Springfield friends making their marks at top colleges – The State Journal

So much has changed for Springfield School District graduates Eric Mason, Alexa Brown and Kanicia Green.

At one point, Mason lived on North 12th Street with no running water or heat. He now sees students at Stanford University drive Ferraris and have their laundry picked up.

Brown was raised by a single mom, and the family lived paycheck to paycheck. She now walks into the same buildings President Barack Obama did when he was a student at Harvard University.

And Green, also raised by a single mom, swapped Lanphier High School for the nation’s capital as a student at Howard University.

But when the three friends are back in Springfield — as they are this holiday break — they fall back to their old ways, laughing and kidding like nothing has changed.

“It’s been nice to be so far away, but staying in touch with them keeps me grounded,” Brown said.

The State Journal-Register caught up with the three friends, who beat the odds by coming from broken homes — and in the case of Mason, no home at all at times — to attend college on full academic scholarships.

Eric Mason, Lanphier graduate

Through the first quarter at Stanford, Mason has a 3.35 grade point average, was named dorm president and joined the running club.

He didn’t know what to expect and was worried he would have a hard time fitting in on a West Coast campus where most of his classmates likely had a much easier childhood.

Growing up in Springfield, Mason lived for a while with his father, who often would leave town and head back to Chicago to sell drugs to earn some money.

After he came home one day in December 2013 and found the door locked and wrapped with a chain, he moved in with a friend and never left.

“I was worried about (not fitting in),” Mason said. “I found people here are not judgmental.”

Within three days at Stanford, Mason said, he met new friends. His scholarship, he added, has allowed him to focus on school and not work.

He even started a study group in chemistry and, to his amazement, has become someone other students come to with questions.

Being around people from different backgrounds has also taught him to be more open-minded.

“I’m so happy, and I cannot see myself anywhere else,” Mason said.

Alexa Brown, Southeast graduate

Through the midway point of her freshman year, Brown said, Harvard hasn’t been as tough as she expected. The biggest challenge has been time management.

“There is a lot more individual work that is self-motivated,” she said.

Her career plans also have changed, Brown said. Heading into Harvard, her major was biomedical engineering, with the dream of becoming an anesthesiologist.

However, her mindset changed when she joined a club focused on mass incarceration, she said. Her goal now is to work for a nonprofit focused on education and criminal justice reform.

“I can more directly impact people in everyday life in that field,” said Brown, who grew up with a single mom, who had her at the age of 19, and never knew her birth father.

The environment at Harvard also is different than she imagined, Brown said.

Students on campus are not as cutthroat academically as she expected, and staff at Harvard has gone out of its way to make her feel at home.

It has helped to stay in touch with Mason and Green. She and Mason, in fact, edit each other’s papers using Facetime on their cellphones, Brown said.

“I have my days, but I really like being away from home and independent,” she said.

Kanicia Green, Lanphier graduate

There’s no doubt in her mind she made the right choice to attend Howard University, a historically black university, Green said.

At Howard, she feels more comfortable in school than she did growing up in Springfield, where she was raised by a single mom.

“I felt a lot of people looked at me like I was one of the few smart black kids,” Green said. “Now, I’m surrounded by smart kids.”

So far at Howard, Green said, she’s on track to earn 17 credits, with A’s and B’s on her report card.

She hopes to be accepted into an accelerated academic program that will allow her to earn her medical doctorate in six years rather than eight.

Joining the dance team has helped her make friends, Green added.

“I can’t imagine myself anywhere else,” she said. “I talk to my mom and family every day, but I’m happier in Washington, D.C.”

— Contact Jason Nevel: 788-1521, jason.nevel@sj-r.com, twitter.com/JasonNevelSJR.

2017 NFL Mock Draft: Latest Predictions for Top College Prospects

We haven’t even reached the College Football Playoff yet, but we have already been treated to some stellar bowl performances by some of the top prospects in the 2017 NFL draft class. 

Friday’s action put a number of potential first-round prospects on display, allowing fans and scouts to get a close look at the next batch of NFL talent. 

