Football is life

A season on the edge with the CA Johnson High football team

The StateNovember 28, 2012 

Two wins, two deaths, love, hope, trust, redemption and, for some, being a part of a family for the first time.
top | the coach | the school | the leader | short stories | the role models | the teacher | the survivor | the alumnus | the adversity | the biggest heart | the contrast | the roster
Video: Football is Life
Photojournalist Gerry Melendez produced this video exploring the tight weave of CA Johnson Academy students' personal lives and their identity as football players.
'i believe'
There were more downs than ups for the
CA Johnson football team, but forming a family was an amazing accomplishment
Jerry Jackson lines up his team after practice. His goal is to make better men of his players. "They have to learn not to take the path of least resistance," he said. Always have that fighting spirit."

Jerry Jackson's football coaching career had come to a crossroads. He sat in his 1998 Dodge Caravan in the spring of 2004 and watched as a couple of red lights cycled through at the corner of Chestnut Street and Barhamville Road, the intersection that frames CA Johnson High School.

Jackson's 21st season as an assistant high school coach in South Carolina had not gone so well, and it had nothing to do with the fact CA Johnson did not win any of its eight games.

His frustration had everything to do with a lack of commitment at every turn to the football program. Two games that season were cancelled because CA Johnson could field a mere 15 players. Never had Jackson dealt with a fluctuating roster, players joining the team from one week to the next or dropping from the lineup without notice. He found most CA Johnson players to be lacking in discipline. Support from home was minimal.

"I got depressed," Jackson said.

"Coming from Fairfield (Central High)," he continued, "we had been there and established a program. Jerry Brown came in and got the program going, then Buddy Pough came in and took it to another level. We won a couple of championships. The kids had gotten in the habit of working hard and not missing practice and things."

Jackson paused as he stood eight years later at that same corner of Chestnut and Barhamville, this time in his fourth season as CA Johnson's head coach. Then he continued.

"You get over here and it's just the opposite," he said. "You can't get them to practice, and they have an apathetic attitude about practicing football and the amount of work that it takes to get it done.

"It was two different mindsets. It was just overwhelming."

Jackson was headed to church services that Sunday morning in 2004. It was as if his mini-van -- like his career, for that matter -- was stuck in park, unable to pull through the intersection and down the block to the Progressive Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jackson said he heard a voice.

"You need to be here," Jackson said God told him. "That's why I've got you here."

From that day forward, Jackson stopped complaining about his situation. He stopped bemoaning the shortcomings of his job. He no longer pleaded with the administration for help.

Jackson said he realized his calling was at CA Johnson.

"God directs our path, regardless of what we say we're going to do with our lives," he said. "He puts us in situations where we can either work those situations out or let them go to rest.

"We are put in situations to see if we can help somebody or be an example for them. We won't have an effect on everybody here, but a lot of people here we have some positive effect on them.

"We supply them love."

That love was never in short supply throughout the 2012 season, one that started in mid-August with 18 players at the first practice and concluded in early November with 24 players for the final game.

In between, Jackson and his assistant coaches went about teaching more than the fundamentals of football. Those coaches -- like the CA Johnson administration and the faculty -- recognize that this is not just about teaching a group of young men how to play football and then saying OK, 'See you later,' at the end of the game. This is about affecting those players' lives, beginning during the season and perhaps lasting forever.

CA Johnson's Caesar Nieto leads the team as it makes its way onto the field for their game against Pelion.

Coaching at CA Johnson is about forming a family within the team, a family that can trust one another even in the most challenging of situations, a family that learns to respect and trust other male figures. For some, being on the football team means being part of a family for the first -- and perhaps last -- time in their lives.

It was a season in which CA Johnson dealt with far more downs than ups. It won only two games. It made the postseason playoffs for only the ninth time since integration of the schools in 1970.

The older sister of one player died of sickle cell anemia and the younger brother of another was killed when he was struck by a truck. Team members learned to hug one another and march off the field arm in arm no matter the game's outcome.

Before and after every practice, and before and after every game, Jackson huddled his team and asked that each member touch another. In unison, he asked them to chant one phrase that had nothing to do with performing well on the field or calling for a good outcome in a game.

"One! Two! Three!" Jackson shouted.

"I believe!" The team answered.

the coach
First comes trust, then comes tough love as Jerry Jackson becomes a father-figure for his team
Jerry Jackson gathers his team for a prayer after a tough loss in the opening game of the season. Jackson uses every win and loss as an opportunity to teach. 'Football mirrors life,' he said. 'Life's going to deal you some hard blows, but you can never give up.'

Opening night did not go well at Bolden Stadium. Brookland-Cayce took it out on outmanned CA Johnson. The outcome was not totally unexpected because Brookland-Cayce is a Class 2-A school and CA Johnson competes at the lowest level of the South Carolina High School League.

What was unexpected to Jerry Jackson, CA Johnson's fourth-year head coach, was what he perceived to be a willingness to give up once the score tilted far into Brookland-Cayce's favor.

Jackson can handle the losing part. CA Johnson has produced only five winning teams over the past 43 seasons since integration shifted many of the best athletes to the previously white schools in Columbia. It was the lack of fight that had Jackson pacing in the locker room minutes after the game.

"The demeanor that you were whipped can't happen," Jackson said in a matter-of-fact manner. He was getting warmed up. The longer he talked, the more vocal he got, and the more animated he became.

"When (Brookland-Cayce) gets back home," he said, "they ought to put up a Christmas tree with all the gifts we gave them."

Then, in a move that seemed to catch his team by surprise, Jackson began singing an old black spiritual hymn. Jackson is no Louis Armstrong, but he had the players' attention as he wailed "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen."

He said he would not tolerate the hanging of heads on his football team. It was a teachable moment for Jackson, a chance to let his players know dealing with adversity on the football field is simliar to doing the same in life.

In three days, his players would attend their first day of class, and Jackson wanted them to know he and his staff would be intently watching. Adhere to the school's dress code. No low pants. No missed classes. Be on time. No flip-flops.

"Any violation and you owe me a mile," Jackson said.

To the juniors and seniors on the team, most of whom come from single-parent families, Jackson long ago was recognized as a father-figure. To the freshmen and sophomores, the 58-year-old father of two was establishing that relationship.

