Keeping it close

Edmondson hopes that camaraderie off the field translates into victories on it

August 30, 2006|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,sun reporter

Even after the final bell sounded to end school in June, Edmondson's returning football players were rarely apart.

If they weren't converging on amusement parks during June trips to Kings Dominion and Six Flags, eating at local smorgasbords or going to the movies, they were encouraging each other during organized summer study halls or summer-long weightlifting sessions.

And when linebacker-tight end Kyle Jackson didn't show up at the home of two-way lineman DuJuan Smith to watch an NFL preseason game with teammates, running back-strong safety Sterling Jones called to find out why.

"We keep in contact and check up on each other to make sure everything is cool," said Jones, a team captain with Jackson, Smith and Tariq Jones.

"Communication is key," Jackson said. "We've got each other's back, 100 percent, and, hopefully, that will translate onto the field."

The Red Storm, collectively, reported to the initial practice a stronger, faster and smarter unit.

Smith's bench press, for example, rose from 300 to 380 pounds, and Jackson's from 225 to 295. Sophomore running back Christopher Green and senior running back Alge Berry lowered their times in the 40-yard dash to 4.56 and 4.62 seconds, respectively. Sterling Jones, who is not related to Tariq or coach Dante Jones, returned with hopes of improving on his 3.0 grade point average.

"Whether it was studying, weightlifting, bowling or just watching sports, it seemed like every week they were involved in a different activity," second-year coach Dante Jones said. "They continued to push each other. And when they came back to practice, you could tell they were a much more cohesive group."

Dante Jones recalled a similar approach being taken during his senior year at Dunbar as a member of the city's first state championship team, which went 12-0 in 1994. Jones believes the camaraderie among the Red Storm, 19 of whom are returning starters, will help to improve on last year's 4-6 record as Edmondson makes a run at defending Baltimore City Division I tri-champions City, Dunbar and Patterson.

"At Dunbar, we were like a family -- a unit that was as tight as any 24 or 27 players could ever be," said Jones, 30, who earned second-team All-City honors as a linebacker-punter, later playing free safety for four years at Delaware State. "We did everything together, so much so that a lot of us are really close, even today."

Jones has recruited two of his former teammates as assistants, Antar Sims, 27, and Dwayne Green, 28 -- All-Metro performers from the Poets' state championship team of '95.

"Dwayne and Antar were at the top of my list for fostering a similar attitude to the one we had at Dunbar. They're an example of guys who took what they learned and used it beyond high school," Jones said. "All but one member of our 10 coaches played in college. And last year, five of our six players who graduated are now in college. I'll measure our success not necessarily by wins and losses, but also by how many of our players go to college. Our kids have set their goals on doing that."

Green stands out not only because of his size -- 6 feet 5, 300 pounds -- but also his high school athletic and academic achievements. As a senior defensive end in '95, Green validated his preseason All-America honors in Street & Smith's by finishing with 11 sacks, returning one of three fumble recoveries for a touchdown and breaking up 10 passes.

Green earned a business degree from Norfolk State, is a special education instructor at Walbrook and expects to earn a master's degree in counseling from Johns Hopkins in May 2007.

"I feel strongly that what can come as a byproduct of the process of sincerely teaching kids the game of football is the understanding that football can carry you beyond high school," Green said. "As much as we as coaches have accomplished on the field, we have a vision that each kid has a responsibility and importance to himself and the team. I want to drive home to these kids that by being willing to go that extra mile for yourself, you're also going that extra mile for your teammates."

Sims played four years at Morgan State and soon will earn a consumer science degree.

"Being that I'm only 27, still working toward graduation, I'm not so far removed from the rigors of being in high school. I can still relate to the players' trying to balance the life of a teenager with their responsibilities to the team -- having to go to school, go to practice, come home tired and having to deal with the schoolwork," Sims said.

"But as a coach, I want to show the players that it's possible to achieve similar success, not so much by harping on myself as a player, but simply to say that, `Hey, I came from the same city you're from, played ball in the same public school system.' The kids buy into that."

Sterling Jones agreed, saying the Red Storm players look up to their coaches.

"We like watching tapes of their games -- they had a serious team made up of serious players," Sterling Jones said. "They did well in school and were a close-knit team. They're teaching us football, helping us with homework. We're tying to soak up all of their knowledge and experience so we can achieve similar results."

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