MORGAN PARK — Eighteen-year-old Jeremiah Douchee already feels like a torchbearer.
Motivated by his hard-working mother and the tragic death of his mostly absent father, the Hales Franciscan High School senior said he owes it to his community to succeed.
"I feel like I have to perform and make a difference and show other African-Americans that there are other things to do in life," said Douchee, of Morgan Park.
Douchee, a standout football player and shot putter, is off to quite a start.
He will be the valedictorian at Hales, where Douchee has served as the president of the Student Council and National Honor Society, was head editor of the school newspaper and won an entrepreneurial contest sponsored by the University of Chicago.
In the last two seasons, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound defensive end also led the Spartans to their first winning campaigns since the school brought back football in 1995.
"He's the face of Hales football," said Spartans football and track head coach Randall Townsel, a Hyde Park resident and Julian High School alumnus. "If I would select an individual for my students to emulate, it would be him."
After that, Douchee wants to enter medical school with dreams of becoming an orthopedic surgeon like his mentor, Dr. Richard Egwele.
"He truly reminds me of myself," said Egwele, a Streeterville resident who bonded with Douchee after performing knee surgery on him his sophomore year. "He's very hard working, motivated and very focused. You want to do all you can for someone like that."
Motivated for success
Douchee's mother, Deatra, has been a Chicago police officer for 22 years and worked 12 years on the mean streets of the South Side's Grand Crossing District.
"I saw lots of gangs over there, lots of drugs," the Harlan High School graduate said. "That's what really made me concerned about my kids."
Deatra home-schooled her older son, Calvin, until ninth grade, and home-schooled Jeremiah until fifth. Her kids experienced a classroom setting with school desks, backpacks and a chalkboard.
When her boys — born about 12 months apart — were children, she would drive them into neighborhoods strewn with garbage and graffiti.
"And I always told them that if they didn't get an education, that is where they'd end up," she said.
Calvin, a freshman on a full academic scholarship at Central State University in Ohio, said he and Jeremiah were not allowed anywhere without telling Deatra where they were going.
"She took in what she saw at work and tried to make it better for me and Jeremiah by not allowing us to do a lot of stuff but still giving us some freedom," said Calvin, a manufacturing engineering major.
Calvin was named after his father, who was divorced from Deatra soon after Jeremiah was born.
Jeremiah said his father wasn't a consistent part of his life. After he died in 2009 in what was reportedly a murder-suicide, Jeremiah said he didn't cry at the funeral but was motivated to achieve success.
"I wanted to show that I was in a fatherless home and I can still do well," he said.
A quick progression on the gridiron
Jeremiah didn't start playing football until eighth grade, but he picked up the game quickly.
By his junior season at Hales, he was running over and around offensive linemen, grabbing the attention of college recruiters.
Jeremiah visited the Hanover, N.H., campus in January and was as enamored with the school as the coaching staff was with him.
"He's a very, very impressive young man," Dartmouth head coach Buddy Teevens said. "He's exactly the type of young man we're looking for. From an academic standpoint, he just came up A's in everything."
Teevens said Jeremiah compared favorably to former Dartmouth player Charles Bay, a star defensive player who had looks from NFL and Arena League teams and now is enrolled at the school's Geisel School of Medicine.
Jeremiah said he can't wait to meet Bay and his future teammates in September, and feels "blessed" to be attending Dartmouth, where he will become the first Hales grad to play football at an Ivy League school.
Jeremiah said he'll likely return to the Windy City after graduation and guide the next generation to greater heights.
"I'm looking forward to proving that a black kid from Chicago can achieve something in his life," he said.