Canadian Football League

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Former Canadian Football League player has nearly 1,000 mourners atttend his funeral

OKLAHOMA CITY, Feb. 6 — At a funeral visitation Saturday at Fairview Baptist Church here, nearly 1,000 mourners gathered to pay final respects to Mandrell Dean.
On one side of Dean’s coffin was a framed photograph of him in his high school football uniform, and on the other was his letter jacket, covered with award patches on both arms. A floral spray with a football in the middle was placed on the coffin alongside his football jersey.
Dean, who was 33, lay in his coffin wearing a bright red suit, a color that, the police said, was representative of his gang affiliation.
Among the mourners at Fairview Baptist and at the burial at Trice Hill Cemetery were members of the Northside Island 456 Piru Bloods, who wore red hooded sweatshirts and T-shirts and shouted their gang chant as Dean’s coffin was lowered into a grave cut from the fresh red clay.
The junction of Dean’s gang life and athletic accomplishments captured how entrenched he had become in this city’s gang scene, and how far he had gone since his days as a jaw-dropping football star at Millwood High School in northeast Oklahoma City.
With national signing day on Wednesday putting an even bigger spotlight on the country’s top high school football stars, Dean’s story is a reminder of how perilous the transition to college can be.
Richard Allen Dean, known as Mandrell, was killed Jan. 27 when a 17-year-old boy shot him, the police said, after Dean broke into an apartment, assaulted a woman and demanded money and jewelry.
“It’s a kid that could have made millions of dollars and been a success that is in a grave right now,” Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden, whose staff recruited Dean, said in a telephone interview. “It’s a sad story.”
Dean’s story ended Saturday, but the lore of his football prowess has not faded. In a high school career that included 28 touchdowns on kickoff returns, Dean forged a reputation on the field on par with Oklahoma legends like Bobby Murcer, Lee Roy Selmon and Troy Aikman.
“He was a man-child when he was a 10th grader,” said Pat Jones, the former Oklahoma State football coach.
In his four years at Millwood, from 1989 to 1993, Dean averaged 25.2 yards a catch and 18 yards a rush. In January 1993, he was hailed by SuperPrep Magazine, a national publication dedicated to football recruiting, as the “best receiving prospect to ever come out of Oklahoma.”
Highlights on local newscasts frequently showed Dean dominating games, making one-handed catches and improbable touchdown returns.
“How Reggie Bush was in college, that’s how he was in high school,” said Cornelius Davis, a high school teammate of Dean’s who later played at Oklahoma.
Leodies Robinson, Dean’s coach at Millwood, said: “He had tremendous speed. He’d run 170 yards to get, say, 65.”
College recruiters flocked to Millwood. Miami and Florida State were his prime suitors, along with Oklahoma. Dean gave an oral commitment to the Sooners, but his academic struggles undermined his athletic pursuits. He was not academically qualified for Division I football upon graduating from high school in 1993.
Dean then toiled in football’s minor leagues, fathered six children and, according to Oklahoma City Police Sgt. Paco Balderrama, was arrested 13 times since 1990 and had contact with the police on 51 occasions.
“Our officers knew Mandrell Dean not only because of his athletic endeavors, but because of the stuff that happened afterwards,” Balderrama said in a telephone interview.
Instead of starring somewhere like the University of Miami, Dean started out in Miami, Okla., at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, a junior college. Mike Loyd, the coach there at the time, said Dean left because he could not adjust to living in such a small town.
Dean moved on to play semipro football for the Oklahoma City Strike Force, the first of many stops in a vagabond career. He played for teams in Madison, Wis.; Peoria, Ill.; and Tulsa, Okla. He played in the Arena Football League for teams in New England and Florida, and he played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Canadian Football League.
Dean signed with the A.F.L.’s Oklahoma Wranglers in March 2000 and was cut a month later. He then suited up for the Green Bay Bombers of the Indoor Football League for 10 games.
Although Dean was 26 years old and out of shape by that point, his game-breaking speed remained. He returned three kickoffs for touchdowns, said the Bombers’ coach, Bud Keyes, who added that Dean often abandoned his pass routes to try to make the big play.
“He loved to go deep,” Keyes said in a telephone interview.
Perhaps it was Dean’s ability to return kicks that caught the attention of the Green Bay Packers, who signed him in July 2000. But a week later, he was cut. His last attempt to continue his athletic career came in February 2004, when he signed with the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz, another indoor football team, but he was released before the season.
Dean’s friend Kevin Newton said Dean called him during his tryout with Green Bay and told him it was “boring out here.”
Shortly after Dean was cut by the Packers, Keyes said he received a telephone call from U.P.S. Dean had listed Keyes as a reference for a job in Oklahoma City. Keyes said that was the last time he heard about Dean until his death.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Keyes said. “It really doesn’t.”
Some mourners at Dean’s visitation service Saturday wore shirts that read “R.I.P Drell” and “It’z Nothin Blood.” One shirt hailed Dean as an O.G., for original gangster.
“The same way Mandrell felt about being a football player is the same way that he felt about being a Blood,” said Nicole Babineaux, 29, a member of the Northside Island 456 Piru Bloods. “Regardless of how society may look at it, it’s a part of society. We’re here.”
Newton said Dean was a rising leader in the Northside Island 456 Piru Bloods.
“He would have become the head guy; he would have been the general,” said Newton, 32, who said he was an inactive member of a gang based in Midwest City, Okla., that is affiliated with the Bloods.
While a man sang a gospel hymn at the service, an off-duty law enforcement official with a holstered handgun stood outside the church with a police officer who would lead the processional to the cemetery.
Beyond a chain-link fence some 30 yards away, five Oklahoma City police cars idled, and later those who attended the funeral huddled outside as Dean’s coffin was loaded into a white hearse.
At Trice Hill Cemetery, when Dean’s coffin was placed in the grave, several members of the Northside Island 456 Piru Bloods shouted “Soo Woo,” an identifying cry for Bloods, and chanted “Northside.” With his video camera rolling, Newton led the vocal tribute to Dean, yelling, “God made dirt, it don’t hurt,” and “Mandrell is free, don’t cry. We’re blessed.”
Nearby was a man dressed in a khaki shirt and pants who had a blue teardrop tattoo under one eye. He choked back tears and shouted: “Let him rest. Let him rest.”
After the burial, several hundred people assembled at North Highlands Park in northern Oklahoma City for a party in Dean’s memory, Newton said. The barbecue, the pickup basketball games and the singing and dancing were interrupted by the Oklahoma City police, who arrested eight people after receiving a complaint about marijuana smoking and drinking at the park.
According to a police report, they were booked on complaints that included resisting arrest, inciting a riot and unlawful carrying of a weapon.
The arrests ended a day meant to celebrate Dean’s life.
“At least he’s not struggling like us anymore,” said Newton, who attended the party. “He’s gone home. He ain’t suffering no more.”


Post a Comment

<< Home