- Associated Press - Monday, October 31, 2016

PERRY, Okla. (AP) - Santoi Rhodes knew something was wrong with his dad.

He had seen this before. When Rhodes, a junior receiver for Perry High School, was 12, he noticed his father lying, unresponsive, on the couch. After recently having back surgery, his father had a blood clot. Rhodes called 911 and got his father to a hospital. Rhodes was later told if he had not acted as quickly as he did, his father likely would not be alive.

Rhodes knew his father’s health history. When he was born, Arnold “Scoopy” Rhodes was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. As he got older, he developed an enlarged heart. On top of this, the Stillwater News Press (https://bit.ly/2ezco9l ) reports, he was a heavy smoker.

About two years later, when Rhodes saw his father again lying on the couch, he knew he needed to act quickly.

He called 911 again and Scoopy Rhodes was taken to Perry Memorial Hospital. There, Rhodes said the doctors gave his father a shot and he went into cardiac arrest. He needed to be flown to OU Medical Center.

Before he left Perry, Scoopy Rhodes looked at his son.

“Love you,” he said. “I’ll see you at the other hospital.”

It was the last thing Rhodes ever heard him say. When Scoopy Rhodes arrived at OU Medical Center, he needed to be put on life support. After a certain point, the family decided to take him off.

He died of congestive heart failure on Dec. 30, 2013.

Wanda Rhodes was watching television one day when a commercial came on.

The commercial featured a Native American and displayed his name on the screen: Santoi. She fell in love with it. She turned to her son, Scoopy Rhodes, who was sitting next to her.

“If I ever have a grandchild, I want his name to be Santoi,” she said.

He, too, took a liking to the name. A few years later, when Scoopy Rhodes had his first child, a boy, he named him Santoi.

“I like it on him,” Wanda Rhodes said. “To me, he’s Santoi. I love the name Santoi for him. It just did him right.”

As Rhodes grew older, he started to develop a knack for sports. His speed separated him from the rest of the kids. He took a liking to baseball, where he earned the nickname “The Pickle” for his penchant for escaping them.

Scoopy Rhodes would take his son out to the front yard to play catch, but as he got older, his health caught up with him. He was no longer able to play catch with his son in the front yard, but that wasn’t going to stop him from spending time with him. The two played video games, having “Madden” tournaments or battling each other on “Guitar Hero.”

“His dad really loved him,” Wanda Rhodes said. “Oh, he loved Santoi. That was his heart. Santoi was his only child. I just wish he was here to see him. He’d be so proud. He was always proud of him. He would make it to every one of his baseball games, football games, he was always there.”

Rhodes, his father, his cousin, Shamari Rhodes and his aunt, Deneen Rhodes, would often go on road trips. It was the parents’ way of rewarding the boys for getting good grades.

When Rhodes was about 7, the family decided to take a trip to Walt Disney World. It was the first time Rhodes would be on an airplane. He knew what he wanted: a 747 jet. Scoopy and Deneen laughed at him.

When Deneen Rhodes boarded the plane, she had to get on a ramp to go down the stairs. She found it odd, because she had never experienced anything like that. She looked at the plane to realize she was boarding a 747 jet.

“He was just screaming,” Deneen Rhodes said. “That was the first time I had seen - because he had always been kind of a calm kid - that was the first time I had ever seen him lose it.

“The grace of God, his dad made his dream come true.”

After his father’s death, Rhodes found himself apathetic about everything.

He didn’t care about school. He didn’t care about sports. He had lived with his father for only a year, and moved back in with his mother, but couldn’t shake the feeling.

“My football games, I didn’t do good,” Rhodes said. “I was always upset. It wasn’t the same not seeing him in the stands. Basketball season, I didn’t do good either. It just felt like everything was going downhill.”

Rhodes failed four classes his freshman year, he said. He was on the football team as a running back, but hardly played, even on junior varsity. People told him his dad would be proud of him, but it didn’t feel like it. He tried watching motivational videos to get his mind on other things. Then, Deneen Rhodes came to talk to him.

