by Aaron Garcia
During Porter Ridge’s season-opening 49-7 drubbing of Monroe, people finally got a glimpse of what Pirates coach Blair Hardin had suspected for more than a year: Javonte Truesdale is a difference-maker on the football field.
Truesdale, a senior running back, exploded for 202 yards and four touchdowns on just five carries that night. He also returned a kickoff 90 yards, giving him nearly 300 yards total offense in his first varsity game.
“That was the best feeling in the world, to know that I played like that in my first game,” Truesdale said.
The reflection brings a smile to his face.
“I thought I was the man,” he said. “I’m not going to lie.
“That first game, that’s when I really started liking football. After that first game, I saw what I could do.”
Since then, Truesdale’s run with purpose, collecting 618 yards and 11 touchdowns on just 41 carries for an astonishing average of 15.07 yards per attempt. He’s surpassed the 100-yard barrier in each of the Pirates’ last three games – 108 against Hickory Ridge, 110 against Central Cabarrus and 100 in last week’s game against Marvin Ridge.
But it’s not the statistics that make Truesdale’s story so great, nor is it the fact that he’s played such a major role as the Pirates have sprinted to a 7-0 record and become a team that looks primed to make a deep postseason run.
No, Truesdale’s story is remarkable because it almost never happened. And it would’ve been his own fault if it didn’t.
Truesdale remembers the day as if it were yesterday, although in reality, the conversation with Porter Ridge coach Blair Hardin happened about 15 months ago. It was the week leading up to the Pirates’ season opener against Monroe, and Truesdale had spent the summer working out with the team. As a track star, he had the speed and, by his own estimation, was in great shape and ready to go for the football season.
Then Hardin called him into his office.
“He was like, ‘Truesdale, well, you know you didn’t do so well (academically) last year,’” Truesdale recalled. “‘You probably weren’t focused. They’re not going to let you play any this season, but if you get your grades up the first semester, you’ll be able to play the second semester.’”
Truesdale had grown up playing football, but his grades began to slip in the seventh grade, so he took the year off. He returned in eighth grade, but by the time he reached high school, Truesdale said, he never applied himself enough to stay academically eligible. His freshman year, he wanted to focus on basketball because of the violent nature of football. At that time, he did enough to get by and stay on the court, but not much else.
“I didn’t take football seriously,” he admitted. “I always wanted to joke around in class and be funny. Then I’d have to come to the games and watch other people out here playing.”
But when he got to Porter Ridge High, he brought with him a sizeable reputation as a football player. His skills were evident early in the youth ranks, so many were surprised when he showed no interest in the sport. But Truesdale admitted that deep down, he knew he should be on the field, but applying himself to get there was an obstacle.
During his junior year, an assistant football coach approached him in the stands during a Pirate football game.
“It actually got tough when (the assistant coach) came up to me and said, ‘How does it feel to be sitting here with these guys (in the stands) when you could be down there and (fans) could be cheering for you?’” Truesdale said.
The statement hit him like a middle linebacker. So he dedicated himself physically. He got bigger, stronger and faster, and was ready to step in and make an impact last year.
Until he got the bad news from Hardin, that is.
“I’m not going to lie, I just started crying,” admitted Truesdale, who was one credit short of being eligible to play last fall.
“I couldn’t believe I went through that much: I was so in shape. Then to watch them from the stands, it hurt my feelings. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t want to play sports anymore after he told me that.
“It broke me down to the point where I couldn’t even come to the game to see the team. I didn’t even want to show my face because I went through all that stuff and then ended up not being able to play.”
That day isn’t easy for the coach to remember, either.
“I was honest with him,” said Hardin. “I told him, and he was very emotional. I said, ‘You’re better than this. Your best is yet to come and tomorrow’s a new day.’”
For many kids, the story might’ve ended right there – with them settling for failure. Instead, with Hardin’s guidance, Truesdale set the goal of working his way back for his senior season of football.
“That’s when it hit me: I need to start taking school seriously because I’m about to be in the real world in a matter of a snap,” Truesdale said. “That’s why I started breaking down, getting my stuff right and started going to tutoring.”
Hardin and Truesdale met daily, with the coach rarely pulling punches. He’d check on Truesdale’s grades, make sure he was going to class and would even ask him questions pertaining to his curriculum to make sure the teenager was learning and not just doing the bare minimum. They talked about life and the hurdles common to youths, conversations that go on to this day.
“Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad,” said Hardin. “We try to fix the bad and do more good. I just try to stay on top of him because he’s such a special kid.”
Truesdale began to notice the care his teachers put into his education once he showed them some dedication of his own.
It was a slow process, but he did well enough to earn back his eligibility in time for the last five basketball games of the season. His first game back, the 5-foot-9 guard capped his reemergence with a slam dunk.
“It was fun to be on the court and not in the stands watching,” he said with a grin. “Then I realized that I could actually do it, so I just kept doing what I was doing.”
Since then, Hardin has helped Truesdale find ways to combat the laziness and lack of interest that seemed to find him in the classroom, and most of it has to do with his approach. Take math: Truesdale doesn’t hide the fact that he dislikes the subject, preferring English and history. But he takes each math problem he faces and likens it to one of the plays Hardin draws up in the team meeting room. Homework? Practice. Tests and quizzes? Games.
“If I’m not thinking about school like sports, then my day probably isn’t going to go very well, and I probably won’t pay attention,” he admitted.
“He’s a very intelligent kid,” Hardin said. “He enjoys listening, and he enjoys stories that relate to learning. He’s got a very good football I.Q. and he picks up things quickly, and he does that as well in the classroom.”
Truesdale’s education still is a work in progress. Though he’s pulled his grades up enough to play, his cumulative GPA is hovering just above a 2.0.
But A’s and B’s are now more common than C’s and D’s and F’s. It looks as though he’ll have to attend a junior college for a semester in order to raise his grades up to the level where he can play college football, a notion that Hardin certainly thinks is plausible.
Truesdale credits Hardin for helping him get to the point where he even has options now.
“To have Coach Hardin step in like that, it showed me that most people care about me and that I can actually go places and do something with my life instead of just standing here and seeing the same old people and hearing the same old stories,” said Truesdale.
For Hardin, the fact that Truesdale has taken control of his own life and chosen to make it productive means more than the fact that he and fellow back Demarrell Alexander have combined to comprise one of the top running back tandems in the county. It means more than having another game-breaking player on the field.
It means he was right about Javonte Truesdale.
“He’s taking the steps every day to grow more academically because he now knows the importance of his future,” said Hardin. “It’s still a work in progress, but he sees the big picture, and I’m proud of him.”