Dunbar High School Football Coach Craig Jefferies watches his team practice
Dunbar High School Football Coach Craig Jefferies watches his team practice

Washington is well-known as a central hub of international politics.  But Washington is also a city of contrasts, where affluent neighborhoods border impoverished ones.  Here's the story of a football coach in a low-income neighborhood who is trying to help his student players achieve their goals on the football field and in their lives after football.

Gray skies and windy conditions did not keep members of the Crimson Tide, Dunbar High School's football team, from their regular workout.

The hours pass and the shadows grow longer, but the players are still on the field, practicing their routines under the careful supervision of their coaches.

Craig Jefferies, Crimson Tide's head coach, is the driving force behind the players' hard work.

"Practice is important," he said.  "You want to develop your schemes [work on the plays] you want to use.  You want to sharpen up your timing that you have.  You want to be on the same page in terms of execution."

Defensive Coach Tony Lee says practices are also an opportunity to prepare the players for life after high school. 

"It [football] teaches them the essentials of discipline.  It teaches them about character, and character development.  It teaches them teamwork.  All the things that are necessary to help them compete in life."

With guidance from Jefferies and his staff, the grueling practices have translated into success on the field: Crimson Tide has won eight division titles in the last 12 years.  Some of Jefferies' former players, like Vernon Davis, have gone on to success at the professional level.  Davis is now a tight end - an offensive player who blocks and catches passes - for the San Francisco 49ers, a team in the National Football League, the top professional football league in the United States. 

"Vernon Davis was a typical guy that we looked for.  He was a hard working kid.  Great student.  Great athlete.  Could run," recalled Jeffries.

But the odds are against these athletes making a career in professional football, which is why Jefferies and his staff also make sure their players keep up with their studies.  This can be a challenge, as many players live in low-income households and must take part-time jobs to help support their families. 

"I work on the weekends," said Crimson Tide player Ikeem Pingshaw.  "School work every day.  Monday to Friday, after school, do some homework.  Do some hard work on the field."

But for players like Pingshaw, it's all worth it.

"Contact.  I love it.  It's all about that.  Making big plays," he added.

Many Dunbar players are raised by their mother only, without a father to look up to.  The coaches work to fill that void.

"A lot of these kids need a big brother, or male figures in the house," said Jeffries.  "So my coaching staff and myself provide a male figure or positive male role model for these kids that probably don't have a dad in the home."

Jefferies played college and semi-professional football in the 1980s.  He went on to coaching, and was an assistant coach for three years at Dunbar High before becoming head coach.  One of his assistants, Tony Lee says Jefferies' love of football and helping young kids is reflected in his record and the academic success of his players. 

"His contribution to the city has been priceless, let alone the program at Dunbar High School," says Lee.  "You can look back at his [Jefferies'] tenure at Dunbar High School, and you can see based on the graduation rate and the number of young men who've gone on to college."

"We [the coaches] learn a lot from them [the students] too," says Jefferies.  "I learn how to deal with my teenage kids by being around those guys, and hearing what they're saying.  I learn a lot about myself as well."

Whether preparing for the next game, or the next big step in life, the players and coaches of Dunbar High School seem to have found a formula for success.