Each fall, the car gets pointed in the direction of Wilson, N.C., to Charis Prep headquarters for the same reason: coach Carlos Peralta.
The coach is a positive influence on kids. Miami tight end Jimmy Graham played for him in high school. Peralta was a major component in helping Graham in the life skills department, which eventually led to his basketball scholarship to Miami and subsequent success on the football field.
Peralta's other prize recruit was Orlando Mendez-Valdez, the reigning Sun Belt player of the year. There are other success stories, each with Peralta's imprint on them.
I can't say I know the particulars about why Peralta's school was "blacklisted" but I do know that he's invested in the lives of his players, cares about getting them to college and has a genuine passion for his calling.
College coaches I've spoken too share the same sentiment and continue to make their way into his gym. This year, however, Peralta's had to reinvent how his program operates in order to ease his player's transition to college. Since the NCAA wasn't going to certify classes at the school, Peralta tweaked his approach. We wondered why he didn't just mail it and, call it a good try and move forward?
"What I learned is that when you really believe in something and I believe I'm doing what God is calling me to do, you deal with what life throws you and whatever sacrifices you have to make," Peralta said. "It wasn't a big deal compared to what I saw my parents do. Little did I know it was forging my character. My first reaction was that it wasn't fair. After that you get over your pity party and you move forward."
As a youth, growing up in Cuba, Peralta lived a life of privilege. His grandfather as governor of a province. Then, one day, they packed up and left, electing to rebel against the Cuban way of doing things. Peralta's moral compass was set after watching his family make that decision, he was given the courage to stand by his convictions.
"My first reaction (to the blacklist) was that it wasn't fair. After that you get over your pity party and you move forward."
Nine of the players on Peralta's roster are qualified. The remaining players have an established core GPA but need to improve their test score. Everybody's in class working on academics. The guys who don't achieve the needed test score will be junior college players.
Players attend classes in the morning, practice at 1 p.m. in the afternoon and return to class later in the day. According to Peralta, the NCAA wondered if the kids actually returned to class after practice. They did on Tuesday when we were in attendance and we assume it's like that every day.
"We are doing everything with the foundation and motivation to helping them improve their test score. If we're teaching biology, we're breaking down the test to glean out of it what biology principles will show up on the test."
Peralta has no less than six Division I prospects. His top dog is a 6-foot-5 shooting guard who part of last season in California and came to the U.S. from France. Antonin Galaya is one of the best shooter we've seen this fall.
"I found Charis on the internet and called Coach P," Galaya said. "I didn't have any tape and he gave me a shot; it's a blessing. He didn't say I'd play 30 minutes, he just said come and try it."
We expect mid level schools to line up with bigger guys becoming intrigued with the prospect of adding a big wing shooter. East Carolina, Old Dominion, Georgia, Virginia, UNC-Greensboro, North Carolina State, Liberty and Georgia State have expressed interest.
Auraum Nuiriankh, a Baltimore product, will play the two and three for Peralta. Liberty, Sacred Heart, Elon and UNC-Greensboro are interested. He's got bounce and a commitment on defense.
"The thing about Carlos," one Division I assistant said, "is that his practices are college level and the kids are getting better."
For Peralta, it's a labor of love. The NCAA sent a three-person team into Wilson to take a look at the setup and was concerned about two specific aspects of the program. All we're saying is, maybe it wouldn't hurt to come down one more time with an open mind.
"I enjoy it and I know I'm making a difference. I've been a pastor for 20 years. This is more real ministering here than anything I've done."