Luther Campbell wasn't sure he agreed with Larry Blustein, but he listened. Like most people who have been around the South Florida football scene for a while, Campbell, the former 2 Live Crew rapper, longtime Miami youth football organizer and onetime defensive coordinator at Miami Northwestern High, knew Blustein had seen more great football players at various stages of their development than just about anyone on the planet. Blustein began covering high school sports in 1970 as a student at North Miami High, and he'd witnessed the development of players from Ralph Ortega to Earl Little to Chad Johnson to Davin Joseph to Duke Johnson. So when Blustein expressed an opinion, he didn't do it lightly.
Blustein had watched a Northwestern practice a few years ago and asked Campbell why a young linebacker named Darius Redmond didn't have a more prominent role. "Larry," Campbell said, "he's still in development." Blustein told Campbell he had a future Division I player on his hands, and the guy wasn't getting enough playing time. After hearing Blustein's advice, Campbell reassessed Redmond and decided he agreed. Redmond blossomed into a star at Northwestern, and this past season he started as a true freshman at Kent State.
"It's like you're in The Matrix and talking to the Oracle," Campbell said. "Larry is the Oracle."
With the exception of his time as a student at UNLV and Central Florida, Blustein has covered high school sports -- identifying the best players and helping the under-the-radar ones get attention and scholarship offers -- since answering an ad in the now-defunct Miami News as a high school junior. He has helped hundreds of players earn scholarships and a chance to escape the pervasive poverty in some parts of Dade and Broward counties. Now, Blustein needs help.
More specifically, he needs a kidney. In 2004, Blustein was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, a condition that causes cysts to develop inside the kidneys. His kidney function gradually slipped over the years, but Blustein kept his condition to himself even as he ate and drank less because his body couldn't filter fast enough.
He still whipped around to high school football practices on weekdays each fall and tried to hit as many as 10 games on the weekends. Each spring, he still took a tour of the state of Florida so he could be well versed on the players from Orlando and Tampa and Jacksonville. He wrote for the Miami Herald as well as a prep sports website, and he hosted a weekly radio show that landed far better guests than its market and time slot would suggest because college coaches from Jimbo Fisher to Tommy Tuberville to Mike Leach all know that Blustein knows where all the good players are in South Florida, and they want to return the favor for the advice he's given them. All the while, Blustein worked a full-time job at the South Florida Sun-Times, a weekly newspaper that covers Hallandale Beach.
Blustein, 59, still does all that. He also has added online shows and spots on the local NBC affiliate. He still works 80-hour weeks, just as he always has. He went public with his condition earlier this year because time is running short. If he doesn't get a transplant soon, Blustein will have to settle for dialysis treatments that will take up four-hour blocks three days a week. He has to maintain the full-time job at the weekly to keep his health insurance, so the games and the practices would have to be sacrificed.
"I haven't missed a Friday night in 40 years," said Blustein, who will wrap the 2013 season this weekend by covering four state championship games for SFHighSchoolSports.com.
Wednesday night, Blustein's friends in the football community will host a benefit for him called "A Night For Blu" at Bokamper's in Miramar, Fla. The plan is to raise money to help with his medical bills, but Blustein hopes to turn the charitable organization created to help him into a fund to help educate and encourage others fighting kidney disease.
Blustein is hopeful he'll get a kidney before he has to go on dialysis. His blood type makes him a universal receiver, so he has a better chance of finding a donor than most.
One of the reasons Blustein went public with his condition is that he feels he has a platform to speak out and help others in his condition. "I speak on behalf of the Joe Schmoe who doesn't have anybody," Blustein said. "It's about finding people for organ donation -- not for me but for everyone."
Hopefully, Blustein will find that donor so he can keep doing what he loves. The players in South Florida are lucky to have an advocate like Blustein, who was one of the pioneers of college football recruiting coverage. The schools in Dade and Broward counties are so thick with talented players that even future pros can be in danger of falling through the cracks. Blustein scours the area to ensure that when he puts out a top-50 list, it's the best-researched and most complete top-50 list available.
If a college coach calls to ask about a particular player, Blustein might try to turn him onto a lesser-known player who might also be a good fit for the school. Before Rivals and Scout, there was Larry, and in a lot of ways he remains the superior service. While the recruiting networks use sites affiliated with each college to cover which players go where, Blustein has no college affiliation. He doesn't care where the players go to school. He only cares that they get a chance at a scholarship. His evaluations and coverage don't come with an angle.
"People ask, 'Do you like Florida or Miami?' I love them both," Blustein said. "Because they have guys I've covered since they were little kids." He's not kidding. So he would know which players to follow in high school, Blustein would watch youth league games on Saturday mornings. That's where he saw a young Asante Samuel playing for the Lauderdale Lakes Vikings. "His mother pushed him into the game," Blustein said of the eventual All-Pro cornerback. "He was crying. He takes the ball and goes 80 yards."
Blustein's recall is incredible. Upon learning I'd attended high school in suburban Orlando, he asked my age. Then, with no prompting and nary a glance at a smartphone, he asked if I remembered a DeLand High defensive end named Brian Stinson. How could I forget the lightning-quick first step that made for two miserable Friday nights in 1994 and '95? Stinson went on to play at Miami, but he wasn't a star. They don't need to be stars for Blustein to remember. He remembers them all. "He's a wealth of knowledge," said Roger Harriott, the head coach at University School in Davie, Fla. "He's an encyclopedia."
Asked to name the best high school player he's ever seen, Blustein gets sheepish -- probably because it's not a player from the Sunshine State. In the late '70s, a buddy of Blustein's told him he needed to see the running back from Wrightsville, Ga. "There's this kid," Blustein remembers his friend saying. "You're not going to believe it." So Blustein visited his friend, and they went to see Johnson County play Newnan. Herschel Walker, it turns out, was as good as advertised.
Blustein would know, because he's basically seen them all. And if he's lucky enough to find a donor, Blustein might help discover even more future stars.