Dayvia Gbor, Charles Wylie and Junior Kai grew up playing together in the Brooklyn Center Youth Football Association. While most of the other players on their youth team — one that flirted with state tournament berths — moved on to other schools, the three of them remained true to their roots and wound up as the core of the Brooklyn Center football program.
On Wednesday, the trio led a contingent of seven Centaurs who signed national letters of intent to play college football, the biggest signing class in school history. Gbor signed to play cornerback at Minnesota Duluth, Wylie will play wide receiver at Southwest Minnesota State and Kai will be a defensive back at Minnesota State Moorhead.
Four others will play at Minnesota community colleges. Dennis Williams, Rayshon Carr and Anthony Nyenati are heading to Itasca in Grand Rapids, and Wesley Hollie to Minnesota West in Worthington.
"The BYFA Minnesota Bulldogs," Gbor recalled, referring to his youth football days. "Us three were the only ones who decided to stay together. We always wanted to say that we were the class that did something special."
In Brooklyn Center terms, the 2017 team was special. It was the first football team from the school to finish with a record above .500 in nearly two decades.
"This group has been exceptional," said football coach John Licciardi, a 1999 Brooklyn Center graduate. "The purple tradition never went away. It feels like a rejuvenation of that Centaur blood."
For Wylie, Wednesday's signing was the payoff for having the discipline to avoid the pitfalls that ensnared many of his friends.
"I watched too many of them go down the wrong path," Wylie said. "I wanted to make a change and do something different. We're changing the culture around here."
Licciardi said events such as Wednesday's recognition ceremony go a long way in changing attitudes and building pride in the school.
"We're trying to build that culture of love and understanding, of hard work and perseverance," Licciardi said. "Things like this let everyone know we're on the [right] page, but we've still got a lot of work to do."
According to Gbor, the class of 2019 is already making noise about wanting to top last season.
"We've got guys calling us 'alumni' now and that they're going to do it better than us," Gbor said, laughing. "I said, 'Go ahead. Do that.' That was the point. We were a steppingstone."