The push to drive academics to the end zone continues within Thomas County Central High School’s football program.
Previously, coaches and players spoke of the concentrated effort begun in the 2018-2019 school year to have players devote the same care and attention to their school work as they do their athletic responsibilities. Now into the second nine weeks of the 2019-2020 year, coaches and players see significant improvement.
“We are trying to establish a culture where everything matters,” head coach Ashley Henderson said. “We compete in everything we do on and off the field. We need to work to become finishers now.”
Coach Tully Payne says mandatory study hall, the 3.0 GPA board in the locker room, 3.0 helmet stickers, and weekly progress monitoring between position coaches and teachers is adding up to yards gained and touchdowns scored in players’ academic progress.
“When our [football] staff arrived, we had less than six student-athletes on the 3.0 GPA board,” he said. “Today, we have more than 50 student-athletes on the board.”
Payne and Henderson run the football study hall program in conjunction with the TCCHS after-school tutoring program. But all coaches take part in study hall and in helping their players achieve academically.
“Success in academics go hand-in-hand with success on the football [field],” Payne said. “We want our student-athletes to be successful on the field and in the classroom.”
The quarterly 3.0 board in the locker room that holds a photo of each student who achieves/maintains this GPA is a hit with the players.
Senior defensive back Antonio Stephenson Jr., 17, says he always took his grades seriously. However, he’s still seen improvement in his grades and enjoys seeing his name on the team’s 3.0 GPA board.
“My grades improved tremendously due to me providing more effort to my work,” he said. “It’s definitely a great feeling seeing my hard work being displayed and honored.”
The 3.0 helmet stickers began this fall. Players with a 3.0 GPA or higher wear the sticker.
“Since the team implemented the push toward greater academic achievement, it made me strive for the highest I could reach,” sophomore linebacker/running back Tyren Dasher, 16, said. “At first, I did enough to get by, but the academic recognition stickers and the 3.0 board gave me a reason to get better grades. There’s no better feeling than an academic sticker shining on your helmet.”
And just because football season has wrapped does not mean academics are benched in the offseason. Instead, the team will begin its “Jacket Games.”
“Players are drafted on teams and compete in various activities,” Payne said. “Points are awarded/deducted for classroom attendance, grades, tardies, etc. This encourages students to come to school and pay attention to get good grades and to increase their team’s points.”
Dasher anticipates continued incentives to maintain and improve his grades even further. And he likes not having to worry about being ineligible or his coaches getting emails from his teachers.
“It’s like competition inside the classroom,” he said. “It’s like, OK, what can I do to get a 4.0.”
Sophomore tight end/defensive end/wide receiver Javerius Franklin, 15, says achieving good grades means getting into any college he wants for both academics and athletics. But attaining good grades takes effort, he adds.
“You have to want it for yourself,” Franklin said. “Nobody can make you do something you don’t want to do, but your grades get you far in life. I feel great that the coaching staff is doing this [push] because football doesn’t last forever, but your education does. I also feel great because this shows that the coaches care about their players.”