WE ARE FAMILY

Dec. 11, 2013 @ 12:17 PM

 At this week’s N.C. High School Athletic Association press conference for this weekend’s football state championship games, the head coaches of 15 of the 16 title contenders introduced their assistant coaches and other school representatives with standard formality.

Southern High’s Adrian Jones was among those coaches at N.C. State University’s Vaughn Towers, and he introduced his posse, too: Southern athletics director and defensive coordinator Darius Robinson, Southern principal Kenneth Barnes and Durham Public Schools athletics director Larry McDonald.

But the way Jones talked about his crew was different from how the other coaches described their supporters.

When Jones singled out McDonald, Barnes and Robinson, he called them family.

That’s the way of the Spartans — family first. It’s why Southern will play for its first state title in football in a few days, Jones said.

“We you’ve got a family that’s all together, it’s nothing better,” Jones said. “It’s hard to beat a family.”

The Crest Chargers, a run-first team out of Cleveland County, will have something to say about that at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem on Saturday (7 p.m., Time Warner Cable 520).

If Jones is a father figure for the Spartans, then Barnes is something of a grandfather, because he’s the one who established the family atmosphere at Southern by hiring the right people to work at the school, McDonald said.

“Everybody can’t work at Southern Durham,” Barnes said. “So we’ve had a lot of turnover over the years.

But now we have a coaching staff and teachers and administrators that believe in our kids, and it’s made a difference.”

Jones, 39, was a terrific football player at Southern. He said he didn’t get the job done in the classroom like he needed to yet managed to find his way into college and continue playing football.

“I went to North Carolina Central and was an all-American, did a lot of great things for the university,” Jones said. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Chip Gill coached Jones at Southern, and former Miami Dolphins lineman Larry Little led NCCU when Jones was a defensive back for the Eagles.

But Jones would tell anybody that the best coaches he’s ever had were his parents, Linda and Alexander, who raised him near Ellis Road where Southern was located when he was in high school.

Southern was later relocated to Clayton Road, near N.C. 98.

Not every player on Southern’s team is growing up in a stable, two-parent home. Jones gets that but is convinced that his family approach to football works, regardless.

“I show ’em love,” Jones said, talking about his players. “I talk to them. If they have problems, we try to solve them. I’m like their father. I’m like their uncle. I’m like their big brother. I’m all that in one.”

Jones is like their drill sergeant, too.

“My dad was very stern on me. He’s still my worst critic,” Jones said. “Sometimes it takes a little bit of being a little — I ain’t going to say aggressive, but that sternness and letting them know that you’ve got to do it one way, and it’s only one way, and then at the end, once you put it on them like that, you come back and give them a little hug and let them know you love ‘em.”

Robinson, too, is all-in on the family thing.

“That’s our philosophy, to not only just win games but have them to be able to win in all phases of life after they leave our facilities,” Robinson said.

“We want to set a culture of family in our school,” Barnes said. “I dare say we support our kids better than most schools.

“We expect our football players to be leaders at our school, and that starts with being a big brother to the underclassmen and a big brother to the young ladies and young men who come into our school.”