Senior linebacker David Hinds is ready for next season. Seventeen seniors ended their careers as part of a 1-11 team in 2011, something he admits inspires him to be a better leader, so he’s looking for redemption this year.
“The most disappointing thing was letting those guys down,” Hinds said about the departing seniors and coach Howard Schnellenberger, as he shrinks his 234 pound frame into a chair at the Oxley Center in shame.
Hinds knows many media publications are picking his team to finish last again in the conference this year — Athlon Sports (a college football magazine founded in 1967) picked them to go 2-10 — but there’s motivation in that. It’s not just for himself, but for his teammates.
Hinds is the one of three true seniors graduating on the team. He wants the final game of the season, at home on Dec. 1 against ULL, to not be the last one in an Owls uniform.
“I want to get these guys to a bowl game,” Hinds said. “I just want to win one with my class before I go. That would be very special for that to happen.”
Something just as special for Hinds is his work with the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes). Every Monday at 7 p.m, Hinds serves as the leader for FAU’s chapter. Hinds’ style as a leader is not overly aggressive or judgemental, according to cornerback Keith Reaser. He tries his best to find common ground with his teammates.
“He approaches it by talking to you like we would normally talk,” Reaser said. “Not really trying to use no big words. Just talking to you as a peer, not really as a preacher or talking down to anybody or judging anybody. We just kind of have an open discussion kind of thing.”
He even has some of them changing the way they talk.
“A lot of people on the team cuss. But whenever someone cusses around him by accident they’ll be like ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’” fellow linebacker Randell Johnson said. “Then he’ll be like ‘Don’t say sorry to me, I ain’t God. Say sorry to him.’ People just think that since he’s so holy they shouldn’t cuss around him.”
After every FCA meeting , all the members go bowling at Spares. Hinds may be a leader on the football field and at FCA, but at bowling, he’s second rate. Reaser gladly breaks it down.
“I’m the best. You can ask anybody. This is how it goes: You got the good lane, then you got the B lane, and the C lane. It goes down like that,” Reaser said. “He’s on the B lane.”
“Keith and bowling? Keith and bowling don’t even go together,” Hinds said before issuing a challenge. “Nah, he’s pretty good but I think I can out bowl him.”
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Hinds moved to Miami at the age of 2. His father John, a drag car racer and boxer at the time, sent him to Florida to live with his step mother.
“Just for a better life, for the American Dream,” Hinds explains. “I think he just wanted to get me away from the violence out there. It was a tough time. A lot of drugs, all that stuff. Personally, he didn’t tell me why. He just told me he wanted a better life for me. I was young, so I didn’t know what Jamaica had going on.”
His father died his freshman year at FAU, the week after his first start.
“He had liver disease, but it made his system so weak that when he went back to Jamaica, he ended up getting pneumonia and passing away,” Hinds said.
Shortly before his death, he came to South Florida to stay with Hinds, and the two bonded like never before.
“We got real close over that little bit of time. It was good. It was good for me,” Hinds said. “Kind of helped me grow as a man to take care of my own father for awhile.”
Despite losing his father, he did not lose sight of his responsibilities. Hinds’ voice softens as he briefly mentions his biological mother, who is living in Jamaica and he met at 18. They still speak occasionally, and he has no resentment toward her.
“I don’t hold no grudges with anybody,” Hinds said. “You’ve got to learn to forgive and forget.”
His smile reappears when he tells me about the woman who raised him since he was 2 years old.
Carlene Gabriel, his step mother, means everything to him. They may not be blood related, but he considers her his mom.
“She’s my backbone,” Hinds said. “My pride, my joy, everything that I do this for. My motivation.”
As a freshman, she even came over to his dorm every weekend from Miramar to clean for him and cook Jamaican food. He explains how she’s a registered nurse but isn’t working right now. Hinds lets out a smile. Nothing would make him happier than to help her retire.
“Right now she’s home. She’s not working right now,” Hinds said. “ I plan to keep it like that.”
Seek first the kingdom of heaven and his righteousness and all will be added unto you. — Matthew 6:33.
This is David Hinds’ favorite Bible verse, but he wasn’t always a devout Christian.
Coming out of the mean streets of Miami, the fast life was there to be had. Keith Reaser highlights the dangers of the area he and Hinds were raised in.
