Tragedy to Triumph! 2021 Tiger season in review (Part One)

EDITOR’S NOTE: When reflecting on the recent football season it is hard to recall another that provided such a gamut of trials, tribulations, and great triumphs than the 2021 LHSAA prep football campaign of the Jonesboro-Hodge Tigers. Hopefully this two-part series will allow you to relive what can only be considered one of the most iconic seasons in Jonesboro-Hodge High School football history.

Perhaps the best way to remember the 2021 season would be not to dwell on the incredible anguish felt at the beginning or even the tremendous celebration of achievements enjoyed by the team and on a personal level at the end. What stands out most is the emotional journey the team navigated and the vivid maturity and growth that the players exhibited that forever will leave an indelible mark on those who participated and those who had the fortune of being a witness to it.

It was just another hot, humid summer day in the Piney Hills of North Louisiana when the word was received that chilled everyone in the area to the bone. A car driven by recent JHHS graduate, Lajermanique Nichols, one of the most giving and kind young ladies you would ever want to meet had gone off the road in Lincoln Parish that resulted in her death. The single car accident also took the life of her brother Lajavion and a best friend, Javious Holden, both who were talented student athletes at JHHS. Another recent JHHS graduate, Ed Kary, was also in the vehicle but as grace would have it suffered severe injuries but survived.

“Monday, July 26, 2021, is a day that I’ll never forget,” recalls JHHS head football coach Terrance Blankenship. “When I received the call and the person on the other end started naming the ones involved, I said no way that this many of our kids could die in a single car wreck, but God was wanting his angels back. We know that God doesn’t make any mistakes. We are never ready to let our loved ones return to their Heavenly Father, but it’s his will not ours. We have to remember the good times with our loved ones during our dark times.”

It wasn’t just the people closely associated with Jonesboro-Hodge High School and the athletic department or even the families and friends of the very popular youth but all of Jackson Parish that grieved over the unbelievable loss. Months later, it is still very hard to understand how three young leaders with the kind of charisma and character they demonstrated could be so tragically taken. To a person, everyone has had to dig deep into their belief system and have the unwavering faith that nothing happens without reason and that God is in control at all times, even when tragedy besets.

“I had no idea what to say to the players when I first talked to them, but I prayed for strength all season long to lead these guys,” reflected Blankenship. “I’ve cried many days riding around Jonesboro thinking about those angels. I never questioned God because I knew it was his plan and that he had something in store for Tiger Nation.”

Benefits were held and recovery programs were offered but most of all a multitude of prayers for understanding and peace were lifted. Still there was nothing that took the place of the pain, especially for the players and coaches at Jonesboro-Hodge who were now faced with the prospects of trying to care about playing a game when real life had delivered such a cruel blow.

Regardless of the pain and suffering experienced, one lesson in life you are forced to learn is that life goes on and you simply are forced to go on along with it. The hole in a person’s heart takes a long time to heal but that heart goes on beating. One must learn to handles the adversity and keep the faith that something positive will come out of it.

Even though no one felt like being a part of it, school started and football practice began exactly on the days of the calendar they would have if nothing had happened. At first practices of the team was very lackluster. The normal excitement about the upcoming challenges of a football season was nowhere to be found. There was only zombie like motions being exhibited.

During the early practices in August the JHHS coaching staff tried their best to give the guys important instruction on how to deal with what had been thrown their way but it was obvious that it just wasn’t’ sinking in. Mistakes from lack of concentration were being made everywhere in practices and what was worse there seemed to be nothing that could be done about it. This was in reality no fault of the players or coaches. The fact was that the team simply had not been able to process what had taken place and didn’t have the ability to channel the pain and emotions correctly.

That is until the day just before the season began that head coach Terrance Blankenship and defensive coordinator Carlos Hicks addressed the team with sincere heartfelt emotions and in a way that can only be described as with brutal honesty.

“Is this the way we are going to honor our teammates? What would Luuda (Lajavion) and J-5 (Javious) want you to be doing right now? What would they be saying to you?” questioned the team leaders. “They would tell you to come together. They would tell you to represent for them. They would tell you that they are still here with you and we are telling you it is time to show them what they meant to you by giving it all you have in their honor.”

Like a cannon ball landing in a pool of water the words began to ripple through the team. Immediately there was resolve shown in their eyes. The team now had a shared common focus, goal and drive. Every single player now felt that the spirit of their fallen teammates were still with them and would be there to comfort them in their quiet of times. Practices immediately became crisper and the effort sharper. More players started showing up regularly where before they may come or may not. A dedicated resolve had been born and now the Tigers were ready to take on the season.

Next edition: Let the games begin!

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