Special to South Florida Times
Most pro football players dreamed of making it to the NFL from the time they were old enough to hold a football. That wasn’t the case with Zack and Henri Crockett of Pompano Beach. In fact, nothing about the brothers is typical at all. For Zack, football was just a way to get outside and play. As for his baby brother Henri, he detested playing the game so much that at age 8 or 9 he would make himself throw up to get out of it.
“I didn’t stand out very well, so I always hated to play football,” Henri recalled in a recent interview.
But things changed for the two sons of Syliviann Hall. They ended up in the National Football League.
“I am blessed. God has definitely had his hand upon my family,” said Hall, mother of three boys.
While her eldest son, Zeffery was also athletically inclined, it was her middle son, Zack, now 38, and her youngest son, Henri, 36, who would go on to stellar careers as pro athletes. Zack played for 13 years and found his home with the Oakland Raiders, ending in 2008. Henri played for seven years and ended his career with the Minnesota Vikings in 2004.
Hall wore a specially made jersey with the names of both teams on it when her sons played against each other.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “When Zack made a touchdown, I’m like, ‘Yeah!’ but when Henri was tackling him, I’m like, ‘Henri, don’t hurt him!’” But, she added, laughing, “It was enjoyable.”
Having her sons pursue a pro football career wasn’t what Hall, a single mother who worked two jobs to make ends meet, was expecting of them. As they grew up in a tiny house in one of the worst sections of Pompano Beach filled with drugs and drug dealers, she had high hopes for them but the path would be education. Football was the last thing on her mind.
“I thought they would grow up and wear suits and white shirts and become professionals. That was my only concern with them. I wasn’t concerned about football,” Hall said in a phone interview at her Pembroke Pines home.
When she discovered they were getting serious about football during high school, she told them they’d better give it 100 percent but they were going to college one way or another.
Henri and Zack became stellar athletes; at one point, Henri was the top high school linebacker in the country and Zack was the nation’s top running back coming out of junior college. They both won athletic scholarships to Florida State University but even then being drafted into the NFL was not on their or their mother’s minds. They wanted a college education and a good job.
Zack graduated with a Criminology degree, with a minor in Business. Henri graduated with a double major in Psychology and Criminology. Both were drafted into professional football.
One of their first major purchases was a home for their mother and they paid off all her bills. “I wanted her to be debt free and to enjoy the fruits of life,” said Zack.
Henri agreed. “I just felt like she sacrificed so much for us. I just wanted to make sure she was taken care of,” he said.
The brothers now have families of their own and live in Aventura. Henri has a 3-year-old daughter and he and his wife Jessica are expecting a son. Zack is unmarried but has four daughters, the eldest of whom is attending FSU.
Zack still works in the NFL as a pro scout for the Oakland Raiders. Henri is retired and heads their Crockett Foundation. They are passionate about giving back, and especially to the community where they had their start in life. Through the Crockett Foundation they offer football camps, reading programs, mentoring programs and health and fitness programs for youth and the community.
They have also mentored many youths who have now graduated from college. Zack believes that government cutbacks in youth and mentoring programs send the wrong message. “The government double-talks about how it wants to help the youth. But how are you helping kids? How are you helping with mentoring programs? How are you giving back?” he said.
Through their foundation they seek to teach young boys to become men the right way, they said, by putting education and citizenship first. It’s what they learned from their mentors, James L. Jones, retired principal of Blanche Ely High School, and Larry Leverett, the school’s former assistant principal.
“They taught us about being men and taking ownership and being responsible,” said Henri.
Jones and Leverett were members of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity while the brothers were in high school and, because of their affiliation, Zack and Henri pledged the same fraternity in college. Today, they’re all members of the Eta Nu Chapter of Omega Psi Phi fraternity in Pompano Beach.
The fraternity, along with the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, joined the brothers when the Crockett Foundation fed more than 100 of Broward County’s homeless residents at St. Laurence Chapel Day Shelter in Pompano Beach on Thanksgiving Day.
Jones said he’s proud of the brothers. “That’s what we always tried to instill in them back in high school – that if you’re blessed, it’s so that you can be a blessing to someone else. They obviously learned that because they are coming back to the community and they’re helping others,” said Jones.
It is a lesson well learned.
“Every day is a holiday,” said Zack. “I try to make sure everyone around me is smiling. I’m known as the social one. But I feel like every day should be a holiday, and that’s how I live my life.”
“There’s nothing greater than being a public servant,” added Henri. “And that’s what we’re here to do – to serve.”
James, 46, who didn’t give his last name, was thankful for such an attitude. “I think it’s awesome, what they’re doing,” he said. “To come and give back to their community like this is really great.”
Daphne Taylor may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ALAN LUBY/FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES. SHARING A JOKE: Henri and Zack Crockett, former NFL players, share a laugh with their mentor since high school, James Jones, left, retired principal of Blanche Ely High School, Pompano Beach. The Crockett brothers joined the Omega Psi Phi fraternity in college because Jones was a member of the organization when they were in high school. Today, they are all members of the Eta Nu Chapter in Pompano Beach.