With the sun beating down on his young players a few days ago, Vigor coach Kerry Stevenson’s summer practice session endured a brief interruption.
It wasn’t rain or lightning. No cheerleaders strutted past. No college coaches arrived unannounced.
Gunshots rang out.
“Ain’t no big deal,” Stevenson said. “Nobody took off running. Nobody looked shocked.”
In Prichard, there’s no better place for a teenaged boy to be than Vigor’s practice field.
Stevenson — entering his 10th season as the Wolves’ head coach — has spent much of his tenure convincing players that there’s life outside Prichard, that there’s hope beyond the hood.
More than 20 former Vigor players are playing college football right now, at big places such as Arkansas and Alabama and at out-of-the-way spots such as Concordia College.
Stevenson estimates more than 100 Vigor players have signed to play college football in the last decade. A few have made it to the NFL, including Ellis Lankster and Sen’Derrick Marks, but Stevenson hopes his players chase a degree with the same vigor as running backs. Football can be a lifeline to a better life.
“It’s life or a death,” Stevenson said. “You can go off and live, or you can stay in this community and die. Not everybody can play college ball, but everybody can go to college. There’s so many programs out there. You can get your degree and provide a better life for your family.”
How big is a college degree? Consider that only 7.2 percent of Prichard’s residents have earned a bachelor’s degree, according to 2010 U.S. Census data. Statewide, 21 percent of Alabamians have a college degree.
For anyone who hasn’t ventured off Interstate 165 to check out Prichard, census figures paint a depressing picture”
Õ The median household income is $21,583, roughly half the state average of $42,081
Õ 36.2 percent of residents live in poverty, more than double the state average of 17.1 percent
Õ The city has lost 20 percent of its population since 2000.
Those statistics lead to higher-than-normal rates of drug use, violence and crime. But despite those challenges, Stevenson has captured one state championship and nearly won another last year when the Wolves finished as the Class 5A runner-up. As those trophies gather dust, Stevenson hopes his legacy goes beyond wins and losses.
When he first arrived at Vigor, Stevenson stressed the need to graduate from high school. That goal has grown over the years, and he now hopes his players earn a college degree. That’s the best way to escape Prichard forever.
“I remember all the names of all those kids who came through here, the ones who have gone off to better lives,” Stevenson said. “That’s what matters to me.”
Contact Josh Bean at:
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His column appears on Thursdays in the Press-Register.
By Josh Bean on June 20, 2012 10:35 PM, updated August 23, 2013 2:25 AM