“We grew up in Miami so we do stuff a lot different. You’re just exposed to a lot of stuff that can get you dragged into doing maybe the wrong things,” Reaser explained. “Thinking about things the wrong way, in regards to women, all that type of stuff.”
Hinds enjoyed the perks of youth like many young football players his age, dabbling in the pleasures of the world.
“Growing up I was just a troublemaker. I didn’t really focus in school. Tattoos. Girls. I got caught up in a bad relationship, sex and all that kind of stuff,” Hinds said. “It took me off track. I didn’t have the grades, but I realized I really wanted to play football. I had to get my grades right.”
Once sophomore year of college came around, he decided to transform himself. No more partying or chasing after girls.
Something dawned on him.
“After a while in life, man, just going through things, trying to find peace and all the things that can make you happy: girls, parties, friends, love, false love — puppy love is what a lot of people call it — money, clothes, shoes, all that kind of stuff to make you happy, you realize that you’re still unhappy,” Hinds said. “All you’re going to do is keep wanting more, more, more. You’re never truly happy. The day I got saved I realized that all I really need is him.”
The impression he’s made on his teammates is indelible.
“He’s really changed,” Johnson said. “Now he’s only focused on school, football and God.”
Johnson says he’s known Hinds since elementary school, something that makes fun moments on the field even more special.
“My favorite memories are always jumping around with Randell Johnson after a big play. That’s like my brother,” Hinds said. “We grew up together. We went to every school together. Every time after a play happens, whether he makes it or I make it, it’s just a connection.”
Off the field, Hinds has formed a tight bond with one of the best female athletes on campus.
The single life is over for Hinds now. His girlfriend is FAU women’s basketball leading scorer Chenise Miller, someone Reaser says has also done a good job in helping Hinds mature.
The two met in an art appreciation class and got saved together in March 2011.
“It was a joint decision,” Miller said. “We both had been feeling that it was time to give our lives to God. We went to Bible study together, and it was something on both of our minds.”
Before Hinds was saved, Miller explains he acted the way most people expect from a college guy.
“He definitely went out more. He partied a lot. That’s a stereotype about college students,” Miller said. “After he got saved he didn’t party. We found other ways to have fun basically.”
Partying and clubbing are now replaced with game nights with friends from church and movie dates, she says.
Hinds helped change her perspective on men. He showed Miller through his actions he was different.
“He’s definitely proved to me that all guys aren’t the same. A lot of girls say that about their boyfriends, but I truly believe it,” Miller said. “He helps me with my relationship with God. He helps me push harder to be a better person.”
Three months before the start of basketball season, Miller was shooting shots alone at The Burrow on a side basket, trying to wash away the pain of a 56 point blowout in last year’s finale. It’s something she credits to Hinds.
“He always wants to be better. It influences me,” Miller said. “Last year I probably wouldn’t have been out here working out by myself.”
It’s not just his girlfriend who’s benefiting from the new David Hinds. Players are becoming curious about God and want to follow in his footsteps. It makes Hinds proud to know he can have that kind of effect on his teammates.
“My guys just start asking questions. They try to stop doing stuff just because. Or when they’re around you they try to not say certain things. They don’t try to curse,” Hinds said. “They just feel like, since Hinds is trying to do better, I’m going to try to do better. The positive impact feels real good.”
It’s July 27 at the Boca YMCA. Six-foot-two David Hinds is scampering around in his green YMCA T-shirt on this scorching hot summer day in the playground area, chasing after special needs kids the way he does to quarterbacks on a typical Saturday during the season.
Only thing is, these kids seem much harder to catch.
Hinds finally corrals one boy near the slide. He tells me the kid will repeat anything you say, so Hinds decides to have a little fun.
“Nick,” Hinds says with a smirk. “Say ‘I’m a boss.’”
Instantaneously, Nick turns into a pint-sized Rick Ross.
“I’m a boss!” he yells, as Hinds cracks up.
“They make you laugh, make you smile,” Hinds said of the effect the kids have on him.
He tells me how he used to be a little uncomfortable around kids like this, but that coming to the Y has enlightened him.