Coach Jackson yells out to his players during their playoff game against Christ Church. Jackson's main goal is that the players will take the lessons they learn on the field and become productive citizens when they leave Johnson. 'Life is the end of the story,' he said. 'Success in spite of life's circumstances.'

"First of all, we supply the love, and then we have to nurture them," Jackson said. "When I first came here, the trust factor was low. You have to build that. They don't trust any male figure. They have to see that I will treat them just as if they were one of my children. Then you have to have tough love. It's a fine line to walk."

Jackson is the perfect role model. He and his wife, Marvin, recently celebrated their 39th anniversary. He counts 28 years of coaching, mostly as an assistant at various stops around South Carolina. The stability of his job and his middle-class lifestyle make him wildly successful in the eyes of his players, many of whom live in poverty.

At any time, Jackson can relate his life story as an example of what the CA Johnson young men should strive for in their lives. Reared in a traditional family in rural Mississippi, Jackson's parents stressed the importance of education as the path to prosperity.

Jackson and his two brothers all attended college, and he was the first to graduate, earning a degree from Mississippi Valley State University where he played football and met his future wife.

Life was not without adversity for Jackson. When he was 15, his family's home in Newton, Miss., was destroyed by Hurricane Camille. At age 27, Jackson and his wife were returning home to Newton when a drunk driver crossed the center lane and struck their car head-on. Jackson remained in traction for 48 hours. He still walks with a limp.

Beyond the physical injuries to Jackson and his wife, the car crash proved life-changing. From that day forward, Jackson has yearned to set an example for young men and pass along the life lessons he has learned.

His coaching career in South Carolina kicked off in 1984 at Denmark-Olar High, then shifted to Fairfield Central High from 1998 to 2003. He has found a home at CA Johnson ever since, saying he believes that is where he can have the biggest impact on young men.

Jackson's office at CA Johnson can be accessed from two doors, and both remain open whenever he sits behind his desk. As players filter into the locker room before practices and games, they are required to stick their head into his office and, at the least, offer a hello.

The admiration the players have for their head coach likely is most evident in the competition to see who can do the best impersonations of Jackson. On this team, the best are done by junior Reginald Carter and senior Anthony Eaddy.

Upon prompting, Eaddy will drop his voice a couple of octaves to match that of Jackson and roll right into, "We've been practicing Martin Luther King Jr. tactics: Non-violence. That had its place, but not on a football field."

Jackson, of course, knows of the players' behind-his-back antics. He also recognizes that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and if his players learn to imitate the way he lives his life, he will continue to be a successful coach at CA Johnson.

the school
Wearing the green and yellow of CA Johnson High with pride -- in academics as well as athletics
Children look on as CA Johnson huddles prior to the start of the game against Brookland-Cayce at Bolden Stadium.

Peter Goodman spreads 170 pounds over a 6-foot-2 frame. His lithe body helps make Goodman an outstanding basketball player as well as a track and field standout. His raw athleticism also helped account for an occasional spectacular play on the CA Johnson football field.

So, it was no surprise to see Goodman break free and race 87 yards on the opening kickoff against Eau Claire at Bolden Stadium. Scoring touchdowns and making big plays is extra special for Goodman, who grew up across the street from the stadium and a few blocks from CA Johnson.

Goodman's father, James, is a preacher at Greater Faith Temple in Winnsboro. His mother, Yolonda, is a college graduate who worked for years at Benedict College. Together, they raised a couple of boys who dreamed of being star athletes at CA Johnson.

Jonathan came first and he played quarterback for the Green Hornets. He now attends Orangeburg Prep. Then came Peter, who, like his brother, never had to ride a bus to nearby Watkins-Nance Elementary School and W.A. Perry Middle School before getting to CA Johnson.

Goodman says there is an extraordinary pride that bubbles throughout the community that surrounds CA Johnson. It is a pride that appears to be rooted in the school having a nearly all-black enrollment.

Prior to the integration of public schools in the early 1970s, CA Johnson and Booker T. Washington were the two black high schools in Columbia. Booker T. Washington was closed after integration, and CA Johnson has waved the flag for historically black schools in Columbia since.

Senior Tarik Pryor is crowned Homecoming King by principal Nathan White during halftime of the game against McBee.

The pride Goodman speaks about is evident when a visitor approaches the school, which is less than a mile from Palmetto Health Richland hospital. The grounds are beautifully manicured, the old structure's facade blending perfectly with the newer buildings in the rear. Inside, the wood floors are polished and the windows sparkle.

It is not what one normally would expect from a school whose district lines form a border primarily of government housing units. Allen and Benedict form one side of the district lines, but those colleges must seem many miles away to the students who attend CA Johnson with the sole aspiration of graduating from high school.

Only 53 percent of CA Johnson students accomplish that, according to the 2012 South Carolina Annual School Report Card. Eighty-seven percent of the 433 students receive government subsidized meals.

Upon entering principal Nathan White's office, the visitor gets the impression that CA Johnson will some day soon graduate every student, and the day is not far off when every student will aspire to attend college.

"All we're trying to do is give these kids some exposure to the opportunities that are out there," says the 53-year-old White, who is in his third year as principal. "I've been to a lot of places, and CA Johnson is a wonderful place to be in this community."

There are signs everywhere that CA Johnson is turning a corner. The 66 seniors of 2012 represented the largest graduating class since 2008. Studio art, biology and statistics classes were added this school year to increase student achievement. The arts building and gymnasium at the rear of the complex are state of the art.

What gets White, administrators, teachers and students most excited, though, is the addition this school year of a health sciences magnet. Students now can choose five different paths -- health science, health informatics, biomedical research and technology, food science and dietetics, as well as sports and fitness management -- to be introduced to potential fields of study or work.

Nearly 300 students joined the program this school year.

"You can't get too much education, no matter what form it may take, whether it's in the formal setting we have here or some type of training," White says. "There is always something more you can get that can take you to the next level.

"Education is the way. That's always been the thing for African-American males and females. I can't think of a family in this nation, anywhere, that won't echo that same message. That is your way out and the way to go about it to find what you want to do."

White says it also is important to develop a sense of pride in their surroundings, particularly in their school. All students are required to know the school song and recite the school pledge. Following each football game, the team stands at attention in front of the band that plays the school's alma mater.

"There is a lot of pride here. It's a beautiful school, a beautiful school, unlike most inner-city schools you will see," says White, who came out of the stands at one game this season to confront an assistant coach who was wearing a purple hat on the sideline.

