Fitness star Johnny Loper garners national recognition as motivational speaker

Loper3Long before Johnny Loper starred at wide receiver for South Carolina State from 1995-2000, he had lofty aspirations of making an NFL roster, in large part because he wanted to retire his mother from the factory job she had for years in his native hometown.

Fortunately for Loper, the Waynesboro, Miss. native made good on his ambition to his retire his mother, although it came courtesy of a much different route.

Nearly four years ago, Loper’s company, Jaylo Fitness, chose to partner with AdvoCare, a development that resulted in him earning approximately $18,000 within his first month after joining.

TRUE CHAMPION --- Loper, pictured with his wife, Weslynne, has become a fixture in recent months because of his rapid success as an entrepreneur. Loper takes part in regular speaking engagements to discuss health, wellness, and living a carefree lifestyle.

TRUE CHAMPION — Loper, pictured with his wife, Weslynne, has become a fixture in recent months because of his rapid success as an entrepreneur. Loper takes part in regular speaking engagements to discuss health, wellness, and living a carefree lifestyle.

Now that Loper has been afforded more freedom away from his gym and enjoys a mostly carefree lifestyle that includes frequent vacations and more time with his family, the former Arena Football League standout has taken part in another venture he believes will enhance the lives of others.

Because of his continuous success through Jaylo Fitness and Advocare in recent years, Loper, 38, has had the luxury of delivering speeches to an assortment of organizations throughout the Mid-South.

Given the thunderous applauses and favorable feedback he has garnered, his itinerary figures to expand in the foreseeable future.

Just recently, for instance, Loper spoke before approximately 25,000 witnesses during an Advocare Success School event at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT & T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

“A little country boy from Waynesboro, Mississippi was given the opportunity to be center stage addressing an audience that size,” Loper told MemphiSport Thursday afternoon. “That in itself should let anyone know that anything in life is possible if you refuse to give up.”

To Loper’s credit, although he twice attempted to land an NFL contract — with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers — he never wavered with regards to earning a comfortable living.

Following a three-year stint with the now-defunct Memphis Xplorers of the arenafootball2 league in which he earned about $300 per week, Loper consequently started his business.

HOMECOMING --- As an avid motivational speaker, Loper will return to his native hometown of Waynesboro, Mississippi next month to speak with various athletes.

HOMECOMING — As an avid motivational speaker, Loper will return to his native hometown of Waynesboro, Mississippi next month to speak with various athletes.

At times, a regular work day for him lasted nearly 16 hours, a trend by which Loper wasn’t bothered at the time.

“I was actually enjoying life because I didn’t have kids,” Loper told MemphiSport during a February 28 interview. “It was just me and my wife. But when my little boy came along, it wasn’t about me anymore. I kind of had a sour taste in my mouth because my dad had to work all the time. He couldn’t make all of my sporting events.”

Since Jaylo Fitness partnered with AdvoCare in three years ago, Loper and his wife, Weslynne, have benefited mightily with one of the world’s premiere wellness companies, whose endorsers include an array of professional athletes, most notable Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten and New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl 44 MVP Drew Brees.

So much, in fact, that Johnny Loper has gained a newfound passion for sharing his success in front of sizable crowds.

As he tells it, speaking in front of large audiences essentially has become apart of his vision.

“It’s always special when you are presented with an opportunity to help someone else by sharing your story,” Loper said.  “There are a lot of people in this world who are hurting or who are in need of some form of inspiration in order to make it through the day.  I consider it an honor and a privilege to be view as a leader who has the heart of a servant.”

While his requests to give speeches have increased considerably in recent months, Loper acknowledges he doesn’t always know which topics and issues to discuss once he takes the podium.

In other words, he admittedly follows his instincts with regards to grasping his audience’s attention, something his attendees have come to embrace.

“Sometimes, I never know what I’m going to say until I’m in front of the audience,” Loper said. “But I can say that I enjoy sharing my core values with my audience.  At the end of the day, I believe that success comes from strong faith, strong commitment, strong family, and strong love.   I hope that after every speech, the audience looks at me, hears my message, and leave the room motivated by the thought of, “If he can make it, then I know I can make it.”

Among those who routinely make it point to attend Loper’s speaking engagements is his wife Weslynne. According to her, people are amazed at how her husband can freely go about grasping their attention with pure transparency and eloquence.

“I am absolutely so proud of Johnny,” Weslynee said. “He is not only an awesome husband but also an amazing father who is passionate about his family. He also loves helping other families grow. Johnny definitely has a servant’s heart. He is passionate about helping other families become healthier along with financial freedom. When you have better options in life, this definitely will make a family’s dynamics grow stronger. It is a true blessing when you can help others succeed.

Especially when one is from a small, rural town such as Waynesboro, Mississippi.

“There is not a day that goes by that I don’t thank God for the things he has allowed me to experience,” said Loper, who is scheduled to return to his hometown to deliver a speech in September.  “It is those constant thoughts of my hometown and my upbringing that keeps me humble. Those thoughts keep me grounded and fuel my drive to always want to help someone else achieve prosperity.”

Something his mother witnessed firsthand the moment he retired her from her job.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To book Johnny Loper for a speaking engagement, call 901-619-5662. Also, follow him on Instagram at JOHNNY LOPER (@ JAYLOFITNESS) https://twitter.com/ JAYLOFITNESS as well as like his Jaylo Facebook fan page. 

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, email him atandre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 

Memphis-based Parker’s Water Ice thriving, now looking to have a national presence

ICE, ICE BABY --- Parker's Water Ice has become a fixture throughout the Mid-South in recent years, most notably at AutoZone Park during Redbird games and the Memphis Zoo. (Photo submitted by Veronica Parker)

ICE, ICE BABY — Parker’s Water Ice has become a fixture throughout the Mid-South in recent years, most notably at AutoZone Park during Redbird games and the Memphis Zoo. (Photo submitted by Veronica Parker)

Veronica Parker-Robinson was raised in Williamstown, New Jersey, an unincorporated community in Gloucester County that is comprised of about 15,567 residents.

Though the rural town is relatively small, Parker-Robinson had a huge impact as a multi-sport athlete.

Growing up, Parker-Robinson was a fixture in array of sports, most notably basketball, baseball, field hockey, and track and field, among others.

COOL TREATS --- Parker's Water Ice serves gelati and boasts well over 24 flavors of soft serve ice cream.

