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Young, Gifted & Homeless
12:27 | College Basketball
Young, Gifted & Homeless
Scooby Axson
Tuesday October 14th, 2014

There were nearly 1.3 million homeless children and teens enrolled in elementary, middle and high schools during the 2012-13 school year, according the U.S. Department of Education, which is a startling increase of 58 percent over the last six years.

But what happens when one of more than 100,000 students on U.S. youth, public school and college teams who have no stable place to live happens to be a gifted athlete, hiding secrets from friends, coaches and others while trying to maintain good grades and carry on a normal life - while also working to get noticed by college recruiters?

Sports Illustrated undertook a six-month investigation to look at the problem of homelessness among young athletes and found that many thrive after facing unbelievable obstacles.

SI talked to several athletes for this week's national cover story and all shared a story of embarrassment about their plight, a struggle to fit in despite the seemingly impossible circumstances and ultimately a bright future when all seemed lost.

Lost is exactly how Griffin Furlong felt last year when he arrived home in Jacksonville, Fla., with a U-Haul parked in front of the house he was staying at. Griffin's family had been out in and out of shelters and rental houses after his father lost his job in 2007. When funds ran out, the family found itself on the street.

Furlong tried to concentrate as a high school pitcher, but he worried where he would get his next meal. While his living situation continued to be in shambles, he had one thing to fall back on: his grades.

He graduated as valedictorian of First Coast High School in Jacksonville with a 4.65 GPA.

"I made the grades I do because once I was lost and had nothing," Furlong said.

Griffin is now at Florida State on a full-academic scholarship and hopes to land a NASA internship next summer. Florida State's baseball coach even invited him to walk-on, but his schedule is too full this year. Next year is always a possibility.

Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated

A 6-foot-5 inch basketball prospect, Isaiah Lamb and his parents found themselves crammed into a Hyundai Elantra and using a local laundromat not only to wash clothes and their bodies – Lamb also used it as his study hall.

"Many nights I would cry looking at him, because he was crunched up in the back (of the car)," Isaiah's mother, Valerie, said. "I would say, 'You all right?' He would say, 'I'm all right, Ma.'"

Valerie had to take time off from her job as an EMT after catching walking pneumonia, and Lamb's father, Donald, suffered a heart attack and could not go back to work as a maintenance man.

As SI's L. Jon Wertheim and Ken Rodriguez wrote, "then came a sequence all too familiar to many Americans, particularly during the recent recession: overdue notice, denied or unattainable credit, eviction, homelessness."

But the family's fortunes are starting to look up. The family is living in a house, and Isaiah is maintaining a B-plus average and made the school's honor society. He has offers from several Division-I schools.

"I guess you just need to remember, it's temporary," Isaiah said. "I'm not saying it's easy, but you can overcome it. You can get past being homeless."

For more on homeless athletes, check out this week's Sports Illustrated (subscribe here).

Also featured in this issue, Greg Bishop's look at the Dallas Cowboys surprising defense, a book excerpt from Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, and stories on outgoing MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and on Notre Dame as it prepares to take on second-ranked Florida State on Saturday.

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