Raphael Cherry is Centurians #18

HSB Note: “He got a retrial for improper jury behavior the first time. But the evidence, though circumstantial, was found both times as overwhelming. No eyewitnesses, but the facts screamed. Who else could’ve done it? So Raphel Cherry, University of Hawaii quarterback, 1981-84, remains in prison, perhaps for 20 more years. The man judged by a panel of media, coaches and players to be the 18th greatest football player in UH history is also a convicted murderer. Two juries in Arkansas found him guilty of killing one of the people he was supposed to love most. The murder left his young daughter motherless and put her father in prison.

BY ALL ACCOUNTS, he was one of the good guys. Raphel Jerome Cherry, star athlete at Washington High School in Los Angeles, came to Hawaii from a rough neighborhood — but also from a family of solid, working-class parents. Raphel was a fair to good student, and a phenomenal football player.”

About how Raphael could avoid defenders, George Lumpkin (who recruited him) said:
“When I first saw him, he was doing his thing, being Raphel. He was throwing the ball, making people miss. One of the best guys at making you miss. Raphel was just a great athlete. Thick, not like a typical quarterback. Thick in the thighs. Strong. Could probably play anything.” (HSB)

HSB Note: “I talked to three of his UH teammates, and Dana McLemore (a little older), Rich Miano (same age) and Kyle Mosley (a little younger) all said they liked and admired Cherry, and were all shocked to learn of the turn his life had taken.”

About Cherry, McLemore said he was:
“one of the most respectful young guys.” (HSB)

HSB Note: “Cherry earned esteem through quiet leadership. While other veterans found excuses to skip conditioning drills, the star quarterback was always in the front of the 24 sprints of 110 yards each.”

About Cherry’s leadership ability, Mosley said:
“I can’t say there was a better leader on the team. There were certain guys who just stood out and earned your respect. Not by words or threats but by how they went about their business. The coaches couldn’t dictate who those guys were, they just rose to the top. For me, guys like Brian Derby, Dana McLemore, Darryl Williams, Ron Pennick, Tim Lyons and Raphel stood out because they did things the right way. Not necessarily the most talented players on the field, but they put in the work during practice and offseason and played the game the right way.” (HSB)

HSB Note: “But Cherry was among the most gifted, and that’s what made his work ethic stand out. The coaches loved him too. Lumpkin, Dick Tomey and June Jones all felt the same way. There may be someone who had negative thoughts about the Raphel Cherry who was in Hawaii from 1981 to 1984, but I haven’t found that person.”

About Cherry’s work ethic, George Lumpkin said:
“He was smart, worked hard and was determined to be the best that he could be. A good person, quiet.” (HSB)

About how Cherry was excited to watch when he played for UH, UH fan Mike Hildenbrand said:
“What I remember is excitement, every time he touched the ball the potential of something big happening, by air or land. He was swivel-hipped. Every time he took the snap it was like watching a pinball machine.” (HSB)

About how Cherry was quiet off the field, Rich Miano (his roomate for 2 years) said:
“He drank a little, but no drugs. A good kid, not a recluse, but quiet.” (HSB)

HSB Note: “AS A FRESHMAN, he was a sparingly used running back. Then he backed up Bernard Quarles for a year. By 1983, Cherry was ready. And just the right guy for him came to town — June Jones. Tomey let Jones open up the offense, and Cherry’s talents were on full display. He smashed the school record for total offense and accounted for an unprecedented 26 touchdowns. The Rainbows went just 5-5-1. But the entire state eagerly anticipated what Cherry might do as a senior. This strong, fast and elusive ballcarrier could also throw the “Cherry Bomb,” on the run or from the pocket.”

HSB Note: “Unfortunately for UH, the rare disappointment came against BYU — first when Cherry was collared at the goal line by the Cougars’ Kyle Morrell, in a play that BYU reveres to this day, saying it saved the Cougars’ national championship. Then, late in the game, Walter Murray failed to catch a pass that would’ve given Hawaii the win and perhaps changed everything. Some say it was a drop, some say a bad throw. Either way, the Rainbows didn’t get it done. Hawaii went 7-4 and 5-2 for second in the WAC.”

About a play against Utah in 1984, which he calls the signature play of Cherry’s UH career, Dick Tomey said:
“It wasn’t a pass, it wasn’t a run. He took a sack instead of throwing a ball away, because he felt the pressure coming from his blindside. It was a completely unselfish play. He took an unprotected hit and protected the ball rather than try to throw the ball and probably fumble. That play won us the game.” (HSB)

HSB Note: “It is a play a true quarterback makes. But in those days, very few blacks were considered candidates to be quarterbacks in the NFL. Cherry was drafted by the Redskins as a safety. I wondered then and I wonder now. Cherry outplayed another black quarterback, UNLV’s Randall Cunningham, the two times they matched up. Cunningham played quarterback in the league for a long time, and last I heard lives in a very big house. Meanwhile, Cherry lives in the big house.”

HSB Note: “A quarter century ago, coverage of the NFL was not what it is today. We know Cherry does well on the field that first year, even getting some all-rookie notice. Despite a rep as a hard hitter, he plays just three seasons, finishing with the Lions in 1988. It is around this time that Cherry, now with some money — and perhaps some bad choices in new friends — develops a taste for the nightlife. As the years go by, he continues to stay in touch with friends from Hawaii, including Miano and Tomey. But eventually, the calls stop coming and contact is lost.”

About how he’s surprised that Cherry is in prison for murder, Miano said:
“I would never have anticipated Raphel Cherry in jail for a violent crime.” (HSB)

About how he was saddened to hear the news about Cherry, Lumpkin said:
“There were drugs and gangs in his area when he was a kid. He avoided it then. He avoided it in college. It was by far the worst news I’d ever gotten about a former player. And especially because it was Raphel.” (HSB)

About how the NFL didn’t have their annual symposium for rookies back when Cherry entered the NFL, Tomey said:
“In college football the environment has plenty of people who are there to watch out for you, to nurture you, who care about you. The NFL didn’t do any of that when he was a rookie. The NFL does a better job of that now. Raphel might have benefited from something like that.” (HSB)

About Cherry, Tomey said:
“You don’t want all your guys to be All-Americans or All-Pros. You want them to live happy, healthy lives and be good citizens. I just pray that the young man that I knew will come through all of this and will be reborn and get a chance to live his final days in peace.” (HSB)



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