By Joe Elerson, Staff Writer
- Deion Sanders brought his Truth Football Organization to Athens on Saturday to face the Athens Youth Football League at Bruce Field.
“This is close to home since I am in Canton,” Sanders said. “We reached out to Canton as well, and we are going to play them. We want to come back here around Thanksgiving time and do a tournament. We want to invite other teams from around the country here. This stadium in unbelievable.”
The NFL Hall of Famer was there as a coach but not as a celebrity. He now has ties to the area.
“The kids call me coach Deion or coach Prime,” Sanders said. “That is who I am to them, and they don’t know my football exploits. I am coach Prime and that is who I am to them.”
Sanders is the coach of the Truth Football Organization, along with former NFL player and assistant coach Kevin Mathis.
The TRUTH organization’s creed is “Trust in God, Respect myself and others, Understand that I have unlimited possibilities, Try my best and never give up and Honor myself and the Truth creed at all times.”
“We have been in it for a decade now,” Sanders said. “It is a calling and not something that you just roll over and do. It is something that you are called on by God, and He has graced us. It is a blessing and an undertaking. We have a lot of kids in each age group. We even have a 5- and 6-year-old flag team. It was once upon a time that we had three teams at every level, so that is a huge undertaking.”
Athens Youth Football League coach Allen Stallings said the age groups are 8 years and under, 10 years and under and 12 years and under. He wanted to thank Athens Athletic Director Paul Essary for allowing them to use Bruce Field, and Sanders wanted to thank Stallings for getting the games together for Saturday.
“You talk about a man that gets stuff done instantaneously,” Sanders said. “He gets it done with no procrastination. He makes sure to get it done. I am proud and it started with the phone call from Jason. Allen got the rest of it done.”
The TRUTH coaching staff includes former NFL players invested in the success of the community’s youth on and off the field. Many of the children who have participated have attended college, some with athletic scholarships.
According to its website, nearly 90 percent of Dallas youth participating in the program came from areas with a more than 25 percent poverty rate. Fifty-five percent of the Dallas participants live in zip codes recently identified by the Dallas affiliate of Stand for Children as cradle-to-prison pipelines.
Those areas are not only used as predictors of eventual imprisonment for neighborhood children but also account for significant percentage of high school dropouts in poor areas of Dallas.
Sanders said the main goal of the TRUTH organization is to see the students do better in life.
“We want to see these kids go to college, not just to go but go through college,” he said. “That is what we desire and want, he said. “That is a must and we want to see the parents grow financially and parents finish school if need be. We want to see growth in all aspects through life. It takes a whole village, and somebody had to bring these kids here. Somebody has to provide for these kids, so the parents are involved as well.”
He said that before the start of the season, they take all of the students to a college campus to see what their futures holds.
“We stayed there for three days to a week. We got them acclimated to college and understanding this is the next progression. College is not an option but a must.”
Sanders said he was grateful of the hospitality that was provided by Athens High School.
“First of all, Athens is unbelievable,” Sanders said. “I have a good friend here, Keano Brown. and Jason Hollyfield, and they are unbelievable. Jason is the one that made the ball and made it happen. He is one of my best guys and best friends. We have only known each other for a year. The hospitality and everything has been unbelievable.”