By Zack Huffman
It is the second to last day of spring practice for the new group of young student athletes that will make up the core of Charles R. Drew football.
There are no jerseys, no pads, no helmets, just the coaching staff and a collection of about 30 rising ninth- and tenth-graders.
The mixed multi-colored t-shirts and shorts of the young athletes betray a blank slate on which coach Jarrett Laws plans to forge a new identity and new tradition that will one day be represented by the old gold and navy blue of the Titans.
Laws already has some experience building a new program, having coached at Freedom High School in Tampa, Fla.
"When we opened up that new school, we had nine kids the whole spring," he said. "We've been as high as 41 here and all the kids are excited."
For now, Laws is still getting to know his new squad, which he feels shows quite a bit of promise.
"The kids are coming together really well. We're just trying to find out who are the athletic kids so we get some idea of where to place them," he said. "Everybody is sitting at an equal level. Until you put them in pads and cut the lights on, you can't gauge what you really have."
With a roster full of rising ninth-graders, Laws is more interested in laying the foundation of of a team during spring practice by building camaraderie among his squad.
According to Laws, the secret behind Mt. Zion's 8-5 run into the elite eight last season, was the result of his team playing like a family, rather being the result of good coaching and great athletic ability.
"It had very little to do with the plays we were calling or the talent of the kids. It played a part, but you could see they were playing with each other as if they were kin," he said. "If the kids can start to build a rapport with one another and start to care for one another, then that's the foundation from which we can start to build some schematic success."
The next ingredient for success comes from the support of a sports-oriented school administration.
Principal Gary Townsend, who came over from Mt. Zion, was originally a coach in Chicago where he coached the girls' basketball team from John Hope College Preparatory School to the state championship.
"I truly believe a strong athletic program drives the culture of your school," said Townsend. "When I think about the top-performing academic schools back home in Ill. you look at the athletic programs. They may not win the state every year, but they're always one of the best."
His assistant principal is David Meinschein who has served as an athletic director and wrestling and track coach at Mt. Zion.
Within his unassuming, mild-mannered frame, Meinschein harbors a fierce craving for competition.
"Hit them hard for me and let them know 'I'm from Drew," he instructed the team just before practice on what he wants to see in the Titans' first game.
The Titans will officially open their season when they take on Forest Park's junior varsity team, Sept. 2. Their first varsity game will come the following week when the Titans travel over to Henry County to face their fellow first-year program at Locust Grove to spark what Laws hopes becomes a major rivalry.
With Laws coming from Mt. Zion and Locust Grove's Clint Satterfield coming from Jonesboro, a rivalry between Locust Grove and Charles R. Drew should feel natural between the two coaches.
Considering Charles R. Drew's close proximity to North Clayton and Riverdale, the Titans are in a position to possibly split one of the county's most heated rivalries three ways, though Laws was quick to assert that it will likely take more than one season before the Titans can match up with the likes of the Eagles and the Raiders.
"We've got to grow up before we can touch that," he said. "Right now our priority is to get into a proper a three-point stance. Until we can do that, we won't worry about any other teams."