At a Rotary Club meeting 1,000 miles away from her son, a mother is brought to tears by the path he has taken.
The "Bahamian Giant" – Ian Symonette – is living the American Dream. Displaced from his family and homeland, he is focused on becoming an NFL Hall of Famer.
"I was visiting the Bahamas and was speaking at a Rotary Club meeting and I asked Ian's mother to say a few words," Frank Rutherford, Symonette's American sponsor said. "She just couldn't. She is so proud of her son and that he is becoming a man. It's a parents' dream to see their children with a clear path. Never would she have dreamed that he would be offered scholarship to several colleges and have the opportunities he is given."
The Symonette story began in December when Rivals.com met the mature foreigner at St. Pius in Houston. He was the elephant in the corner. Since then, college coaches from Southern California to Miami have offered him full rides. He's changed drastically over the past seven months.
Under the guidance of Rutherford, Symonette has received Olympic-like training. Rutherford, the Bahamas' first Olympic medalist in track and field, came over from his home country to run track at the University of Houston where he excelled and made a home. Since then, he has mentor several athletes who have come over to the United State to live out their athletic dream.
"Simply put, he's 78-pounds lighter than he was. He's improved his footwork and speed, and has become a student of the game in the film room," Rutherford said. "When he got here he was 380-pounds and he was not in shape. His bones couldn't carry the weight and that is why I believe he suffered the knee injury. I'm his worst critic, but he's done everything we've asked. He's become a small man in a big man's body. He has made the transition to into a football player."
The legend of Symonette (6-9, 330-pounds) has grown since December, and St. Pius coach Robin Kirk's practices became a roll call for national college coaches.
"Ian's father has been in Houston for a few weeks and got to meet (Miami coach) Larry Coker when he came to the school," Rutherford said. "He got to meet LSU coach Les Miles. It was a very emotional thing for him to see his son drawing this much attention.
"What college coaches are telling us is that they are so impressed is not his first block of the line but the transition to the linebacker," he said. "It's so fast and quick that he's quicker than most college player and some in the NFL."
Rutherford has given his project a taste of what the NFL is all about by introducing him to former Green Bay Packer Santana Dotson. Dotson trains Symonette in the weight room and with speed drills.
"Santana has been great for him," Rutherford said. "He's been like a big brother and has also given him tips on technique from the defensive side of the ball."
While not putting the cart before the horse, Rutherford has been focusing on getting Symonette in the best physical shape before really delving into the scholarship offers. While Miami was considered the early favorite, other schools have been entered his mind.
"We went to LSU's camp and he was the best offensive lineman there," Rutherford said. "He had a good time and got to see the campus. We haven't narrowed anything down yet, were just focused on the training. The time for picking a school will come soon enough."
Miami, Texas, LSU and Oklahoma are always linked to Symonette, but Texas A&M, USC, Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Florida, Florida State, Michigan and Colorado are receiving mention.
"It has become wide open," Rutherford said.