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Beyond the Football Field: A Profile on the KIPP Columbus Jaguars

By Danny Fogarty, 09/12/21, 8:00AM EDT


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- For 48 minutes every weekend, high school football players get to show discipline and skill in everything they have practiced in the previous weeks.

But what do those players, those boys, do when they are not on the football field? 

That is the exact question KIPP Columbus coach James Lee asks himself daily training his team.

Lee said that if his players are not held responsible off the field, then it will have bad effects on how they play on the field.

 "If you have kids who are not great team players, they're not accountable, they're not doing the small things in the classroom in the community," Lee said. " More than likely they're not going to do it on the football field."

KIPP Columbus has struggled to gain its footing in the past three football seasons.  

In each season, the Jaguars failed to win more than two games while playing teams mainly from the Columbus City conferences.

As one of the only independent teams in the Columbus area, KIPP is at a slight disadvantage in that they will always have a different schedule every year.

Lee said that he welcomes this challenge wanting to mirror independent college programs while also seeing the value in getting to play a variety of different teams.

"Honestly, I want to be Notre Dame," Lee said. "In the playoffs, you get to play different opponents. So, I think it plays to our advantage for sure."

KIPP Columbus is 3-1 right now which is welcome success after failing to win a game during the 2020 season.

This is the Jaguars' best start in years, yet Lee said that nothing has really changed in his team besides their confidence level and the amount of work they have put in.

"I don't know if it wasn't present last year," Lee said. "I think they just have a lot of confidence in themselves. They've worked extremely hard."

Lee said that this hard work has been reflected in the fact that KIPP has been practicing for five days a week since March in preparation for this season.

It is in these practices where Lee looks to strengthen his team both on and off the field.

Lee said that one of his biggest challenges has been to discipline his players without sacrificing game time, but in the end, he has seen encouraging results.

"You miss a practice, you missed a quarter," Lee said. "It was tough at first because that wasn't the norm and it wasn't the standard, but now kids are coming every day, and that makes a difference."

Receiver Christian Brown recovers after a play during a Week 3 game against Bexley.

Currently, KIPP is in Division VI and has stayed in this division for as long as the school has had a football team.

However, Lee said that he predicts that KIPP will soon be a much more respected football team in central Ohio.

"But in the next three to four years I think will definitely be more established and get more recognition," Lee said. "Our goal is to try to play anybody"

That "anybody" Lee refers to includes powerhouse programs like Pickerington Central and Pickerington North.

While KIPP does not have the recruiting power of a Division I school, it still manages to put out some impressive players.

Two players that literally standout on the team are defensive tackle Ben Camara and offensive tackle Jordan Hall.

Both Camara and Hall loom tall over their opponents at 6 feet 6 inches and 6 feet 9 inches respectively.

Lee said that these two players are unique for their size as young high school players, and KIPP is very fortunate to have them.

"We've been blessed with some science that's not typical," Lee said.

After every stretching drill during KIPP's practicing, each player puts his hands together for a stretch-ending clap.

The act serves as a punctuation mark for that section of work, but it can mean even more than that.

Lee said that if he cannot depend on his players to do this simple gesture, then it will be hard to depend on them during a game.

"If I can't count one of those kids to clap, how can I count on one of those kids to line up correctly?" Lee said.  "How can I kind count on one of those kids to make that block or to be disciplined."

For KIPP Columbus, this clap might be their ticket to success this season beyond.

It is now only up to the players to put their hands together on and off the field.

"I know it's minute and it's just a clap after we're stretching, Lee said. "But it's also just a microcosm of life."