White had the coach remove the hat because only the green and yellow of CA Johnson High School can be worn -- with pride -- on the sideline.

the leader
Anthony Eaddy dropped the game-winning TD pass, but his teammates were there to pat him on the back
On most days during the football season, Anthony Eaddy was the last player to leave the CA Johnson locker room. He took it upon himself to sweep the floor and make sure everything was in order. 'You don't have to ask, with players like him,' said coach Jackson. 'He just does it.'

By season's end, Anthony Eaddy would lead CA Johnson with 39 pass receptions for 833 yards and nine touchdowns. From his cornerback position on defense, Eaddy would contribute 55 tackles, three interceptions and one fumble recovery.

Over the course of the season Eaddy proved to be one of CA Johnson's most valuable players, certainly one of its toughest because he loved contact, whether administering or receiving hits.

The coaching staff also trusted Eaddy, one of its captains and a senior leader. It trusted Eaddy enough to send him on a "stick" route late in the game against Keenan with CA Johnson trailing, 13-6. Before the snap from the Keenan 15-yard-line, Eaddy positioned himself in the tight end slot and ran a 5-yard route.

At that point, Eaddy was instructed to read the defender and either whirl to the outside or head directly for the end zone. Eaddy read the defender perfectly and headed up field. By the time Eaddy reached the end zone, quarterback Michael Knox had delivered the pass to his target.

Eaddy, a senior captain, was the first to comfort senior Isaiah Crearer after the team's loss to Keenan.

Eaddy dropped the ball. By the time it hit the ground, CA Johnson's chance at its first win of the season had disappeared. Had a shovel been available, Eaddy would have dug a hole. He had let his teammates down. He had failed his family. He was devastated.

What happened next might have defined CA Johnson's season.

Teammates rushed to Eaddy's side. They picked him up and escorted him back to the huddle for what would be a failed fourth-down attempt at scoring. They patted him on the back. They tapped his helmet.

"That's what you call developing leadership," coach Jerry Jackson said a couple of days later. "I didn't have to go over there and console them. The team rallied around him. They ought to be dejected, but they were not distraught. You don't want to lose, but you need to recognize the strides we've made."

Eaddy and his teammates were fast learning what it meant to have a family of brothers who had one another's backs. Eaddy would later break down in tears on the sideline at both his final home game and CA Johnson's last game of the season, sure signs that family is important to him.

Eaddy is the youngest of five children to L.C. and Mable Eaddy. L.C. had a fourth-grade education but still managed to put in 25 years for the Marriott Corp. in Maryland before moving the family to Columbia in 1991. He worked with the City of Columbia's water maintenance department for six years, then with Lowe's for another six.

Then L.C. died of cancer in 2004, leaving Mable to continue raising the three boys who remained at home.

"Coming up," Mable said as she ate lunch recently at a Waffle House restaurant, "you see all these women with babies by different dads. I promised God I would be married to one man and one man only. I said until death do us part, and it came true. I was faithful."

L.C. had no life insurance, and $8,000 of the $10,000 left in his 401K plan went to his funeral services. So Mable, a homemaker until her husband's death, sought employment and has worked the past year or so as a housekeeper for a Columbia nursing home.

Until May, Mable's $8.75-an-hour job helped her make ends meet, along with help from her boyfriend, Andrew Martin, who owns Martin's Garage on Farrow Road. It is not easy to make the $620 monthly rent at Autumn Ridge Apartments off St. Andrews Road and provide for Anthony.

Offensive coordinator Brian Baumgardner celebrates with Eaddy after his touchdown against McBee, a game the Hornets dominated.

"I know a lot of these young girls, they live on welfare," Mable says. "But they could do better. You will never get on your feet because you are always depending on the system. You've got to work to take care of your own kids."

The determination Mable has demonstrated in supporting her family has permeated Anthony's mindset, and he is certain he will be the first in his family to graduate from college.

Eaddy is heavily involved in youth activities at Eau Claire Baptist Church. He also quickly latched onto CA Johnson's first-year health sciences magnet program, which includes pathways such as health science and sports and fitness management. Eaddy wants to be a nurse, and proudly wears his green scrubs to school on the assigned day each week.

Most days, Eaddy was the last player to leave the CA Johnson locker room, both after practice and following games. Eaddy took it upon himself to sweep the room clean of ankle tape and dirty socks.

It was a daily reminder for Eaddy of what life holds for him if he does not get his education.

short stories
A pair of mighty-mite receivers and a brainy quarterback help form 'a good group of kids'
Quarterback Michael Knox and teammates rest inside a baseball dugout during halftime of the game against Ben Lippen.

CA Johnson's first play from scrimmage was a portent of things to come. The snap from center sailed over the head of quarterback Michael Knox and by the time he picked up the ball, he could not scramble out of the end zone.

It was a safety. Pelion's lead reached 16-0, then 30-16 by halftime and finally, mercifully, the game ended with CA Johnson on the short end of a five-touchdown decision. It could have been worse, but Pelion coach Ben Freeman was not going to embarrass his old friend, coach Jerry Jackson.

Even in defeat, however lopsided, Jackson is rarely -- if ever -- embarrassed, and he certainly was not on this night. His team took a few steps backward, for sure. There was finger-pointing like Jackson had not seen in previous losses.

Caesar Nieto and Michael Thompson embrace after the win over McBee.

But when Jackson boarded the bus for the 30-minute ride back to Columbia, he still loved his team. Four weeks into the season and Jackson loved the way his seniors were setting the tone for the entire team by demanding "yes, sir" and "no, sir" answers, calling out unruly teammates in practice and making certain all players adhered to team-ordered rules at school.

"I really like this group of kids," was a familiar refrain of Jackson's from early in preseason drills through the first month of the season.

It is difficult not to like a group that includes a pair of mighty mite receivers, 5-foot-4 junior Reginald Carter and 5-foot-3 sophomore Ikeheem Anthony. Withholding them from the team the previous season, Jackson insisted that both beef up to at least 100 pounds before they would be issued uniforms.

"It would have been coaching malpractice if I played those two boys last year," Jackson said with a laugh. Carter gained nine pounds to reach 107. Anthony ballooned by 10 pounds to reach 105.

Perhaps only at CA Johnson does the head coach have to deal with such particulars. One hour prior to the season-opening game against Brookland-Cayce, a sheepish, baby-faced ninth-grader, Da'Teron Johnson, asked permission from Jackson to use his cell phone in the locker room.

