was working as head security for a bank on the other side of Port-au-Prince from where his mother lived.
Pierre-Louis would have to wait for months to find out what happened to his dad.
“I was still keeping hope, trying to keep it in my head that he’s probably still living,” Pierre-Louis said, “because most of the people who were severely injured went to the Dominican Republic to get better care.”
Once home, Pierre-Louis rejoiced to find his mother unharmed.
For awhile after the earthquake, he helped her, but decided to go back to South Florida to attend school. The earthquake had closed his school in Haiti.
“I’m the last one in my family, so my mom is really attached to me,’’ Pierre-Louis said. “She didn’t want me to go like that. She kept trying to bring me back. But after the earthquake, my mother and I sat down and we talked about it.
“We were at the airport. She was crying. She made me cry … I told her I had to go because I didn’t want to lose a school year, and she said, ‘All right I understand.’ It was very emotional.”
In West Kendall, Felix Varela Senior High School welcomed incoming Haitian refugees with a formal ceremony and gathering.
Football coach Mathew Dixon spotted Pierre-Louis and instantly recruited him.
“He took me to his office and he got everything signed up for me. And that same day I was practicing for football,” Pierre-Louis said.
Offensive line coach Nikko las Bocanegra said this is Pierre-Louis’ first year in football as a junior.
“Talent-wise, the sky is the limit for him,” the coach said.
With great pride, Pierre-Louis attends every practice and trains overtime. He is more focused, more serious. He wears the Haitian flag on his football uniform.
“Now he speaks with a leader-type of tone. He shows leadership now and works a lot harder. He gives it his all every practice now,” said Cornel Cheron, his Haitian teammate and senior defensive back/running back.
This summer, Pierre-Louis finally found out that workers had found his father’s body under the rubble.
“He was on the top floor; he was on the second floor. Some people had the chance to go out, but he couldn’t get out,” Pierre-Louis said. “So they found a body, and the reason they noticed it was him is because some of the people that were working with him noticed the clothes that were on him that day it happened.”
Pierre-Louis had looked up to his father. He had been Pierre-Louis’ hero.
Now back in West Kendall, Pierre-Louis uses football as a way to escape the grief.
“When I get to practice, I forget about everything,’’ he said. “I know I’m here to work, to practice hard, and I’m here to make the best opportunity out of it; trying to leave everything that’s happened in the past. I’m trying to look ahead.
“Football toughened me up; it’s like a family,’’ he added. “There are some people that have your back. You can always count on somebody to talk to when you have problems.”
Pierre-Louis also has discovered a new hero – Baltimore Ravens Michael Oher, whose story is portrayed in “The Blind Side,” the Oscar-winning movie.
In high school, Oher struggled without any family support until a wealthy couple took him in. Oher eventually became an All-America offensive left tackle at the University of Mississippi and now is a pro with a seven-figure salary.
Like Oher, Pierre-Louis has an opportunity to go to college. He would be the first to go i his family.
Middle Tennessee scouts have been watching him play. Other colleges are interested, too. Pierre-Louis is working hard because he wants to make it to the NFL.
Every time Pierre-Louis practices, he remembers how his father would push him to do his best. His father wanted him to excel. Pierre-Louis is determined to make his dad proud – even if he is not physically with him.
“I just do what my dad would want me to do,” Pierre-Louis said.
“He has great potential,’’ Cheron said. “He has heart, which is needed to play the game. And he knows that football can give him the chance to succeed…
“We all know that he has potential to be great.”