Future focus fueling sputtering Jets this football season

Posted 10/20/21

GRAHAM — The Graham Red Devils were longer, more athletic and more experienced in their 56-0 win Friday over the now 0-8 Jordan-Matthews Jets.

Jordan-Matthews’ defense that evening — …

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Future focus fueling sputtering Jets this football season

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GRAHAM — The Graham Red Devils were longer, more athletic and more experienced in their 56-0 win Friday over the now 0-8 Jordan-Matthews Jets.

Jordan-Matthews’ defense that evening — porous.

Graham’s total offensive production — lots.

No further analytics needed, except for the stat measured with EKG machines: Heart.

“It’s kind of hard for kids this age to keep coming back with this losing,” Jordan-Matthews’ first-year head coach Ryan Johnson said after the loss. “But they keep coming back with a better mentality, and it’s just going to build them for being a man once they get out into the real world as fathers and so forth.”

In the first half, one of those Red Devils horse-collared Jets senior quarterback Rayshawn Alston, slinging him to the ground. Accompanying Alston on the grass was a yellow flag.

“Let ’em play football, ref!” a Graham fan moaned.

Unsportsmanlike conduct was the call.

The Jets just kept playing football, playing it the right way. Which, in theory, should be hard for them to do. They lost their coach before the season started, lost every game after the first kickoff, so a Jet from time to time might be expected to blow a gasket and lose his cool on the field, resorting to cheap shots to simulate small victories.

Not these guys.

“It’s going to turn around,” Alston said. “It just takes time.”

Johnson took over the team after the departure of head coach Sam Spencer this past offseason. Johnson came from an entirely different school system, accepting a teaching job at Jordan-Matthews and embracing the assignment of developing a crew of kids who hadn’t played much high school football, much less had experienced success at that level.

“A lot of people don’t understand the work we put in every day to get better,” Alston said. “People doubt us every game. We haven’t proven ourselves yet, but we only have three seniors. We only have 30 players. It’s been hard getting people to buy in. We’ve had people quit on us and everything. It’s been a rough season.”

Alston isn’t the typical starting quarterback for the Jets.

He’s the team’s best running back.

Calvin Schwartz is the squad’s main signal-caller, but concussion protocol had Schwartz in street clothes, watching from the sideline.

“People like to talk about the loss or whatever,” Schwartz said. “You just kind of take it. You know you’re doing, what you need to do to get better.”

Jordan-Matthews has just two more opportunities to get a win this season. The Jets host Bartlett Yancey (5-3) on Friday and are on the road Oct. 29 at East Chapel Hill (0-7). Familiar fans in the stands would fuel the Jets, Alston said.

“If they gave us some support, things could turn around,” he explained.

Alston said he, Schwartz and Jordan-Matthews senior Fabian Thompson have been trying to establish a foundation for the coming years.

“You do everything better when you’ve got people behind you,” Schwartz said. “It’s not just the football team. It’s an entire school that’s being represented out there.”

Moral victories are one thing. But good luck finding players or coaches who embrace them.

Morale victories, though, are different — firm smacks on the shoulder pads that cultivate culture, as opposed to pooh-poohing players with soft pats producing pity.

It’s why Johnson and his staff on Friday were coaching the Jets hard, coaching like playoff positioning’s on the line — well, it is, in due time, Johnson said.

“It’s a timeline,” Johnson said. “We talk about the intangibles.”

In the first quarter against Graham, one of the Jordan-Matthews defensive coaches was on the sideline yelling for the Jets to watch the sweep to the right. Sure enough, there came those Red Devils, sweeping right. The Jets were powerless to stop it. Too many athletes on the other side of the ball. Graham’s guys would gather heads of steam, and then laws of physics and inertia and gravity would run their natural courses.

But the coaching is there for Jordan-Matthews. That’s the point. It’s just going to take a minute, Johnson said.

“Just giving them little-bitty daily goals to strive for,” Johnson said. “Get better at practice. Tuesday’s got to be better than Monday. Wednesday’s got to be better than Tuesday. Just breathe life into them. Be real with them and genuine with them, and build that relationship.”

Jordan-Matthews this season has lost 45-0, 72-0, 54-0 and 57-0. Closer contests, relatively speaking, were 48-6 and 21-7.

“The score is one thing, but you want to get better,” Johnson said. “I don’t believe in moral victories. But I think as a team this year, we’re laying the foundation for what’s next, and I think we’re on the right track. Sooner or later that scoreboard is going to turn around.”

No moral victories.

Morale victories.

“These kids are our future, period,” Johnson said. “They’re playing football in our community. They need our support. When I grew up in Jordan-Matthews, it was like a village. We’re trying to bring that back.”


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