Jamie Strange Doing Great Things At JSU
There are many great things occurring right now that are related to the Jacksonville State Football Program. We finished the season with a Top 15 program, a Payton Award top 6 finalist, dominated the OVC awards and have a new stadium that will compare favorably to any FCS team in the Country. However, one of the best stories related to JSU football is one that has nothing to do with new buildings, talented players or wins and losses. Instead, JSU is leading the nation with a new “Habitudes” player development program that helps our players learn the skills to be successful off the field, long after their playing careers are over.
The man behind this program is JSU’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes representative and Director of Player Development, Jamie Strange. Strange came to Northeast Alabama in 2005 from Raleigh, North Carolina and was primarily working with high schools in the area. Over the years, Jamie and Coach Crowe developed a friendship and Coach Crowe opened the doors for Strange to expand JSU’s FCA program.
In 2006, Coach Crowe came to the realization that he wanted more. He wanted to take a formalized approach to helping to instill values in players that would give them the skills to succeed in life, separate and apart from the football field. Thus, Coach Crowe approached Jamie and asked him to help implement a player development program separate and apart from his FCA work. The Habitudes program was written by Dr. Tim Elmore of the Growing Leaders organization.
The idea was easy. However, implementing the program was another matter. First, they would have to find funding. Second,, applying the program to a football team was a novel concept. The only other school in the country that had implemented the Habitudes program was the University of Texas.
The Gamecock Nation, as it always does, responded to the financial challenge. John Thomas, a prolific offensive lineman during the late 80s’, who is now a successful health care executive donated $50,000 to fund the program. This solved the financial hurdle.
The second challenge — implementing the program was met by every single member of the Gamecock coaching staff. Along with Strange, the coaches actually lead the program. Thus, in addition to spending 70-80 hours each week recruiting, leading practice and breaking down film, the coaches have to learn the program and lead the breakout sessions that occur each week. Strange says “every coach is committed to this. . . and every coach has to be actively involved in preparing for the lesson and getting feedback from the players.”
The Habitudes program involves a mandatory weekly character/leadership class for all of the players. The players meet every week both in season and out of season. Habitudes is a four year curriculum. According to Strange, the first year was about “developing the leader within yourself” and was focused on personal leadership and character development. The second year (which is where JSU is now) is about connecting with others – in other words as Strange describes it helping those around you develop and succeed.” Strange says “our focus this year is developing one another and building that team aspect of things and looking at other people and make them more valuable.” Implementation of these concepts will surely help JSU as a team, but will also help the players in their personal relationships, family and careers.
Another part of the program is service to the community. Strange says that serving others is rewarding in its own right and gives the players perspective on the blessings that they have. As a result, JSU players have taken an active role in several community projects such as Habitat for Humanity, a Fishing Rodeo and working with special needs kids. Strange says that community service will always be part of the program as the years go forward.
Strange would not give any names but believes that Habitudes has had a positive impact on many players, many of whom have reported that they have never had anyone work with them on these types of issues. The great news is its not too late to develop the “habitudes” for success. Strange has a core belief that every player, though , regardless of their background has the ability to succeed and be a high character leader wherever life leads them.
Strange believes there is a high degree of “buy in” among the players and that the philosophy is that this area is just as important as offensive and defensive meetings. He emphasizes to the players that character is analagous to the image of an iceberg and that “the ten percent above the surface is your talent and skill – what people see, but the 90% below the surface is your character.” Strange notes that NFL Players and other that have run into problems have often focused on the 10% above the surface to the detriment of the 90% below. The emphasis to the players is that talent will take you places but it won’t keep you there.
It is too early to tell how successful the program is going to ultimately be at JSU, but the fact cannot be ignored that the football team’s ARP is at an all time high and off the field incidents seem to be at an all time low. As one player parent said: “the character building is most definitely working and the results are tangible.”
Separate and apart from the Habitudes initiative is Strange’s leadership of JSU’s FCA program. FCA activities include spiritual direction, guidance and game day chapel services. It is common for up to 80% of the players to attend game day chapel services. Strange says the game day chapel services are a time where the players pray together as a team and have a focus on honoring God with their talents on the field. Strange also leads the post-game prayers for the teams in games played at JSU.
The FCA also has weekly meetings that are open to everyone on campus which are led by the students.. Strange says it is common for 30-50 people that attend the weekly meetings. The FCA also coordinates speaking engagements for JSU athletes. There are several JSU players , including Brandon George, Reggie Wade, Josh Cain and Brandt Thomas, that have gone out in the community and spoken to local high schools about FCA. At one event, where Josh Cain represented JSU, 4,000 people attended and approximately 700 responded to the invitation. Strange noted that Cain was a spiritual leader of the team.
The FCA program is, of course, funded by private donations and unlike the Habitudes program is entirely voluntary for the players. One of the big sources of funding is a golf tournament hosted annually by Coach Crowe and the J-Club.
In closing, a message to our readers. The great thing about this story is that we can all be a part of it. Jamie’s FCA work is entirely donor funded . Jamie needs our support to continue, expand and grow the FCA program at JSU. Please take the time to support this worthy cause. You can send a donation made payable to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes addressed as follows:
P.O. Box 8215
Anniston, AL 36202
Keep up the good work Jamie!