Maryland junior linebacker Jaime Flores has grown up in some of the worst neighborhoods on the East Coast. He was first arrested while in the fifth grade. When he was 11, he saw one man chop off another person's arm during an argument. Drug deals on the corner were as common as newspaper boxes.
"Everywhere we went on the coast, we lived in the projects or by the projects," Flores said. "The peer pressure is enormous and that makes it very, very hard to get out of that environment."
Flores isn't totally out yet, and never will be, because he wants to stay involved through community work. He also wants to be a doctor. He has declared a major in kinesiological sciences and hopes to attend medical school. If he maintains his B+ average, he just might make it.
That's the future. If the present is now and now is a Saturday afternoon, Flores is one ornery linebacker. During the past three Saturdays, he has made several big plays for the Terps.
So big, in fact, he has been penciled into the starting lineup for the third straight week for Maryland's game Saturday with visiting Georgia Tech.
"He doesn't have a lot of great natural ability, but with his intelligence and desire to get better, he has become a pretty good football player," said Peter McCarty, Maryland's outside linebacker coach.
"Any kid that's a premed major and plays Division I football, I take my hat off to them," said McCarty. "And when you consider some of the situations that Jaime has been through, you've got to admire him."
Flores is the son of a Puerto Rican construction worker who brought his family of four to the United States in 1968. German Flores, Jaime's father, then bounced the family between the two countries, trying to find jobs.
Jaime Flores can't remember how many times his family has moved. But he can recall stops in New York, Trenton, Miami and Baltimore.
"You know how construction jobs are -- sometimes they just fold," Flores said. "I remember areas like the Bronx. You can't forget places like that."
Flores will never forget what he calls "upper" Fells Point, near Wolfe Street in East Baltimore.
It's been his home the past 10 years.
He got busted there in the fifth grade.
"These policemen come into the classroom of an elementary school and arrest me for spray painting an orange wall black," Flores said. "I couldn't believe that, especially with some of the other crimes going on in the neighborhood."
Listen to the worst Flores witnessed:
"I was 11 and walking to the store," Flores said. "There is this Puerto Rican guy arguing with this Cuban guy about drugs, and the Puerto Rican guy whips out a machete and slices his arm off down to the elbow.
"Blood was squirting all over the place, but no one ran," Flores said. "They didn't run because 'This was a typical happening in the neighborhood.' Drug deals were always happening on the corners, and it was blatant. Everyone knew where the drug drop-offs were. And when arrests were made, those arrested were back on the corner within a week."
Flores was heading for similar trouble. He admits to smoking marijuana and committing a lot of vandalism in the community.
That was before age 10.
Flores was in trouble so much that he was given the name "Chicken Feet" by a policeman for his ability to run away from officers.
Then it all started to change.
"I had 11 uncles who lived in the same community," Flores said. "We used to play tackle football on the sidewalk and they thought I was pretty good. They noticed that I was pretty smart, too, so they kept me out of trouble. They physically forced me to make something out of myself. It's unbelieveable, but when people start telling you you can make something out of yourself, you start to believe it.
"I still hung out with my same friends, but it was cool then," Flores said. "They stopped pressuring me about doing this or taking a hit of something because they saw I was trying to do something good for myself."
Flores was accepted at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, one of the city's better high schools, where he was hit with culture shock at first. But within a year, he was on the dean's list. He also excelled at football, basketball and lacrosse. At the end of his senior season, Flores chose Maryland over Miami, Florida and Penn State because he wanted to stay close to his parents, who were having marital problems.
Flores redshirted his freshman season in 1989 and played mostly special teams during the last two seasons at Maryland.
But when Mark Duffner was made head coach in January, Flores got a second chance.
"I thought the old coaching staff played favorites," Flores said. "They didn't give a lot of players chances to prove themselves. When this staff came in, everybody started all over again."
Flores was No. 2 behind senior Darren Colvin when the season began but started and had a good game against Penn State.
He started again last week against Pittsburgh, collecting one sack and intercepting a pass late in the third period. That interception, at the Pitt 35, later led to a touchdown which turned the game around for Maryland.
"That play pretty much tells you about Jaime Flores," McCarty said. "They ran it just as we drew it up on the board. And Jaime read it perfectly. He likes to watch films, always studying the other team."
Said Flores: "I'm not the fastest or the slowest guy, but I have to play with intensity to be effective. What I have decided to do is take that anger, that frustration, that comes from my family and home life, and put the energy on the football field."
But Flores is about more than football. He spent time this summer working with underprivileged kids in the College Park area. He goes back to the old neighborhood to play pick-up games with young kids.
"It's nice to go back and hear the kids in the neighborhood say they have seen you on television, or that if I can get out, they can get out," Flores said. "I'm always trying to offer them encouragement because I've spent most of my life trying to prove people wrong."
But there are times when Flores is still troubled by his old neighborhood. A friend of his was fatally shot in the head last summer.
"I've had several talks with Jaime, and sometimes he's gets frustrated about things back home," McCarty said. "I've tried to stress to him about working on things he can control, not things he can't control."
"But Jaime has a great concern for others," McCarty said. "He says he is going to be a doctor, and Jaime is going to be a doctor. The young man is a warrior. He'll have his challenges, but he'll either go through, around or under them. Knowing Jaime, he'll run through them."