COOL TREATS — Parker’s Water Ice serves gelati and boasts well over 24 flavors of soft serve ice cream.

Field hockey?

“I excelled in field hockey and track,” Parker-Robinson, who relocated to the Mid-South seven years ago, told MemphiSport. “I experienced being Tri-County champ in both of these sports as well as receiving newspaper and college scholarships to play both.”

While Parker-Robinson, a self-proclaimed “lazy athlete,” chose not to partake in collegiate sports, it was her competitive drive as a thriving athlete that ultimately fueled her desire to excel in entrepreneurship.

Parker2Today, Parker-Robinson, along with her younger brother, Therman, are owners of Parker’s Water Ice. Located at 7050 Malco Crossing in Southeast Memphis, Parker’s Water Ice is the only Italian ice store in the Mid-South that specializes in serving gelati and features well over 24 different flavors of soft serve ice cream.

In addition, Parker’s Water Ice boasts a mobile food truck which, according to Parker-Robinson, is its “mini store on wheels.”  Her company has especially evolved as a popular establishment for the Memphis Redbirds organization, considering customers can purchase her products at AutoZone Park. Not only that, Parker’s Water Ice treats are available at the Memphis Zoo.

“We are also known for our gelati which is the layering of Italian ice with serve soft serve ice cream,” Parker-Robinson said.

CHECK OUT PARKER’S WATER ICE ONLINE: www.parkerswaterice.com/

A family-run business whose mission is to provide its customers with high quality products at reasonably low prices, Parker’s Water Ice offers a kosher, fat free, cholesterol free and dairy free Italian ice. Parker’s business also host parties, company appreciations, church picnics, family reunions, offices parties, community sporting events, not to mention fairs and carnivals. Also, this company allows consumers and Mid-South-area businesses to hold fundraisers.

As Parker-Robinson tells it, it took her to actually fail in order to grasp a thorough appreciation for savoring success.

COOL FANS --- Parker's Water Ice has become one of the favorite treats for local baseball fans who attend Redbird games.

COOL FANS — Parker’s Water Ice has become one of the favorite treats for local baseball fans who attend Redbird games.

“During my senior year I placed second (in a race), getting nipped at the line in the qualifying meet for state,” Parker-Robinson explained. “I did not lose that race because the other girl was faster than me. I lost because I was out of shape and ran with the proverbial monkey on my back for the last 100 meters. All season long I was able to win my races doing just enough, but just enough was not enough when I faced better competition.

“What really bothered me was the fact that I should have won that race,” Parker-Robinson continued. “If I could come in second doing the minimum, what could I have achieved doing the maximum?  I decided from that day, I would no longer live with what if. Even in failing, at least I would know the end result and have given my all. That is why I did not run in college. I knew I had to choose between being a full time student or a part-time student or a part-time athlete. I knew myself. I was honest with myself and, at that point of time in my life, I was not the type to balance both.”

With sports all but a distant memory, Parker-Robinson consequently managed to fulfill her academic obligations, earning degrees in Journalism (with an emphasis in broadcasting) and Sociology from Rutgers University. Fortunately for Parker-Robinson, her academic success proved just as beneficial to her entrepreneurial success than her plethora of accolades as a multi-sport athlete back in the rural setting of Williamstown.

Athletics and academics, nonetheless, helped instill in her the essential attributes to thrive as a flourishing business owners, something about which Memphians have embraced wholeheartedly in recent years.

Parker-Robinson said plans are in the works to add a second location likely in the Bartlett or Cordova area sometime in March 2015.

“I think I was born with the gene, like my father,” Parker-Robinson said of her entrepreneurial success.  “My dad would purchase boxes of candy and my youngest brother and I would take the candy to school and sell it.  Years later it took shape into our family business.”

A business that figures to have a viable presence in Mid-South for quite some time.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about Parker’s Water Ice, call 901-624-7676.

 

DreColumnAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Texas S.W.A.G. Track And Field thriving in Dallas, surrounding areas

PROVEN LEADERS --- Among the reasons Texas SWAG Track And Field has been a success is because its coaches boast a wealth of experiences. (From left to right): Ricky Madison, Texas SWAG founder William Henderson, and Isaac Bell.  (Not pictured): Trey Bates, Bob Bell, Tommy Cauley, Tommy Hamilton, Renwick Ridgeway, John Stewart

PROVEN LEADERS — Among the reasons the Texas SWAG Track And Field club has been a success is because its coaches boast a wealth of experiences. (From left to right): Isaac Bell, Texas SWAG founder William Henderson, and Ricky Madison.
(Not pictured): Trey Bates, Bob Bell, Tommy Cauley, Tommy Hamilton, Renwick Ridgeway, John Stewart (Photo by Andre Johnson)

ARLINGTON, Texas — In William Henderson’s estimation, it isn’t necessary to always attach a negative panorama to the term, “swag.”

“People tend to want to put a negative connotation to it,” Henderson told MemphiSport during a recent interview from Arlington’s Seguin High School. “In order to wear this, you’ve got to have swag.”

Henderson is referring to the newly-designed uniforms his Texas S.W.A.G. Track and Field Club will wear when it arrives to Texas State University in San Marcos next week for the USATF Region 12 Junior Olympic Track And Field Championships.

The regional competition will take place July 9-12 and will consist of athletes in various age divisions between eight and 18.

Two years ago, Henderson founded Texas S.W.A.G. Track And Field, a non-profit organization that serves specifically as a charitable, religious, and educational entity in Dallas’ Metroplex.

MOTHERLY IMPACT --- Texas SWAG Track And Field founder William Henderson chose pink as his club's primary color in honor of his mother Joyce, who has been a breast cancer survivor for the past 12 years. (Photo submitted by William Henderson)

MOTHERLY IMPACT — Texas SWAG Track And Field founder William Henderson chose pink as his club’s primary color in honor of his mother Joyce, who has been a breast cancer survivor for the past 12 years. (Photo submitted by William Henderson)

S.W.A.G., which stands for Success, Wisdom, Athleticism, and Grace, is currently comprised of about 90 athletes, many of whom compete for their respective middle and high school.

Come Wednesday, the first day of regional competition, Henderson’s troop will sport their customary pink and charcoal gray threads as they aim to advance to the national Junior Olympics trials later this month.

