Richardson Adams is an 8-year-old young man already with high hopes and aspirations. A student at Jersey City’s P.S. 14, Adams, a two-way lineman for the Hudson County Dolphins’ 8-year-old team, knows what the future holds for him.
“My dream is to play in the NFL,” Adams says without missing a beat. “I know it’s going to happen.”
Mason Johnson is another member of the Dolphins with high hopes.
“When I’m running the ball, I like to break it to the outside, because then I score more touchdowns,” Johnson said. “That’s what I like.”
Ivan Jackson is the team’s quarterback.
“When you’re the quarterback, you’re the most important player on the field,” Jackson said. “I like that responsibility a lot.”
Here they are, the budding football stars of tomorrow, the players on the youngest of the three teams fielded by the Dolphins organization, started and headed by Ike Williams, the former St. Anthony High School basketball star.
Williams took his grid program on a journey to Plant City, Florida recently to compete in the United Youth Football League championships. There were the 8-and-under team, the 10-and-under team and the 12-and-under team that all headed to the Sunshine State.
The youngsters spent the entire week in Florida and played a total of four games.
The 8U team won the Mid-Atlantic AAU championship, a league that featured youth football teams from all over the East Coast.
The 10U team is coached by former Snyder and Marist head coach Ray Marshall, who joined the Dolphins program this season after Marist closed its doors. Marshall is a former Hudson Reporter High School Coach of the Year, earning the honor in 2015 when he was the head coach at Snyder.
The 12U team lost in its league playoffs to the Ivy Hill Saints of Philadelphia.
“It’s a family now,” Williams said. “We have kids who have grown up in this program.”
And this year’s 8U team was something special.
“I have to say that this was one of the best 8U teams we ever had,” Williams said. “These kids are very talented. They’re a special group. They’ve won their league three years in a row. I sit back and wonder what am I going to do with all this talent. It’s unbelievable.”
There’s no question that Williams is doing more than teaching football to these youngsters, some of whom had never even been to Florida before.
“We can use football as a tool to keep them away from trouble,” Williams said. “They have a lot of potential. They’re definitely like the Stars of Tomorrow.”
Williams runs a tight ship. He collects all the uniforms and then washes them on his own – with the assistance of some special parents. He monitors the players’ grades and makes sure that their schoolwork is done first before football comes into the picture.
“I wake up every day with a passion to get on that field with the kids,” said Williams, whose football playing days ended when he signed on to play basketball for the legendary Bob Hurley at St. Anthony almost 30 years ago. “I want to give these kids something more than Jersey City. I love what I do with all my soul. This is my calling. This is my life.”
Williams said that he doesn’t mind going toe-to-toe with a parent over players’ grades.
“I’m not afraid of any parent,” Williams said. “I’m not afraid to tell the parent how I feel and I’m not afraid to tell a parent my story.”
Williams had a tough patch in his life. He ran afoul of the law and ended up in prison for a stint.
“But I still had the discipline that was instilled in me by Coach Hurley,” Williams said.
The kids all know that it’s Coach Ike’s way or they can take a hike.
“I start with kids that are aged four,” Williams said. “And we work our way up from there.”
Williams raises all the money for the program – the uniforms, the travel, even the trips to Florida – on his own. Sure, there are some generous people who serve as sponsors, but most of the funds come from Williams’ own hard work and dedication. After all, he’s the one who purchased the equipment. It’s his baby, top to bottom.
It’s absolutely astounding that this organization is run with very little assistance from either the corporate world or even political affiliations. Nope, it’s mostly done by Williams and his close circle of players’ parents and friends.
Myron Covington is the head coach of the 8U Dolphins. His son Kaijean is a player on the team he coaches.
“I was born and raised in Jersey City,” the elder Covington said. “It brings me great joy to see Ike act the way he does with the kids. I wanted to help him. It’s a way of giving back. We’re helping to turn these young boys into young men. We’re giving them life lessons, that football is a lot like life.”
Covington said that the youngsters want to be treated like they’re professionals, like they’re adults.
“They buy in right away,” Covington said. “With the little ones, you have to get at them right away, because their attention spans are about 90 minutes, so we have to wrap up practice after that. But they’re very appreciative of what they get. They show up on time and practice right away. They have definitely bought in.”
Johnson wants to be like Dallas Cowboys’ star running back Ezekiel Elliott one day.
“I think I play a lot like him,” Johnson said. “It’s a great idea that we’re going to Florida. I never dreamed I’d get to go to Florida. I’m really happy. I’m just happy we had sports this year.”
“The coronavirus isn’t going to stop us,” Adams said. “It’s about blocking and tackling and everything football is meant to be. And we have a lot of fun.”
And isn’t that what sports is supposed to be all about? Especially at the youth sports level, especially in a pandemic year?
“I love traveling,” Williams said. “I know the kids love traveling. We want to give them something to experience, far more than just Jersey City.”
Covington knows that they have an importance to the youth of the community.
“We’re able to afford them the opportunity to travel to Florida to play and we’ve done that for three straight years,” Covington said. “There’s definitely a lot of promise with this team. We’re here all year round, working on their speed, on their agility. We’re able to put our kids in the best possible situations.”
And Williams never stops teaching, even for an old basketball player.
“We have about 120 plays and 10 different sets,” Williams said. “I do a little research every day. Coach [Richie] Hansen [the new head football coach at St. Peter’s Prep] checked out our different sets with our quarterback throwing on the run. He said he was impressed. If he’s impressed, then that makes me feel special.”
It’s safe to say that Coach Ike is already special. Just ask the 60 or so kids who comprise the Hudson County Dolphins. They’ll definitely tell you how special Coach Ike Williams truly is.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com, follow Jim on Twitter @ogsmar and listen to the Hudson County Sports Podcast, brought to you weekly by Stan’s Sports Center, 528 Washington Street in Hoboken, on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Listen to this week’s guest, namely former Jersey City track and field standout and Hudson County Sports and Track Coaches Association Hall of Famer Keith Davis.