By David DiPino The Pineapple Contributing Writer Head football coach T.J. Jackson knows first-hand about the early August heat his Atlantic Community High School football players battled through during a recent week of two-a-day practices. Coach Jackson learned how to handle the heat and excel while growing up playing football in Delray Beach. A little over two decades ago, Coach Jackson began his football career playing for the Delray Rocks community youth football league. Coach Jackson learned from Delray Rocks coaches dedicated to their community, about how to grow as a football player, and a man. Those same football coaches focus was instilling in the minds of the youth football players that regardless of the odds, they could persevere. Coach Jackson became a believer of the Delray Rocks philosophy at a young age. He learned as a Delray Rocks youth football player that success is not about being measured by the amount of wins or losses on the field, but with attitude, respect and ability to succeed in life. Fast-forward almost a quarter of a century and Coach Jackson is using the same principles he learned playing Delray Rocks football to build his young Atlantic High School Eagles Varsity Football Team. As the early morning sun began to permeate the Atlantic High School football practice fields in early August, the gears inside of a head coaches mind began to turn in anticipation of the upcoming football season. Coach Jackson inherits a young Atlantic Eagles football program that enjoyed success last year, with that team going 8-3 en route to winning the District 13-7A title and a trip to the state playoffs. The Atlantic Eagles hosted the Park Vista Cobras this past spring in a jamboree football game that also served as the debut of Coach Jackson. Prior to the game, Coach Jackson said, “Right now I’m focused on coaching techniques and fundamentals. We’re going to keep everything basic.” Park Vista dominated the ballgame, winning 29-0. Atlantic struggled on defense in the game. While they didn’t score in the game, they did have a few bright spots on offense. Sophomore running back Dontavious Monroe rushed 12 times for 70 yards, and junior year quarterback Thomas Owens passed eight times, also for 70 yards. “I’m still trying to find out this team’s strengths. Right now, I’d have to say it is our receiver corps,” said Jackson. “Our weakness is being young. Hopefully we get a lot of support from the community… I think that can only help this team. I can guarantee we will play hard and be disciplined.” One place Atlantic will have experience is in playing District 13-7A opponents. Atlantic will play this season in District 13- 7A against familiar high school opponents: Dwyer (Palm Beach Gardens), Forest Hill (West Palm Beach), Lake Worth, Olympic Heights (Boca Raton), Palm Beach Lakes (West Palm Beach), Royal Palm Beach and West Boca Raton. The only difference opponent-wise from last year’s district compared to this one, is that Santaluces and Spanish River are out, and Olympic Heights, Forest Hill and Palm Beach Lakes are now in Atlantic’s district. Atlantic will also be disciplined in the classroom with Coach Jackson’s focus on academics and training. In 2005, Jackson founded Prep & Sports Inc. as an organization committed to assisting at risk youth living in under-resourced, inner city neighborhoods in South Florida, and help them embark on a path to academic excellence. He still runs Prep & Sports today. “My goal is for this team to make the playoffs. But my bigger goal is to get these students in four-year colleges,” Jackson said. Atlantic Community High School’s new head football coach credits patience in helping him land the job and right now is more concerned about academics and getting his player’s a chance at a scholarship and college degree than wins on the field. Because of his prominence as a star college football player who made it to the National Football League (Dallas Cowboys), many teams around Palm Beach County have shown interest over the past decade in bringing in Jackson as coach. He coached at West Boca High School for two seasons and then focused on founding Prep & Sports Inc., an organization focused on producing scholar athletes with a mission to focus on at-risk youth through programs that provide academic and athletic mentorships, training and guidance. “I said no to a lot of those coaching opportunities because the timing wasn’t right,” Jackson said. “I was patient and right now the time is right.” The list of candidates for the Atlantic job became very long last year. He credits being in the perfect place at the perfect time in his life in landing the job and again he credits patience. Jackson has close-knit ties to the city. “I think the important thing right now is to get 100 percent of the community building us up. We need the community to embrace us. We need love and support from the community.” Jackson grew up playing Delray Rocks youth athletic league football, but because of school district zones in the mid-1990s, Jackson was bussed to Olympic Heights High School in Boca Raton. Nevertheless, Jackson starred there, earning a four-year college football scholarship to Virginia Tech University, where he again starred. In 2003 made it to the National Football League as a free agent with the Dallas Cowboys. His collegiate experience culminated with a successful playing career and graduation with a bachelor’s degree in Residential Property Management. Atlantic High School Football games are played at their on-campus football stadium, located at 2455 W. Atlantic Ave. in Delray Beach. For more information call Atlantic Community High School at 561-243-1500.