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Double the coaches, twice the success?

4/29/2010

Ernest Joe remembers it well.

As the principal of Auburndale (Fla.) High School, he was accompanying prospect Chubb Small on a trip to the University of Georgia.

Small suggested that Ernest's son, Errin, travel with them.

When they arrived on campus, it was an eye-opening experience for the fifth-grader.

"Errin absolutely fell in love with Georgia," Ernest said.

And on their way home from the trip, Errin made up his mind.

"One the way back from Georgia he said, 'Dad, I'm ready to play football now,'" Ernest said.

Nearly seven years later, Lake Gibson's (Lakeland, Fla.) Errin Joe is one of the region's fastest-rising offensive line prospects. At 6-foot-4, 280 pounds, Errin is heading into his third year anchoring the Braves' offensive line at left tackle and has more than a dozen scholarship offers.

Errin boasts a 4.1 GPA and is the president of the school's junior class and its Future Business Leaders of America organization. He has scholarship offers from traditional football powerhouses like Florida State, Miami and West Virginia and academic powerhouses like Duke, Vanderbilt and Stanford.

"He's a great young man," Lake Gibson coach Keith DeMyer said. "He's the kind of kid you want to have in your program, and he's everything that you'd look for in a college recruit."

Since embarking on his path to blue-chip status, Errin has had one of the best coaches in the area -- his father -- guiding him.

Before becoming a school administrator, the current principal at nearby Tenoroc High (Lakeland, Fla.) was the head coach at Kathleen High (Lakeland, Fla.), where he coached future NFL stars Ray Lewis and Desmond Clark.

As a head coach, Ernest had a reputation of being a no-nonsense disciplinarian. He expected full accountability from those who played for him and is no different with his son.

"Dad was always the toughest on me," Errin said. "Whether it was in little league football or just working out in the yard, he worked me hard. He is the same way with my academics."

Dad agrees with his son's assessment. He knows what it takes to be the best and wants to show his son that to be good at anything, he has to be fully committed.

Errin's decision to play football helped spark Ernest's decision to get back into coaching. He wanted to follow his son through the little league ranks. He coached him from the time he was in fifth grade until he arrived at Lake Gibson.

"It's hard to coach your kid because I had to be tougher on him than anyone else," Ernest said. "I didn't want anyone thinking that Errin was going to get something without earning it. And he earned it."

The first day of practice still makes the elder Joe smile.

"His mom was checking on him while he was getting to bed, and you know how the mom can be the sensitive [one] sometimes," Ernest said. "And he told her that his first day of practice was the hardest day of his life. But he wasn't going to quit."

Errin didn't quit, and eventually, he began to thrive. As he got better, Ernest loosened the reins and eventually left his son's future development in the hands of DeMyer.

These days, father and son will watch film together, and whenever Ernest feels he can give his son advice, he offers it.

Many of the techniques and skills are familiar to the elder Joe because Errin's offensive line coach, Dan Morse, was once part of Ernest's program at Kathleen High.

"They have a great program at Lake Gibson," Ernest said. "They are teaching him like I taught him and if you look at the players Coach DeMyer has developed and sent off to college, his program is right there with Lakeland High."

DeMyer now sees a talented player who has turned into one of the team's undisputed leaders.

"Errin knows what it takes to be good and then he does it," DeMyer said. "Some kids know what it takes and they are lazy anyway. Errin isn't like that, and there's no doubt that that's Coach Joe's influence."

Errin feels that the advantage of having two head coaches in his life has given him the edge.

"Together they have helped make me into the person I am today," Errin said. "Dad and Coach DeMyer are a lot alike, and they have high expectations for me."

Errin is following in a growing tradition of heavily recruited offensive linemen at Lake Gibson.

Jason Watkins led the Braves to a state championship game appearance in 2002 before heading to Florida, where he was part of two national title teams. He is currently signed to a contract with the Buffalo Bills.

More recently, Ricky Barnum was signed by the University of Michigan as part of Rich Rodriguez's first class at Ann Arbor in 2008.

DeMyer says Errin compares favorably to his past linemen in terms of production but points out that each was a different player.

"There's some things he does better, and there are some things they did better at this point," DeMyer said. "I will say that Errin is a little nastier than Watkins was at this point in their careers. He's a little better at the point of attack."

Errin plays left tackle but will move to the interior as a guard or a center in college. He has worked out with the offensive line since the start of 2010. It split time between weight training and conditioning drills in preparation for spring camp in May.

"I'm trying to be more agile and work on improving my blocking in all areas," Errin said. "I definitely want to get more pancakes this season and really establish myself as one of the best offensive linemen in the state."

In between football, academics and his involvement in clubs, Errin is also heavily involved in the school's television production program and plans to major in communications in college.

"Those activities help me with my leadership skills," Errin said. "If you are a leader in the classroom, it's going to translate on the field."

Soon, father and son will sit down and get to the nuts and bolts of recruiting. Errin doesn't have a top-five list, but as he eliminates schools, he plans to write those coaches a letter thanking them for their opportunity and explaining his decision.

"I believe you do everything with class," Ernest said. "We have to treat the process with respect and allow those coaches the opportunity to pursue other young men that are deserving of scholarships."

Errin admits that distance could be a factor in his final decision. He has visited Auburn and Florida State for their junior days and also watched Miami's spring game.

"We're considering everything right now," Errin said. "But I'm always thinking about how far I'd want to get away from home."

There is no timetable for a decision, and Errin wants to go to a school that has a strong communications program and a football program that he feels he can have a good relationship with his position coaches.

"I definitely want a family atmosphere," Errin said. "Someplace where I know the coaches and my teammates will stand up for each other and support each other."


Corey Long is a freelance writer in Florida.