Avery Uses Game Plan To Fight Disability A Reading Problem Looms Small In The Life Of Rowan's Gentle Giant.

Posted: September 24, 1999

With a slow, deliberate walk, Jarryn Avery approaches the Rowan locker room to prepare for football practice. Huge legs jut from his shorts, and a T-shirt strains to encase the upper half of his 6-foot-5, 300-pound frame.

That body has helped him become an offensive tackle, and a very good one, too. He earned NCAA Division III all-American honors last year and was tabbed a preseason all-American by two national magazines this season. Coach K.C. Keeler said Avery could be the greatest offensive lineman ever to play on a Glassboro team.

Avery would rather talk about his 3.0 grade point average than his three-point stance, though.

``I've been doing fine in school,'' said Avery, a criminal-justice major. ``I can speak intelligently. I can do the class work and everything. I just needed the chance.''

That chance did not come easily for Avery, who is learning-disabled. He considers himself dyslexic, although one of his teachers said his problem involved understanding words and word sequences more than reading them. However his disability is classified, Avery has fought it with the same tenacity he uses to battle defensive ends and linebackers.

``And always with a smile on his face,'' said Barbara Reader, former assistant director of Rowan's Career and Academic Planning Center. ``I've worked with students who were extremely gifted, and they blew the gift. This young man came in and knew what his abilities were, accepted he was learning-disabled, and was highly motivated to do whatever it took to be academically successful.''

How influential was Reader on Avery's life? He is good friends with Seattle Seahawks players Lamar King and Kevin Glover - he has worked out with them - but he won't talk about them unless their names are brought up. Avery goes out of his way to give Reader and an associate credit, though: ``They really helped me out.''

Reader was his academic adviser, and Janet Iles, the basic-skills reading coordinator, was Avery's instructor in his first year at Rowan. It was Iles' class that prepared Avery for college-level reading.

``He never used his disability as a crutch,'' said Iles, whose husband, Steve, is Delsea High's athletic director. ``He knew he had a problem reading but was willing to implement the strategy and use the techniques we discussed, not only in my class, but classes he took after that.''

* Avery grew up in Baltimore and started on the offensive line for a North County High team that sent eight players to Division I colleges. Avery was not among them, despite interest from Nebraska, West Virginia and Syracuse.

``I couldn't qualify academically because I'm dyslexic,'' he said. ``It wasn't that I didn't have my grades right, but I couldn't qualify because I didn't have college-prep courses.''

After he graduated in 1994, Avery stayed out of school for two years. Part of that time was spent building houses with his father. That all that Division I talent was being used on a hammer and nails was frustrating, but not demoralizing.

``I was disappointed and upset I didn't get to go Division I,'' Avery said. ``So I sat back, got my game plan together, and went from there.''

In 1996, he enrolled at Potomac State, a junior college in West Virginia, where he played football for one season, but he still could not qualify academically for a Division I scholarship.

Through a friend, Avery heard about Rowan. He contacted Keeler, who went to the train station to greet the gentle giant.

``It wasn't hard to find him,'' Keeler said. ``He had a great visit, and I liked him immediately. He was honest about his disability. He said, `Coach, if you put me in the right academic environment, I'll be fine.' ''

At the outset of each school year, Reader talked to football players about their academic requirements. She was stunned in 1997 when Avery stood in front of the entire team and proclaimed his disability.

``Usually, just a traditional student not involved in sports will not admit to that,'' Reader said. ``And if it's an athlete, you couldn't even pry it out of him. By college, they try to mask it, and more times than not, they end up in trouble because they don't get the help they need.''

After taking a placement test required for incoming students, Avery qualified for the basic-skills courses. That meant taking Iles' reading class.

Even though Avery terms his disability dyslexia, saying he sees letters and numbers inverted, Iles said: ``I don't use that term, because I don't have any documentation he was truly dyslexic. Dyslexia could have a number of definitions. He handed me a piece of paper that said he was learning-disabled.

``Either way, it would not change the way I worked with him. If a person has a reading problem, it's like a doctor. At first, you try something that typically works. If it doesn't work, you go on to the next thing.''

Iles noticed that Avery could pronounce the words he was reading but struggled to digest their meanings in sentences.

``He was spending a lot of time figuring out words, but when he got to the end, he didn't remember what he read,'' Iles said. ``He had to be taught to think while he read and recognize what he didn't understand.''

Iles thought Avery could profit from one-on-one instruction and sent him to the tutoring center that first semester. He took an additional semester of basic-skills reading and received personal attention from Iles. He has been thriving ever since.

``Jarryn always has a plan,'' Keeler said. ``He attacks life and school the way he attacks a football game. He tapes his lectures. If he has to miss a class, he makes sure he can get what he needs from someone else in that class before he misses it. He's on top of everything.''

Reader, who now owns a bridal shop, said working with Avery was a pleasure.

``He just had such a positive attitude and a strong commitment to doing what he needed to do to be successful,'' she said. ``He was always a gentleman and appreciative of everything that was done with him.

``He's a magnificent young man. He's like a big teddy bear.''

Don't tell that to the guys who line up opposite him.

``Jarryn's a tough man,'' Profs quarterback Jeff Orihel said before the season. ``In our Brown-Gold scrimmage, he was just abusing people.''

* Avery's disability has never come into play on the football field - he has had no trouble learning plays. His eligibility is up after this season, and he is scheduled to graduate in the spring of 2001. He might put academics on hold, however, if he realizes his dream of reaching the NFL.

``He has the speed and size,'' Keeler said. ``Sometimes he gets a little sloppy in games, but gets away with it because of his natural size and strength. He can't do that at the next level, but the ability is there. We've had scouts here already.''

``It's a goal, and I'm going to make it happen,'' Avery insisted. ``I don't like to put my faith in other people's hands. I won't be denied.''

If he is denied, though, he will have an education to fall back on. Despite his major, Avery has no interest in being a law-enforcement officer.

``That's not my thing,'' he said. ``Maybe security surveillance, something like that. What I'd really like to do is open up a whole center for disabled kids.''

That is because Avery understands the prejudices people can have against the learning-disabled.

``But you can't accept that,'' he said. ``I don't accept it. You have to have a strong mind and a strong will.''

Which is sometimes more difficult to achieve than having a strong body. Avery, though, realizes that despite all of his size and strength, nothing beats an education.

``He has a future he has made possible for himself,'' Reader said. ``I can't say enough good things about him. He absolutely is a role model - even for students who aren't disabled.''

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