November 30, 2023

By Napoleon F. Kingcade

ABOVE PHOTO: Martin Luther King Excessive Cougars collect after Friday’s victory.
Photograph: Napoleon F. Kingcade

From 2019 to 2023, Coach Malik Jones has performed a very good job of retaining his Martin Luther King Excessive soccer staff — the Cougars — heading in the right direction.

On October 20, the staff was in a position to win their first division title since 2018. The Cougars traveled to West Philadelphia Excessive Area the place they defeated the Speedboys, 34-22, capturing their first Public League Liberty Division title within the faculty’s historical past.

Martin Luther King Excessive coach Malik Jones.
Photograph: Napoleon F. Kingcade

Within the first quarter, the Cougars struck first when quarterback Isaiah Robinson threw a fantastic cross to large receiver Amir Muhammad, who was large open for a 32-yard landing reception. The landing cross gave them a 6-0 lead. Robinson then scored a two-point conversion on a quarterback sneak. That prolonged King’s result in 8-0. After the Speedboys failed to attain a landing, the Cougars took over the soccer at their very own 10-yard line. Two performs later, Robinson struck once more. He threw a 90-yard landing cross to large receiver Makhai Robinson. The landing cross and a two-point conversion prolonged King’s result in 16-0.

Makhai Robinson and Sameer Keith of the Martin Luther King Excessive Cougars. Photograph: Napoleon F. Kingcade

On West Philadelphia’s subsequent possession, the Speedboys moved the soccer contained in the 10-yard line. However as an alternative of throwing a landing cross, the Speedboys quarterback threw an interception in the long run zone. King cornerback Shameer Keith picked off the cross and ran the soccer again for a 103-yard landing giving the Cougars a 22-0 lead with 4:35 left within the first half. About three minutes later, King scored their third landing. King working again Shamir Norton rushed into the top zone which gave the Cougars a 28-0 lead with 1:48 left within the first half. Earlier than the primary half ended, the Speedboys managed to attain a landing. After that, King held a 28-6 lead at halftime.

As soon as the third quarter began, there was powerful protection performed by each groups till Isaiah Robinson discovered Makhai Robinson large open once more, however this time for a 25-yard landing cross which prolonged the Cougars’ result in 34-8 with 2:05 left within the third quarter. With the sport out of attain, the Speedboys managed to attain a dashing landing early within the fourth quarter. Additionally they picked off an interception that was returned for a landing late within the fourth quarter. But it surely was too little, too late — Martin Luther King gained the sport, 34-22.

Sameer Keith makes 103 yard interception return for a landing.
Photograph: Napoleon F. Kingcade

Through the recreation, King’s junior cornerback Sameer Keith was a beast within the secondary. He completed the sport with two interceptions which included his first interception that went for a 103-yard landing return. Meantime, King’s large receiver Makhai Robinson was named Offense Participant of the Sport when he caught two landing passes, his first one going 90 yards for a landing.

The Cougars completed the common season with an general 7-1 report, their finest since 2018 once they completed at 9-3. This season, the Cougars have been undefeated within the Liberty Division and the Public League. The story behind the success of this 12 months’s staff may be attributed to the Cougars’ head coach Malik Jones.

On June 19, 2019, Martin Luther King Excessive College appointed Jones as its new soccer coach. Upon Jones turning into the brand new coach, he was in a position to carry a brand new type of management to a revered and aggressive soccer program. Not solely did Jones come again to his alma mater, however he provided each alternatives and expertise to a younger staff that had a troublesome time coping with life away from the soccer subject. One of many issues he did to enhance this soccer staff was to offer psychological well being lessons to his gamers. He was in a position to arrange group classes that handled totally different points outdoors of soccer.

ABC World Information interviewed Jones about his focus surrounding psychological well being when coping with his gamers. In response to Jones, a lot of his gamers have been already coping with the gravity of gun violence outdoors of the varsity partitions. So, by coping with these critical points, Jones was in a position to present an open-door abuse consciousness and prevention program to his gamers.

This system additionally included bringing in high-profile athletes, like Philadelphia Eagles sort out Lane Johnson, to speak to the gamers about his expertise associated to his psychological well being.

By offering these sorts of companies, Jones has been in a position to peel again the stigma that’s typically related to gamers searching for assist or buying the mandatory instruments to outlive outdoors of soccer. By supporting his gamers, Jones is ready to talk with them in a approach that pertains to them as people.

“A number of my gamers have misplaced private shut pals as a consequence of gun violence,” Jones stated. “So it was a really scary time once I turned the top coach. Not solely was there a pandemic — we have been attempting to dodge COVID — we have been additionally actually attempting to dodge bullets.”

Together with his fourth season underneath his belt, Jones has his staff heading in the right direction. With a playoff recreation scheduled for October 27 in opposition to the Frankford Pioneers, the Cougars had a shot at advancing to the 5A Public League Title recreation. There was a very good likelihood the Cougars must face the West Philadelphia Speedboys once more within the subsequent Public League playoff spherical.

“West Philly is an especially powerful staff,” Jones stated. “We had a really powerful time with them final 12 months within the playoffs — we misplaced to them in extra time. We knew we have been coming in right here in a hostile setting. They weren’t trying to lay down, they have been going to present us their finest. We knew what to anticipate. We knew we needed to give our greatest. If not, it may have been the top to our title hopes. I’m glad that we responded the best way we did. They put up a very good battle. They made it into a tricky recreation. A lot respect to the West Philly Speedboys.”