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Football is, of course, a game of inches.

For Coach Jimmie Macon of Detroit Central High School, those aren’t the only numbers he thinks about.

“Central is the oldest high school in Detroit… 1858,” he explains. “And I graduated in 1983. Back then, we had 3,000 students. Today, we have 300. So, when I played, we had 50 players. Today, we have half that. And being a small school, it’s hard to get major universities to come look at your program.”

With over three decades of coaching experience and nearly a decade as the head coach at Central, Coach Macon has learned to use those numbers to his advantage though — and call a few audibles in his approach.

“For me personally, academics are number one,” Coach said with pride. “I don’t care about all the football in the world. If you don’t have the GPA to get accepted into college, then what’s the purpose of playing a sport? It’s not about football… It’s about life itself.”

“You want to own your own business? You want to be CEO? You better be academically inclined.”

So, Coach Macon stresses the importance of both mental and spiritual workouts to his players.

“I tell them to do the math. Pick up a book, whether it’s to study or read scripture. Without either, you’ll lose focus and forget what you need to do,” he said. “It’s like good nutrition. Make it part of your diet.”

But Coach knows from experience that it isn’t always easy for kids growing up in Detroit — so he makes sure they know he’s always there for them.

“If you feel like you’re struggling, you got a big brother right here in Coach Macon,” he said. “You got a father figure… A spiritual partner… You got love in Coach Macon. These kids need to hear that.”

“They have to believe to receive that love and then build confidence in themselves. That’s how you nourish them. That’s how they realize their brightest future.”

Coach also knows he can’t do it alone though. Fortunately, he has home field advantage.

“Life Remodeled and the Durfee Innovation Society are literally right next door,” Coach explained. “I take my guys over there for tutoring or for jobs or just to help clean up the neighborhood. We’ve got kids doing coding. We’ve got them learning videography. They’re learning that if they only see six houses on the block, they can rebuild the 24 other ones that used to be there. I like that.”

Whatever field they ultimately choose, Coach Macon won’t measure his players’ futures in inches but in yards — and in his own ability to inspire others to help nurture the best in them.

“It’s like a plant,” he said with a smile. “If you see leaves turning colors or starting to fall off, you know you’ve got to water it. You know you’ve got to tend to it.”

“Whether you’re a mother or a father or a grandmother or a grandmother… An auntie or uncle or the neighbor next door… Even if you’re just a coach… You’ve got to go all-in.”

In other words… We all really do need somebody to lean on.