First snap of the season and three years of Monroe football on Alexander Street

First snap of the season. On Saturday, six team scrimmaged at Monroe High School, Alexander Street. [All photos, David Kramer, 8/1/19]

First snap of the 2019 season, Greece Olympia vs. Monroe. Six teams scrimmaged at Monroe High School, Alexander Street. [Photos, David Kramer, 8/31/19]

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Monroe Coach Jason Muhammad with 1987 Red Jacket jersey. From Happy Homecoming by Jason Muhammad

In Happy Homecoming by Jason Muhammad, James Monroe High School Assistant Principal and Varsity Head Coach Jason Muhammad describes the experience of the Red Jackets winning its first varsity football game in over 30 years at its 2016 Homecoming game.

Today, we meet Jason again as he updates the story of how Monroe football has progressed and firmly established itself in the Rochester City Athletic Conference.

Last Saturday was also scrimmage day across Monroe County.  On Monroe’s sparkling turf field set in a bustling urban space, six teams — Monroe, Edison, UPrep, Greece Olympia, Bishop Kearney and St. Francis in Buffalo — gathered for the preseason ritual of the controlled scrimmage.  At the scrimmage, four teams played at once each two taking about half the field.  Teams ran ten offensive plays before switching sides and then to a new opponent.

Arriving early, I had the chance to meet some of the behind-the-scenes people who make high school games possible. Referee Kenneth Johnson explained that scrimmages are primarily training and prepping sessions for the new season. Referees explain and implement new rules, providing information on what penalties will and will not be called.  The plays are refereed the same as in the regular season, but at the same time, both referees and coaches offer on the field instruction.

(left) Kenneth Johnson (right) the full crew

(left) Kenneth Johnson (right) the rest of the crew

I met athletic trainers Jamie Ruddy and Lisa Burns.  Both work at various RCSD schools and at many after school sports events. Their job is to educate players on sports health and readiness, such as the need for good nutrition, hydration, stretching, and all that makes a healthy body.

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(top) (l) Athletic Trainers Lisa Burns and Jamie Ruddy (r) Videographer Jay Lodolce (bottom) (l) Security Guard Herm Humphries, (r) griller Dennis

I met Videographer Jay Lodolce of Varsity Media. Jay’s video can be seen at Huddle.com.  Herm Humphries is the lead Security Guard at Monroe and volunteers for football games. In the three years at the new field, Herm has encountered no major problems.  A friend of Coach Muhammad, grilling chef Dennis told the secret behind his cheeseburgers: “A little bit of this, a little bit of that, and a whole lot of love.”

In the press box, Jason’s daughter Naimah was the DJ, playing songs to get the 200 plus players psyched.  I took a turn announcing the games.

(top) Naihmah Muhammad, DJ with David Kramer, Press Box announcer

(top) DJ Naihmah Muhammad with David Kramer, Press Box announcer

Although these were only scrimmages, a decent number of fans attended.

(top) Janelle and Amy Long, daughter and wife of the Greece Olympia coach, Monroe fans

(top) (l) Janelle and Amy Long, daughter and wife of the Greece Olympia coach, (r) Monroe fans

It’s been many years now since Jason first set in motion the process that restored Monroe varsity football after a thirty year hiatus.  Coach Muhammad fills us in on the last three years at Monroe since rejoining the RCAC:

Sometimes I come out to the field when no one else is around, and I just walk around and say a prayer of thanks. I did that before the scrimmage on Saturday morning, and I can’t really put into words the emotions I experienced.  I’m Blessed with the opportunity to be in this space and place at this time, and I don’t take any of it for granted.

I know the positive impact football can have on a young man’s life. It’s not what I think, or feel, or even believe  — it’s what I KNOW.  My Teacher, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, taught me to think for the whole.  So know that we have access to a wonderful facility, it’s important to give other schools and the young men in their programs the opportunity to share in the Blessings.

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Monroe Red Jacket’s Assistant Principal and Head Varsity Coach Jason Muhammad

We grew the program from scratch. I’m not sure many really understand or appreciate where we started from, or the journey that we have had.  Only two of my coaches, Coach Otis Palmer and Coach Willie Givens, who have been with us from the beginning, really know what the struggle has been.  And sometimes we laugh about it and shake our heads.

There were a lot of folks who didn’t think we would make it this far. They thought that our little team would fold, or that our vision was really just a pipe dream of some sort.  Sometimes I think about that when I take my walks, and it makes me smile…

(top) Monroe defense stops the run (bottom) Although the Greece Olympia receiver broke open, Monroe's secondary broke up the pass.

(top) Monroe defense stops the run (bottom) Although the Greece Olympia receiver broke open, Monroe’s secondary broke up the pass.

Now in our fourth year of Varsity, we will compete in Class AA, the highest classification of high school football in New York State. We have merged with four other high schools in the RCSD and our plan is to develop into an all-star program where the best from around the city of Rochester can come to compete on the highest level and we can help them to use football as a vehicle to take them where they want to go.

We are not all the way there yet. But if our growth and progress remains on its current trajectory, there could be big things taking place on Monroe Avenue in the very near future.

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Monroe High School, 8/31/19

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Shades of Super Bowl XXXIII. Roland feigning surprise as I nail a TD pass.