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D.C.’s Friendship Collegiate Academy sends 18 football players to Division I schools

‘This is not just my dream, it’s my family’s dream’

After the 2016 state championship and a dream season for seniors, the Friendship Collegiate Academy football players closed one chapter of their lives and signed their ticket to the next.

This year the school located in Washington, D.C., will send 18 players to NCAA Division I football programs. Wednesday was national signing day, when athletes could officially sign football scholarships with schools. The players have committed to schools such as Howard, Temple, Bowie State, Syracuse and the U.S. Naval Academy, to name a few. To put that in perspective, 6.7 percent, or about 1 in 16, high school football players will go on to play at the NCAA level.

The truth is these players have been through a lot in order to sit on a stage and sign a scholarship for a college education. Friendship is in Ward 7, which is one of the most violent areas of the city.

“There was a time when I didn’t think I was going to make it,” said Friendship cornerback and Temple University commit Christian Braswell during his emotional speech.

Fellow students, friends and family filled the gymnasium, decorated with a stage, lights, and the backdrop of their school logo. The athletes took their places, anxiously waiting to deliver their speeches and most importantly, their announcements.

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It was an emotional day as several players broke into tears when discussing their personal lives over the past four years at Friendship. Two players shared their stories about family members, providers for their families who had strokes that left them medically disabled. One player, cornerback Jordan Marshall, dedicated the day to his deceased brother, who got him into football but was unable to see how far he had come.

Defensive lineman Sam Pearson tried to inject some light-spirited humor into the day by saying, “I ain’t trying to bust out crying like the other guys,” during his speech. His lighthearted commentary caused the audience to laugh with him. One sentence later, when speaking about his mother, he broke into tears.

Head coach Michael Hunter was grinning as each player took the stand. His hard work, along with that of several other coaches, helped shaped this group of guys on and off the field. Over his career coaching at Friendship, Hunter said, they have sent about 148 players to college.

“I don’t look at myself as just a coach. We’re here to support them in every aspect — from personal life to classroom to football. So the football part is probably the smallest part to deal with,” said Hunter.

Academics are just as important as athletics, and many of the Friendship football players are involved in Advanced Placement classes and the school’s honor society.

This season, coaches challenged the players to achieve a3.0 team GPA, something that has never been attained. They exceeded expectations, averaging a 3.05 GPA, and 44 of the 78 players on varsity and junior varsity attained a 3.0 GPA in the first quarter.

“Coming to Friendship my freshman year, I was never the best athlete, but I was always a great student,” said Namir Lee, an offensive lineman. Lee is committed to Stevenson University in Stevenson, Maryland, and is the first in his family to attend college. He will begin his freshman year with credits he accrued while at Friendship.

Christian Braswell who signed his letter of intent to attend Temple University hugs his mother during Friendship Academy's signing day event on February 1, 2017

Christian Braswell, who signed his letter of intent to attend Temple University, hugs his mother during Friendship Academy’s signing day event on Feb. 1.

Kea Taylor, Imagine Photography

All season, these players have met the call to action. One of their favorite memories for both coaches and players were both wins over archrival H.D. Woodson, in a close 19-14 win early in the season and a 13-0 shutout toward the end of the season.

During the regular season, Friendship overcame a 42-6 deficit in the first half of a game against St. Joseph Regional High School to score 28 points in the second half, narrowly losing 45-34. In the next five games, Friendship outscored their opponents 188-6, including a playoff run when the team did not give up a single point.

Defensive lineman Vaughn Taylor and wide receiver Nykeim Johnson were among the most highly-recruited players from the team. Taylor will be attending the Naval Academy, the first player to attend a service school in the charter school’s history.

Last season, Johnson, Taylor, Pearson, Braswell and Laron Riddick earned District of Columbia State Athletic Association (DCSAA) honors.

“I know a lot of people who play football and have dreams of being an NFL star, but the NFL is not for everyone and the Navy allows you to walk right out of your door, and graduate right into a job making a decent salary,” said Taylor as he proudly sported a pullover shirt with the Navy “N” on the front.

Johnson credits Friendship with preparing him for the next chapter of his life. He has confidence that he will meet the expectations of being a Division I college athlete because of the people he was surrounded by at Friendship.

“This community pushed me. A lot of people had the chance to do things, but they didn’t want to step up to the plate and actually be about what they say they were going to do. Me being around and experiencing and talking to different people who have actually went through things like that shows me that I have to be a person who keeps pushing. Like my mom, she always instilled in me that I have to keep going,” said Johnson.

But for these players, this day wasn’t just about them. At this moment at their school, in a gym glittered with media cameras and pride, players attributed their success not only to their talents, but the support of their families.

“This is not just my dream,” said defensive back Sirrah Smith. “It’s my family’s dream.”

Gertrude “Trudy” Joseph is a senior at UMass Amherst and intern with The Undefeated. She will probably be either the youngest “Gertrude” you will ever meet or the only “Gertrude” you will ever meet. From the birthplace of basketball (shout to the entire 413), Trudy believes the “Kobe System” is the single most important commercial of our time.

Callan Mathis is an intern at The Undefeated and a journalism graduate student at Georgetown University. She runs eight miles a day, is an unapologetic Knicks fan, and a really good cook. So, she also goes by Forrest Gump, Spike Lee and Ayesha Curry.