Since starting his track and field club, Henderson said he’s often been criticized for choosing pink as one of his club’s colors. Unfortunately, he points out, many aren’t aware of his logic by the colors.

A Tyler, Texas native, Henderson selected pink as Texas SWAG’s signature color in honor of his mother, Joyce, who has been a breast cancer survivor for the past 12 years.

Texas SWAG Track And Field has more than doubled since its inception two years ago. The non-profit organization currently features as many as 90 athletes.

TEXAS SIZE EXPANSION — Texas SWAG Track And Field has more than doubled since its inception two years ago. The non-profit organization currently features as many as 90 athletes. (Photo by Andre Johnson)

“I think the NFL and (Major League) Baseball have really done a lot with pink, especially for the male gender,” Henderson explains. “Last year, in my first year, there were some negative comments from people. I remember one a lady saying, ‘I’d never let my son wear pink.’ It made me feel the mentality of some people. It also brought to light that we all have our own prejudices. It kind of made me feel sad, especially when you’re dealing with kids because they are at that age where they’re being developed mentally.”

Long before establishing Texas S.W.A.G., Henderson enjoyed a track and field career that afforded him to run at the collegiate level. A 1987 John Tyler High graduate, Henderson was a standout distance runner during his three-year varsity stint, having advanced to the Texas state regionals in the 800-meter event as a senior.

In addition, he also participated in the 4×400 meter relay at Tyler. Consequently, he joined the track and field program at nearby Jarvis Christian College, where he was a member of the 4×200 and 4×400 meter relay teams.

After nearly a 10-year hiatus from track and field, Henderson ultimately regained his passion for the sport in 2007 during which he was asked as a substitute teacher to work as a volunteer assistant at Kennemer Middle School in Duncanville, Texas.

“The head football coach who didn’t know much about track allowed me to come out and work with the kids,” Henderson explained. “One of the things I realized when I was subbing and coaching is that a lot of our kids aren’t bad. They just need someone to talk to. They way things are nowadays, there’s something in the word, ‘coach,’ that the kids love, respect, and lean on.”

Because of a coaching staff that includes individuals who have competed at the collegiate level, Texas S.W.A.G. currently is comprised of about 90 athletes, a figure that has more than doubled since Henderson officially launched the club in January 2013.

“I surround myself with good people, with coaches who are U. S. Track And Field certified,” said Henderson, who also coaches the Mansfield Texans youth football team. “Most of my coaches are coaching at the high school level now, which adds legitimacy to our program because you’ve got people out here who know what they’re doing.”

YOUNG ENERGY --- Texas SWAG has athletes as young as seven years old.

YOUNG ENERGY — Texas SWAG has athletes as young as seven years old. (Photo by Andre Johnson)

Besides helping youths compete at a high level, among the skills Texas S.W.A.G. coaches emphasize to athletes is how to identify various forms and breathing or, as Henderson acknowledges, “how to run properly.”

“We have certain types of equipment for their arms like bird bands,” Henderson said. “We also train them for the quarter mile (or 400 meters). I was taught at John Tyler that if you can run the 400, you can run anything. That’s what I build my program on.”

An organization that ranges between the ages of seven and 18, among Texas S.W.A.G.’s key objectives is to promote good academic standing, particularly with regards to enlightening youth athletes on what it takes to earn scholarships upon graduating high school.

“We stay in contact with kids year round,” said Henderson, whose organization boasts indoor and outdoor seasons. “That in itself is how we help high schoolers. We also stay with them on their grades. We give them NCAA Clearing House packages that tell them what colleges expect.”

DOUBLE DUTY --- Texas SWAG Track And Field founder William Henderson also coaches the Mansfield Texans youth football team. (Photo submitted by William Henderson)

DOUBLE DUTY — Texas SWAG Track And Field founder William Henderson also coaches the Mansfield Texans youth football team. (Photo submitted by William Henderson)

Given its rapid growth in such a brief time as a non-profit organization, Henderson is appreciative of the fact that parents have bought into his staff’s unorthodox style of coaching, let alone his club’s unique colors.

“There’s a fine line between being swag and being cocky,” Henderson said. “I like running. All of my buddies in high school knew that track was going to be my deal.”

So far, so good for a flourishing program that is starting to have a viable presence in Dallas’ Metroplex.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

UT among schools eyeing Cottonwood (Ala.) QB Cory Gill after combine at Ole Miss

While Cory Gill would not say specifically if sensed his stock had risen at the Southern Elite Top 150 Combine last week at Ole Miss, it sure seemed that way.

Gill, the starting quarterback for Cottonwood (Ala.) High, was nothing short of impressive during the invitation-only combine that was comprised of a number of the finest prep football players in the country.

STOCK RISING --- Cottonwood (Ala.) High quarterback Cory Gill made his presence felt at the invitation-only Southern Elite Top 150 Combine at Ole Miss last week. The Tennessee Vols remain among the slew of colleges showing interest in Gill. (Photos courtesy of Cottonwood Athletics)

STOCK RISING — Cottonwood (Ala.) High quarterback Cory Gill made his presence felt at the invitation-only Southern Elite Top 150 Combine at Ole Miss last week. The Tennessee Vols remain among the slew of colleges showing interest in Gill. (Photos courtesy of Cottonwood Athletics)

After a year in which he drew rave reviews from scouts when he engineered the Bears from their midseason funk to clinch a postseason berth, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Gill showed last week there is more to his offensive repertoire.

For starters, Gill performed superbly in an assortment of drills at a combine that attracted more 190 athletes. To his credit, he was especially impressive during the 7-on-7 drills, which ultimately resulted him being the only quarterback to finish among the top 30 prospects.

A multi-sport athlete who is pitching standout for Cottonwood’s baseball team, Gill, placed 11th overall at last week’s combine, a feat that is almost certain give way to his football stock rising as his senior campaign looms.

“I think I performed well,” Gill said, when asked to assess his overall display at his latest camp. “It was really important to me because it’s always good to go different places and show different scouts what you are made of and I really enjoy doing that.”

No one seemed more intrigued by Gill’s performance than his mother, Jennifer Gill, who made the trip to Oxford, Miss. to witness her son demonstrate why scouts are steadfastly inquiring about his services.

