The FOOTBALL COACH
His players look up to Jamar Chaney as head football coach at St. Lucie West Centennial High School and also as a linebacker who played football in the National Football League. Chaney has returned to coach where he started his career. GREG GARDNER PHOTO
BY GREG GARDNER
Jamar Chaney has come full circle from being a star at St. Lucie West Centennial High School to being a player for five years in the National Football League and back again as head coach at the school where it all began.
The 30-year-old Chaney — who could be the youngest head football coach in the state — will lead the Fighting Eagles in his first season in addition to his first year teaching physical education. He is working with the players five afternoons a week in conditioning and weight training — the only activities allowed under Florida high school rules until the practice officially begins in the summer.
Chaney, who still has the sculpted physique of an NFL linebacker, is literally and figuratively looked up to by the squad’s biggest players. He played three seasons with Philadelphia and two with Atlanta, Denver and Oakland. He ended his pro career with 163 tackles, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and one sack.
Chaney has a quiet confidence about him and when he does speak up, his players hang on every word. They know he started his career with the Port St. Lucie Eagles and went on to play for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Duke Schneider, who has been a football coach and PE teacher for 40 years, was linebacker coach during Chaney’s senior year. An avid Philadelphia Eagles fan, he was thrilled when Chaney left him tickets to games three consecutive years with “Coach Schneider” on the envelope. “I was ecstatic he was on my (Eagles) team and his first start was incredible,” Schneider said, adding he in turn advised him on good places to live in Philadelphia, what to do and outstanding restaurants.
“Jamar will bring respect to the football program,” Schneider said. “He will teach his players the right thing to do in life and in football. He is someone you look up to and he has a lot to give on how he got there (NFL). He has a lot of work ahead and it won’t be easy, but Jamar has found a home here.”
Chaney has been shadowing former Centennial head football coach Ron Parker who coached him, helped him during the college recruiting process and provided recommendations to interested NFL teams. “Jamar told me his freshman year he wanted to play in the NFL,” Parker said. “He was a fine young man, a competitor, a leader on the field and a leader in the classroom. He was always a good student with no referrals. He made his teammates better. He was like a sponge and always knew he wanted to be a coach. It’s a learning process, but he will be a good role model. He is finding out that some kids can be real knuckleheads.”
Jake Padrick is a middle school teacher who played with Chaney at Centennial and against him in college as a center for Middle Tennessee State. “Our paths have crossed over the years,” Padrick said. “Before he even knew he would be head coach, Jamar reached out to me and asked me to come over and help make Centennial great again. I loved him as a player because he always made a 100 percent effort and he will do the same as a coach. He will make me a better coach.”
Coaching high school football is difficult enough because of the large number of players, but there are also other tasks that go with the job such as fund-raising, meetings with parents, sponsors and players. Add a teacher’s schedule and the hours are long and the responsibility huge. “The coaching comes naturally,” Chaney said. “But you have to worry about everything that goes into being a head coach. You are always trying to raise money and dealing with a lot of nonfootball-related things.”
One ongoing problem is making sure players keep their grades up. On a recent February afternoon 12 players missed training due to poor grades. Two or more Fs must come up to Cs before a player can return to practice. “Out of 50-60 players not all could be considered angels and some need more (help) than others,” said Chaney, who graduated from Mississippi State University on a four-year football scholarship. “We have tutoring. You want guys who are accountable and you can’t go to college without grades.”
The only time someone knocked him down was in a college game, Chaney said, adding he never had a concussion while playing in the NFL. He said he was happy to be vested with benefits after four years. His career was cut short by a nagging neck injury. Chaney found the mental challenge, speed of the game and learning different offenses the most difficult challenges of playing linebacker. New England Patriots five-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady was the toughest he ever faced, Chaney said. “You never knew what he was going to do.”
“This feels good because it’s like coming home and the kids look up to you,” Chaney said. “By coaching football we are going to build integrity and character in these young men before they go back out into society. And our goal is to win as many games as possible.”
Hometown: Port St. Lucie
Occupation: High school football coach and physical education teacher
Family: Wife, Shamira; daughter, Rhaelyn, 2; son, Eli, 1
What inspires me: “To give back to the community. I am a Christian. I am passionate about football and helping impact young lives and I get to do both.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “I am a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity from Mississippi State University.”