There is something special about senior year in high school. It’s a particularly bittersweet time; the pinnacle of the high school experience meets the final year enjoying the friendships and familiarities developed over years.
For high school football players, it’s a similarly sentimental time, as it marks the final season spent under Friday night lights. We spoke with several NFL players to discuss what makes this time in life so unique, and to share some of the lessons they’d like to impart to the Class of 2012. Our first installment featured Rams rookie defensive end Robert Quinn and the lessons he learned during a trying season. In our second edition we spoke with Cleveland Browns tight end Ben Watson.
This week we profile Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jason Avant and discuss how he overcame a tough neighborhood and found his path to a long and rewarding football career.
Check back every Wednesday for the next three weeks for another installment of Senior Season.
Jason Avant has been a reliable target for the Eagles ever since he was drafted in 2006 out of Michigan. But before his days in the maize and blue, he was a standout receiver and All-State safety at Carver Military Academy in Chicago.
“Going from a public school to a military school environment was definitely a big change for me,” said Avant of his move from MacArthur (Decatur, Ill.) to Carver as a freshman. “The students were nearly all from ROTC programs and we had to adapt to wearing uniforms and just a different way of running a school. It was difficult because we really didn’t know that it was changing to a military school, but it did teach me some discipline that would help me down the road.”
Avant grew up in the Brainerd Park neighborhood in the South Side of Chicago, in a territory claimed by gangs that was deemed the “9-0.” He admits that the illicit environment lured him when he was young as his grandmother worked to raise him.
“I praise God for my grandmother and her role in my life,” Avant said. “I was getting into the gang life and what was really just the life around me. Growing up where I did in Chicago, making bad decisions was the norm; drug and gang activity was normal activity to my friends and me.
“The people around me didn’t view gang life in a bad way in that environment, but she taught me that there were consequences to this kind of behavior. If you chose that path, it’s a very difficult one to change. You look down the line and see that a lot of the guys you came up with that stuck to the streets are in prison or dead. And when they do get older you see how hard it is to get or keep a job and live a good life, even if they intend to change. I am just thankful to have had her in my life and how she set a better path for me than the gang life.”
As he matured and began to take football seriously, an important mentor entered his life.
“I met Rodney Harrison at the end of my sophomore year,” Avant said. “It was a pivotal time in my life and football career. He was instrumental because I had talent but I didn’t understand what hard work was until I got in the weight room with him that summer and realized just what it took to be the best. If you want to be good at something you can’t work like everyone else, you have to push yourself to be better when others aren’t.”
Avant looks back on his high school experience fondly, a time when the game and his friends were the most important things in life.
“I think the thing that I remember most about my high school experience were my friends and the people I grew up with over that time,” Avant said. “For so many of your teammates in high school, the guys you battled with all those years, it’s the last time you’ll ever see them on the football field. So it’s a special moment and the final chapter in a lot of players’ football careers.
“It’s really just the last time you are playing pure football. And by pure, I mean that in college there are some politics involved; All-Americans and top recruits that might influence how the coaches use them. In the NFL, it’s a money game. But on that high school football field its really just pure, and it’s a time that I’ll always remember.”