Comeback kid: Northeast quarterback Charles Britt’s emotional return to football
Since an PIAA appeals committee ruled unanimously to restore his eligibility, the slick and speedy left-hander has helped the Vikings to three straight victories and the No. 9 spot in the rankings.
Tough kid. Rugged football player. Definitely not the kind of guy who would collapse in his mother’s arms, sobbing in relief at the news that he would be eligible to play this season for Northeast High.
That’s Charles Britt’s story, and he’s sticking to it.
"I cried but only a little bit,” Britt said of his reaction to the unanimous decision by a nine-member PIAA appeal board on Sept. 19 to overturn a District 12 ruling and allow him to play this season for the Vikings.
His coach has a different recollection.
So does his mom.
"He said, ‘Mom, I didn’t cry like a baby,’” Jennifer Lee said of her son, a dynamic dual-threat quarterback for the Public League’s top team. “I said, ‘But you really did and it’s OK.’ He’s 18 now. I haven’t had a hug like that from him in a long time.”
Britt’s reaction was understandable. He sat out the first four games of the season, dreading that his high school career was over and fretting about his future.
Since taking the field Sept. 20 vs. Martin Luther King, Britt has helped Northeast fashion a three-game winning streak on its way to a 6-1 overall mark and the No. 9 spot in The Inquirer’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Top 10.
Included in that run for Northeast was an 8-6 win over Imhotep Charter last Friday in a fierce battle of the Public League’s strongest squads. In that game, Britt threw a 65-yard pass to Tyreek Chappell for the Vikings’ touchdown and ran for the two-point conversion that provided the eventual winning points.
“I’ve never been so amped like that,” Britt said of the victory over Imhotep.
Britt was declared ineligible at a District 12 hearing in August. Officials ruled that he couldn’t play this season because he had entered high school in the class of 2019.
Britt continued to practice with the team and stand on the sideline during the Vikings’ first four games — “Every day, every game,” he said of his attendance — while Northeast coach Phil Gormley and school officials put together the case for a hardship appeal to the PIAA.
Gormley said Britt deserved to be granted a fifth year of eligibility because of difficulties in his home life.
Lee said that over the past couple of years, the family has been devastated by a series of tragedies, including the death of Lee’s mother, the death of Lee’s sister — who collapsed of an apparent heart attack at her mother’s funeral — and the death of Lee’s brother, who was a murder victim.
In addition, Lee, Britt and his younger sister Chyann were homeless for a brief period.
"It’s been tough,” Lee said. "That’s why I think he was so emotional at that hearing. He’s a very, very, quiet person, and it finally all came out.”
Britt said that the football field has been a haven for him and that the sport — the competition, the camaraderie with teammates — has been an escape from the woes of the last few years.
"Playing football makes me forget about everything that’s happened in my life,” Britt said. "It keeps me from being somebody that my mom wouldn’t want me to be.”
Britt said his top concern during stressful times in his family life was his mother and sister.
"I didn’t care about myself,” Britt said. “I just wanted my mom and my sister to be happy.”
Lee credited Gormley and Northeast assistant coach Troy Gore with guiding Britt through difficult periods and leading the fight to restore his eligibility.
“They saw him through,” Lee said.
Lee said Britt is a different person since returning to the field.
"He was not himself,” Lee said. “It was like his dreams came crashing down. Now he gets up before my alarm clock goes off.
“I told him, ‘You fought through so much. Now you have to show what you were fighting for.’ ”
The 6-foot-1, 184-pound Britt is a strong and speedy left-hander. Since his return, he has thrown for 442 yards and run for 131, averaging 10.9 yards per carry.
By his own admission, Britt hasn’t been as sharp this season as he was in 2018, when he led Northeast to the Public League Class 6A title.
“I still have a long way ahead of me,” Britt said.
Gormley believes Britt is rounding into playing shape.
"It’s coming,” Gormley said of Britt’s return to form.
Gormley said the best thing about Britt’s return to action has nothing to do with the athlete’s impact on the field.
"My concern is getting him to the finish line, graduating high school and getting an opportunity to go to college,” Gormley said. “Football can do that for him.”
Despite his mom’s and Gormley’s version of events, Britt still insists he didn’t collapse in her arms that day in the hearing room at PIAA headquarters in Mechanicsburg. But he acknowledges he was overcome when the verdict went his way.
“It was a great feeling, having something good happen to me,” Britt said. “I didn’t have a lot of good things come my way in a long time.”