Former Lawrence resident Xavier Omon needs to rush for 17 yards today to become the first Division II running back to rush for 1,500 yards in four consecutive years of college football.
The engaging smile and easy-going personality of Omon, a senior running back for Northwest Missouri State in Maryville, Mo., belie the heartache he and his family have endured over the past 13 years.
Delorise Omon-Brown is the daughter of longtime Lawrence resident Rose Shorter and her late husband, Melvin Shorter. Delorise and husband Anthony Brown decided to move their four sons and one daughter to Lawrence in 1990, after a teenager from their San Diego neighborhood was killed in a drive-by shooting. Delorise opened River City Smokehouse at Ninth and Connecticut, fulfilling a lifelong dream.
Two months later, tragedy introduced itself to the family. Oldest son Demetrius, then 17 and a senior at Lawrence High, was killed in a car accident on 19th Street.
In time, the family decided to leave Lawrence and the painful memories for Beatrice, Neb., when Xavier, who in youth football had teamed with Kansas University's leading rusher Brandon McAnderson, was in eighth grade. Looking back at the move, Xavier said he feared the family would be treated as outsiders in a town of 12,500 people that, as far as he knew, had just one other African-American family.
"It was the complete opposite of what I thought," he said. "The first day I got there, the basketball coaches had me playing with the kids in my grade, trying to get me used to playing sports with my new and future teammates."
Misfortune followed the Omon-Brown family to Beatrice. Delorise's brother, Bryan Shorter, who had moved temporarily with the family to help his sister, was killed in an automobile accident in 1999.
All the while, Delorise said, Effiong, her second child, often talked about how much he missed and wanted to be with Demetrius. On a hot August day the same year she lost her brother, Delorise received a phone call informing her that Effiong had committed suicide.
Omon wears No. 2 on his football jersey to honor the memory of his two older brothers. He points to the heavens after every touchdown - there have been 24 this year.
Xavier's cousin, Free State High star running back Chucky Hunter, also wears No. 2.
Omon has let the coaches of Northwest Missouri State, which faces Missouri Southern today, know all about his cousin.
"Chucky has the talent to make it big if he can stay focused," Omon said. "The kid is going to be a way better player than his older cousin ever was or ever will be if he stays focused."
Like most college football players at all levels, Omon dreams of playing in the NFL. He said he is on course to complete requirements for a broadcasting degree from Northwest Missouri State in December. He studied broadcasting.
"It would be easy for me to stay involved in sports even after I was done playing if I majored in broadcasting," Omon said. "I love sports, and I always want to be close to it, even if I don't get to play the game."
Omon weighs 220 pounds and reportedly has been clocked in the 40-yard dash at 4.52 seconds, a combination that has inspired NFL scouts to evaluate him in person.
Omon said he wants to play in the NFL so that "my mom would not have to work again. I will be fulfilling a dream my older brother, Demetrius, never got to accomplish, and I would be getting to make my mom happy. She's worked so hard, done so much and been through so much that she deserves that and more. I just want to repay her for what she has done for me."