What makes sports writing so interesting is the twists and turns in storylines.
One day, you go to cover a high school football game to see highly touted stars like Andrew Johnson and Anthony Morelli and instead discover a pint-sized pinball named Eugene Jarvis.
Despite his diminutive frame, Jarvis would outshine almost every other player in Western Pennsylvania the next two seasons and earning the nickname “Eugene the Dancing Machine” in earning Pittsburgh Tribune-Review co-Player of the Year honors.
I thought of that when writing this column on Jarvis, sidelined for his senior season at Kent State by a laceration to his kidney.
His only kidney.
Sometimes, because of space limitations, some of the most remarkable parts of the story don’t make it into the column. One thing I found fascinating was that Jarvis was visited at the hospital by Akron coach J.D. Brookhart, who once convinced Jarvis to make a verbal commitment to the Zips before the former Central Catholic running ultimately signed with Kent State.
(Akron, by the way, beat Kent State, 28-20, on Saturday to snap the Golden Flashes’ three-game win streak).
“That’s what’s kept my spirits high through the whole thing,” Jarvis said, “knowing people cared.”
Nobody cares more than his mom, Lela Leonard. A single mother of two, she has been the source of strength and inspiration for her son. Leonard has recovered after suffering a stroke last year, but that ordeal taught Jarvis a lesson in how precious life is and how short it can be.
No wonder Jarvis had a “million things going through my mind” when a CT scan revealed that he was born with only one kidney.
“If she knew earlier that I was born with only one kidney, I wouldn’t be here today,” Jarvis said. “She would have never let me play football. I would have been doing something else. … I’m glad it happened when it did – now, instead of later on down the road. I could be on dialysis. I could be dead right now. It could be a lot worse.”
Yet, knowing the risks, Jarvis wants to play football again (he plans to wear a rib-cage protector) and Kent State will appeal to the NCAA on his behalf for a sixth season of eligibility. If Pitt middle linebacker Adam Gunn and Texas receiver Jordan Shipley can get an extra season, so should Jarvis.
The pinball wizard wants one more dance, one more chance to break Kent State’s career rushing record and make us shake our heads once again.
“He accepts that.
There’s nothing much he can do about his size. People make a big deal of that,” Kent State running backs coach Jerry McManus said. “If you give him an opportunity, the best thing about Eugene Jarvis is he takes advantage of it … and surprises a lot of people.”