To be a football player at Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering, you have to know how to persevere without making excuses. The program, which is in just its second year, doesn’t have a locker room, and players cross a busy street every day to get to practice.
“I pray every day that we cross the street and get over here safely,” said coach Julius Jackson, who has been leading the team since day one.
The team’s nickname is the Phoenix, which is fitting because MASE (6-2, 4-1 8-1A) was able to rise from the ashes of last year’s 0-10 season and start fresh.
“To be totally honest, nothing has really changed. We’re playing harder than we played last year. Once we got down last year, we kind of gave up,” Jackson said. “But I have the same guys. We’re a little stronger than we were last year, but other than that, we’re doing the same thing we’ve been doing. It’s the same stuff I tried to tell them they could do last year, but they just didn’t believe it.”
But just as the team, which is riding a three-game winning streak, was set to play the biggest game of the season, against region-leading Freedom Prep (5-3, 5-0), Jackson suspended at least 11 players from the football team for academic reasons. That’s nearly half the 28-member team.
Jackson said the team hasn’t been taking its academics seriously enough. Report cards come out next week, and Jackson, who doubles as the school’s athletics director, was blown away by the poor grades that he saw when he checked in Monday. His rule is that any player with an “F” has to sit out for two weeks. He said the soonest a suspended player can play again is next Friday’s season finale against B.T. Washington.
“I kind of slacked off on my grades, not taking it 100 percent seriously,” said linebacker Tony Rush, one of the players who was suspended. “And now Coach has to shuffle in the people who can play, so it’s hard on us, hard on the team. I should have took it seriously.”
Jackson has implemented similar policies in previous coaching stops, including his most recent stint at Hillcrest. He said he never has had to suspend this many kids; it’s usually two or three.
But he is stepping in to teach a lesson that could come at the expense of a potential region title.