As the school year is coming to an end and the weather outside is getting warmer and warmer, many restless high school students cannot wait until the school day is over. In West Philadelphia, this free time can be a dangerous time for many 14-year-old to 18-year-olds with nothing to do.
Not for the young men of the Overbrook Panthers football program.
The Panthers began their outdoor off-season training on Thursday in preparation for the upcoming season. The workouts, which primarily consist of conditioning drills and skill player scrimmages, will be everyday after school from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Tustin Recreation Center. Coach Rondell Ivory, who players know as Coach Dell, continues plans to hold these “optional” workouts for the team throughout the summer.
“They (the workouts) are optional but not really,” Coach Dell explained. “I need them here so they can get their bodies right and build chemistry for the season. I don’t want my boys running in the streets or getting in trouble. It ‘s hard out here, man.”
During the first workout of the season, several young men – non-players – from Overbrook High School stopped by the field to heckle their friends.
Coach Dell understands the pressure the young men on the team face while trying to stay motivated on the field and in the classroom. He is a special education and mathematics teacher at Overbrook, as well as an Overbrook High School alum. Growing up in the same neighborhood and attending the same school gives his job a deeper meaning and makes it more personal.
“I left West Philly,” said Coach Dell. “I went to college. I got my masters but I am back. It is about more than just on the field. We gotta try to make these boys better men.”
The Panthers, who went 6-6 last year. Their season ended abruptly when they forfeited a playoff game due to an off the field altercation. They look to go deep into the playoffs in the Philadelphia Public League AAA-Division.
At the end of practice, Coach Dell and his coaching staff expressed need for senior leadership to step to make championship dreams happen for the more than capable team.
Quarterback and team leader Nasir Mickens believes the team has what it takes to win and trusts the coaching staff’s direction.
“At first we thought the boul (Coach Dell) was crazy,” Mickens said. “But then we saw he just really cares about us and hates losing, so we prepare to win on and off field.”
The Panthers plan to participate in 7-on-7 style scrimmages throughout the summer. They open their season with an away game in Florida in late August.
– Text, video and images by Julian Hamer.