FFE SPOTLIGHT: Amid pandemic, social unrest, William Fleming football comes together through conversation

Third-year Colonels coach Jamar Lovelace helped lead virtual summer meetings to tackle tough issues both on and off the field.
Published: Oct. 10, 2020 at 12:02 AM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - As mid-October rolls in, the William Fleming football team is already well-adapted to the new normal of 2020.

“It’s been a transition," said head coach Jamar Lovelace. "It’s enabled us to get closer with our kids. It’s enabled us to kind of zone in on what our focus is.”

While much of that focus has remained on football, this unorthodox summer also presented the Colonels' third-year head coach a chance to start virtual conversations within his team surrounding the social justice movements around the nation.

“It was something that we never ran from," said Lovelace. "We approached all those conversations head-on. At the time that these things were going on over the summer, we didn’t have any football going on, so this was kind of the perfect leeway for us to begin some of these conversations.”

The dialogue didn’t just come from the coaches, though.

Senior wide receiver and safety Chris Nelson approached Lovelace during that time to ask if he could participate in a peaceful demonstration in downtown Roanoke.

“As an African American, seeing stuff like that happen to a certain race, it kind of takes a toll on you a little bit," Nelson said, "but I felt like, if I stepped out of my comfort zone, it would really mean a lot.”

“I was very proud of him for asking," said Lovelace. "He was with his family, it was very peaceful and it was something that he’s been very passionate about, so I was happy to be able to help empower him to do that.”

Nelson’s experience made those conversations easier to have with the rest of his teammates.

“Even though we joke around, because we’re like family here, we still have deep conversations and if one of our guys is doing something and he really backs it up, we’re gonna' support him no matter what," said senior offensive tackle Tylertyriq Poindexter.

Lovelace said those early summer Zoom calls also helped set the standard for when virtual learning began this school year, with coaches encouraging students to keep up with their grades online and take it upon themselves to know how they stand.

“We want guys to get scholarships on this football field, but we want guys to also know that they have all the power academically,” said Lovelace.

As one of only a handful of black head coaches in the region, the 32-year-old Lovelace cherishes the chance he has to set the example for his team that others did for him.

“There was a little saying when I was growing up, and it was, ‘They will become what they see.’ And that was a big thing for me," he said. “I had a lot of strong black role models and figures in my life. I think it’s such an advantage that we have here to be able to surround these guys with some positive male influences, especially some black male influences, in their lives, and I think it kind of lets them know that they can reach their goals.”

"I’m one of the few black head coaches in the area. I’m one of the youngest head coaches in the area, too, so I think it’s just something that lets those guys know that whatever goals they set for themselves, it’s possible to reach.”

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