Jackson relented so Johnson could call his aunt to make certain she would be in attendance at the game. "Like Linus, he needs that security blanket," Jackson said.

Starting quarterback Michael Knox, a junior, established himself as the team's leader early in the season by virtue of his knowledge of the offense, the confident manner in which he carried himself and his ability to direct the unit from the field.

Knox's aptitude for tucking the ball and running, as well as heaving passes 40 to 50 yards down field, made him a dual-threat rarely seen at the Class A level of high school football. But he could be confounding as well, according to the coaches, who early on forced him to wear a play sheet on his wristband because he occasionally forgot the play signaled from the sideline.

This was the same Michael Knox, coaches confirmed, who once was kicked out of a practice in middle school for -- yes, it's true -- wearing a headset under his helmet.

When coaches became frustrated with Knox, which was not often, they turned the offense over to Charles Mallory, whose four touchdown passes in CA Johnson's junior varsity win over Pelion earned him more playing time.

With a 4.5 grade-point average, Mallory ranked second in the sophomore class. When teammates killed time between pregame meals and kickoffs by listening to music, Mallory often sidled up to fellow sophomore Caesar Nieto -- the sophomore class leader with a 5.0 GPA -- to study.

Mallory also kept a notebook full of goals for his life, the first of which was to maintain a 4.0 GPA through four years of high school.

Another player with a more worldly view of life approached Jackson in the preseason with the unusual request to leave practice daily after the first hour of workouts. It turns out that he worked locally to help support his mother and sister who live in a Columbia homeless shelter.

Then there was senior defensive back Isaiah Crearer and his older brother, assistant coach O'Shea Poole. After games, they picked up some fast food and headed home.

By 10:45 p.m., they were seated in their living room where Mom, Linda Harvey, was prepared to begin breaking down film as she has done for years following every CA Johnson game.

the role models
Junior chapter of Concerned Black Men helps steer at-promise students away from the street gangs
Jimmie Wright, the school's site intervention coordinator, heads the junior chapter of Concerned Black Men. For the past three years he has organized weekly meetings for CA Johnson students, including several from the football team. Wright believes his life was changed forever through having a mentor at a young age when his father was killed in Vietnam. 'If these guys fail, it's our fault because they are looking for direction,' he said. 'We have to lead by example, be consistent with our example and the more we're consistent they'll follow.'

CA Johnson came out firing on all cylinders. Quarterback Michael Knox hit receiver Anthony Eaddy on "83 slant" for a 50-yard touchdown strike, then a few minutes later Knox scrambled out of the pocket, reversed field and went 9 yards for a touchdown.

CA Johnson, a team without a win and without much hope against the private school Ben Lippen, found itself with a 12-0 lead as the first quarter neared an end. Then everything seemed to fall apart, and Ben Lippen eventually built a 25-point lead.

After the post-game handshakes and the traditional playing of the school's alma mater by the CA Johnson marching band, coach Jerry Jackson gathered his team on the Ben Lippen field for a few harsh and pointed words.

"We got up on these people and we had them buried. Then we let them rise from the dead," Jackson said. "I can't sugarcoat this. We have to look circumstances in the face and say, 'It's me. I'm going to correct what I'm doing.' . . . Everybody has to look at themselves and say, 'I can do things better to help this team.' "

Preseason practices and the opening five weeks of the season had been a building process for the CA Johnson team, and for its assistant coaches. Not just anyone can coach at CA Johnson, as assistants Brian Baumgardner, La'Sondrick Bridges, Mike Brown, Don Harrell, Eric Jones and O'Shea Poole learned.

The coaches had to understand and accept their roles as mentors to these young men. Most of the players were being reared in an environment void of male role models. Most were forever in search of a trust with other males, whether it be teammates, coaches, administrators or counselors.

Charles Mallory laughs as members of the team participate in a Concerned Black Men meeting. The discussion revolved around manhood. 'Do you consider yourself a male, a boy, a young man or a man?' asked Jimmie Wright.

"We, as coaches here and administrators here, and certainly me as a man, I want to try to affect change that they can take with them in their family life," Jackson said. "It would be an example for them.

"Life deals you hard blows. As a man, you've got to step up to the challenge. You can't quit. Hopefully, the examples these coaches and administrators are teaching them will have far-reaching effects in their lives outside of football, not in wins and losses but in life."

Jackson's message could just as easily have been coming from the principal's office, from the teacher's lounge or from the guidance office. Or, it could have been coming from the office of Jimmie Wright, the school's site intervention coordinator and national secretary of the Concerned Black Men organization.

Wright heads the junior chapter of Concerned Black Men, and for the past three years has organized weekly meetings for CA Johnson students, including several from the football team. The idea is to help steer at-promise -- not at-risk, according to Wright -- students away from the street gangs that occupy their neighborhoods and into the gangs of young men who yearn to one day be responsible adults.

The junior Concerned Black Men program is rooted in Columbia area middle schools with high school students serving as mentors to their younger brothers.

"It's important for parents to know that it's going to be difficult for this child to make it without everyone's support," said Wright, 48, who said his life was changed forever through having a mentor at a young age after his father was killed in Vietnam. "They have to have some sort of wraparound support system for them to guard against all these outside distractions and influences that get our kids.

"If we don't stay beside them and with them, the same thing can happen to them. Opportunity is waiting for us to pull them to this side. The negative is always there. We've got to provide them with more positives."

Wright likens the environment of these students to a car battery. A car needs a positive charge as well as a negative charge for the battery to work and the car to move.

"It's the same thing with life," Wright said. "The negative is out there, but we are not showing you enough positive. Therefore, you gravitate toward the negative, which means you don't move. We've got to give you that positive so you can move forward to recognize what a negative is. The positive influences help you move forward."

Football players Anthony Eaddy, Charles Mallory and Caesar Nieto have been on board for two years in mentoring fifth-graders at Watkins Nance Elementary School. It is a chance, Nieto says, to be the role model for others and accept the responsibility that goes with setting examples for them.

"Mostly, it's fun hanging out with the guys," Nieto said. It is the kind of gang, Wright said, that CA Johnson students need.

the teacher
Math instructor wants students to make a commitment to graduate
Derrick Seabrook, a 43-year-old math teacher at the school, believes in delivering the same messages to students in the classroom as coach Jackson does to athletes on the field. 'They don't have to be rich. I just want them to be productive members of society,' he said. "'Mr. Seabrook, man I remember what you told me in math class and that's how I got my job.' That would be the greatest thing I've ever heard."

