Friday, March 25, 2016

SPORT STORY >> Using books to live dream

By GRAHAM POWELLLeader sportswriter

Last week at Jacksonville High School, senior multi-sport athlete Stevie Eskridge made his college choice official when he signed a scholarship offer with Mississippi College, an NCAA Division II school just west of Jackson, Miss.

Eskridge’s scholarship is an academic one, but the senior Red Devil will get to live out one of his dreams, playing college football, when he joins the DII Mississippi school as a preferred walk-on this fall.

Eskridge, an All-Conference football player who also carries a 3.78 grade point average, is the son of Stevie Sr. and Wanda Eskridge, and has one sister, Brittany.

Eskridge’s play on the field is one thing, but his work ethic is another reason why he excels at it and was named a team captain.

“He’s a real smart, bright kid,” said Jacksonville soccer coach Donny Lantrip. “He’s a good kid, gives you 110 percent effort every time he’s out there on the soccer field. He’s a leader. He’s one of our captains.

“Being a senior, like I told him, the team is all on you seniors. How you seniors are is how these underclassmen are going to be. So it’s your team and they’ll follow your lead, so step up. And he’s stepped up and done everything he’s been asked to do.”

Eskridge says his work ethic comes from home. Eskridge’s father served in the military. The Eskridge family first moved to Jacksonville when Stevie was 8 years old, and they’ve been in Jacksonville ever since. Stevie said his father, who recently retired from the military, is his role model.

“I’ve watched my dad go to deployment here,” said Eskridge. “I’ve watched him do all this stuff in the military – run the Hercules Dining Facility on base, be one of the people that helps manage at the fitness center. In February of last year, I saw him retire.

“Being a kid in the military, it taught me how to become a better person in life; be somewhat the man of the house when he was deployed. It was just me, my mother and sister. It taught me how to be more like him in everything I do; taught me to be a respectful man, do what’s right in the classroom.

“He’s been a good man. He’s the man I want to be. I want to be more like him every day.”

Eskridge said he first came across Mississippi College at a college fair last fall. He met with a recruiter there, told the person he was also a football player, and the recruiter then told Eskridge how to get in contact with Choctaws head football coach John Bland.

“(The recruiter) said you can contact him by going to a website,” said Eskridge. “I filled out the questionnaire and stuff like that, and then about a week, two weeks later, I got in contact with coach Bland and then I talked to him a little bit.

“I kept emailing him, emailing him film from each week of my senior year and film from last year, my junior year. He told me stuff on what I can improve on and how my play is already, and stuff like that. Then I got back in contact with him around January, February.”

Eskridge said Bland told him the school didn’t have enough scholarship money to offer him a football scholarship, but said he wanted him to join the team as a preferred walk-on. Eskridge applied for enrollment into the school, and when he was accepted, he was awarded money for an academic scholarship.

Bland told Eskridge he wants him to play slot receiver at the collegiate level, which will be an easy transition for the Red Devil, who played receiver and defensive back in his three years with the JHS football team. But that wasn’t the only reason Eskridge said he chose the Choctaws.

“I was in contact with a few schools, but the thing that stood out with them, they seemed like they wanted me more,” Eskridge said. “I was in contact more with them than any other school.”

When it comes to possible career options, Eskridge said he’s interested in the sports management field, and said he’ll likely study kinesiology or exercise science while in college. As of now, though, he’s still a student athlete at JHS, and is focused on finishing out his high school days to the best of his ability.

The future Choctaw said football is definitely his favorite sport, but Eskridge has fun on the pitch in the spring as well, playing soccer – though it’s not a sport he’s played for very long.

“It’s a funny story,” Eskridge said. “This was in offseason my 10th-grade year and soccer season had already kicked off. The coach at the time kept coming to us, talking about do you want to play soccer? We need people, we need speed.

“I was like, well I’m already doing track right now. He was like, OK, OK, and then he kept coming. Then when there was only about 11 or 12 people on the team, he came up to me and he was like, ‘you’re playing tonight.’ I’m like, ‘playing what?’ He said, ‘you’re playing in tonight’s game against North Pulaski.’ I was like, ‘OK, let me call and tell my mom.’

“This is during the offseason when I’m lifting a weight. He comes up to me, walks up to the weight and says, ‘you’re playing tonight.’ I was like, ‘OK.’ After that, about the third game on the field it was worthwhile. I was like, am I cut out for this? Do I know what to do? I just watched and learned and did pretty fairly. This soccer, it’s a pretty thrilling game to play.

“That’s why I came back my next (junior) year, and that’s why I came back now and I’m one of the captains. Soccer is pretty fun.”

Eskridge is also very versatile on the soccer field, playing a number of different positions, but as of now, Lantrip has him playing mostly forward and defense. The senior captain earned the title, being one of the more respected players on the team, and does so with the way he works and carries himself, according to Lantrip.

“It’s just the way he presents himself,” Lantrip said. “He’s very confident in his ability and he’s a leader, not a follower. He’s easy to get along with and is very comfortable out on the soccer field. He respects his teachers, his coaches, and he’s always going to give you 110 percent every time he steps out on the field.

“We’ve got four seniors out on the soccer team and they lead the pack. If they’re up and ready to go, then the rest of them get up and ready to go. If they’re slacking on a day, then the rest of them will slack on a day. And that’s something I can say that those four seniors bring to the table, is every day they’re out there practicing they give me 110 percent.”

As far as being the leader and having the work ethic Lantrip describes, Eskridge says that for him it’s all about putting in the extra effort and having the satisfaction of knowing he gave all he had at the end of the day.

“I just work hard,” Eskridge said. “I can’t do anything less than that. I will not be satisfied with myself every day at practice or in the game if I don’t work hard and give it all. That’s what coach Bland at Mississippi College was liking. He said I’m the kind of player they want, because of how I work and the effort I give on the field.”

When it comes to long-term goals or looking at what he wants to do once his football-playing days are over, Eskridge said he’s given some thought to what lies ahead, but for the most part, he remains focused on the present and taking his life one day at a time.

“When it’s all said and done, right now I’m just living in the moment,” Eskridge said. “Being able to achieve my goal and my somewhat dream of playing college football, because when I started playing football it was something I wanted to do for as long as I can. And when coach Bland told me I could be a preferred walk-on, I was like, ‘OK, thank you.’

“I want to live in the moment, be happy that I can play college football and sky’s the limit now.”