Star's NFL dreams derailed by drugs, jail now back on track

BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) - He was supposed to be the next big star at Penn State.

Coaches wanted Darrius Webb to play tailback, according to Webb's father.

Webb shined as a football star for Bethlehem Catholic and Freedom high schools.

And he was eager to move to the next level -- until marijuana got in his way.

He was a student at Northampton Community College, not Happy Valley, when he robbed two men in the college parking lot in 2012. The crime was drug related, the 24-year-old Bethlehem man admits.

He spent a year in prison. He violated parole when he smoked marijuana again in 2014.

"At that point in my life I felt like I lost everything," Webb said Thursday in Northampton County Court.

What saved him was a new program. Webb was the first person to enroll in Northampton County drug court, a program that puts recovery ahead of punishment. It allows defendants to clear their criminal records if they prove they are serious about removing drugs from their lives.

Webb would need more than a second chance to make it through the program. Others would graduate before him. But on a recent Thursday he was proud to admit he was clean and credited Judge Craig Dally and his treatment team for sticking with him even after he gave up on himself.

"I truly would like to thank each and every one of you for giving me the opportunity to succeed in life," Webb said. It's because of the drug court program that he was awarded a football scholarship to Texas A&M, where he'll enroll as a junior and play running back.

"Without you, I wouldn't have a scholarship," Webb said. "I'd probably still be smoking weed. I'd probably be in jail."

A hopeless feeling

Vincent Wright raised seven children, including Webb. He impressed on all of them the value of a good education. He put his own college degree to use during a 19-year career as a drug treatment worker. He never imagined one of his own children would be in the same position as one of his clients.

"It's the most hopeless feeling you could ever have," Wright said.

Webb's athletic trainer, Jason Brader, said he didn't recognize Webb when he came to court to speak on the young man's behalf.

"He was wearing that orange jumpsuit," Brader said. "I saw the men getting walked out in cuffs and shackles. I thought that he was going to have that same fate."

Webb was fortunate to be given the opportunity to go to a junior college in Kansas his family thought could put him on the radar of Division I football programs. But he blew it again by smoking marijuana.

Webb was "consistently inconsistent" when it came to beating drugs, Brader laments.

That's when Webb, a 2010 Freedom High grad, found drug court.

Salvation from a sister

He was put into the care of Sister Virginia Longcope, a Catholic nun who runs a halfway house in Bethlehem for individuals in recovery. Sister Virginia didn't know whether she should be impressed when Webb called himself the fastest football player in the state. She was still skeptical after watching a YouTube video. She didn't see a star. She saw a young man with distorted priorities.

"When Darrius first came to Stephen's Place, he knew how to do two things: run the streets and play football," she said.

She refused to let him go home the first day to retrieve items because she knew he'd never come back.

She watched him violate the terms of his release, ignoring restrictions on his movement through the city despite his electronic monitoring bracelet.

For the first time in his life, Webb had to get a job and earn money rather than rely on his father.

A turning point came when Webb soured on the program and asked to leave. Sister Virginia told him she wouldn't stop him. But Webb had a change of heart.

"I know there were times he felt that everyone was against him," she said, later adding, "I'm really proud of you Darrius. I'm glad for what you've become."

Webb would go on to become the leading rusher at Globe Institute of Technology in New York, another two-year college where he hoped to get the attention of major football programs. And again he stumbled. Again he smoked marijuana.

But he stood in court Thursday having completed the drug court program and hopefully ready to live a marijuana-free life.

Back on track

Webb and his supporters know how fortunate Webb is to get yet another chance to play ball, this time in the high-profile Southeastern Conference. And they all know how easy it will be for Webb to fall back into old habits. None of them will be there to steer him in the right direction after he heads to Texas.

"Please keep your crash helmet on," Webb's father told him. "All it takes is one moment to lose it all."

He hopes his son's time in jail, in rehab and with Sister Virginia are on his mind when he considers lighting up.

"When the boys go out, you're not going to have your treatment team with you," said his probation officer, Cynthia Green-Wimmer.

If the road had been easy for Webb, maybe he wouldn't appreciate his opportunity as much as he does, his father said.

"What he's lost in monetary value he's gained in perspective," Vincent Wright said.

Green-Wimmer said the best way Webb can thank the treatment team is by living a fulfilling life.

"We hope one day to see him on TV and say we had a little part in him going that way," she said.

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Online:

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Information from: The (Easton, Pa.) Express-Times, http://www.lehighvalleylive.com

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