Senior defensive tackle J.C. Price has kept his first semester report card from Virginia Tech as a grim reminder of how close he came to fumbling away his football scholarship.
"I didn't have any self-discipline," recalled Price, a native of the rural town of Dunkirk, Md., in Calvert County. "I never cracked a book or went to class. I was majoring in Sega and house parties.
"I came home for Christmas my freshman year and my parents hung my report card with 3 F's and a D on the TV set so my whole family could see it. It was awfully humbling, and really taught me a painful lesson."
Four years later, Price is excelling in the classroom and on the football field.
His proud parents, and most of his relatives and hometown friends, will make the 40-mile trip to Annapolis tomorrow afternoon to watch Price and the Hokies play Navy.
"No one has matured as much in five years as J.C. Price," Hokies coach Frank Beamer told the Roanoke Times. "He's just grown up in every way imaginable. He hates to lose, and I love to have guys like that around."
Last fall, the liberal arts major just missed the dean's list with a 2.9 grade-point average. And this season, his football numbers have been equally impressive.
Price, 6 feet 3, 280 pounds, spearheaded the Hokies' stunning 13-7 upset of Miami two weeks ago by recording four sacks.
On Saturday, he helped Virginia Tech even its record at 2-2 by recording nine solo tackles in a 26-16 victory at Pitt.
A third-year starter who redshirted in 1991, Price can look back and realize how far he has come since his tumultuous freshman year.
"Back then, if they had the rule they do now about not being able to make up 18 hours in summer school, I'd have flunked out," he said.
"I've been making up classes every summer except last year. I owe a lot of people credit for helping me turn things around."
One of his main morale boosters is Terry Franks, his former high school coach at Northern High, who is now assistant principal at Calvert High.
"J.C. is a bright young man who never applied himself. Academics were never important to him in high school," said Franks, who also served seven years (1981-1988) as quarterbacks coach at Navy.
"But he deserves a lot of credit for the way he has turned his life around. He got caught behind the eight ball as a freshman in college, but dug his way out. He's improved every year on the field and in the classroom. And I guarantee you, I'll be there when he receives his degree."
Price, who was chosen Southern Maryland conference player of the year after leading Northern High to a second straight 10-0 season his senior year, passed up a late scholarship offer from Maryland to head for Blacksburg, Va.
"Coming from a small town like Dunkirk, I was kind of overwhelmed by the size of the College Park campus," he said. "I wanted to leave the state, but not go too far from home. I just felt comfortable the first time I visited Virginia Tech."
A bit too comfortable as a freshman when he admitted drinking beer until the dawn's early light, then sleeping in late, missing morning classes, and getting up just in time to attend football practice. After practice, the reckless cycle would begin again.
"I was just a wild kid," he said. "I was still struggling my sophomore year when [then defensive coordinator] Phil Elmassian gave me a real kick in the butt. He told me if I didn't raise my grades over 2.0, I could forget football completely."
His roommate, offensive tackle Mike Blanchin, and line coach Todd Grantham kept his roving ways in check. "I still like my beer," Price said. "But I've changed the guys I hang out with, staying away from trouble and minding my own business. Socializing, I'm not causing any ruckus."
Price has raised his ruckus between the sidelines, saving his best for the top competition. He performed like a one-man gang against Miami, sacking Miami quarterback Ryan Clement four times in the Hokies' 13-7 upset.
"That was definitely my best game ever," he said. "I don't get that high playing against James Madison or VMI. I'd much rather play against the big dogs."
Using his father, Theodore, as a role model, Price has also learned to play with pain.
"I've had bumps and bruises when the team trainer or doctor suggested my sitting out a practice or two," he said. "But I saw my father work as a painter and plasterer for 22 years without missing a day of work. To me, he was more of an iron man and hero than a Cal Ripken. That's where I get my work ethic."
When Price earns his bachelor's degree this summer, he knows his father will proudly hang it over the living room TV set.