“I was enjoying watching all of the talent from the stands,” Jennifer Gill said. “It seemed like all the quarterbacks there were very talented.  I would hear the other parents and spectators talking about that tall dark-headed quarterback had a great arm and how accurate he was. Then I realized they were talking about Cory.  It’s a feeling I can’t express…definitely makes a mama proud.  He did have a great combine. I never saw him throw a bad pass.”

Still, despite having a favorable showing at the Southern Elite Combine, Cory Gill hinted that it is essential he continues to assume the business-like approach.

In other words, he emphasized his primary focus is to continue to upgrade his mechanics, worthy advice he acknowledged was given to him by scouts and recruiting analysts.

CREAM OF THE CROP --- While at Ole Miss last week, Gill was the only prep quarterback that placed in the top 30 among more than 190 the prospects around the country.

CREAM OF THE CROP — While at Ole Miss last week, Gill was the only prep quarterback that placed in the top 30 among more than 190 the prospects around the country.

“The coaches told me about the stuff I needed to work on,” Cory Gill said. “The mechanics I must work on is following through on my throw and my footwork.”

After an impressive showing at his latest combine, Cory Gill said he’s confident he will fine tune the necessary skills in time for what figures to be a remarkable senior season, one in which he is expected to pick up where he left off last year.

In his second full season as a starter, Gill was the catalyst of coach Toby Greene’s Cottonwood team that recovered from a midseason three-game winless streak and clinched a trip to the Alabama Class 2A playoffs. In engineering the Bears to a 6-5 finish, Gill demonstrated why college scouts have taken notice of his keen ability to manage a spread offense.

Gill amassed a career-best 2,574 passing on 183 of 325 attempts while throwing 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, which were best among Alabama quarterbacks.

To his credit, he has garnered interests from an array of colleges, most notably Tennessee, Auburn, Southern Miss, Samford, South Alabama, Alabama State, West Alabama, Florida, Florida International, Troy, Mercer, Western Kentucky, Appalachian State, Jacksonville State, and Furman, among others, he said.

Such a list is expected to increase as early as before his season season, according to his mother, who spoke with a number of analysts during last week’s combine.

“(Several 247 Sports representatives) stopped me to tell me how great he was doing,” Jennifer said. “They said he could really sling that football. Cory is a very hard worker and is very competitive. He doesn’t like to not be the best at what he does, so he works twice as hard when the competition is there.”

That was evident at his latest combine appearance, a trend that continues to impress scouts.

DreColumnAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Former Duncanville sprinter to college coaches: ‘I’m going to give it my all and do my thing on the track’

DUNCANVILLE, Texas — D’Andre Jackson-Reeves loves track and field.

So much, in fact, that he deemed it necessary recently to consult an Olympic gold medalist for advice as he prepares to lobby for a spot on his college track and field team.

ON YOUR MARK --- D'Andre Jackson-Reeves emerged into a standout sprinter for Duncanville High in the Dallas area. After getting advice from two-time Olympian Rochelle Stevens recently, he hopes to earn a spot for Prairie View A & M track and field team this fall. (Photos submitted by Nathanial Reeves)

ON YOUR MARK — D’Andre Jackson-Reeves emerged into a standout sprinter for Duncanville High in the Dallas area. After getting advice from two-time Olympian Rochelle Stevens recently, he hopes to earn a spot for Prairie View A & M track and field team this fall. (Photos submitted by Nathanial Reeves)

Jackson-Reeves contacted Rochelle Stevens, a two-time Olympian who won a gold medal as part of the 4×400-meter relay team in the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.

A conversation he said lasted for about 15 minutes, Jackson-Reeves admittedly came away inspired as he clings to hopes of earning a spot on Prairie View A & M University’s track and field this fall.

“She talked to me about what coaches will be looking for in a college athlete and the times they would want,” Jackson-Reeves told MemphiSport during a recent interview. She asked what events I ran and what were my best times were. “She suggested that I run cross country to help me get in shape. The conversation was some what informative because she told me a lot of things I already knew about track and what it would take.”

While Jackson-Reeves, the former Duncanville High sprinter, did not compete for a spot on Prairie View’s track and field program his freshman year so he could focus primarily on his grades, he believes now the time has come to prove he’s worthy of putting his skills on display for PVAMU coach Chris Clay’s squad.

ALL WORLD --- Before winning an elusive gold medal in the 1996 Summer Olympics, Memphian Rochelle Stevens was a four-time national champion at Morgan State University in Baltimore. (Getty Images Photo)

ALL WORLD — Before winning an elusive gold medal in the 1996 Summer Olympics, Memphian Rochelle Stevens was a four-time national champion at Morgan State University in Baltimore. (Getty Images Photo)

Ever since Jackson-Reeves set foot on the Houston, Texas campus last fall, he has taken part in mostly individual workouts as a way of staying in favorable shape. Add to the fact that he has compiled a 3.5 grade point average, and it’s no wonder why he believes he could contribute immediately for PVAMU.

“I believe (the PVAMU coaching staff) saw me working out,” Jackson-Reeves said. “I’m fast and I’m a go-getter on the track. I have the attributes to help that team.”

Said Jackson-Reeves’ father, Nathaniel Reeves: “That’s one thing I’ve really pushed and that’s work ethic. Being in the military for years, you’re working as a team to get a job done. We go out as a team, we shoot as a team, move and communicate as a team. Not only does (Jackson-Reeves) does it on the (track), but he can do it in the classroom.”

Prior to enrolling at PVAMU, Jackson-Reeves enjoyed an efficient stint for Duncanville’s tradition-rich track and field program.

He ran the 100- and 200-meter dash and took part in the 4×100- and 4×200-meter relays his freshman and sophomore seasons before omitting the 100-meter dash from his events his final two seasons.

Looking back, he said he felt his second full year was his breakout season, in large part because Duncanville came away with assortment of hardware.

“It was just that year, my teammates and I were doing really good,” Jackson-Reeves said. We would go to every meet and come back with medals. The team chemistry was really good. And plus it was good because we were winning. It really boosted my confidence.”

Now, Jackson-Reeves is destined to exhibit that same winning attitude for Prairie View. Surely, he realizes it will take a monumental effort on his part. But as he tells it, he welcomes the lofty challenge of making his presence felt.

Once again.

“I have the grades,” Jackson-Reeves said. “So you never have to worry if I’ll be eligible to run. And I have the will power to compete. I just want to be another student who wants to compete on the track.”

