For a pair of Texas Wesleyan University football players, nothing that will happen on the field will be a harder hit than what life has already given them.
“My father was a crack addict,” Fred Jones said. “He was there, but my mom raised me.
“If it wasn’t for my mom, I don’t know where I’d be.”
Jones, 23, said that as a child he and his sister Candace often did not know when their next meal was coming – or even whether it was coming.
Mark James, 20, was living in his truck in Houston last year. During the coldest of nights he might be able to talk a friend into letting him sleep on his couch, but he had no home to call his own.
“I’d shower at a friend’s house,” James recalled. “I had enough financial aid to cover my tuition and that was it.
“But that’s what makes you a man, how you take a hit.”
Now, the two are living in dormitories on the Texas Wesleyan campus and preparing to give hits. The Wesleyan football program is being revived after 75 years of dormancy, and practices began March 28.
Jones, a 2012 graduate of Fort Worth’s Carter-Riverside High School, is a defensive tackle. James, a 2014 graduate of Dunbar High School, is a linebacker.
“I like guys like them, bruised up by life,” Rams head Coach Joe Prud’homme said. “They are instant leaders. Their background does that for them. They’ve been down a tough road and took the high road.”
Jones said his dad has been clean for two years. They talk every now and then, but Jones said that despite the hardships growing up, his father taught him a great life lesson. He said the more he watched his dad, the more he was determined to stay away from drugs himself.
In fact, Jones has made it a mission to give other young people a message every chance he gets, and has spoken publicly.
“You dictate your situation. You cannot let anyone else dictate it for you,” he said.
“What’s been great with me is getting to work with them,” Prud’homme said. “That’s inspirational to me.”
After high school, Jones played football for a short while at Wheaton College in Illinois. He returned home to help his mother after she adopted his cousin.
James went to Texas Southern University on an academic scholarship. He supplemented his income somewhat by doing deliveries on his bicycle, but it wasn’t enough to keep him in a permanent residence.
James returned to Fort Worth when he learned that Wesleyan was restarting its football program. Having not played in college, he is a freshman in eligibility. Jones is a junior.
“I thought I was finished with football,” Jones said. “Then I heard about here and I figured I’d give it a shot.”
James said the Rams team are a “golden opportunity I wasn’t going to take a rain check on.”
And both realize they are a part of something special.
“You’re creating history,” Jones said. “Whatever you do, it’s a first for this program, first tackle, first fumble recovery.”
Jones is majoring in criminal justice. He wants to be a parole officer.
“I want to give back to the community,” he said. “I’ve had friends who have been down that road and they just need some guidance. They’re really good people, but they need a chance.
“I want to be the one with a template to go by so they can be a better person.”
James wants to be a middle school teacher. He believes his hardships have prepared him for helping youngsters.
“Middle school is when a lot of kids are made or broken, and I want to help make them into something,” he said. “A teacher sees a kid every day and has a chance to make an impact.”
Prud’homme said the duo are also making an impact with their teammates.
“Their level of toughness, they want to be something besides football,” he said. “They’ll take the best of whatever we give them and pass it on to the next generation.
“Even though we haven’t played a game yet, we’ve won in a big way bringing them onboard.”
Texas Wesleyan Rams football
What: The Rams will field a team in the fall for the first time in 75 years.
Texas Wesleyan University will play its April 22 spring scrimmage game and five home football games of the 2017 season at Fort Worth’s historic Farrington Field, the university announced March 29, incidentally the first day of practice in pads for the Rams.
That’s where the Rams played their last home game in 1941. Farrington Field is located at 1501 University Dr., in the heart of Fort Worth’s cultural district and within walking distance to the booming West 7th Street restaurants and retail.
Coach: Joe Prud’homme. He came from Nolan Catholic High School in Fort Worth, where he led the Vikings to 11 appearances in the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools Class 5A State Finals and seven state championships in 24 seasons. At Nolan, he compiled a record of 209-105-2 and a playoff record of 38-15-1.
Road schedule: Sept. 2 at McPherson, Kansas, TBA; Sept. 16 at New Mexico Highlands (Las Vegas, New Mexico), noon; Sept. 30 at Langston, Oklahoma, 2 p.m.; Oct. 7 at Texas College (Tyler), 2 p.m.; Oct. 21 at Lyon College (Batesville, Arkansas), 2 p.m.; Nov. 11 at Oklahoma Panhandle State (Goodwell, Oklahoma), 2 p.m.
Home schedule: Sept. 9, Millsaps, 2 p.m.; Sept. 23, Southwestern Assemblies of God, 2 p.m.; Oct. 14, Bacone, 2 p.m.; Oct. 28, Wayland Baptist, 2 p.m.; Nov. 4, Arizona Christian University, 2 p.m.
Promotions: Sept. 9, 9-11 tribute to first responders; Sept. 23, Parent and Family Weekend; Oct. 14, homecoming; Oct. 28, Educator Appreciation Day; Nov. 4, salute to military veterans and active duty service members.