The former Robinson High star will face the Bucs on Saturday.
PORT TAMPA - You will find the regulars at Designs of Elegance, a barbershop in the heart of Port Tampa. But this week, they are walking briskly, smiling big, feeling proud. Javier Arenas, one of them, is coming home. As an NFL player. "He always said he would do it," said Victor Williams, one of the barbers, who attended Robinson High School with Arenas. "It's inspiring for me to want to accomplish more out of life. He's up on that stage now - and a lot of us feel like we're up there with him."Arenas, a first-team All-American cornerback at the University of Alabama and the SEC's all-time leading punt returner, will line up for the Kansas City Chiefs in Saturday night's exhibition game against the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Already, Arenas has made waves. In his first exhibition, Saturday at Atlanta, Arenas appeared to score on a dazzling 100-yard kickoff return, but the touchdown was negated by a holding penalty well away from the ball. He added a 42-yard return and averaged 28.3 yards on three. "He appears to be real good with the ball in his hands,'' Chiefs coach Todd Haley told the Kansas City Star. Slight understatement. Arenas, a second-round pick and the 50th selection overall, had a combined 3,918 yards on kickoff and punt returns at Alabama, the second-best total in Football Bowl Subdivision history. He had five interceptions as a senior, including two against Texas in the BCS Championship Game. His ability to disrupt offenses, particularly his skill at blitzing from the corner, has drawn comparisons to Ronde Barber. But in Port Tampa, there's only one Javier Arenas. "This is big for all of us," Robinson offensive coordinator Rob Burns said. "We're not one of those places that has 10 transfers coming from out of the area. We're south of Gandy, one of the smallest public schools in the area, and we kind of have each other. "We have a tight-knit community and a tight-knit school. To see Javy making it like this, our kids are so excited. Most of them have never seen a professional football player up close. Now it's a guy they know. And it's no fluke." Only three former Robinson players have appeared in an NFL regular-season game - running back Larry Smith (first-round pick, Rams, 1969); quarterback John Reaves (first-round pick, Eagles, 1972); and running back Morris LaGrand (sixth-round pick, Chiefs, 1975). So draft day was a big deal at the Arenas household and around the Robinson community. "We were all on pins and needles, and when they announced his name, everyone went crazy," said Facunda Arenas, his mother. "The neighbors were coming down the street, blowing their car horns. Everyone was so happy. He's a good guy, and now he gets to live his dream. He has worked hard for this." The Chiefs loved the toughness and versatility of Arenas, a 5-foot-9, 197-pounder. Even more, they sensed extraordinary passion. "One of our scouts said he acts like it is the Super Bowl every day," Haley said. "That is the way he plays." Arenas, accustomed to being doubted because of his size - he gained nearly 30 pounds at Alabama - said he is determined to make the most of his opportunity. In Port Tampa, where the community grieved over the 2004 murder of its last college-football star, Vanderbilt running back Kwane Doster, no one questions Arenas' ability. "He's letting all the kids around here know there are better opportunities out there, better than drugs, better than crime," said Andre Flagler, who has owned Designs of Elegance for six years. "We try to be role models for these kids, being supportive of education, doing right because it's right. "It helps to have someone who has walked these streets now playing in the NFL." Arenas' car license plate reads: Port 28. It's his number at Alabama and a nod to "The Port,'' his home. "Javy is going places now," Flagler said. "But the beautiful thing is he'll always know where he was from."
Reporter Joey Johnston can be reached at (813) 259-7353.
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