Life lessons learned on football field in Englewood

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Football is teaching boys in one Chicago neighborhood that hard work really does pay off. (WLS)

Football is teaching boys in one Chicago neighborhood that hard work really does pay off.

Chicago police will tell you Englewood is one of the city's most turbulent neighborhoods, but pass through any late afternoon and you might hear a coach's whistle from Ogden Park. There is something going on there that is changing young lives.

On conditioning day, the drills drown out the sirens. Dashing through the grass of Odgen Park, something special is happening.

Coaches Darryl Smith and Keith Harris grew up in the neighborhood.

"There's maybe 30 children here today. If we can save just one life, just one, then we've done our job," Smith said.

"Somebody grabbed me and said, 'Go up to the park. Get on a football team. Go play baseball.' And they changed my life," Harris said.

Now they're working with the boys of Englewood who are growing up to be men.

"The impact you see on the kids every day. They're learning something new, they're smiling, they'll walk up to you like, 'Hey, man I did the drill right today," Smith said. "He may not have got for three days in a row, but today he got it right, he's happy."

Those smiles aren't hard to find. Jacquez Woodland and Jalen Lee have played together for years. They'll be freshmen at Simeon Career Academy next year.

"It helped me a lot it taught me respect and everything and how to be a man," Woodland said.

"What you willing to do for yourself. To keep going. And not entertain the violence," Lee said.

For these boys, the Ogden Park Vikings are family.

"It's a good chance to get out of the neighborhood, where all the violence is going on, get in a safe environment where we can do what we love to do," said Colby Clein, age 13.

"Sports is fun. Practice makes perfect, so, if you practice you're going to be great at something," said Jalen Irving, age 14.

And greatness can happen. Growing up a Viking in Englewood, DeMarlon Morris is now playing professional football in Canada.

"It's amazing," he said.

Morris is trying to land a roster spot on the Montreal Alouettes.

"Right now I'm a rookie in the CFL, so, I just recently signed a contract," Morrris said.

Speaking from Winnipeg before his first preseason game, Morris understands violence. His brother was shot last summer.

"Football will take you a long way. Even if you play basketball, run track. All the sports will take you a long way. So just keep grinding, stay focused and stay out of trouble," Morris said.

"Just to see that smile on their faces, you know, that's a plus," Smith said.

And these boys can play. They've won two of the last three Mum Bowls, an annual Chicago Park District game played at Soldier Field.

Imagine those moments for the boys when they walk in to that historic stadium to play that game. Those conditioning days at Ogden Park make all that hard work worth it.

Related Topics:
sportsfootballChicago - Englewood
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