It was after the second or third game of his sophomore season. She told him his father, though physically gone, would always be with him. She told him by doing his best, he would be able to honor his father. Not long after, she saw a changed Rhodes.

“That’s when I started seeing him glow,” she said. “His happiness and his joy finally come to him for the love of football. Football was his dream. A dream that he’s always wanted. He knows his father would have been right there in the stands by me screaming and hollering.”

Rhodes looks somewhat out of place on a football field, as if someone’s kid brother found a helmet and pads and wanted to join the team.

At 5-feet-6 and 136 pounds, he is almost always the smallest player on the field. When he joined the team, he was about 100 pounds. At a position such as receiver, that can be a major disadvantage. It hasn’t fazed Rhodes, though, for he is the team’s leading receiver with 1,086 yards and 13 touchdowns.

When Rhodes gets the ball in his hands, there’s not many defenders able to catch him. It’s his speed that enables him to be such a dynamic player despite his size.

“He’s fast,” Perry coach Travis Cole said. “He’s elusive. He’s hard to tackle. He’s hard to just get a hit on. You have to kind of grab on and hope that you can just pull him down.”

Rhodes has played a big part in Perry’s turnaround this season. After finishing 2-8 a year ago, the Maroons are 7-1 and in good position to earn a playoff berth and a district title.

Rhodes also competed in track, where he ran the 100-meter dash, the 400-meter relay and the 800-meter relay. If not for an injured hamstring, he would have competed in the 200-meter dash as well, he said. Rhodes said he likes running track because it makes him faster for football.

Usually, when Rhodes lines up opposite a defender, it looks like a mismatch. After the first play is over, it’s clear that’s true, but perhaps not in the way the defender originally thought.

“Dang, it’s hard to keep up with you,” is a phrase Rhodes hears a lot. He relishes the opportunities to prove doubters wrong.

Occasionally, he will take a big hit. In the first game of the season against Fairview, a defender’s helmet went straight into his knee.

“That hurt a lot,” he said. “Honestly, I thought I tore my ACL or messed up my knee.”

It’s something he has to deal with at his size, but he has gotten used to it. He shook off the hit and was able to get back into the game. Although some people may look at his size as being a disadvantage, Rhodes doesn’t see it that way.

“Being small, it’s kind of an advantage because it’s hard for people to tackle me,” he said. “Usually, if they get ahold of me, they just throw me down, but it’s a little bit harder for them to tackle me. It motivates me a lot to make it there being this small.”

His dream is to play in college. Unless he has a major growth spurt from his junior to senior seasons, it is unlikely Division-I schools will call. However, Cole said there is a place for players like Rhodes at small colleges, especially if he continues to produce at the rate he has this season.

“His size is going to be a drawback for him,” Cole said. “But the way the game’s played, there’s a lot of colleges that run similar to what we run. Having a shorter guy that kind of finds holes in the middle and can run, there’s a place for a guy like that in a lot of offenses. I think he’ll have some people pay attention to him.”

When Rhodes scores a touchdown, sometimes he’ll point upward.

It’s his way of remembering his dad. Although Rhodes said he doesn’t feel Scoopy’s presence at games, he keeps him in his mind.

“At this point, I do everything for my dad,” he said. “When I’m on the field, I think of him in the stands cheering me on when I score. Mainly him.”

Rhodes serves as a reminder of Scoopy to his family, too. The Rhodes are a big family. Wanda had six brothers and sisters and Rhodes‘ grandfather, John Rhodes, had 11. They aren’t shy about their love for Rhodes.

“His grandma is so proud, she be smilin’ every day,” Wanda Rhodes said. “He puts a big smile on my face. I miss my son, so every time I look at him, I think of my son.”

Under the Friday night lights, Rhodes looks out and sees a sea of his family members. There is a whole contingent of Rhodes donning t-shirts with Rhodes‘ face on them. On the back, his number, 9, and the name Rhodes are displayed proudly. He feels their love and appreciates it.

But he plays for the one who couldn’t make it.


Information from: Stillwater News Press, https://www.stwnewspress.com

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