Young athletes are future stars

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
PALM BEACH — Coach Ricky Simon stands with Xavier Charles and Zailin Jackson and their co-MVP trophy at the Future Stars tryouts.

ATLANTA, Ga. — Local athletes Xavier Charles, 14, and Zailin Jackson, 14, traveled to Georgia for the 10th Annual Future Stars Game, one of the most elite All Star football games for young athletes in the country. They arrived in Atlanta and practiced hard, only having three days of practice with their new teammates, before the July 4 game.

Georgia Future Stars Corp. is a nonprofit organization that was started in order “to promote academics, responsibility and ethics to talented youth football players through the game of football,” the website states. “It is an all star game for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders that gives them the opportunity to showcase their tremendous talents in front of thousands of people, including high school coaches, college coaches and NFL players, all against the best of the best.”

Navigating the challenges presented by the current pandemic, everyone involved worked extremely hard to stay compliant and follow safe practices. The organization provided COVID-19 safety gear including face masks, hand sanitizer, medical grade gloves and individual water bottles. They also set forth strict rules and developed a schedule that minimized risks and prevented close social gathering. Each player had their temperature taken at check-in, along with any people accompanying them. Temperature checks were also completed on each player every morning throughout their stay with the understanding that any player with a temperature of over 100 degrees would be immediately quarantined.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
ATLANTA — Zailin Jackson was a running back and linebacker for Team Florida, at the Future Stars Game in Atlanta.

In March 2020, Zailin, who plays running back and linebacker, and Xavier, wide receiver and cornerback, tried out for the Future Stars Game held in Palm Beach. They earned Co-MVP titles at that camp. They were then recruited by coach Ricky Simon for the Florida Future Stars team.

Tiffanie Rivers, mother of Xavier, said, “He tried out for the team, a week before the lockdown. He won MVP at the tryouts.” She went on to explain, “He has been conditioning with his stepfather, Tyron Smith, weekly, since the state entered in Phase 1. Since arriving in Georgia on Wednesday, he has had two practices per day over three days. He is very excited about this opportunity. He has the support of about 20 family members that traveled to Georgia, to show support. We are looking forward to many more opportunities like this.”

Xavier is not just a talented athlete. He is also an honor roll student and is known as a class clown, for his outgoing personality and good sense of humor. He is dedicated to his dream of one day playing in the NFL, but he also has his eye on a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Florida.

With a final score of 14-8, Xavier said, “We didn’t win, but we did our best out there — and I think that’s what people want. I gained a lot of experience and realized that the people I play with down here are no match to the boys on Team Florida, so it was a blessing to be up there and gain experience.” He added, “For my people in Clewiston, this is a blessing! Don’t take everything for granted, take chances you get, and do right with it.”

Zailin Jackson also just graduated from eighth grade, and his father, Ernest Jackson, reports, “He was good student and had good grades!” With the support of his mother, Francis Hodges, on the sidelines, Zailin trained two or three days a week with his dad, some of the high school football players and his middle school football coaches in preparation for the big game in Atlanta.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
ATLANTA — Xavier Charles was a wide receiver and corner back for Team Florida, at the Future Stars Game in Atlanta.

His father said, “The game was a great experience for him. He got to be around other great players like him. He learned a lot of things he needs to work on to get better. He is very excited about what he accomplished and more to come in the future with the Clewiston Tigers football team!”

The boys had lots to celebrate but not much time for rest. These young athletes returned for training with the CHS Tigers on Monday, July 6. Both boys are entering freshmen at Clewiston High School.

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