A new coat of paint and a large donation for a new track is just the start for reinvigorating Houston Field. The real energy is coming from the kids. With the Flint Community Schools coming together as the Jaguars and a single unifying team that merges students from Flint Northwestern and Southwestern.
Houston Field is the Jaguars home field and they come together for the first time today as one city, one team.
Before game day on a sweltering Thursday afternoon, No. 8, Jason Miller, is helping his coaches sort out jerseys for the team. The senior varsity fullback is soft spoken, but a wall of a human. Start talking about the game he loves and a large grin quickly spreads across his face. “I just love hitting somebody and not having to get in trouble,” he laughs. “It’s also about discipline and just being apart of team and knowing that your whole squad is looking out for you.”
Miller, 17, says he is encouraged by the schools coming together to form one team. “Last year we were missing a lot of positions,” he says. “At Northwestern, they had the positions that we needed and we had positions that they needed, so coming together we became a better team.”
Coach Chris Wilson, a former NFL player and Flint Northern graduate, is standing in the hall getting the players in a line to head to the field. “We’ve seen these kids improve every week. They are showing me they want to play the game the right way, and (the game) will be a good time to show everyone the turn we’re making.”
Speaking with a sort of cadence and a to-the-point style that seems to be a trademark for football coaches, Wilson is happy that players from across the city and the district are playing as one team. “I don’t know if they realize how close we are to not having a team for the district, so that is what we’re fighting for, and we can’t win that fight separately. We have to do it together, and that is what people will see at Houston on Friday night,” he says. “We’re going to show them what Flint players can do.”
The home field, Houston Stadium, received a bit of facelift—with more to come. The newly finished track came with a price tag of more than $100,000, funded with the $250,000 donation by NBA Hall of Fame great Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
“We have a beautiful stadium right here, and it is time to bring Flint teams back to their home field,” says Flint Schools Athletic Director Jamie Foster of Houston Stadium.
Foster says that the push to revamp the stadium is coming from the students, who cleaned up the track and added a fresh coat of teal and black paint. “You can hear them saying it all the time: ‘One town. One team. Go Jags!’” he smiles.
Taking a walk around the new track at Houston and making his way up the stadium steps to the old press box, Foster recalls coming to Northwestern as a student in the 1970s as a transfer student from Detroit. “I remember thinking, ‘This is crazy. This is like some kind of college.’ I mean you could hear people cheering at the stadium from the road and we really want to bring some of that spirit back to the field.”
It’s on that field that right guard, left tackle Kalen Sawyer, No. 75, feels most at home. “We’ve been grinding on that field all summer. I know it backwards and forwards, and we’re going to own that (game) night.” Clearly not phased about the game, Sawyer says, “I’m just ready to put that jersey on and represent my city,” he says.
“It’s important we come together and show people that us Flint kids, that we ain’t soft, but that we’re tough mentally and physically, and that we play together and get along together,” he says. “Show them Jaguar football.”
Sawyer attributes much of that unity comes from what the players have learned from their coach. “I learned that it’s ok to be yourself, to ask questions, because even if you afraid of how you look, it will be worse when you don’t know what’s going on,” he says. “With coach, he breaks everything down for you and takes time to make sure you understand.”
At 18, senior Jacquese Richardson, No. 55, says the new track, a unified team, and the home game at Houston Field are all “cool” just not a part of what makes his team special. “What we really have this year is discipline, because without discipline, I don’t think you can win at all,” he says. Richardson motioning to his other teammates in the hall, “The stuff I learn from coach is going to help me mature as a man. Hitting people and football is fun, but I ain’t going to be doing that for the rest of my life.” Nodding confidently, and without question Sawyer beams, “I’m going into zoology, because I love animals,” he says as he rushes off to the field.
On the field, Wilson watches his team run drills. “We’re not going to work them too hard before game day,” he says.
“The most important thing I hope they learn from me is professionalism and a sense of focus on the field. I think it goes with anything: We’re trying to prepare these young men for the future.” He pauses, then continues: “I mean their whole future. That’s what I really want from my players—for them to see the success that comes from hard work.”
Wilson, too, exudes pride at playing at Houston—”our home turf,” he says, wearing a Northern shirt.
“When it comes to my guys, my only expectation is that they perform to the best of their ability,” Wilson says. “As long as I see them performing their best, personally, I’m not worried about any particular win or loss,”
But … make no mistake about it: The Jags are a force to be reckoned with. “When they play their best I really believe this group of guys will beat anybody on the field. It just comes with the commitment and putting it all together on the same day,” Wilson says.
(P.S. the Jags won their inaugural home game.)