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At Gardner's alma mater, a school with no students

By Everett Cook, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 3, 2013

DETROIT — The doors where Devin Gardner became Devin Gardner have super glue in the locks. Keys don’t work here anymore, not at Inkster, where budget cuts have taken a once-proud community and turned it into a blockade of buildings waiting for demolition.

There are handprints on the windows at the front of the school — bigger than a child’s but smaller than an adult’s. Teenagers were peering in through the dusty windows, trying to get a glimpse of what used to be Inkster High School in metro Detroit.

Officially, the school has been shut down for three months, but it looks like it’s been abandoned for years, as if one day Inkster was operating, and the next everyone picked up and left. Gatorade bottles litter the ground by the baseball field, which is now more of an overgrown swamp than a diamond.

Next to the cesspool is the football field, which still has pylons, scorebooks and yard markers in the press box. The red, rubber surface of the track is slowly disintegrating and the grass is dying. Soon, it will be an overgrown field surrounded by a cement oval.

On the chain-link fence surrounding the field, a sign remains from last football season: Adults, $5. Students, $3.

Even in its prime, Inkster was never glamorous or flashy. Bordering the football field is a power grid full of generators, a mechanic’s garage and a strip club.

But for a while, the alma mater of current Michigan football players Devin Gardner and Cam Gordon was a factory for kids who needed second and third chances, like Gardner. It was where Greg Carter — the athletic director and football coach — had a mural on his wall of all the players he sent to college, most of whom wouldn’t have had a fighting chance without Inkster. Most importantly, it was the pride of a community that needed something to believe in.

Now, its doors are glued shut and the handprints are on the wrong side of the windows.

***

“It’s kind of odd saying this with me being on the team, but…” On the phone, Nathan Lindsey’s voice trails off before he starts laughing. Lindsey, along with his brother Daniel, played alongside Gardner and Gordon at Inkster but now live in Kansas, playing for Fort Hayes State University.

“Man, it really was like Devin and then the Inkster Vikings,” he said. “It was. There’s no other way to put it. If Devin wasn’t playing, the chances of us going to a state championship that year would have been so slim. Especially going to a state championship. … Our team was good, but Devin was a very, very key part to that. He took us to that next level.”

Devin and the Vikings played every game of their season on the road in 2009, his senior year. Thirteen in all. Trying to match his quarterback’s talent, Carter scheduled games anywhere from Muskegon, Mich., to Cleveland.

Entering the last week of the regular season, the Vikings were 4-3 and had to win their last game to make the Michigan state playoffs.

All Inkster had to do was win in one of the toughest road environments in all of high-school football: Steubenville, Ohio, which was riding a 68-game winning streak.

Steubenville is like no place you’ve ever been. The stands are less than 10 feet from the sidelines, and visiting fans aren’t allowed to sit in between the 30-yard lines. Behind one end zone is a massive, 200-person band. Behind the other is a cemetery.

The fog was rolling in. Carter says that the first and only time he believed in ghosts happened on that field.

It was a preview of The Game for Devin — the opposing fans knew of his commitment to Michigan and treated him like he was already in Ann Arbor.

Late in the game and up by a touchdown, Inkster had the ball in its own red zone when Steubenville fired up the band. Gardner and the offensive line couldn’t hear anything. False starts and illegal procedures pushed the offense deep into its own territory.

Gardner finally got a clean play off. He saw a defender coming and rolled right, planning on executing the play that he’s executed so many times before, the one where he heaves it back across the middle of the field after rolling out right — never left. It was his welcome-to-the-show moment last year, the one that made him famous in his first collegiate start as a quarterback against Minnesota.

If he rolled left, he’d still be running. Instead, he took a safety.

Steubenville wasted no time scoring again.