When long-limbed Peter Goodman got into the open field after receiving the second-half kickoff, he looked like a frightened squirrel seeking the side of the road as he ran for the end zone. "Know why nobody can run me down?" Goodman once asked a CA Johnson coach during a practice. "Because I run scared."

Goodman's scared-as-heck kickoff sprint covered 98 yards and pulled CA Johnson into a 14-14 tie with Dreher, an opponent that plays two classifications higher than the Class A Green Hornets and was considered among the top teams in the state.

Dreher was as stunned as Goodman was scared, but the Blue Devils eventually pulled away for a two-touchdown victory. In defeat, the game proved pivotal for CA Johnson. The Green Hornets finally were shedding their timidity and beginning to believe in themselves.

Jerry Jackson was rightfully proud as he addressed his team in the Memorial Stadium locker room afterward.

"We are a team!" Jackson shouted to his troops. "You've got to have some swagger about yourself because you are somebody!"

Derrick Seabrook attended the game. He is a 43-year-old math teacher at CA Johnson who said he believes in sending the same life messages to his students coach Jackson delivers to his athletes. It is why Seabrook attended as many games as possible and was a frequent visitor to practice, his shoulder-length, salt-and-pepper dreadlocks visible to all.

Terry Myers gets some encouragement from coach La'Sondrick Bridges during a team competition after practice early in the season. Derrick Seabrook sees a parallel between what coach Jackson does on the field and what he tries to do in the classroom. 'Sometimes those kids deserve to be kicked off the team but where are they going to go,' he said. 'Sometimes the kids do stuff in my class that deserves suspension. I'd rather them be in class than out there walking up and down the street.'

"What coach Jackson demands transfers into the real world," Seabrook says. "So, these kids think, 'OK, when I was on the football team, we had to do this. We had to do that. We had to wear proper clothing on certain days, a certain way you present yourself.'

"It carries over."

Seabrook is a case study in the kind of person who attends CA Johnson High School and an example for students of how education is the best ticket for admission to a world outside their current environs.

Eight years ago, Seabrook was employed in a mid-level position at a Columbia-area Target store. A man 12 years younger than Seabrook was called in to manage the store and quickly made it known that Seabrook's days on the job were likely numbered.

"He had a (college) degree and I didn't," Seabrook recalled. "This guy didn't know anything near what I did. I was smarter than him. He was my boss. But because he had a piece of paper and I didn't, I had to end that. I couldn't see somebody having my life in their hands simply because of a piece of paper."

Seabrook returned to the University of South Carolina, where he first started schooling in 1991, and graduated in 2007. Three years into his new career, Seabrook was named CA Johnson's Teacher of the Year in 2011.

When Seabrook stood outside Room A100 on a late October morning, he greeted each of his 13 students with a pat on the back or a handshake. Entering his world for the next 90 minutes meant learning to relate to a man who broke free of generational poverty in his native Charleston.

Seabrook's mother might have earned a high school diploma, but he is not certain. She worked low paying jobs. Seabrook, his older sister and younger brother, grew up in government subsidized housing and relied on food stamps when free lunches were not available at school.

There was no shortage of love in the Seabrook household. His mother, who died in 2006, also imparted a measure of fear in all three of her children.

"Bring home a bad grade at my house, that was the worst thing you could do," Seabrook says. "We had long, slow walks home when we brought home an F or a D or a C."

Now Seabrook attempts to convey the same message to his students. A chart on the wall of his classroom lists the top 10 reasons to make a commitment to graduate from high school. But a couple of the statements send mixed signals to those students, according to Seabrook. Number 9 states that the average yearly income of a high school dropout is $19,365. Number 4 states that high school dropouts are twice as likely as high school graduates to slip into poverty.

Seabrook said many of his students would gladly accept an annual salary of close to $20,000 because it is more than their family sees each year. Also, it is difficult to cite "slipping" into poverty when many of these students have known nothing else in their lives.

So, when Seabrook stood in the hallway to greet his students before class, he playfully engaged in talk about who is the better NBA player: Kobe Bryant or LeBron James? Seabrook shook his head, knowing the students are not unlike those at other schools who aspire to be the next pro basketball player or rapper or musician.

That is fine, but Seabrook knows it is up to him, the CA Johnson coaching staff, faculty and administration to assist students in formulating a Plan B that includes education.

the survivor
345-pound Terry Myers, aka 'Big Sexxi,' has been overcoming the odds most of his life
Terry Myers, a senior lineman for the Green Hornets, takes a moment to gather his thoughts as the team prepares to take the bus for their game against Brookland-Cayce. Myers has been overcoming the odds on and off the football field for most of his life. "Big Sexxi," as he's known to teammates, is a charismatic and thoughtful presence on the team. "I guess I had a bad temper problem when I was young," he said. "But ever since the ninth grade I've been on the straight path and been on the honor roll. I try to help other people with anger issues now."

Three times CA Johnson rallied from a deficit, the largest at 14-0 and the latest at 36-30 in the final minute. So, when quarterback Michael Knox kept the ball on an option run and found the end zone for the winning two-point conversion, a sense of euphoria immediately overcame the CA Johnson team.

The CA Johnson dance team moved with a little more fluidity. The sounds from the "Sting of the South Bringing You Sounds of Success" marching band were a little crisper and louder. The honey bun treats the players receive after every game tasted a little sweeter, and the traditional "Cake Night" on Tuesday following a win was much anticipated.

The Green Hornets had their first victory of the season. The win proved to be a metaphor for most of the players' lives. It took an extraordinary amount of work in practice and determination in the face of adversity during the game to earn the opportunity to douse coach Jerry Jackson with a Gatorade victory bath.

Terry Myers had been making the connection between football and life over his final two seasons as a CA Johnson offensive lineman. He says that correlation became clear to him during the three years of his young life when he lived in the home of his aunt, Sherelda Jennings.

"She taught me the importance of life," Myers said. "Education was one. It's not easy for black males, as she put it, to be successful at doing anything. We've got to work extra hard to get where we want to be. She instilled that in me. Every time I have a chance to do something positive, I remember her words."

