Some East Paulding High School players’ response to a tragedy an opposing team’s player suffered helps illustrate some qualities the county’s football coaches are hoping their young players develop in their programs.

The county’s five high school head football coaches recently shared with Paulding Rotary Club members their teams’ hopes for winning records and playoff glory in the coming 2019 season.

Two coaches also recounted during the club’s annual “Pigskin Preview” event about a recent incident showing why it was important the players know about such qualities as empathy.

County school district Athletic Director Jason Freeman told about one Paulding school’s players working to help another school’s player overcome a recent family tragedy.

“It is about being a part of something bigger than yourself,” Freeman said.

Head Coach Pete Fominaya of Hiram High School said one of his players was participating in a football practice recently when he was told about the fire at his home.

“I know you are hearing about this but to see it firsthand is completely different,” the coach said.

“When one of your players is on the practice field and he has to sprint off because his house is on fire … you know, this is just a game but life, families, experience, that’s what it’s about,” Fominaya said.

He said Tabernacle Baptist Church, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and others worked to raise thousands of dollars for the player’s family.

Among the donors were East Paulding High School Athletic Director Brad Thomason, Head Coach Billy Shackelford and some of the football team members.

The players comprised a team leadership group which raised $250 for the boy’s family to replace items lost in the recent fire, Thomason said. They then visited a Hiram team weight training session Aug. 12 and presented the money to him.

Hiram will face East Paulding this season, but Fominaya praised his team’s future opponents for the gesture.

“For them to step up and come yesterday on our campus into a little weight training session to reward that young man, it brought him to tears,” Fominaya said..

“You know, 17-year-old boys are supposed to be tough. But he broke down because he understood that people loved him, people cared about him, cared about his family.

“Those are the things that really matter. That’s how you leave a legacy,” Fominaya said.

Shackelford said some of his team leaders took the “initiative” to raise the money and deliver it to the Hiram player.

“I’ll be honest with you. That was more of a blessing for us than it was for that young man,” Shackelford said.

He said his coaching staff was working at “developing a great chemistry of leaders” by allowing the players to lead at times without their assistance.

“I really think it’s starting to cultivate and grow leaders within our program,” Shackelford said.

According to CBS News, only one in 16 high school football players in the U.S. will play football in college, and only 2% of college players will play football professionally.

At the Rotary event, the coaches told about ways their coaching staffs were teaching their student-athletes lessons about life outside football.

Coach Jim Bob Bryant of North Paulding High School was accompanied by three players who all had 3.6 grade point averages, including kicker Brock Travelstead who was named to some preseason all-state and all-American teams.

“We have competitions every day at practice, every day after practice,” Bryant said.

“From your grades, to what college you go to, to every rep in the weight room to every rep in practice, we try to tell our kids that everything in life is a competition,” he said.

“And if we start letting our kids settle for second place now, you have to settle for second place your whole life,” Bryant said.

Paulding County High School Coach Van Spence said he tells his players to be “committed” to playing well.

South Paulding Head Coach Jason Thompson said his coaches tell his players they will see results if they “believe in yourselves, believe in your coaches, believe in your teammates.”

“If we can do that, and invest our time in the weight room, in the classroom, on the playing field; invest in each other, we’re going to have growth,” he said.

“That growth is in the classroom, on the playing field and in life,” he said. “That’s what these kids have done since I’ve got here.”

The event allowed the crowd of local business and civic leaders, elected officials and school district administrators to hear about the five teams’ prospects for the upcoming season.

Paulding County High School drum majors and varsity football cheerleaders also used their talents to welcome attendees to the event at Dallas Civic Center in downtown Dallas.

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