Said Jackson-Reeves former high school track coach William Henderson: “I was Dre’s summer track for two-to-three years but our relationship with him and his family goes beyond the track.  I’ve always had a good relationship with him even to this day as he moves toward and pursue his passion in and out of the classroom.  I was always partial toward Dre’ because he has the same passion towards track as I do. He has always been a hard-worker and focused young man.  Dre is a self motivator and a leader which are essential elements in being a track athlete.  He’s very aware of his abilities but isn’t afraid to tackle those things that will make him better.  I think each team, no matter if it’s Pop Warner, high school, college, or professional needs people like Dre’ on their team.”

If given the chance to compete for Prairie View A & m, Jackson-Reeves said he would have fulfilled his dream of competing at the collegiate level.

“I’m going to give it my all and do my thing on the track,” Jackson-Reeves said.

For Jackson-Reeves, it was similar advice he absorbed from Stevens who, before striking Olympic gold, made her presence felt on the track for a historically black college (Morgan State University).

“She helped me to realize that I’m really going to have to bust my butt and start making a name for myself and let my speed do the talking for me,” he said. “And with (good grades) and good times, then I can get a scholarship. She sounded like a nice person and a person that keeps it real, because she didn’t want to lead me on to false information.”

Now it’s time to put on display what he was told by one of world’s finest sprinters to ever grace a track.

DreColumnAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson also is the NBA Southwest Division reporter. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Lausanne basketball standout Camren Taylor eager for return to action

Camren Taylor has spent virtually his entire life as a multi-sport athlete, most notably on the football and basketball circuits. 

Nothing, he says, will ever top basketball.

COMEBACK CAM --- Lausanne Collegiate School basketball standout Camren Taylor missed all of last season because of injury. The rising sophomore has spent months rehabbing and is expected to resume play this upcoming season. (Photos submitted by Toby Taylor)

COMEBACK CAM — Lausanne Collegiate School basketball standout Camren Taylor missed all of last season because of injury. The rising sophomore has spent months rehabbing and is expected to resume play this upcoming season. (Photos submitted by Toby Taylor)

“I like basketball more than I do football,” Taylor told MemphiSport during a recent interview.
To get a thorough understanding out why Taylor has gained a fond admiration for hoops, look no further than his continuous rise on the court in recent years.

GREAT ADDITION --- Camren's contributions as a eighth grader helped propelled Lausanne to a state championship two years ago.

GREAT ADDITION — Camren’s contributions as a eighth grader helped propelled Lausanne to a state championship two years ago.

Despite missing his entire freshman season for Memphis’ Lausanne Collegiate School — the same institution that produced Memphis Grizzlies All-Star Marc Gasol — Taylor was as good as advertised.

To his credit, he reaped the benefits of his solid display.

During the Lynx’s TSSAA Division 2-A state title run two seasons ago, for instance, the 6-foot-4 swingman performed superbly as an eighth grade varsity player for a team that finished the year with a 25-5 mark.

With that came an array of accolades for a newcomer who has already been dubbed a three-star recruit by TNPrepHoops.com and Future150.com.

Among the honors:

Taylor was rated the No. 7-ranked newcomer in the state by Future150.com and the 68th overall prospect for the Class of 2017.

Camren Taylor with Lausanne head coach Kenneth White.

Camren Taylor with Lausanne head coach Kenneth White.

In addition, he was named to the Memphis Commercial Appeal’s Boys Basketball Impact List. Also, he was named Most Valuable Player of Memphis’ Competitive Basketball League (CBL) in 2010 and has made his presence felt on the AAU circuit in recent years, particularly with the Memphis Pharaohs, Memphis War Eagles, Team Penny, and Mike Miller’s M33M AAU programs.

Currently, Taylor is ranked as the No. 20 prospect for the Class of 2017 by TNPrepHoops.com.

While his basketball prowess has been well-documented in recent years, this past year had been somewhat tumultuous for a kid whom many believe boasts a bright basketball future.

Last year, Taylor developed Osteochondritis Dissecean (or OCD). OCD is a condition of the knee in which a piece of the bone (or cartilage) separates from its surrounding area and lacks blood supply. The bone then becomes loosen and eventually cracks.

According to Taylor’s father, Toby Taylor, his son developed this injury over about a “two-year period” without any symptoms until he was at a basketball workout last summer and witnessed his knee buckle. Consequently, he developed severe pain and swelling at that time. An MRI later confirmed the diagnosis.

For Toby Taylor, the news of his son’s injury was difficult to stomach, in large part because he had started to earn the reputation as one of finest up-and-coming high school players in the Shelby-Metro area.

“As parents, this was disappointing because he would be out of sports for an extended period of time,” Toby Taylor explained. “Sports have been a huge part if our life since he was three years old playing recreational sports. He started playing competitive basketball at 10 years of age. He had skills training five-to-six days a week since the age of 10 until his injury when he wasn’t playing. We were hurting because we knew he was hurting and disappointed as well.”

Luckily for Camren, his basketball future wasn’t put in jeopardy, although he was sidelined as a freshman for Lausanne. Nowadays, he is recouping comfortably from his injury and has even begun taking part in individual workouts.

 “I have just finished up physical therapy a few weeks ago,” Camren said. “Now I go to the gym everyday and get on the elliptical for 30 minutes. After I get done with that, I lift weights. First, I do arms then I do legs. When I do legs, I do more on my right leg then left so I can get it just as strong. Then after that, I go to the gym and put up 100 free throws each day. I will be doing this until I am able to run and jump again.”

Although doctors held Camren out of AAU action this summer, he is expected to resume full contact drills in the coming weeks.

Despite an injury that sidelined him last season, recruiters did not back off from showing interest. According to Toby Taylor, Camren has generated interest from Arkansas State, Xavier and nearby Union University. Camren is expected to make a full recovery and boasts aspirations of playing at the collegiate level.

“If I earn a college scholarship in basketball, I will feel like all the hard work has paid off,” Camren said. “The ultimate goal is to get my education. And I will be able to further my education without using my parents’ money.”
Spoken like a true freshman, one who’s destined to have a huge impact, even in his household.

DreColumnAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson also is the NBA Southwest Division reporter. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Shavarick James to college coaches: ‘I don’t know what slacking looks like’

OAK CLIFF, Texas — Shavarick James was rather forthright when asked recently how he will spend his summer.