“It means a lot, because growing up I would shy away from special needs kids. I didn’t know anything. I thought they were different,” Hinds said. “Now, to work with them, I realize they’re the same as us. They’re just as loving and caring as us. They just try so hard to do the things that we do so easily, but a lot of them are smart. High IQs but they just have autism, little things that make them special.”
“Mr. David!” a girl screams as she runs up to Hinds to give him a hug.
She looks up at the photographer and I curiously, staring at our camera and notepad, then has a question for Hinds.
“Who are the movie stars?” she asks in amazement as her eyes grow wide.
“They aren’t movie stars. You’re the movie star,” Hinds says. “They came to see you.”
A fellow employee isn’t fooled by Hinds’ modesty however.
“Mr. VIP over here,” a male employee bellows out from across the field. “Doing big things I see.”
“He’s been very helpful,” YMCA employee Francesca says. “The kids love to have him around. They think he’s really fun. He usually plays tag with them, duck, duck goose — all kinds of games.”
Hinds offering his time here is no surprise to his mother. She says his kind-hearted nature comes from his dad.
“David is the kind of person that would give you the shirt off his back. His father was like that too,” his mother said. “He’ll take the last penny he has and give away whatever he has. I’ll ask ‘Why are you giving that away?’ and he’ll just say ‘Don’t worry. The Lord will provide.’ That’s David.”
There’s 26 special needs children here, and eight counselors to take care of them. Today, they’re swimming at the indoor pool, and some kids are petrified of the water.
Take Gaby for example.
“He’ll cry your ears off before he gets in the water,” Hinds warns. “In order to get in the pool with Gaby, he has to trust you. He only trusts me and Miss Amanda to step foot in the water.”
To other kids, there’s no fear at all. A brave boy quickly makes his way to the top of the giant red slide unattended.
“Hey Cody, wait, wait for me,” Hinds says, not wanting to miss out on the fun.
Hinds dashes up the ladder and puts Cody in his lap. Seconds later, the two shoot out of the slide and splash into the water.
Training camp begins the following Monday, so this is Hinds’ last day working at the Y. He’s not expecting any teary-eyed goodbyes or heartfelt farewells from the kids, though.
“It don’t look like they miss me that much,” Hinds jokingly says. “They ain’t gonna give me no cake.”
Under new coach Carl Pelini, the Owls defense is switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme. In a 4-3, there are three linebackers, two ends and two tackles. Hinds, a middle linebacker, will now be unleashed to roam the backfield from sideline to sideline and make plays. As the most experienced player on the team, he’ll be expected to guide his teammates in the new transition.
“Just got to focus and take it all in. Just do what I’ve been doing since I got here. We were in a 4-3 at first, so it’s not that hard to pick it up,” Hinds said. “It’s just new terminology and understanding where they want you to fit but I don’t think it’ll be that hard.”
Last season, Hinds led the team with 110 tackles. New defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis says he’s impressed so far with his progress in the new system.
“I think he’s adjusting well,” Rekstis said. “He’s a very motivated, conscientious player. He doesn’t like to make mistakes, so when he does, he makes sure to correct them. I’m pleased with how he’s adapted.”
With the exception of holdover Jared Allen (tight ends coach), the entire coaching staff is new. Hinds sees noticeable differences between Howard Schnellenberger, his coach for the last three seasons, and Pelini.
“Coach Pelini is in your face. He’s vocal on the field. He’s helping. He’s all around,” Hinds said. “Because he’s younger, he gets to move around the field faster. He’s more active. More business and more discipline.”
Pelini has a clear and distinct role for Hinds: vocal leader.
“As a linebacker you have to be the voice of the defense — that role model out there for the guys and lead by example,” Hinds said. “He trusts me with that.”
“There’s a lot on him. He’s kind of our general out there. He makes all the calls,” Pelini said. “Mentally there’s a lot for him to learn, and I think he’s picking it up and working hard to do it.”
According to Rekstis, the reason Hinds is such an effective leader on the field is simple.
“People respect David so that helps when he’s leading,” Rekstis said. “He’s very vocal. He does exactly what we need him to do. He’s not afraid to lead. He’s comfortable in that role.”
The second to last home game of the year is against FIU. Hinds has payback on his mind for last year, when FAU lost to FIU and had to hand over the Shula Bowl trophy.
He nods his head, squints his eyes a bit, and lets out a prediction.
“We plan on getting that back.”