Football players, coaches aim to motivate at-risk youths

Sunday, November 5, 2006

By CHRIS PAGANO

Southeast Missourian

About 100 youths from the Division of Youth Services were guests of Southeast Missouri State University Athletic Department, Criminal Justice Department and the football team Saturday.

Boys ages 13 to 19 from New Madrid Bend, Girardot Center and Sears Youth Center toured the team's facilities, heard a presentation in the weight room, played flag football with the players and were special guests at the criminal justice tailgate party and the evening game.

"The selected football players have found themselves in need at some point in their lives," assistant professor of criminal justice Dr. Linda Keena said. "While today they might be the ones with the ability to help, at some point they were the recipient of someone else's volunteer effort."

Player Jared Odum shared his personal life with a 15-year-old poet from the Girardot Center.

"I met a football player who writes poetry," the boy said.

"You don't have to be physical or strong," said Odum, who grew up in the Boys and Girls Clubs. "The pen is mightier than the sword, and if writing it down helps you, then do it."

The senior was part of the presentation last year and made it a point to be there to talk with the boys because he looks forward to it. "They don't think we know what they're going through, but we do."

Some of the players talked about football being a good vehicle for aggression, but most explained the importance of education, honesty, not giving up and listening to teachers.

Team captain Edgar Jones of Louisiana said making good decisions and separating yourself from bad people was important. He said that dealing with negativisim from others was best handled by living up to your own expectations.

Player John Radney of Michigan, who was raised by his grandparents, said he was forced to grow up quickly because his parents were strung out on drugs. "I've been in your position before. Football was a getaway for me. But you should never forget where you came from. You're all a team -- Take care of each other."

Coaches gave pep talks using their own life experiences as strategies to connect with the group. Assistant coach Kenny Wilhite got his degree in child development, and that led him to coaching. Wilhite made it clear that he wasn't coaching for the money but to make better people out of the players.

"That's what these guys are doing for you here today. People working with you today are doing it because they're trying to make it better for you," he said.

Head coach Tony Samuel addressed the group, too.

"Sometimes people tell you things you don't want to hear because they're looking out for you," Samuel said. "If you hear what people tell you, you're going to be all right. You're young. Work at it. "

cpagano@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 133

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