Beaufort High's Cohen has made a fan, and a friend

jjarrett@islandpacket.com
jjarrett@beaufortgazette.com
October 30, 2011 

When it came time for the Port Royal Bulldogs youth football team to be assigned jersey numbers, more than one player tried to claim No. 34. But CJ Brown didn't just want No. 34, he had to have it. So he resorted to bribery.

"I told him if he gets No. 34, he gets an ice cream cone," Brown said, explaining how he secured the coveted jersey.

A small price to pay to wear the same number as the football player he looks up to the most. Not Hall of Fame running backs Walter Payton or Earl Campbell, but Beaufort High School senior D'Vonta Cohen.

Brown and Cohen struck up an unlikely friendship in August, when Brown and his teammates were invited down to the field at halftime of a Beaufort High scrimmage to meet some of the Eagles.

Cohen immediately took Brown under his wing, and a bond quickly formed. Soon, Cohen was a fixture at Brown's games -- he showed up to the first one and asked for a season schedule when he introduced himself to Brown's mother, Lakinsha Petty -- often going straight to Burton Wells Park after practice to make sure he was there to encourage his new friend. Brown and Petty returned the favor by attending all the Eagles' home games and cheering on Cohen.

"I'm kind of mentoring him and making sure he takes the right steps to get where I'm at right now," said Cohen, who leads the Eagles with 814 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. "I'm watching over him to make sure he does the right things."

And that goes beyond the pointers Cohen offers during and after Brown's football games. Cohen wants to make sure his 10-year-old protege is doing the right things off the field, too, from making school a priority to choosing the right kind of friends.

When Brown played his last game of the season last weekend, Cohen brought his entire family along -- parents, siblings and all -- to cheer on their other favorite No. 34. When the Eagles hit the road Friday to wrap up Region 8-AAAA play at Summerville, Petty and Brown hit the road, too. And they cheered like crazy when Cohen scored the game's first touchdown and rushed for 159 yards to help Beaufort High beat the Green Wave for a second consecutive season.

"I feel almost like CJ has gotten a big brother," Petty said, noting her son is an only child. "I feel like we've adopted a new family just through their relationship."

But the thing about big brothers is they go off to college eventually, and that's Cohen's plan after he graduates from Beaufort High in May. He hopes to play college football somewhere, and he has his eye on Newberry College, a solid NCAA Division II program close enough to home that his family and friends can make frequent trips to see him play.

And these days, Brown and Petty are certainly part of that circle.

"Every time we get together, our friendship is getting deeper and deeper now," Cohen said. "He's like a little brother to me right now. ... If he comes to me, I'm here for him whenever he needs somebody to talk to about anything."

Cohen wants to make sure he and Brown don't lose touch now that football season is winding down, so he plans to make time for his new friend.

"I just want to hang out with him sometimes," Cohen said, "pick him up and go have fun."

Maybe go get an ice cream cone and talk about football and life, one No. 34 to another.

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