No more raising 'Cain for Sikes

Maurice Sikes was headed down a path of self-destruction when his mother decided it was time for a change.

After watching her son take up with the wrong crowd early in his career at Carroll City High, Pamela Booker quickly enrolled her son at Monsignor Pace High, a Catholic school in the Miami area. The idea was to remove him from the never-do-wells of the inner city and place him in a nurturing, positive environment where he could excel athletically.

The University of Miami safety, who made the most of his new high school surroundings from 1996-98, is now an All-American candidate as a senior. He is the leader of a secondary that will try to control Tennessee's passing game Saturday at Miami.

Sikes could have ended up like so many other misguided youngsters from impoverished homes. His father, who spent a large number of years in prison before dying of gunshot wounds when Sikes was eight years old, was never an influence in his son's development. Fortunately, Sikes' mother found a way to straighten her son out.

''My mom wanted something better for me,'' Sikes said of his high school change. ''I wasn't doing the right things. She saw me going in the same direction as my dad. The move to Pace got me away from where I was going.''

Not having a father figure or financial support for his mother made life difficult.

''It made it tough,'' Sikes said. ''It was tougher on my mom. He was in and out of prison, so I didn't see him much. It affected me long term. I have had a stepfather since I was 10, but it would have been nice to have a biological father there.''

At Pace, Sikes was able to avoid the temptations of drugs and other criminal activities. Rescued from the abyss of the street life chosen by so many of his former friends, Sikes began to devote time to a football career that would quickly blossom.

''I had a great coach and it was a great environment,'' Sikes said. ''It rubbed off on me. It always helps to have that kind of support. The school was smaller and more personal. The public schools in Miami are big and overcrowded. My graduating class at Pace had less than 300. I benefited from the experience.

''If I hadn't gone there, I would have been skipping class and doing a lot of wrong things. We were skipping school and just worrying about football. I knew I needed to get out of there to be successful.''

Now that he has succeeded, Sikes is trying to be a positive influence on kids that share his past.

''I try to get out and talk to kids as much as possible,'' he said. ''I have been to my high school and elementary school. When I was little I didn't have anybody like that. Nobody taught us right from wrong. It was tough, so I feel we need to go back and help them. It's a way to talk to them with your helmet off, so they see who you are.''

That desire to help his fellow man has made Sikes a natural leader at Miami. His guidance will be necessary this week as the Hurricanes try to recover from a devastating loss to Virginia Tech. The setback knocked the Hurricanes out of the No. 2 position in the BCS, and they must regroup quickly if they are to remain in the hunt for a national championship game berth.

"We definitely have things to work on," Sikes said. ''There are some kinks to get out before the end of the season. We don't want to play our best game yet. We are working to get it right.''

Sikes says the Miami defense is making progress, despite last week's defeat. Much of Virginia Tech's offense was generated by its defense causing Miami turnovers.

''Our defense has come a long way since the start of the season,'' Sikes said. ''We are stopping the run better. We are doing things that should help us win.''

Though the recent loss will only lead to more talk about Oklahoma's supremacy over all of college football, Sikes says the Hurricanes believe they can compete with anybody.

''We don't compare ourselves to them,'' he said. ''If we get an opportunity to play them, we would love to. It's a big media thing that they are way above everybody else. We just want to play Miami football and see what happens.

''When everything is clicking, we can beat anybody. It's taking time to get there, but if we get there, it will be no contest.''

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