A Virginia Tech football star and former NFL player is using his knowledge of professional sports and commitment to education to mentor young boys in Baltimore.
In 2011, Keion Carpenter, along with former pro football players Bryant Johnson and Aaron Maybin, established Shutdown Academy. Designed to help discipline and educate Baltimore youths, the Shutdown Academy provides athletic training, mentoring, and tutoring to about 200 boys ages five through 15.
In sports, “shut down” means to dominate by not allowing the opposing team or player to perform to their potential in a game. Carpenter liked the term so much that he initially named his sports program Team Shutdown but decided to change it to Shutdown Academy because he understood the importance of education.
“We take pride in this because we were one of these kids,” said Carpenter, who retired due to excessive injuries in 2006 after playing eight years in the NFL. “We owe it to these kids to come back and do this.”
A Baltimore native, Carpenter graduated from Woodlawn Senior High school in 1995, before becoming a Hokie at Virginia Tech from 1995-1998. He holds the school record for blocking punts with six blocks in his college career.
He said college helped him become more self-reliant while living in a diverse environment.
“That was the first time I was on my own,” said Carpenter, while standing on Edmondson High School’s football field, before coaches and players for football practice. “I always had my mom or my grandmother there to kind of wipe my nose and help me when I slipped or fell, but I had to become a man in college. That was key, mentally, for me.”
The record-breaking athlete received his bachelor’s degree in residential property management with a minor in housing interior design and resource management in 1999. He then signed a contract as a rookie free-agent that same year with the Buffalo Bills, embarking on a career that was cut short by injuries when he was playing for the Atlanta Falcons seven years later.
According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, less than two percent of college football players play professionally. Conscious of his “blessing” of becoming one of those fortunate few, Carpenter rarely talks about the NFL to his young players.
“We talk more college than anything because that’s a place where they all can go,” said Carpenter. “I don’t want to sell pipeline dreams because everybody isn’t going to go to the NFL, but that doesn’t mean you’re not going to be successful or reach your goals and dreams.”
Carpenter is not alone in his vision to bring change to Baltimore youth through sports and academics. Assistant coach at Boys’ Latin School of Maryland turned athletic director of Shutdown Academy, Schazz Lee sees Shutdown as a “rewarding experience.” His roles include ensuring that players have proper equipment, registering Shutdown Academy for football leagues, and helping to coach.
Schazz said the he plans for Shutdown Academy to evolve into a charter school by 2015 to serve children from kindergarten to the eighth grade. Carpenter added that the school will include 21st century technology including iPads instead of traditional books.
Like Lee, other coaches and staff members make Shutdown Academy a beneficial organization.
Charles Moore, or “the mouth piece” as he calls himself, has been coaching for Shutdown for about two years and said the organization has done “wonders” for his son.
“These kids need discipline and focus and Shutdown provides that,” said Moore, a recovering addict who has been drug-free for 12 years. His son, 11-year-old Marcus Moore, plays wide receiver for Shutdown’s 12 and up team. Marcus does not have a favorite athlete, but he said he admired Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice. School-wise, Marcus’ preferred subject is World Culture because he enjoys “learning about other cultures.”
Its reputation spreading mostly through word-of-mouth, Shutdown Academy has attracted many parents in a way Carpenter likens to a business’ success that is enhanced by customer service.
“One parent is happy, so they go out and tell another person and it spreads like that. If one person has a good experience they’re going to go and tell somebody else, “said Carpenter.
Conversing with other parents and observing her children from the sideline, Shakeeta Smith is a loyal “team mom” with two children in Shutdown. Although her children are still in their first year at Shutdown, Smith said she already notices differences in her children, David and Khalil.
“My children have become much more focused. They push them really hard here,” said Smith. Before signing her boys up for Shutdown, she considered other options but ended up staying with Shutdown and its holistic approach to teaching.
“This is the first team that teaches them everything,” Smith added.
Outside of Shutdown Academy, Carpenter also provides other services to Baltimore City’s young adults. Created in 2006, For My Kids Inc. helps at risk youth become “productive members of society” through community service, crisis prevention, athletic training, gang rehabilitation, tutoring, mentorship and job workforce development.
In the summer of 2008, Carpenter introduced Commitment 4 Change (C4C), a “substance-related” summer camp that provides an educational and interactive experience through football, workshops, and group discussions. The camp includes celebrity appearances, math and reading exercises, dialogues on substance abuse, and financial literacy sessions sponsored by State Farm. This summer they also plan to add on an etiquette and grooming component.
“When they leave our camp, they leave better than they were when they came,” said Carpenter.