FIGHTING CHANCE --- Former Dallas Triple A Academy swingman Shavarick James (black uniform) believes despite seeing his minutes reduced significantly in recent years, he can provide vailiant contributions at the collegiate level. James plans to enroll at Midwestern State this fall. (Photos courtesy of Triple A Academy Athletics)

FIGHTING CHANCE — Former Dallas Triple A Academy swingman Shavarick James (black uniform) believes despite seeing his minutes reduced significantly in recent years, he can provide vailiant contributions at the collegiate level. James plans to enroll at Midwestern State this fall. (Photos courtesy of Triple A Academy Athletics)

“This summer, I plan to work even harder than my previous summers combined,” James told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “I plan on making my weaknesses my strengths and my strengths even more strong.”

To get a clear understanding of why James — a 17-year-old Dallas-area basketball standout who recently graduated from nearby Triple A Academy — pledges to upgrade his mechanics on the court, look no further than the sequence of events that transpired in the recent years. 

For starters, the Fort-Worth, Texas native, whose hoops prowess soared to immense heights years ago while on the AAU circuit for the Dallas-area Southwest Elite team, his skills went virtually unnoticed by college scouts, in large part because he was a member of an up-and-coming charter school program.

WATCH SHAVA JAMES IN ACTION VIA YOUTUBE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKR0iHvU-RA&feature=youtube_gdata_player

 

Although he witnessed a significant decrease in minutes, the 6-foot-3 swingman admittedly clung to lofty aspirations of playing at the collegiate level alongside fellow Triple A teammate Frank Hollis.

Said Craig Roberts, James’ AAU coach on his progress in recent years: “Shava is an athletic 6-foot-4 wing who has a knockdown jumper and isn’t afraid to drive the lane. He defends very well on the perimeter. Although he needs to get stronger, his best basketball is ahead of him.”

As James tells it, he and Hollis — a combo guard one of the Stallions’ best defenders — often spoke about the idea of playing college ball at the same institution. They will have their chance in the coming months, considering James and Hollis have planned to enroll at Midwestern State in Wichita Falls, Texas.

RESILIENT 'SHAVA' --- James, who has been playing competitive basketball since he was three years old, has been a force on the Dallas-area AAU circuit in recent years.

RESILIENT ‘SHAVA’ — James, who has been playing competitive basketball since he was three years old, has been a force on the Dallas-area AAU circuit in recent years.

While the possibility exists that both players could earn scholarships at MWSU, one thing has already been determined: Hollis and James have agreed that is all else fails, they are destined to lobby for roster spots as walk-ons.

“(The MWSU coaching staff) would be getting someone who doesn’t know what slacking looks like,” said James when asked what he could offer a college program. “I would be a suitable fit because I am 100 percent for the team. I learned that when you are for your team, not only does that allow you to become a better player, but a better man. And, in the end, that’s the ultimate goal.”

James spent his first year at nearby Hampton Prep, where he was a force on the junior varsity squad before ultimately earning significant minutes on the varsity team. To his credit, he demonstrated time and again to be among the team’s most efficient reserves, having averaged around 10 points per game.

Unfortunately for James, his saw a substantial reduction in action, particularly after he transferred to Triple. Still, his contributions off the bench helped propel the Stallions to their first ever state championship last year.
Last year, James played sparingly and average around eight points per outing for a Triple A that finished with a 21-8 mark.

FULL SUPPORT --- Shava's mother, Ericka Hudson, has supported him wholeheartedly since he first began playing competitive basketball.

FULL SUPPORT — Shava’s mother, Ericka Hudson, has supported him wholeheartedly since he first began playing competitive basketball.

Among his key strengths as a speedy swingman is his ability to rebound, penetrate to the basket, and create his own shot, attributes he hopes will draw rave reviews from Midwestern State coaching staff this fall.
In a nutshell, James doesn’t shy away from the notion that among his key objectives is to compete for a roster spot once he sets foot on campus this fall.

“Over the years, Shavarick has shown a genuine true love and compassion for the sport,” said Ericka Hudson, Shavarick’s mother. “He has certainly gained knowledge over the past years and is able to apply that knowledge to the sport and the game. He is definitely worthy of a chance to prove himself. He has the dedication and drive it takes to make it. I believe he is committed to himself and the sport. He is determined to prove himself to anyone that gives him the opportunity.”

Among the reasons James said he has steadfastly remained focused on playing basketball at the collegiate ranks is that his mother has supported him continously ever since he first began playing competitively at the age of three.

“My mother is a big part of my support system,” James said. “She has come to a majority of y games. She even came to (Las) Vegas last summer to watch me play.”

A trend James hopes will continue once he enters college in the coming months. 

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Dallas hoops standout Frank Hollis to scouts: ‘Whoever gives me a chance won’t regret it’

DESOTO, Texas — No one has to inspire Frank Hollis to exhibit energy and assertiveness for a big game.

Take, for instance, Hollis’ memorable showing during his sophomore season when he starred at combo guard for Bishop Lynch High in Dallas.

STATING HIS CASE --- After playing his final two prep basketball seasons for Triple A Academy, a Dallas-area charter school, Frank Hollis (black uniform) went unsigned. The combo guard contends that whichever school gives him a chance to play, it won't regret it. (Photos by Diane Cooley)

STATING HIS CASE — After playing his final two prep basketball seasons for Triple A Academy, a Dallas-area charter school, Frank Hollis (black uniform) went unsigned. The combo guard contends that whichever school gives him a chance to play, it won’t regret it. (Photos by Diane Dooley)

While squaring off against a Prestonwood Christian team that was led by former Kentucky star Julius Randle, Hollis demonstrated time and again that he could compete against the top players in the country.

Randle, who’s projected as a lottery pick in the NBA draft in the coming weeks, found this out firsthand.
While in transition, the 6-foot-9 Randle penetrated hard to the basketball against an undersized Hollis, who stands at 6-foot-3. But in a dramatic sequence of events, Randle’s attempt was swatted by Hollis.

Hollis, as it turns out, wound up on the wrong end of a heads-up play that drew rave reviews from spectators.

“It was a clean block,” Hollis told MemphiSport on Saturday. “But they called a foul. It was one of those things where we came down (court) and I had to double team on the fastbreak. I was back-pedaling for help. He was on the fastbreak and was running toward me and then when he jumped, I jumped.”

