Judging a young man's character can be difficult.
Tailback Dwayne Cherrington was one of 12 Colorado football players suspended last season for misusing the university's telephone-access code. Cherrington charged a little more than $8 and had to sit out one game.
Weigh that against Cherrington as a counselor. An athletic department secretary at Colorado recruited Cherrington last spring to work with Jerome, a 10-year-old who was having problems at home and school.
"I guess she felt I was a well-rounded guy and thought I would be perfect to work with Jerome," said Cherrington, a redshirt sophomore from Santa Ana Valley High. "He was having a lot of problems, problems at home, which led to problems at school. He was fighting with his teachers and he didn't have anyone to relate to about it. His problems were 100% worse than anything I went through."
To those who know Cherrington, the surprise isn't that he went out of his way to help a kid. The shock is that anyone could have problems "100% worse" than those Cherrington plowed through before he came to Colorado.
"I'm going to have tears of joy the day Dwayne has that diploma in hand," said Scott Orloff, Cherrington's coach at Santa Ana Valley.
Cherrington, the Buffaloes' No. 2 tailback, is nursing a tender hamstring he injured on special teams in a 31-21 victory over Colorado State last Saturday. This is a speed bump compared to the mountains he has scaled.
Pick a stereotype and Cherrington exposes a myth.
His father died of colon cancer when Cherrington was a sophomore at Santa Ana Valley, making him, at 16, the oldest male in the house. Yet he went to school every day, studied every night and stayed out of trouble, setting the standard for his younger brother and sister.
He grew up in an area so dicey that more than once he found himself looking down a gun barrel. Yet, he had no use for the three gangs that claimed his neighborhood, instead choosing football.
His family was so poor after his father died that he had to work during the off-season to help them pay the monthly bills. Yet he never lost sight that education was the way up the ladder.
"There was so much he has had to overcome," said Orloff, now coach at Dana Hills. "You see so many youngsters who don't make it with half his troubles. But Dwayne knew exactly what he wanted to do and he was going to get there. He is extremely focused."
So focused that when Cherrington began talking about becoming a father two years ago, at 20, friends and former coaches pleaded with him to wait. At least hold off until after college, they begged.
Elijah Cherrington is now 17 months old. Cherrington and Regina, who began dating as seniors at Santa Ana Valley, were married in May and live in Boulder, Colo.
"I planned all my life to be a father at an early age," Cherrington said. "I never gave it a second thought. People tried to talk me out of it, but this is what I planned.
"It's like when people tried to tell me that I would never get a football scholarship. They told me all the statistics on how few guys get one. I got a football scholarship. That was my plan. I never gave it a second thought."
Some things you can't plan.
There is no school photo of Cherrington as an eighth-grader. He was at the hospital the day of the picture session. His father was undergoing surgery for colon cancer.
William Cherrington, a truck driver, died three years later.
"My husband had never been ill a day in his life," Irene Cherrington said. "He would joke that I was always the one who worried about getting sick. He was the strong one. That's why it really shook all of us."
Dwayne, though, never seemed to waiver.
"My dad had pushed school on me all my life," Cherrington said. "He pushed it like crazy and I understood. When he was dying, he didn't really tell me much. He knew he had done his part through the years. He was strong."
So was his son.
"I remember seeing him at the funeral, standing next to his father's grave handling all his emotions," said Scott Strosnider, who was Cherrington's coach that year at Santa Ana Valley. "Each family member was supposed to shovel some dirt onto the grave. I saw a 16-year-old kid help put his father to rest. I was having trouble handling it and I was supposed to be the grown up."
That strength was extended to his family. Cherrington became the man of the house. He held jobs during the off-season, even forgoing training that would improve him as a player. He would work from the end of school to 11 p.m., then study until 1 a.m. and get up for school at 6 a.m. He rarely missed a class.
"I was still young and wanted to be wild," Cherrington said. "I couldn't. If I fell off, there would be no hope."
Irene Cherrington didn't return to her job after her husband's death. She had worked the night shift as a label inspector for a cassette manufacturer, but felt she needed to be at home nights. She refinanced the house mortgage and also received money from a life insurance policy.