Commentary

He's still Darrelle from Aliquippa

Folks in Steelers country say Jets' Revis is the same calm, cool guy he was as a kid

Updated: January 21, 2011, 9:14 AM ET
By Ian Begley | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

In late August on the South Side section of Pittsburgh, Darrelle Revis and John Geiger, Revis' business manager and best friend, were finishing up a meal at Nakama, a Japanese steakhouse. As they headed back to the car, Revis, who was in the middle of a 36-day contract holdout, was swarmed by passersby wanting to get a word in with the most-wanted man in the NFL.

"We went out in the street and it was just chaos," Geiger recalled Wednesday. "We couldn't even get to the car. Most people just wanted pictures, but there were a few haters yelling stuff like 'You suck!' and calling Darrelle greedy."

It took what seemed like an eternity for Revis and Geiger to get through the throng of cell phone cameras and autograph seekers and into the car. Once they pulled away from the mob scene -- just miles from Heinz Field, where Revis' New York Jets will take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday -- Geiger saw that his friend was unfazed by the unwanted attention.

"He was fine. He just stayed calm throughout the whole thing and it didn't really bother him," Geiger said. "Nothing really bothers him. He's been that way for as long as I've known him."

[+] EnlargeDarrelle Revis
Chris McGrath/Getty ImagesDarrelle Revis grew up about 25 miles away from Heinz Field.

Those who knew Revis as a kid say he hasn't changed much since his days as a star athlete at Aliquippa (Pa.) High School.

"He's laid-back, charismatic and cool," said Sean Gilbert, Revis' uncle and an Aliquippa alum who played 11 seasons in the NFL and served as a mentor and adviser to the Jets cornerback. "He's an observant guy who's quick to listen and slow to speak. He's always been that way since he was younger. I just think he's grown now."

• • •

As a teenager in Aliquippa -- a Western Pennsylvania town that has produced more than its fair share of pro football players -- Revis was more interested in becoming an NBA point guard than an Pro Bowl cornerback. His hoop dreams were so strong that he didn't play high school football at the Beaver County Christian School as a freshman.

"You'd see Darrelle in the community and time and time again, he was bouncing a basketball around town," said family friend and former coach Sherman McBride."He thought and believed that he was the next great basketball player."

The Beaver County Christian school offered little competition on the hardwood for Revis, so his mother, Diane Askew, walked him into Aliquippa High School the summer before his sophomore year and informed 'Quipps football and basketball coach Mike Zmijanac that Darrelle was "coming to Aliquippa and he wants to play pro basketball."

Revis attended the basketball team's summer workouts and, seemingly on a whim, showed up for the first day of football practice in July.

"I asked him, 'Are you coming to stay in shape for basketball?' and he told me, 'No, I'm going to give this a try,'" Zmijanac said Wednesday. "It didn't take long to realize the talent he had."

McBride, an assistant coach at Aliquippa, remembers the first defensive back drill he and Zmijanac put Revis through.

Revis back-pedaled and made a quick hip turn to make a play on a ball thrown by one of the coaches, showing the perfect form for "speed-turning," a technique cornerbacks use to change direction and make a play on thrown ball.

"It was amazing because the coaches hadn't even taught him anything yet," McBride said. "I looked at Coach Z and I said, 'Did you see that?' and his exact words were 'Wow.'"

Revis continued to wow Aliquippa coaches, teammates and opponents over the next three years on the hardwood and gridiron, all the while maintaining a outwardly stoic demeanor that belied his competitive fire.

"He has what I call 'humble confidence,'" Zmijanac said. "And he hates to lose. He may not show you by being real demonstrative, but trust me, it's in there."

Revis didn't lose much at Aliquippa. The football team was 36-4 during his time there and won the Pennsylvania State AA title during his senior season.

In one of those games that seem to be etched in the memory of anyone who saw or heard about it, Revis scored five touchdowns by three different ways in the state title game -- an 89-yard kickoff return, a 69-yard return of a field goal attempt that he blocked and runs of 2, 1 and 64 yards -- to lead the 'Quipps to a 32-27 win over North Lehigh. For good measure, he also caught a pass and completed a pass.

Revis added to his lore on the hardwood two days later.

The football title game was played on a Sunday instead of Saturday because of a snowstorm, and the Aliquippa basketball team was scheduled to play rival Beaver Falls that Tuesday. On the five-hour bus ride back from the title game, Revis had a question for his coach.

"Should I play on Tuesday?" he asked Zmijanac.

"Absolutely," the coach said. "You're 17. What else do you have to do?"

Revis hit the floor against rival Beaver Falls and scored 35 points with little more than a walkthrough practice to prepare for one of the top teams in the area, leading Aliquippa to an 86-82 overtime victory.

"He did everything but clean up the locker room after the game," McBride said.

The night before the game, University of Pittsburgh recruiter Bob Junko showed up to officially offer Revis a scholarship.

"We weren't going to let anyone slip in there," Junko said.

There was a possibility that Revis could play both basketball and football at Pitt, but Zmijanac and Gilbert advised him to focus on one sport.

"I told him I knew there were 10 point guards in New York City who were better than him," Zmijanac said. "But there aren't 10 football players in the country who are better than you."

Revis listened and chose to focus on football at Pittsburgh. That he earned a free education at a university was a blessing in itself.

Aliquippa is a town with "street problems," Zmijanac says. Like many other towns in the Rust Belt, it has been hit hard by the recent economic downturn. Zmijanac says football is seen as a ticket out for many students who struggle with the burden of poverty and the lure of the trouble that awaits in the streets of Aliquippa, located 25 miles away from Heinz Field.

"In Aliquippa, you are either a hoodlum or an athlete. You can't do both. But Darrelle's family made sure that he didn't get involved in that stuff," Zmijanac says.

Said Revis: "It's a tough town. It makes you grow up fast. There's a lot of negativity there. The one thing I did growing up is lean [on] the people doing positive things: Ty Law [and] my uncle, Sean Gilbert. Mike Ditka's from there. [I remember] just seeing billboards of him from our hometown and wanting to make it out of there."

• • •

Revis, of course, went on to star at Pitt as a cornerback. He left after his junior season and was selected by the Jets with the 14th pick of the 2007 draft. He's made millions of dollars playing football and, by now, most every fan in the country knows his name -- but those who've known Revis the longest insist that he hasn't forgotten about his hometown.

Revis was back at Aliquippa High School in early September -- in the midst of his contract holdout -- as news organizations sent reporters to his hometown to try to track him down for an interview. Revis, in hideout mode, stopped by Aliquippa to say hello to some former coaches and chat with players before heading to the stadium to run sprints by himself.

"He stopped by the facility and, Darrelle being Darrelle, nothing had changed," McBride said. "He acknowledged everybody around him, giving out love, hugging people, and then going about his business. He was the same Darrelle we always knew.

"One thing about people from Aliquippa, they're going to tell you the truth. They ain't gonna sugar coat anything. And they'll tell you that guy hasn't changed one bit."

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

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