Ernest Sipple, 78, a family friend, provides a home for Myers and treats him as if he were his son. This year Myers will be the first in his family to graduate from high school.

Myers has been overcoming the odds -- on the football field and off -- most of his life.

He arrived on the CA Johnson football practice field as a freshman standing 5-foot-11 and weighing 360 pounds with high blood pressure. He was so big he could not get in the lineman's three-point stance. His first move when he got to the line of scrimmage was to hitch up the back of his pants.

He lost 32 pounds before his sophomore year and now plays at 345. Before one early season pregame meal, Myers laughed and said he trimmed his portions because "I have to stay light on my feet."

There was not a more charming presence on the CA Johnson team than Myers, who was tagged with the nickname "Big Sexy" by his ninth-grade basketball coach. Myers kind of liked the moniker and changed the spelling to "Big Sexxi" for his locker room nameplate -- written in magic marker on a piece of athletic tape.

Because of health issues, Lakesha Myers, Terry's mother, said she has been forced to find the best home for her son. Myers said he lived with neighbors until second grade at Ashley Apartments on North Main Street. His grandmother, Diane Tucker, took him under her wing through the fifth grade at Colony Apartments.

Then he moved in with Jennings, who immediately went about changing her nephew's "bad attitude," according to Myers. He was back with his mother in the Pinehurst neighborhood for ninth and 10th grade, then found a family friend to live with the past two years.

Ernest Sipple is a 78-year-old white man who retired from the Navy in 1974. Along with Sipple's grandson, Casie, Myers lives in The Landings apartments in Forest Acres. Sipple provides for Myers as if he were his son. Because a framed bed will not support Myers' body, he sleeps on an air mattress.

Sipple will not give Myers money for dates and strictly enforces a 9 p.m. curfew, even on weekends. He also has worked with Myers to suppress his inner anger, instead using Myers to use his excess energy to excel in football and in the classroom.

"I don't think anyone has pushed him as hard as I have," Sipple said. "I've tried to get him to forget about the girls. Get yourself situated first. Go to college. Get your degree, then think about settling down with someone."

That is difficult for Myers, whom his female classmates fawn over with oohs and aahs for "Big Sexxi." He flashes his sparkling smile to all, while the diamond earrings his girlfriend gave him glisten.

Myers is bright enough to carry a 3.32 grade point average that ranks ninth in the senior class. He will be the first in his family to graduate from high school. Then he aims to attend Newberry or S.C. State. He talks one day about a future in forensics and the next about becoming an athletic trainer.

Whatever he does, "Big Sexxi" stands tall in front of the mirror every morning. At the insistence of Sipple, Myers looks hard into his own eyes and repeats: "I am somebody. I am Terry Myers."

the alumnus
Through such things as homecoming cookouts, 'Gray Eye' Johnson is giving back to his alma mater
Anthony 'Gray Eye' Johnson, 50, walks past the neighborhood he grew up in. Back then he was a CA Johnson student, living a life that would put him behind bars for many years. Today Johnson gives back to his school and neighborhood. With his brothers' help, they built a swing set and basketball courts where drug deals used to take place.

Although CA Johnson played its most complete game of its season, the most enjoyable action on this Friday night took place in the Bolden Stadium parking lot where homecoming festivities began a few hours before kickoff and continued deep into the night.

Homecoming is not much celebrated anymore on college campuses and at predominantly white high schools across the country. Yet it remains a time-honored tradition at historically black colleges and at high schools where enrollments are predominantly black.

So it stands to reason that it thrives at CA Johnson, where the week-long celebration included Khaki Day, a fashion show, a celebrity look-alike contest, a pep rally and Spirit Day. Mostly, homecoming prospers because of the efforts of the Johnson brothers: James, Larry and Anthony, all CA Johnson graduates.

The hub of activity two hours before kickoff was four grills in the parking lot where four pigs, 100 slabs of ribs, 900 pieces of chicken, 500 hamburgers and 500 hot dogs were sizzling under the watchful gray eyes of Anthony Johnson. Most of the hundreds standing in line for the free banquet only know Johnson as "Gray Eye."

The feast is a $2,600 annual investment in CA Johnson pride by the Johnson brothers, who own and operate a Columbia construction company as well as several rental properties. Graduates of CA Johnson, as well as those from their closest rival before school integration -- Booker T. Washington High -- were invited.

Homecoming brought out a large crowd to Charles F. Bolden Stadium as the Green Hornets took on McBee. Graduates young and old cheered throughout the night. 'We love Johnson,' said Anthony 'Gray Eye' Johnson as he cheered in the stands. 'We know that's the last of it. There's no Booker Washington anymore. This is the only black school left.'

Those in attendance needed to raise their cups high and make a few toasts following this year's Homecoming game. Senior fullback Tarik Pryor was crowned Homecoming king, and the Green Hornets made their alums proud with a sterling performance.

Beyond that, the gathering annually is a celebration of the rebirth of "Gray Eye" Johnson, from self-confessed juvenile delinquent to convicted felon to solid citizen to one of CA Johnson's biggest boosters. All by the age of 50, which he will turn on New Year's Eve by celebrating without so much as a glass of champagne since he said he has been alcohol and drug free for 20 years.

"If he can keep one or two of these boys from going down the same path he did, he'll be happy," CA Johnson coach Jerry Jackson said of Johnson.

The CA Johnson players do not know Johnson's back story. All they know is that Johnson is there for every pregame meal, dishing out grilled chicken, macaroni and cheese, and green beans.

It is a small price, Johnson said, to help repay what the CA Johnson family did for him in February of 2010. Administrators, faculty and coach Jackson served as character witnesses when Johnson was pardoned by the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services for his criminal activity from 1985 through 1993.

Johnson's delinquent behavior began with middle school fights and extended to his CA Johnson days when he would be suspended for one or two days, then take the week off and return the following Monday. He played football and basketball at CA Johnson and received a diploma in 1982, not because he completed school work necessarily, but because "maybe they were scared of me and wanted me to get away from them."

Most of Johnson's offenses dealt with possession and distribution of drugs, crack cocaine being his admitted addiction. One bad drug deal resulted in three bullets shooting through his left side.

"Now, I hate to see people on drugs," Johnson said. "I don't even take medicine. I don't take Goody powders, Bayer aspirin or nothing."

Instead, Johnson channels his energy into being a role model for CA Johnson athletes. When Jackson needs a conduit to a player's mother, he sends Johnson to the home. When Jackson needs assistance in paying an insurance fee for a player, he seeks help from Johnson.

