Jeremiah Collier, a senior linebacker on Dunwoody High School’s football team, is known for some fierce licks against running backs trying to sneak up the middle during a game.
He also could easily carry a heavy box filled with bags of rice in Dunwoody United Methodist Church’s recent Foodstock event, where volunteers prepared boxes of food to be sent to impoverished communities in Honduras.
“I like to help the less fortunate,” Collier said.
Collier was working an 8 a.m. shift at the church along with about a dozen other DHS football players who also had played late the night before in a pre-season game against Appalachee High School. The Dunwoody Wildcats won 30-7.
“Yeah, I had a good game,” Collier said, smiling. “Had some good tackles.”
DHS Head Coach Mike Nash says how his players perform on the field is important – but even more important is how they carry themselves off the field. When Nash came to DHS two years ago from Shiloh High School in Snellville, he wanted to instill in his players not only the fundamentals of football, but also the importance of service to the community.
“For me, football is a community thing,” Nash said. “Football does a lot to bring a community together.”
While volunteering for various organizations is not required, Nash said it is strongly encouraged. “It’s important the players understand they are part of something bigger than themselves,” he said.
Daneen Collier, Jeremiah’s mother, and Tricia Casey, whose son Charley is a senior wide receiver for the Wildcats, are in charge of organizing volunteer opportunities for the players.
The team has done jobs ranging from clearing brush and weeds at the historical Stephen Martin Cemetery, which is tucked behind the strip mall adjacent to the massive State Farm development, to cleaning up and setting up for the city’s annual Fourth of July parade.
“There are a lot of projects where it helps to have some brawn,” Daneen Collier said.
Tricia Casey said the team’s dedication to community service creates “the closest thing to Mayberry, in a good way,” for the city and its residents.
“These boys need to be going out into the community to help the community that supports us so much,” she said.
Ethan Haas, a senior running back, was all smiles despite the early morning at DUMC as he helped organize the boxes of food.
“This is a chance for us to give back to the community, to be part of it, because we want them to come out and support us on Friday nights,” he said.
Those Friday nights are when a community comes together to cheer a team and the players on the field represent their parents, their school and the entire community, Nash said.
“Our motto is, ‘Family,’” he said. “We are helping raise these kids to turn them into men.”
Sweating on a field in practice and during games is one thing, Nash said, but then to volunteer side-by-side unloading pumpkins for a church sale or hammering 2-by-4s at the Donaldson Bannister Farm as part of its preservation project is another way to bring players closer together. He hopes that dedication to each other will translate into good plays and strong efforts on the field.
“Football is a game played with emotion and passion,” Nash said. “But it’s more important to coach the community.”
Ben Stecker, a senior and long snapper for the Wildcats, said volunteering in the community “is a way to make our mark on Dunwoody.” Junior cornerback Will Forth said helping others is a way to “try to make things better.”
Ricki Vann, a member of Dunwoody UMC, was packaging food with her husband, Mike, and a group of players.
“They are hard workers,” she said. “It shows they have integrity and they want to help others. It’s great to have young people involved in positive things and not negative things.”
She said she and her husband watch the Wildcats every Friday on TV. The team is forced to play at North DeKalb Stadium in Chamblee because of the poor conditions of its own home field. A $2 million capital campaign is underway to build a new athletic complex at Dunwoody High School.
When Nash came to Dunwoody in 2015, there were 17 players on the Wildcats squad. Today there are more than 100. The team’s records have been notably dismal the past several years and the team is still “learning how to play football,” he said.
“We’re miles ahead of where we’ve been the past two years,” he said. “Now we are learning how to be competitive.”
Nash also praised the city of Dunwoody, saying the players come to him already with a sense of knowing they are part of a community and helping others is a priority.
“This is a special community,” he said.