Here’s an updated mock draft followed by a breakdown of some of the top prospects who gave their stock a boost during Friday’s bowl games:

NFL Mock Draft

Pick
Team
Player
Position
School
1
Cleveland Browns
Myles Garrett
DE
Texas AM
2
San Francisco 49ers
Jonathan Allen
DL
Alabama
3
Chicago Bears
Reuben Foster
LB
Alabama
4
Jacksonville Jaguars
Jamal Adams
S
LSU
5
Tennessee Titans (from LA)
Mike Williams
WR
Clemson
6
New York Jets
Leonard Fournette
RB
LSU
7
San Diego Chargers
Marlon Humphrey
CB
Alabama
8
Cincinnati Bengals
Tim Williams
LB/DE
Alabama
9
Carolina Panthers
Sidney Jones
CB
Washington
10
Cleveland Browns (from PHI)
Mitch Trubisky
QB
North Carolina
11
Arizona Cardinals
John Ross
WR
Washington
12
Buffalo Bills
Jabrill Peppers
LB/S
Michigan
13
Indianapolis Colts
Solomon Thomas
DL
Stanford
14
Philadelphia Eagles (from MIN)
Quincy Wilson
CB
Florida
15
New Orleans Saints
Malik McDowell
DL
Michigan State
16
Tennessee Titans
Gareon Conley
CB
Ohio State
17
Baltimore Ravens
Corey Davis
WR
W. Michigan
18
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Dalvin Cook
RB
Florida State
19
Denver Broncos
Ryan Ramczyk
OT
Wisconsin
20
Washington Redskins
Derek Barnett
DE
Tennessee
21
Detroit Lions
Ryan Anderson
DE
Alabama
22
Houston Texans
Zach Cunningham
LB
Vanderbilt
23
Green Bay Packers
Marshon Lattimore
CB
Ohio State
24
Seattle Seahawks
Cam Robinson
OT
Alabama
25
Miami Dolphins
Teez Tabor
CB
Florida
26
Atlanta Falcons
Vita Vea
DT
Washington
27
Pittsburgh Steelers
Takkarist McKinley
LB
UCLA
28
New York Giants
Taco Charlton
DE
Michigan
29
Kansas City Chiefs
Forrest Lamp
OG
W. Kentucky
30
Oakland Raiders
Jarrad Davis
LB
Florida
31
New England Patriots
O.J. Howard
TE
Alabama
32
Dallas Cowboys
Charles Harris
DE
Missouri

     

Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina


Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Mitch Trubisky wasn’t flawless against the Stanford Cardinal in the Sun Bowl, but he showed up in the biggest moments of the game. 

With the ball deep in North Carolina’s own territory, Trubisky led the Tar Heels on a 97-yard drive which put them in position to tie the game in the final seconds on a two-point conversion attempt. Ultimately they fell short, but Trubisky‘s performance in the clutch certainly caught the attention of many evaluators, including Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus:

While his late-game heroics were the most memorable aspect of the game, it’s worth nothing that Trubisky did show some flaws earlier in the afternoon with a pair of costly interceptions. 

As CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler pointed out, this is an area Trubisky still needs to work on:

If this proves to be Trubisky‘s final collegiate game, it’s safe to assume he showed enough to generate serious consideration from teams looking to select a quarterback in the first round. However, his flaws—potentially a result of his inexperience as a one-year starter—could scare off some of the quarterback-needy teams picking at the very top of the first round. 

      

Solomon Thomas, Stanford


David Madison/Getty Images

While all eyes were on Trubisky during the Sun Bowl, it was impossible not to be drawn to Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas as well, who consistently forced his way into the Tar Heels backfield. 

Brugler was among those impressed with Thomas’ performance:

The 2017 draft class is expected to be loaded with talent on the defensive line, which could potentially influence the decision of an underclassman like Thomas. 

Despite Thomas’ performance, he is still clearly a notch behind the top prospects in the nation such as Texas AM’s Myles Garrett and Alabama’s Jonathan Allen. 

While he is expected to be a first-round selection, Thomas could potentially elevate himself to an elite grade if he returns to Stanford for his senior year. 

      

Dalvin Cook, Florida State


Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Dalvin Cook entered the Orange Bowl already solidified as a likely first-round selection. But his performance against a stout Michigan defense may have elevated his stock to an even higher level. 

Cook carried the ball 20 times for 145 yards and a touchdown, while adding another 62 yards on three receptions. 

Bleacher Report’s Ian Wharton is among those impressed enough with Cook to rank him as the top running back in the upcoming draft class. 

Cook versus LSU running back Leonard Fournette will be one of the most hotly debated topics during the predraft process. While Fournette is a dominant power runner, Cook offers more speed and elusiveness.

Considering their differences in style, there might not be a right answer to that debate. NFL teams may evaluate Cook and Fournette differently simply based on their preferred style in a feature back.