Johnson and his brothers own rental properties in an area behind the Booker Heights neighborhood known as "The Bottom." Johnson shakes his head in disbelief as he talks about the 3,000 or so children who live in nearby government housing, he said, without the use of a single park or gymnasium.

The Johnson brothers recently constructed a swing set on one blocked-off road and added a couple of basketball goals. Upon learning that a player's family had lost its home, the Johnsons offered one of their rentals without charge.

Not until his state pardon two years ago was Johnson allowed to associate with the CA Johnson team. Now, he recently began off-season weight-lifting sessions with the team.

More importantly, the school has arranged as a courtesy to Johnson for him to take a couple of correspondence courses. So, in addition to giving back to his alma mater, Johnson is now going back to CA Johnson.

the adversity
The deaths of two siblings show how tough life can be, but players are not quitting
Andrew Brown was not expected to make the October 11 game against Lamar. In a tragic event, Brown had lost his younger brother Joshua when he was struck and killed by a pickup truck earlier that week. Brown wanted to be with his teammates.

Jerry Jackson was surprised as anyone to see "Bulldog" at school that Thursday morning and afternoon. Jackson's sophomore lineman had much larger issues to deal with than that night's home game against Lamar.

To wear the CA Johnson uniform, put on his shoulder pads and play in the game, Andrew Brown knew he was required to attend classes that day. The previous day, "Bulldog's" younger brother, 7-year-old Joshua Brown, was struck and killed by a pickup truck.

That same Thursday morning, Jackson put his whistle away and exchanged his sweat pants and T-shirt for a suit to attend the funeral services for She'nique Anthony, the 34-year-old sister of sophomore wide receiver Ikeheem Anthony, who died of sickle cell anemia.

For the game against Lamar, CA Johnson players wore black wrist bands in honor of Brown's brother and Anthony's sister. The Bolden Stadium public address announcer called for a moment of silence. Jackson addressed the deaths during his pregame talk to his team.

"I applaud Andrew for coming out and playing," Jackson said. "We need to take this game for Andrew. We need to take this game for Ikeheem."

It did not happen, for as much as CA Johnson players attempted to set aside the events of the week, they could not. Jackson was most disappointed by the finger-pointing that occurred on the sideline, or as he described it to the team, "infighting."

Jackson also understood.

For the game against Lamar, CA Johnson players wore black wrist bands in honor of Andrew Brown's brother and Ikeheem Anthony's sister. Some wrote Josh Brown's name in his honor.

"I'm sure it had something to do with it because it was frustration," Jackson said before his team boarded the bus for the five-block ride down Barhamville Road to the high school.

"Bulldog" slid into one seat on the bus and surely took note of the intersection on Barhamville Road, just outside the stadium. That is where young Joshua Brown was hit by the truck shortly after leaving Watkins-Nance Elementary School. The first-grader was taken to a Columbia hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Jackson received word of the death during practice. Brown completed the practice. Jackson then drove the player to Brown's home where he learned of the death from his mother.

At that point, Jackson began to wonder how much more tragedy his team could endure, how much more adversity it could withstand. Many of Jackson's pregame and postgame talks with his team touched on how to deal with difficult times both on the field and away from it.

There were signs around his locker room of how his players dealt with adversity, the most visible of which was the "7" carved into the hair of senior Michael Watts in honor of his mother, Althea, who died seven years earlier when he was 11 of complications from multiple sclerosis.

"Adversity. We talk about adversity," Jackson said after one game. "The world is not ending. You have to control yourself. You still have to do the right things. Pouting and all that kind of stuff, throwing things isn't going to help the cause, not one iota."

After another game he said: "You can't quit when it gets tough. Life is tough. You're going to face a lot tougher situations than this in life, and you can't quit. There ain't a 'quit' bone in my body. You need to develop that."

That was a difficult message for Brown and Anthony to accept that week. Anthony was particularly close to his older sister.

"She was like my Mama," said the 15-year-old Anthony, who occasionally packed a week's worth of clothes to stay with his sister and his 17-year-old nephew, Vidal Anthony, a member of the CA Johnson marching band.

Family and friends filled Grace Christian Church on Monticello Road for the "Homegoing Service" for She'nique Anthony that Thursday morning. Pastor Aaron Bishop offered words of comfort to all.

"God looked into his garden and picked out one of his most beautiful flowers to bring back to Him," Bishop shouted to the congregation. Then he came around to the theme of his message.

"We still have a victory," he said.

the biggest heart
Undersized offensive lineman Eric Washington gets drive and determination from his mom
Pamela Dinkins enjoys some time at home with her son Eric Washington, right, after the end of the season. The Dinkins home is a gathering place for many players and Pamela has become in many ways the team mom. 'It's a privilege to watch these kids play,' she said. 'To see those kids knowing that some of them come from broken homes. The courage they have, whether they win or lose, they're all winners.'

The march to the end of the regular season included a sliver of hope that CA Johnson might reach the Class A state playoffs for only the second time since 1995. A win at powerful Lewisville would give the Green Hornets a 3-1 region record and assure them a playoff berth.

The odds of that happening were long, and when Lewisville easily took care of matters, CA Johnson was left to keep its collective fingers crossed and hope upon hope that the South Carolina High School League would examine closely its difficult non-region schedule.

Coach Jerry Jackson had frontloaded his schedule with non-region games against Class AA and Class AAA opponents, thereby gaining points in a system that rewards teams at playoff time for "playing up."

So, a week after the regular season concluded, the loss to Lewisville was all but forgotten. Despite its 2-8 overall record, CA Johnson was rewarded by the high school league. While it was solely an on-paper decision by the SCHSL, it could just as easily have been a reward for a group of young men who bonded as a team against all odds.

Perhaps no player better represented the size of heart in these CA Johnson players than offensive lineman Eric Washington. When he stood over the ball prior to a center snap or got into a three-point stance at the guard position, the 5-foot-5 1/2 Washington always looked up at his opponent. The 156 pounds he carried were half those of many defensive linemen he faced.

"I don't get bullied because I'm tough," Washington said, his tough talk belying his charming smile on a cherubic face. "I do whatever it takes. It doesn't matter how small you are. The lower man wins at football."

Jackson has learned over his years in coaching to love each of his players equally, but he admitted to a special fondness for Washington. Jackson knew exactly where Washington found his drive and determination.

