By Rory Sharrock
There are several coaches in the Southern Crescent that have ties to the professional ranks, either through colleagues or former players who have advanced to the next level.
However, there is only one coach of record who is currently competing for a pro team while working closely with high school student-athletes.
Meet Candence Jackson, Riverdale High School ninth-grade girls head and varsity assistant basketball coach of the Lady Raiders.
During the winter, Jackson works from the bench teaching the 2-3 zone alignment and how to rotate off a high screen for an open shot, but in the spring, she transforms her role from coach to player by strapping on a helmet and shoulder pads as a left tackle for the Atlanta Xplosion women's professional football team.
Jackson is a seven-year veteran of the Independent Women's Football League (IWFL) dating back to her days in her native city of Miami.
While working as a teacher and basketball coach at American High School in 2001, she learned that the Miami Fury were holding open tryouts for the upcoming season. Being a former standout athlete, she was immediately intrigued by the idea of joining the team and set her sights on taking on the challenge of playing professional football.
Over the next three seasons, she made a name for herself with the Fury and the IWFL as one of the best players in the league. However, in 2004, her life hit a crossroads from splitting time living between Miami and the Atlanta area, but her football passion never died. Her constant movement forced Jackson to part ways with her Miami teammates following the 2003 season and upon coming to Atlanta, she decided to join the Xplosion. After changing allegiance, it didn't take long to get acquainted and learn the culture of the team.
"I'm familiar with just about everybody on the team. I talk a lot of noise, but I think I do a good job of backing it up," said Jackson. "I have to let the rookies know that they're going to hear worse than what I'm saying. This is professional football, it's not a recreation league."
Jackson's football career has been full of changes and last season was no different. Family plays an important role in her life and she took time away from the game after giving birth to her third child, Jordyn. She also settled in the community and purchased a home in Clayton County.
However, like all skilled athletes, Jackson made a strong comeback this spring and is revved up to resume her career.
"She's a veteran and with that, she brings the enthusiasm that is needed," said Atlanta Xplosion offensive line coach Julian Scadden. "Physically on the field, she'll get out there and show the girls how it's done. She steps up to the plate when we need a volunteer. She's the type of player every coach needs. She's going to get the team motivated and get them in the right spirit when things go the wrong way."
These traits displayed on the field are a direct carryover from coaching girls basketball against the competitive teams in Clayton County. This past season, Jackson led Riverdale's freshmen girls' team to a 13-5 record, but the team lost to Forest Park in the semifinals. On the varsity level, she worked as an assistant where the Lady Raiders finished 8-13 after losing to Baldwin in the Region AAAA Tournament.
Last weekend, Jackson and her teammates kicked off the 2008 season with a 13-7 loss on the road against the Orlando Mayhem.
Atlanta has a bye this week, but returns to action April 26 at Dallas.
Afterwards, the team travels to Miami May 3 and then welcomes the Palm Beach Punishers for the home opener May 10 at Roswell High School Stadium.
Additionally, Jackson teaches freshman english at Riverdale High School. She's a graduate of Bethune-Cookman University and currently resides in Riverdale with her three children, Leah, 14, Rickia, 11 and Jordyn, 1.