Michigan football commit Jaydon Hood is a top-300 player in the 2021 class and rated as a four-star prospect. But on Saturday mornings, the talented linebacker is just a volunteer giving back to the community through the game that he loves.
Hood’s mother, Shea Hood, is the outreach director of the Life Center for Christ Fellowship Church in Belle Glade, Florida, which has one of the highest crime and unemployment rates in the state. Shea coordinates several mission projects through the church to help mentor youth in the area from ages 5 to 21. Three years ago, she spearheaded a one-day football clinic with the help of local coaches.
It didn’t take long for Jaydon, then a sophomore, to start assisting. He now runs the weekly clinic in what he calls “just an open field” a block away from the church and has helped grow it from about 30 kids per week to an average of about 125.
“Football is basically life there (in Belle Glade),” Jaydon told MLive in a phone interview. “My mom started the camp as a way to keep kids off the street and help teach them the fundamentals of football at an early age, and I saw that as a way of being able to volunteer and to do what I love and help other people do what they love. It was a win-win situation.”
Every Saturday morning, Jaydon makes the 45-minute drive from Royal Palm Beach to Belle Glade, arriving at the field about 30 minutes early. Because there are no goalposts or line markers, Jaydon and a few volunteers must set up cones and inspect the field for any needles, broken glass or other sharp objects that accumulated throughout the week.
“I’m not sure if people are partying or something every night, but every time we go out there, it is trashed,” said Jaydon, who committed to the Wolverines on May 25. “Obviously, we want the kids to be safe, but it’s Belle Glade. It is a very poor area. A lot of kids may not even have cleats or shoes, so you definitely don’t want them playing in glass or sharp objects or anything like that.”
While a local coach assists Jaydon, the 6-foot-1, 212-pounder coordinates the drills for the campers and sets up seven-on-seven scrimmages at the end. They begin and end the camp with prayer.
Shea said the church’s outreach program continues to expand thanks to the positive feedback it has received.
“The number one goal is to help kids actually become the best version of themselves and to grow their confidence and to help them to be involved in sports in a healthy way,” she said. “The long-term goal is to create scholarships for students to be able to use at the college level if they do not receive one because of their skill. We’ve been working on sponsorship for students to actually receive scholarships, but it’s also a mentoring program. Our goal is to affect the bottom line of the crime rate in Belle Glade.”
Jaydon’s father, Shandon Hood, is an officer with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. Shea said the church wouldn’t be able to play its role in the community without the PBSO’s support.
“We have to make sure that we have someone who’s riding in the area, because the church and anything we do is in the heart of what we call the inner city,” Shea said. “Sometimes what can happen is, while they’re preparing for what they’re doing (football clinic), we’re having the PBSO going around, because maybe there are local drug dealers who are looking for some of our boys who are coming for practice, or maybe there are drug deals that are happening and we’ve got to get them to move, so there’s a lot going into having them out there.”
Life is about more than football
Football is a lifeblood for the Hood family. Jaydon’s grandfather, E.J. Junior, had a Hall-of-Fame career at Alabama before playing 13 seasons in the NFL. A handful of other family members have played college football as well.
Jaydon, the No. 300 player nationally, per 247Sports’ composite rankings, is on track to follow suit. He chose Michigan over other notable programs such as Alabama, LSU, Penn State and Florida State.
But the talented linebacker understands the game isn’t the most important thing in life. Watching his mother, a two-time cancer survivor, dedicate her life to giving back to the community is a constant reminder of that.
“She is very inspirational,” Jaydon said. “It just shows you can do great things and survive it and get through it and come out even better. She uses her story to motivate other people, and I use it to stay motivated. Like if I ever make a bad play, I just think it could be a lot worse, so I just keep going.”
Jaydon said neighbors regularly joke with the Hood family and ask why they bought their house if they are never home. Jaydon, who transferred from Cardinal Newman High in West Palm Beach to St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale this year, also is on the wrestling team, while his two brothers, Jordan, 14, and Bryson, 6, are involved in sports and are active in the community as well.
Shea said the football camp has been instrumental in Jaydon’s development as a young man.
“I don’t believe in entitlement,” she said. “It has helped him to see that he’s not entitled to anything. That everything that you do, you have to work for it. That helps him to appreciate what he has, because his whole life, we’ve always worked for what we have, but he’s never had to go through some of the things that he sees in Belle Glade. Some of my students there, there might be 15 of them in a 9×12 apartment with the bathroom and the kitchen at the end of the hall. He’s never had to live that way, so when he’s serving someone who does, it helps him to have a perspective on why he can never take anything for granted and why he’s so blessed. I think he always kind of reminds people of that, because he leads huddles, and devotions, he consistently talks about the fact that everything he does is a gift and he never wants to take that gift for granted.”
Jaydon, admittedly, isn’t the most outspoken person, but volunteering has helped sharpen his leadership skills.
“I could sometimes be very much of an introvert and I maybe won’t talk as much as maybe I should, but running the camp has definitely helped me with my speaking abilities, speaking in public, using my voice to help others,” he said. “It definitely has helped me in that aspect a lot.”
While Jaydon appreciates the football-aspect of volunteering, he said nothing is better the seeing the smiles on kids’ faces when they’re on the field.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “You know that what you’re doing isn’t just helping right now. It helps the kids more in the long-term; t carries with them. Just knowing that I played somewhat of a part in helping the kids get better at football and in their personal life, it is just a good feeling.”
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