During the season, Pamela Dinkins purchased sympathy cards and birthday cards to be signed by team members and staff. "It's a privilege to watch these kids play," she said. "To see those kids knowing that some of them come from broken homes. The courage they have, whether they win or lose, they're all winners."

"Talk to his mother, you'll see," Jackson said of Pamela Dinkins. "She's very stable. She is the stabilizer there. She probably started with them at the cradle. Habits are hard to break. If you start off with good habits, they are hard to break."

Dinkins is a 1989 graduate of CA Johnson. She is a 41-year-old mother of three, all three young men born to different fathers who are black. She is white.

"Growing up and raising kids who are biracial, you've got two worlds you have to deal with," Dinkins said. "You have to make strong choices and decisions. You learn you don't have to go to the street to be successful."

The family lives in a three-bedroom home in the College Park neighborhood near Columbia College. The oldest son, 20-year-old Chris Garmon, is a student at USC Upstate. Washington's other brother, 18-year-old Donovan McDonald, is a student at Midlands Tech. Washington aspires to be an auto mechanic after college.

Washington knows he will have a strong work ethic, which he no doubt learned from his mother. She gained employment at McDonalds while in high school and worked her way into a management position two decades later. She served the past couple of years as manager at a Columbia Bi-Lo, and recently returned to management with McDonalds.

Her calling in life, she said, is to rear three young men who some day become productive citizens. That can be learned, she said, by being a solid student and getting involved in extra-curricular activities at school.

"Do you want them in the streets doing wrong, or do you want them on a football field doing something constructive?" Dinkins said.

During the season, she became CA Johnson's self-appointed team mom, purchasing sympathy cards and birthday cards to be signed by team members and staff, and organizing fund-raisers.

"It's hard to get people to sponsor you because they don't think these kids are going anywhere," she said.

It is a line of thinking that drives hard at Dinkins because she has instilled a desire to succeed in her three sons, and believes that same inner fire burns in every one of the CA Johnson players, no matter their background.

the contrast
After loss in playoffs to eventual state champions, players take pride in lessons learned
Quarterback Michael Knox will be looked upon to carry a leadership role for next year's team. Coach Jackson sees a bright future for Knox and his team. 'We have a chance to be good,' he said.

The gratification was short-lived, but worth savoring for days, weeks and months to come. CA Johnson, the lowly Class A school from the inner city of Columbia with two wins on its ledger in the regular season, led defending state champion and unbeaten Christ Church late in the first half of their first-round playoff game.

"I believe." The CA Johnson rallying cry from summer practice through the regular season, finally carried with it a little weight.

When linebacker Michael Watts picked up a Christ Church fumble and ran 70 yards for a touchdown, then receiver Peter Goodman caught a two-point conversion pass from quarterback Michael Knox, the scoreboard did not lie: Visitor 14, Home 13.

Thirty-nine seconds later and Christ Church had regained the lead en route to a 31-point victory, the 22nd in a row for the Greenville private school that eventually defended its state title.

All was back to normal in CA Johnson's world. Christ Church players showered and drove off in their BMWs and four-wheel drive vehicles. CA Johnson players removed their pads and retained the sweaty smell of their efforts as they boarded the bus for the two-hour return trip to a desolate school parking lot, silently hoping that someone would be there to pick them up and take them home.

The ninth appearance in the South Carolina High School League playoffs for CA Johnson since integration in 1970 proved fruitless on the field once again. The school has never won a playoff game.

If nothing else, this season's playoff game provided as stark a contrast in programs as ever seen in SCHSL history. CA Johnson's visit to the Upstate might as well have taken the team across the ocean to Dubai.

CA Johnson players filtered onto the roster throughout the season, some becoming eligible only when they could produce the required $30 insurance fee, whether on their own or through donations from supporters of the school and program. The families of Christ Church players pay annual tuition of $15,000.

CA Johnson students generally are sons and daughters of parents who either are unemployed or work in minimum-wage jobs. Christ Church students generally are sons and daughters of affluent doctors, lawyers and BMW executives.

CA Johnson shares its home stadium with Eau Claire High and Keenan High. Christ Church's stadium includes a multi-million dollar field house in one end zone.

CA Johnson enters the field for home games from one end zone through a path formed by three or four cheerleaders on each side. Christ Church's entrance is hailed by a throng of cheerleaders and a smoke display that would be the envy of some college teams.

Only a handful of CA Johnson players take the SAT in hopes of attending college. Some are the first in their family to graduate from high school. The average SAT score of a Christ Church student approaches 1200, and nearly every graduate in the school attends college, some taking off for Ivy League schools.

Despite the wildly differing cultures and environments of the two teams, they shared one commonality for the 40 minutes of competition on the football field. Both saw football as a way to form a family within a team.

So impressed was Don Frost with how CA Johnson competed, the Christ Church head coach made a request rarely seen at any level of football. He asked to address the CA Johnson team on the field immediately following the game.

"We played a lot of teams this year, and you played with as much heart as any of them," Frost recalled telling the team. "You didn't quit. Be proud of yourselves for what you've done."

On the field, CA Johnson's Jerry Jackson had a few parting words for his team, his family of CA Johnson players, the ones he treated all season as if they were his own sons. His message was short and heartfelt.

"I love you guys," Jackson said. "I hate it didn't happen for us. But that's life."

Thus Jackson closed the book on his fourth season as CA Johnson's head coach. His first team stunned the South Carolina high school football world by winning seven games, advancing to the state playoffs, and earning him state coach-of-the-year honors. His three teams since have won seven games while losing 24.

Jackson has long since stopped being concerned about wins and losses. He is as competitive as the next coach, but he also realizes winning games is not his mission in leading the CA Johnson team. His calling -- as he describes it -- is to create a family for his players, one with a male role model it can respect and trust.

But his self-evaluation does not conclude with the final game of each season. Instead, Jackson says he will see the success of his efforts years from now when a former player such as "Big Sexxi" or "Bulldog" crosses him on the street or in church, and one of them introduces his wife and his children to Jackson.

They will engage in casual conversation, catching up on times gone by. As they part company, Jackson no doubt will hear the echoing of his 2012 Green Hornet squad chanting, "I believe! I believe!"

Quarterback Michael Knox makes his way towards the team's bus after a 47-26 loss to Lewisville.

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