Millwood’s Antwine ready for next step
Millwood defensive tackle Israel Antwine will not let autism keep him from reaching his goal of playing college football.
Crumpled and yellowing, the notebook paper taped to the walls of Israel Antwine’s room could be the thoughts of just about any high school kid.
Aspirations to earn a college scholarship, dreams of being named a captain on the football team and the perfect plan to land a dream girlfriend are spelled out in large looping handwriting that spans across more than a half-dozen pages.
Israel’s lists not only plot out his ideal life, but also the mantra he’s come to live by.
I am explosive. I am the strongest. I am powerful.
These are the words he says every night before going to sleep, before he slips on a huge, silver cross necklace and tucks his size 17 shoes under his desk.
“As I say this night by night, my mind starts to process what I’m saying,” Antwine says looking at his wall of writings.
“It helps you focus on your goals.” Israel’s dad Dwayne chimes in.
“Yeah. This helps me focus on my goals so that they will come true,” Israel finishes.
Many of these goals have long since been accomplished as Israel has starred on the defensive line for Millwood High School for the past three seasons, but a few are just now about to be crossed off.
This Sunday, Israel will announce where he plans to play football in college. The 6-foot-4, 295pound defensive tackle is in high demand, a threestar recruit with offers from blue blood programs around the country.
Israel will choose between Colorado and Oklahoma State on Sunday and he says he feels ready to take the next step. For Israel’s father Dwayne, he feels like a nervous wreck.
He watches his son with a keen eye, always
ready to jump in with a prompt to get him talking or advice about what he should do in a specific situation.
“Israel is a bit different,” Dwayne, 51, says. “He’s really not your typical teenager.” Israel has autism. More than 3.5 million Americans have the complex developmental condition. Experts estimate that 1 in 68 kids are born with symptoms on the autism spectrum. That number is even greater in boys.
Israel is considered to be high functioning on the spectrum. He has good grades in school taking a regular slate of courses and isn’t overwhelmed with crowds or loud, wild environments.
Where Israel’s autism manifests is in social situations, when his lockedon-focus can sometimes make him seem checked out or uninterested.
But Israel is always listening. He is always paying attention to his surroundings and hyperaware that you might see him differently.
“Anybody asking me questions about myself and who I am, I’m all right with that,” Israel says. •••
Growing up, there were few cartoons at the Antwine house. Instead, Israel watched Billy Blanks Tae Bo tapes as his morning entertainment.
There was something about the rhythm and movement of the workouts that soothed him.
Even as a toddler, Israel was a big boy. Sometimes strangers would mistake him for being twice his age and comment to Dwayne that he was too old to be acting like a baby, crying in public and yelling for what he wanted.
“He’s three,” Dwayne would say then to end the unprompted comments. “He’s just doesn’t look it.”
But soon Dwayne and Israel’s mother, Carmencita McConnell, noticed he was having a hard time adjusting around kids his own age. Israel often felt like he was being teased or picked on when in a large group setting.
“Something would happen or someone would be sarcastic and tell a joke that caused everybody to laugh,” Dwayne said. “If Israel didn’t catch it, he thought they were laughing at him.”
And when Israel feels like he’s being teased, he begins to get upset.
Another core element of autism is when social difficulties lead to feelings of frustration, confusion and anxiety which result in responses like aggression, according to autism Speaks, a autism advocacy organization.
While the rate of autism in the U.S. is on the rise, very little is still known about how the condition develops.
Experts say the stigma surrounding autism can cause parents to shy away from seeking a diagnosis or treatment for their child.
Dwayne was determined to learn all he could to help give his son a better life.
As Israel got older, the need for an outlet for his physicality became more apparent to Dwayne. Israel fought back when picked on and that often meant Dwayne needed to pay for a few dentist bills or doctor visits of other kids.
“When he retaliates in a situation, it never looks just,” Dwayne says. “He’s so much bigger and stronger than everyone else that it was dangerous sometimes.”
By the time Israel started middle school, the two were hitting the gym every day to try and burn off any penned up feelings Israel was hiding.
They developed a check-in system where Dwayne would look at Israel to see how things were going in a given situation.
“Anybody bugging you right now?” Dwayne would ask. “I need to know who’s getting on his nerves so I can help him through it.”
Autism experts stress the importance of finding activities to stimulate a child with aggressive tendencies.
Studies show that children who show high levels of physical aggression during the elementary school years are at greatest risk of physical violence during adolescence and adulthood.
Dwayne wanted to find a way to channel Israel's aggression.