Though Hollis was whistled for a foul against Randle, the 2014 SEC Rookie of the Year who guided the Wildcats to the NCAA championship game in April, his gusty play is indicative of the no-fear disposition he has displayed on the court ever since the 18-year-old Dallas native first picked up a basketball 13 years old.

WATCH FRANK HOLLIS IN ACTION VIA YOUTUBE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRZ3qHcZSNI

By and large, his solid body of work on the court in recent years is among the reasons those who witnessed Hollis blossomed into a crafty athlete believe he would be viable force on for a school in the collegiate ranks.
Roughly 24 hours removed from having earned his high school diploma for Triple A Academy in the Dallas area, Hollis surprising finished his prep career unsigned, news that came a shock to many, most notably Craig Roberts, his former AAU coach.

“Frank Hollis is an athletic wing guard,” Robinson said. “He is a tenacious defender and finishes very well with either hand in transition. He does make plays above the rim and he is a streak shooter that has a knack for coming up in big games.”

It is believed that among the reasons Hollis, like a couple of his teammates, didn’t sign a national letter of intent is that he played sparingly for Triple A after two productive seasons at Bishop Lynch.

This past season, for instance, Hollis appeared in each of the Stallions’ 29 games, averaging around eight points and three assists per outing. Last year, his also witnessed a reduction in his play, although his contribution helped propel Triple A to the Texas Division I-A state championship.

According to Hollis, playing in a system in which he wasn’t accustomed to being the facilitator on the floor weighed heavily on him at times.

MAD SKILLS --- Among Hollis' key strengths is that he has the ability to finish strong in transition and defend the opposition's best player, attributes he hopes will prompt college coaches to give him a chance to play.

MAD SKILLS — Among Hollis’ key strengths is that he has the ability to finish strong in transition and defend the opposition’s best player, attributes he hopes will prompt college coaches to give him a chance to play.

So much, in fact, that last week, Hollis admittedly contemplated not playing college basketball, news that came as a surprise to his mother, Wanda Hollis.

“For two months, I hadn’t heard him bouncing the ball in the foyer (of her home),” Wanda Hollis said. “(His) passion had always been so strong. It was an ongoing thing, never a dull moment.”

After taking time to assess his basketball future, Frank Hollis has decided he’d welcome the opportunity of extending his basketball career.

Even it means starting over as a walk-on.

Although he plans to enroll at Midwestern State in Wichita Falls, Texas, Frank hasn’t given up on fulfilling his dream of inking a national letter of intent.

In other words, this speedy kid who likens his skills to NBA players Lance Stephenson and Tony Allen believes the possibility exists that he could land a basketball scholarship.

“Whoever gives me a chance, won’t regret it,” said Frank, who graduated with honors after being named to the National Honor Society.

Roberts, who contends Frank “fell through the cracks” like a number of his peers, essentially echoed his former players’ dauntless declaration.

“Yes, I’m shocked he went unsigned,” Roberts said.

Nevertheless, many who have observed the immense skills of Frank — who, according to MaxPreps.com, is the 82nd best player in Texas — believes whomever offers him a chance to play for their program would be inheriting a player who has developed a reputation defending the opposition’s marquee players.

As Randle once found out.

“Anybody from a basketball perspective can score, but everybody can’t defend,” said Joe Moon, Frank’s uncle, who coached him during his recreational basketball and football-playing days. “One of the things I stressed a lot with him was education, his knowledge for the game. He knows how to position his body more. He actually has the finesse.”

Attributes Moon said college coaches can’t merely teach, especially defensive-minded players like Frank.

“I think they’ll be missing out on one of the most coachable kids available,” Moon said. “Everybody’s not coachable. “And any coach who gets him will see that.”

Especially in big-game situations.

As Randle once found out.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 

Shawnee (Okla.) lineman Tristan Wyatt gaining looks from Memphis, offered by Tulsa

Although Shawnee (Okla.) High quarterback John Jacobs III has been labeled by various recruiting analysts as a “game changer,” given he helped steer Shawnee from years of futility to a team that enjoyed consecutive playoff appearances, the East Carolina commitment is quick to point out that Tristan Wyatt has played a pivotal role in his progress in recent years.

HUGE IMPACT --- Shawnee (Okla.) High offensive lineman Tristan Wyatt (No. 74) adjusted comfortably to his new role as a starter this past season. Wyatt has been offered a scholarship by new American Athletic Conference member Tulsa and has generated interests from the University of Memphis. (Photos courtesy of Shawnee Athletics)

HUGE IMPACT — Shawnee (Okla.) High offensive lineman Tristan Wyatt (No. 74) adjusted comfortably to his new role as a starter this past season. Wyatt has been offered a scholarship by new American Athletic Conference member Tulsa and has generated interests from the University of Memphis. (Photos courtesy of Shawnee Athletics)

“Tristan is the biggest asset to our team,” Jacobs told MemphiSport on Friday. “He’s one of my best friends and keeps the team leveled headed and focused.”

Wyatt, 6-foot-5, 290-pound offensive lineman who said Friday he’s being recruited by the University of Memphis, was a key ingredient to an offensive unit that was among the finest in Oklahoma Class 5A football this past season. For starters, Wyatt showed no signs of inexperience in his first full season as a starter. As a result, Jacobs managed to register impressive numbers both in and outside of the pocket.

To his credit, the assertiveness and poise Wyatt demonstrated in 2013 are among the reasons the Wolves recovered from years of futility and enjoyed consecutive playoff appearances.

A team that boasts an offensive line that weighs an average of about 275 pounds, the Wolves finished with a 9-3 mark and advanced to the Class 5A championship game.  

While an offensive lineman isn’t the most glamorous position, credit Wyatt and his crew — a massive, rugged unit — that will be destined to pick up where it left off this past season.

As Wyatt is acknowledges, the effort he displayed was a testament of brutal offseason workouts he had last summer.

“I learned that I truly have the potential to be one of the best linemen in Oklahoma,” Wyatt said in assessing his performance.

Fortunately for Wyatt, a slew of college scouts took notice of the constant strides me made as a junior.

Wyatt, in fact, has already been offered a scholarship by the University of Tulsa, which will join Memphis in the American Athletic Conference this upcoming season. Besides the Tigers, he is being heavily recruited Arkansas, OklahomaState, and a host of Division I schools.

