An argument could be made for North Side as the standard bearer for high school football in the city of Jackson.
Since 2009, head coach Tab Vowell’s first season at the helm, there haven’t been many teams in West Tennessee who have been as consistent at winning as the Indians program.
The team posted seven wins in 2009 then 12 in ’10. There was a down season in ’11 pelted with injuries to key players at the wrong time that equaled two wins. Then the program returned to prominence and has stayed there with 13 wins in ’12, nine in ’13 and 10 last year.
The seasons in 2010 and ’12 included undefeated seasons.
Thaddeus Parks was a part of both of those unbeaten teams. Titus Wilson was a part of the first unbeaten team but was a senior in 2011.
Both former Indians are doing well in college. Parks is at Austin Peay, and Wilson is at UT Martin.
Both credit the lessons they learned as part of the Indians’ program for helping them get a good start at being an adult. They credit Vowell for not just sharing football knowledge with the players, but also showing he cares about his players as people.
“I grew up without a father, and Coach Vowell is basically my father figure,” Parks said. “He’s that male role model type for a lot of the guys on the team we were on.”
Wilson’s father is present with his family, but he said he got chances to see Vowell interact with his family on Friday nights and saw a correlation between that how Vowell interacts with the team. It re-enforced what Wilson learned growing up with his own father.
“When I think of Coach Vowell, the first thing that comes to mind is that he’s a family man,” Wilson said. “He spent time with them on Fridays before and after the game, and he always made sure everything was good for his wife and children then made sure everything was as good as it could be for the team for practice or games.
“That’s what a leader of a family or a team does, and Coach Vowell did both.”
Vowell and his assistant coaches sometimes have had to go above and beyond the normal coaching duties to make sure their players were prepared to play. Sometimes that meant academically and not just athletically.
“I remember times before practice when we’d practice at 5 p.m., and the time between school and then, the coaches would have areas of the fieldhouse set up where if a coach taught math would work with the guys who needed help in math, and another one English and another one science,” Wilson said. “Coach Vowell said he wouldn’t let us step on that field without our grades being good enough, and he wouldn’t let us let our grades get that bad.”
There are other stories about times when Vowell has stayed hours after practice is over until a family member picks up the last group of players when they get off work. There have been other times when Vowell has had to play the role of bus driver when he’s put kids in his own vehicle and gotten them home after a late practice. And those happen sometimes too. Usually those practices happened when the players needed their confidence to be reduced from arrogant and cocky to focused on the task at hand.
“Sometimes when we’d win a big game, we might come into practice lackadaisical,” Wilson said. “And if things got real bad, Coach Vowell would just stop practice and we would start practice all over again.
“We’d stretch again and go through all our drills and practice periods again. There were times when we’d be down to just a few periods left or even running at the end of practice and we weren’t going hard enough. He had no problem starting over again.”
Still the student-athletes got home in time for a quality night’s rest before school the next morning, which Vowell had strict consequences if they weren’t there.
“We had behavior sheets that we had to get each teacher to fill out each week and get to him before practice Thursday,” Parks said. “They’d have to write on there about if we behaved in class, if we showed up, how our grades were doing.
“If our sheet didn’t show we were doing everything we could, there was running and work we had to do. But I’m glad now we had that. He demanded the best out of us in everything we did, and we tried to give him our best every day.”
Now both Parks and Wilson are part of the North Side football alumni. Wilson’s younger brother, Tedarius, will be a junior running back this year for the Indians. Even though they don’t play for Vowell anymore, they both know they can call their coach.
“I’ll call him every now and then to see how things are or ask him something,” Parks said. “I should probably call him more than I do, but he’s a busy guy coaching and being a father and husband.
“And that’s the kind of man I want to be in a few years too.”
Brandon Shields, 425-9751