During his senior year at Science Hill High School, Cray Brittian’s life was often compared to that of Michael Oher, the homeless teen who, with help from a coach and family who loved him, went to college on a football scholarship and on to play in the NFL.
Oher’s life story was made famous by 2009’s semi-biographical film “The Blind Side.” Brittian, whose transient life took him through no less than 14 different schools, including five other high schools before his final year at Science Hill, is on course to follow Oher’s path to college football.
He’s taken the first steps. He’s found a wealth of love and support in Johnson City. But to win the Division I football scholarship, the degree in communications and the career in public relations he dreams of, Brittian needs help with tuition at Virginia Sports Academy, a Christian training academy for collegiate athletes in need of academic coaching that comes at a cost of $5,500 a semester.
Bonnie White, coordinator of Johnson City Schools Homeless Education Program, has been Brittian’s lead advocate since he enrolled at Science Hill at the start of the last school year. And it’s White’s connections with leaders in the city’s charitable community — the Kiwanis club, a group at Eastman and Dave McAuley at Summit Leadership Foundation — that has put him close to making his fundraising goal for his next big play in Virginia.
Arriving in Johnson City last August with his mother and a new baby brother, White said “Cray probably thought this was just another community he had to get used to.” But this time out, Brittian found a couple of things different, a team he quickly came to love like family and a place where he at last felt grounded.
With that, White said, Brittian dug in, worked hard and started making the most of his opportunities and what he, better than anyone, knows is best shot at completing a four-year degree. He began the year with only 10 of the 26 high school credits he needed to graduate. Because of that challenge, he opted to attend class at Johnson City’s adult high school, where courses are taught via computer and students progress at their own pace under the supervision of a teacher and counselors. In May he walked the stage with Science Hill’s class of 2011 and received his diploma.
On the football field, Brittian made the starting lineup as a defensive lineman. And over the course of the season, his ability and his 6-foot, 5-inch and 250-pound frame helped Science Hill into the playoffs.
“He wasn’t the best player, again because he’s never lived anywhere long enough to have that consistent coaching it takes,” White said. “But the team loved him. His coaches loved him. Everyone loves Cray. He’s polite. He’s always there doing everything he needs to do. He’s just one of those kids you meet and you love without knowing anything else about him.”
Before the school year ended — the first entire school year Brittian had ever spent in a single school — he was preparing for college, choosing his college path and proving himself on his entrance exams. He counts the 91 percent he scored on the reading portion of his entrance exam at New River Community College in Dublin, Va., among the greatest accomplishments of his 18 years.
On Aug. 7, Brittian will leave Johnson City for Dublin where he will attend New River while living, training and honing his study skills at a nearby VSA satellite campus. “He has the drive and his coach at VSA believes,” like other, less academically motivated VSA students, Brittain could be picked up by a Division I or Division II school his first year, White said.
Brittian is shooting for Division I in his first semester. And for once, he’s excited to be leaving town. But there are people in Johnson City, particularly the Science Hill High School football team, for whom Brittian will always be grateful.
“I want to say thanks to Science Hill football, the team and all my coaches,” he said. “I just feel like Science Hill football was like family to me. I just thought this is where I needed to be. And that thought has been confirmed.”
In a short and poetic piece Brittian wrote in summary of his year in Johnson City, titled “A Place to Grow,” he described himself as a potted plant placed in a window “trapped inside” and “staring out at the world, longing for an open field where I could reach for the sky.”
“This tiny pot full of dirt of my past has led me to a place where the sun shines a little brighter and my hopes of taking root somewhere started to actually seem possible. ... I may not have roots in a town that I know like the back of my hand or friends that I can brag I have known all my life. But I have roots on this high school football field and the winds of change are coming.”
Still working to raise Brittian’s first semester tuition at VSA and additional money for the tuition and books at New River his financial aid will not cover, White asked that any others who would like to help contact Jeff and Bonnie White at 542-4221 or 607 Pine Hill Road, Elizabethton, TN 37643.