SILER CITY — While Ryan Johnson has touted the idea of a “new era” on the football field, he and his players are working on building an even larger — and more impactful — legacy off of it.
Once Jordan-Matthews’ football season ended on Oct. 29 with a shutout win over East Chapel Hill, avoiding a second-straight winless season, the team shifted its focus from watching film and practicing daily to helping members of its own community.
Since then, the Jets have been a part of two holiday-themed food drives supported by Mountaire Farms — “Thanksgiving for Thousands” on Nov. 13 and “Christmas for Thousands” on Dec. 11 — both of which have seen the company give away thousands of holiday boxes to families in need, packed with “a plump Mountaire roaster chicken and all of the fixings for a delicious holiday meal,” according to the company, which has a large processing facility in Siler City.
“Coming in, the coaching staff really wanted to implement, of course, the X’s and O’s and team stuff, but also give back to the community,” Johnson, the Jets’ first-year head coach, told the News + Record. “For Thanksgiving and Christmas … we helped box it up (at Mountaire), then transported boxes back to our facility and passed them out to anybody that needed those.”
In total, the Jets distributed 200 holiday boxes to families in Siler City — 100 during each event — on behalf of Mountaire.
“There were families that were kind of shocked, saying, ‘Thank you so much,’” Johnson said. “Everybody was so appreciative. … I think it made (the players) feel good.”
In addition to J-M’s partnership with Mountaire, the Jets have also hosted their own canned food drives to benefit Chatham Outreach Alliance (CORA), based in Pittsboro, which focuses on those facing food insecurity in Chatham.
For Johnson, a Siler City native, it’s all about carrying on the tradition he took part in as a J-M student-athlete decades ago.
“Growing up, we gave back because my dad was huge in the community, he did the Big Brother program, helped the needy, worked at thrift stores, helped kids and he was a teacher, as well,” Johnson said. “He kind of instilled that in me when I was young. And then once we got to school, especially at Jordan-Matthews, our coaches did the same thing.
“It was like a no-brainer for us to give back,” he added. “This is more than football.”
Many of the Jets’ charitable efforts have taken place on Saturdays, with the coaching staff and players taking time out of their weekend schedules to put these events together.
And while their main purpose is to assist the community, Johnson said it also helps the student-athletes learn valuable lessons about the importance of giving back.
“Once you graduate from Jordan-Matthews, we make sure that we’ve given them steps to be great young men to move on and be great fathers,” Johnson said. “During your freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years, each year you should learn and you should build and improve your character.”
The Jets’ football team isn’t the only program that has been in the giving spirit this holiday season.
From Nov. 17 to Dec. 10, the men’s and women’s basketball teams competed to see which program could receive the most toy donations for Toys for Tots — with a pizza party incentive to the winning team, of course.
“It’s been really fun to watch this stuff happen and see that come together and see our school and our athletics really take root in the community and make a difference there,” Josh Harris, J-M’s athletic director, told the News + Record on Monday. “That’s what’s most important, even more than wins and losses, is the kind of impact we can have on our community.”
Looking ahead, Johnson plans for his team to participate in Mountaire’s “Easter for Thousands,” where the Jets will continue to distribute holiday boxes, along with hosting clothes drives throughout the spring.
He’s also worked out a partnership with Chatham Middle School, where he’ll help open Rudy’s Closet — named for his father — which will allow students without a washer or dryer at home to have their clothes cleaned by school staff.
It’ll help provide outfits and shoes for students in need of school clothes, too.
“Sometimes, kids go through things and they don’t want to say anything, so this is a place they can come and get clothes,” Johnson said. “If they don’t have a washer and dryer at home, they can wash their clothes there or give them to a faculty member and they’ll give them back at the end of the day. We’re working on that right now.”
Rudy’s Closet is expected to open at Chatham Middle sometime this winter, likely late January or February, according to Johnson.
With all of the positive work the Jets have done around Siler City this holiday season, it has Harris excited about what’s to come and how they’ll be able to expand their efforts.
“It feels good because this is my alma mater, it’s the town I grew up around,” Harris said. “I’m all for it because it’s great for our kids to get that service in there, but it’s great when they see our coaches doing it, too, whenever they see them serve and realize, ‘Hey, it’s not just about showing up at practice every day and going home as soon as you can.’ They’re doing stuff outside of the gym that’s not even related to sports.
“I think it’s big when we set that role model and set that precedent for kids,” he added. “Then, hopefully, they follow along.”
Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here