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Change of mind

DEMOPOLIS — Two distinct types of reinforcement pepper the walls of the John Essex locker room, offering encouragement and examples to young athletes looking to find success on and off the field.

Posted just opposite the door leading from the gym into the locker room is a flier labeled “Thoughts of a Winner.” Inside, similar posters are scattered about the room, including one that features a list, “10 Ways to Become a Champion.” While second year head coach Fentress Means utilizes the tools to help him in his effort to continue growing his young athletes into young men, he also makes use of other clippings, which aren’t as upbeat.

“I’m a person that tries o read the newspaper everyday. As I see things there in the paper that are negative as far as athletes, I try to clip them and post them and let the kids see that it can happen to them,” Means said.

Hanging among the newspaper clippings placed strategically around the room is a story on the arrest of former Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Jimmy Johns, whose playing career was cut short prior to the start of his senior season due to felony drug charges. Next to it hangs a cutout detailing the account of a fugitive who was eventually apprehended in Jefferson, where most of Means’ players reside.

“I wanted to show them that was no kind of life to be living right there,” Means said of his choice to hang the piece.

Means explained that the clippings are a small part of a grander effort to put strong role models in place of less worthy ones.

“Television has corrupted our kids. They have obtained that behavior style,” Means said. “For those people, those rappers and movie stars, to get up on stage and say they are role models, they aren’t.”

Means said he and his staff have worked diligently to overcome such negative influences in their players’ lives while looking to fill the void with more beneficial relationships.

“Basically, what I try to do with these guys is talk to them every day about life,” Means said. “You’ve got to put what’s important first and leave all the negative behind.”

Means said those goals are aided by a strong faculty willing to set good examples.

“I think here at John Essex, we’ve got some good teachers who are good role models,” Means said.

The Hornet head coach said one of the most difficult parts of rebuilding the attitudes of his players is altering their perceptions.

“Changing their mindset. That’s my biggest priority is changing their mindset to believing they can succeed, not just on the football field, but in life period,” he said.

Means said a big part of changing his team’s attitude is teaching it not to give up. He cited an example from his own life as a success story of perseverance.

After walking on with the Crimson Tide football team and working out nearly all summer, Means did not receive the medical clearance he needed to continue playing the game he loved.

“I didn’t stop right there just because I couldn’t play football. That didn’t stop me from obtaining my biggest goal, a degree from the University of Alabama,” Means said.

Means hopes the lessons begin to take hold this season in time to help the team as it strives for its goals.

“Hopefully everyone can get this discipline thing down. As far as out there on the field, I want us to play with enthusiasm and show respect for the game,” Means said. “We want to improve in every possible situation from last year. The only way we’re going to be able to do that is we’ve got to work hard.”