Starting at the age of 5, Israel started playing football. Pee Wee coaches always questioned his age, telling Dwayne there was no way he was as a young as he said.
Dwayne and McConnell divorced while Israel was still in elementary school. While the two
shared custody, Dwayne took the more active role in Israel's life when it came to dealing with his autism and football.
Before Israel’s freshman season, Dwayne moved to a house near Millwood High School. There he would try out and make the team to play for coach Darwin Franklin.
Franklin said the first thing he noticed about Izzy, as he's known by his teammates and coaches, was how his demeanor changed from the laid back kid off the field, to all business once the pads went on.
"He is an absolute pleasure off the field," Franklin said. "Once he straps it up, he's a beast."
One thing that everybody around Israel talks about is his intensity on the field. Starting from the about an hour before kickoff, the change in Israel is striking.
“If you want someone that will sing and dance to fire up the team, that’s not Israel,” Dwayne says. “You want someone who’s gonna play? He’s your guy.”
His smile fades, he begins to bounce on the balls of his feet in anticipation and when it comes time to hit people, he unleashes.
“I like going up against two guys instead of just one usually,” Israel says. “Makes me feel unstoppable.”
Franklin says it took awhile for Israel to fit in with his teammates. His quiet demeanor off the field was sometimes at odds with often raucous environment of a high school football locker room.
“Izzy has such a quiet demeanor but he is absolutely intense on the field,” Franklin said. “It took some time to develop some trust with us as coaches that we have his son’s best interest at heart.”
Where Israel is most comfortable is in his weekend trips to the movie theater. If you can think of an action movie that’s come out in the past decade, chances are Israel not only knows it but can recap it for you.
He’s developed a fondness for comic book movies especially. He loves watching the superheroes of Marvel and DC do battle, good vs. evil.
Israel's favorite superhero is The Hulk, the gigantic green rage monster who is a normal man until provoked. He says he identifies with the character.
But if truth be told, Israel might actually identify more with The Hulk’s counterpart, Bruce Banner, the man who constantly battles with his feelings and tries to channel the frustration he feels within to do good.
“Football has definitely helped me take most of my anger out on the field,” Israel says. “I get to let all of my anger out that I've been just holding in and that really is a game changer.”
Dwayne adds that Israel is a happier person now.
“You used to need that anger to play well, remember?” Dwayne asks.
“Yeah, but now I’m more focused,” Israel says nodding his head. “Now I can just play angry instead of actually being angry.”
Israel’s size and speed has attracted coaches from all over the country. He originally committed to Ole Miss, but after the controversy surrounding the departure of head coach Hugh Freeze, Israel decided to look elsewhere.
Dwayne said he's concerned about whether or not the program Israel chooses will be accommodating of his autism.
He’s struggled with whether to be up front with schools about it, for fear that coaches would suddenly stop showing interest.
“We know of a couple schools who aren’t interested because of the autism,” Dwayne said. “I love my son and I want the best for him. So those schools obviously weren’t the right place for him.”
The sacrifices Dwayne has made to make life as normal as possible for Israel can’t be understated.
He works odd hours flipping houses so he can be available to help Israel train and to be there at practice and games.
And he is prepared to move out of the state should Israel pick a school outside of Oklahoma.
“My son is the most important person to me,” Dwayne says as he watches Israel during a recent Millwood practice. “It’s been an incredibly long journey. But I love that kid more than anything.”
Israel is grateful for the early morning workouts and the late-night talks, the advice about not only football but life, school and girls.
“It’s because he loves and cares for me,” Israel says. “He’s been there every step of the way.”
When picking his schools, Dwayne asked Israel to make another list to pin to his wall.
This list should include exactly what he wants out of college.
Here is Israel’s list: 1. Assistance in getting to the NFL
2. A friendly atmosphere
3. A place my dad wouldn’t mind living
Dwayne isn’t scared about the future of his son, he knows it’s as bright as can be.
Sitting in their living room, Dwayne says he’s worried like any normal parent would be about sending his kid off to college. Questioning himself about whether he prepared his son well or if he's going to be happy and successful.
But Israel steps in with the answer this time.
“I’m a little nervous,” Israel said about going to college. “But I’m ready.”
Dwayne sits back in his arm chair while looking at his son and smiles.
Israel needed no prompting with that answer.
Dwayne Antwine, greets his son, Israel Antwine, a defensive tackle at Millwood High School after practice.
Israel Antwine, defensive tackle at Millwood High School, walks home after practice.