Expect that list to increase in the coming weeks, considering Wyatt is scheduled to attend several camps and combines, mostly at Iowa, Tulsa, and Arkansas, among others.

Weeks after the 2013 season, he earned invites to the Nike and Rivals camps in Dallas.

As he prepares for what figures to be a stellar senior year for a Shawnee team that returns the bulk of its offensive unit and will likely be a favorite to capture the Class 5A crown, Wyatt said there are number of mechanics on which he must improve to ensure his final prep campaign is a success.

HOLDING HIS OWN --- Wyatt (No. 74) was the centerpiece of a Shawnee offensive line that helped quarterack John Jacobs III amassed more than 5,000 yards of total offense last year.

HOLDING HIS OWN — Wyatt (No. 74) was the centerpiece of a Shawnee offensive line that helped quarterack John Jacobs III amassed more than 5,000 yards of total offense last year.

“My biggest strength is my footwork speed,” Wyatt said. “I’m still trying to get quicker, but I can get my foot down real quick, kick back very quick, and get to the spot I need to in order to block any defender on the field.”

Besides having an experienced, bulky unit, which enabled him to adjust comfortably to his new role, Wyatt also credits Shawnee coach Billy Brown for instilling in him the confidence he needed to thoroughly carry out his duties.

“Coach Brown has really helped me understand football,” Wyatt said. “I was at a loss coming into high school since I had never played and Coach Brown’s coaching as well as the other coaches had helped me to understand the game better.”

That Wyatt adjusted masterful to his role and evolved as the centerpiece among Shawnee’s offensive linemen made his quarterback’s job easy.

At least, Jacobs thinks so.

“It never hurts to have a body guard either,” Jacobs said with a grin.

He has his best friend to thank.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Fairley’s Shannon Lucas witnesses mother beat breast cancer, graduates with honors

Shannon D. Lucas played football during his middle school days.

He was quite good at it.

However, his competitive football tenure was short-lived, in large part because of an assortment of injuries.

MOTHERLY LOVE --- Despite being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, LaTonya McKinney overcame the dreaded disease and was in attendance recently to witness her son, Shannon Lucas, graduate with honors from Fairley High. School officials announced recently the closing of Fairley as a member of the Shelby County Public Schools system. (Photos submitted by LaTonya McKinney)

MOTHERLY LOVE — Despite being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, LaTonya McKinney overcame the dreaded disease and was in attendance recently to witness her son, Shannon D. Lucas, graduate with honors from Fairley High. School officials announced recently the closing of Fairley as a member of the Shelby County Public Schools system. (Photos submitted by LaTonya McKinney)

So much, in fact, that Lucas sensed that playing football in the high school ranks would not be in his best interest.

“The reason I stopped was because I had three injuries during the season,” Lucas told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “Afterward, I went on to realize that doing so in high school would be much harder for me. I wanted to focus on actually finishing high school, not missing days in the hospital, and missing assignments. That was an Achilles Heel that I couldn’t afford to carry.”

With football all but a distant memory, Lucas was determined to make good of what appeared to be discouraging ordeal.

To his credit, he did just that.

COLLEGE BOUND --- After graduating with honors on May 17, Lucas will enroll this fall at the University of Memphis on an academic scholarship.

COLLEGE BOUND — After graduating with honors on May 17, Lucas will enroll this fall at the University of Memphis on an academic scholarship.

The 17-year-old Memphian recently was among 153 individuals who were awarded diplomas during Fairley High’s final commencement exercises as a part of the Shelby County Public Schools system. For Lucas, while learning that Fairley will no longer be a public institution for inner city children in the Whitehaven community was a bittersweet moment as he sat among his classmates, among his fondest memories, he said, will be how he went about erasing the memories of the trials he endured as middle school athlete.

In a nutshell, Lucas wasn’t just a recipient of a diploma. He graduated with honors.

“My memories travel back all the way to when I first stepped foot into Fairley as a freshman with everyone else,” Lucas explained. “We didn’t know who anyone was, we didn’t know where we were, or were to go. It was like we were lost in a deep jungle. Then as we entered our senior year, everything seemed so old. We even felt old when we saw the newbie freshmen coming in. All we could think was, ‘We were never that bad as freshman!’”

During Fairley’s graduation ceremony before an overflow crowd in Memphis’ historic Orpheum Theatre in the heart of downtown, among those who were enthralled and sat nearly on the edge of her seat near the stage was Lucas’ mother, LaTonya McKinney.

To get a thorough understanding of why McKinney, a Coldwater, Miss. native, was brought to tears before her son’s name was called throughout the loudspeakers to receive his diploma, look no further the events that swarmed her life roughly eight years ago.

In 2006, McKinney was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Such news was a devastating blow for McKinney, whose twin sister, LaSonya Thomas, was diagnosed with the same dreaded disease approximately three years later.

“I didn’t have a response at all,” said McKinney, explaining her initial reaction during an October 2012 interview with MemphiSport. “I didn’t know how to respond, didn’t feel any anger. It was just some information that was given to me. My mom came over and then asked me if I wanted to cry. But I didn’t feel like crying.”

Today, however, McKinney and her twin — who were born approximately five minutes apart — are years removed from having gone into remission from breast cancer, a life-altering occurrence that made Lucas’s graduation day more of a celebratory occasion for his mother.

“It did cross my mind,” said McKinney, when asked if she thought she might not live to witness her son’s graduation. “But I quickly took that out of my head because I am a believer in God. My mother was my rock in my battle with cancer and she took really good care of me.”

Lucas, meanwhile, admits that because his mother fought vigorously to beat her battle with breast cancer, the poise she exhibited enabled him to establish a solid work ethic, particularly at an institution where the student body’s overall performance in the classroom had become an issue with state officials.

In other words, Lucas steadfastly defied the odds, erasing the memory — at least for a short while — of the upcoming closing of historic Fairley High.

Next up: He’s off to the University of Memphis this fall on an academic scholarship.

“I am highly disappointed that my school is closing,” Lucas said.  “Imagine, in the class of 2014 lies that last true blood Bulldogs of Fairley High School. The final O.B.’s (original bulldogs) are out of the building, and now the school that we all grow up together in will now seize to exist as we know it.”

Regardless, that doesn’t merely compare to the graduation memories his mother will forever cherish — memories she witnessed unfold close and upfront in the historic Orpheum Theatre.

So much for football.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.